Bosshardt’s legacy touches West

by Anne Calvo – 

Captain Bosshardt welcomes a young child to the Children’s Home.

Life and faith can be mysterious at times.

Nine years ago, after working in Los Angeles’ “skid row” for many years, God called me to work for The Salvation Army. At that time, I knew I was meant to be involved with AIDS and the homeless, so becoming the director of Bethesda House, an AIDS shelter for homeless families, seemed a logical progression in what God was asking of me. I knew little of The Salvation Army, but did know the Army was a church and had ministry to the homeless everywhere.

During my first year at Bethesda House I attended a women’s conference where General Eva Burrows (ret.) was the keynote speaker. She talked about women she had met through the years who had made an impact on her and her ministry, and mentioned a Dutch Salvation Army officer who was considered the “Mother Teresa” of the Netherlands. This caught my attention—although I was born in England, both my parents are Dutch; they moved to England after WWII.

The officer Burrows mentioned was Lt. Colonel Alida Bosshardt, O.F., (fondly called “the Major” by many), the pioneer of 50 years of ministry to the prostitutes of the Amsterdam’s red-light district.

In Amsterdam’s red-light district

The Major became famous for her ministry while she was teaching courses at the School for Social Work at the University of Amsterdam, when one of her students expressed an interest in learning more about her work. That student was the young Princess Beatrix.

In order to see and discuss the social problem first hand, Princess Beatrix wore a disguise as they walked together in the red-light district. A newspaper reporter saw them…and Major Bosshardt became famous for her work from that day. The princess is now the reigning HRH Queen Beatrix. What might have been considered a hindrance at the time turned out to be a blessing—with the ministry suddenly becoming “high profile” overnight, money, people and God’s provision began to flow to the work, and has continued ever since.

The Goodwill Center that she began continues to be a service and community center in the heart of the red-light district. There, people receive services, a cup of coffee, food and shelter, as well as life skills and support. It is also a safe place for those who wish to leave the life of prostitution. Also situated in this dark part of Amsterdam is a corps, which has open-air meetings on Friday nights, as well as Sunday services. It was not that long ago that Alida gave up distributing her War Cry magazines on busy Saturday nights in the district.

A family connection and a visit

I discussed General Burrows’ comments with my mother and she seemed to think this was the same officer who had visited our family home in England with my great-aunt, who had been a social worker in Amsterdam. At the time, I was quite young and do not recollect the visit. With this information I decided to write to Lt. Colonel Bosshardt and ask her if she knew my family. Well, it turned out that she did know my family, and it was she who stayed with us at Rose Cottage for the famous vacation. I was somewhat stunned, because I felt I had no Army connections and that my move to Bethesda House had no roots in my past at all.

The Colonel and I soon became pen pals, and at the ripe old age of 86 she accepted an invitation to stay with my husband and me for two weeks in Los Angeles. I could not believe my connection to this woman of God, whom I hardly knew. She came to work at Bethesda House every day with me and I still marvel at her ability to connect with our clients. I watched her go up to our residents and immediately engage into conversation, making them feel the most precious person to Alida and God. I could see how she would do the same with her clients in Amsterdam. What a gift to me and to the world. And to think that God allowed me to witness this marvelous woman at work!

A life well lived

Over the past few years I’ve continued to learn about this remarkable woman. When commissioned by her division to start the Goodwill Center back in October 1948, her divisional commander gave her a Salvation Army banner and 100 gilders (approximately $35) and said she was on her own.

Thirty years later, when the dear colonel retired, she handed the General a jar that contained 100 gilders, saying she did not need the money as her budget was now $12 million a year…it was quite a moment!

Over the years she has received a variety of awards and recognition. She has received the Order of Orange Nassau (a royal proclamation), and has been admitted to The Salvation Army’s Order of the Founder. To me, one of the most interesting is this recognition from the Dutch people: currently in the Netherlands, flying somewhere over its skies, is a Boeing 757 airplane named “Major Alida Bosshardt.”

The story does not end here. Lt. Colonel Bosshardt, although physically frail, is as mentally alert as ever. She is 91-years-young and still goes to churches to preach, and still teaches classes. I have just discovered that my Great-Aunt Joke Frijlink was the first employee of the Goodwill Center in Amsterdam and was instrumental in pioneering this ministry.

God can use us all

Alida has just received another accolade, this time from the Israeli government. During World War II she was involved with rescuing babies born of Jewish families: she would ride her bicycle through Nazi lines to collect a baby, which she then put in the basket on the front of her bike—sedated and hidden from view—and ride back through Nazi lines, so the infant could be adopted by Dutch families. This whole experience has been a big lesson for me, teaching me that God can use us all, if we will say, “yes” as the young Captain Alida did! I’ve grown to believe we should all be fearless and do what is asked of us. You never know who has prayed for you—I am convinced that back when Alida and my great-aunt were staying with us, they prayed for our family…and now, here I am, with The Salvation Army pioneering again, this time at territorial headquarters, setting up child safety standards in all our programs in the West.

Anne Calvo is the Western Territory’s Child/Vulnerable Adult Safety Consultant

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