From One War Zone To Another

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Eva den Hartog (1923-2006)

MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 shocked audiences with 10 seasons of outrageous, over-the-top, coming-of-age celebrations. From arrivals on gold thrones and helicopters, to gifts of custom Lamborghinis and no-budget shopping sprees, these teens were living a dream. 

Even though these lifestyles aren’t the norm, all people are drawn to experiences they believe will make them happy. For the late Dutch officer, Major Eva den Hartog, her teenage life took a crazy turn. Hers was definitely a not-so-sweet 16.

A week after this milestone birthday, on May 10, 1940, German warplanes descended on den Hartog’s homeland. Even though Holland tried to stay out of the Second World War, they were now at arms with Germany, having become a victim of unprovoked attack.

“To avoid complete destruction of the country I am of the opinion that further resistance has become useless.” These were the surrendering words of the Commander in Chief of the Dutch Army only a few days later. Though her country had surrendered, the headstrong den Hartog was determined to never submit to the Germans (Moved With Compassion, 1977).

COMRADERY IN THE WAR ZONE

Though in the face of arrests and bombings, den Hartog was fearless. Her compassion greatly surpassed any worries she might have had about getting caught by the Nazis. At 16, she took on an extreme risk—helping an elderly Jewish couple that was unable to leave their home due to Nazi oppression. Secretly she ran errands for them, did their shopping, and helped them with household chores. To add more danger and adrenaline to the mix, the home of this Jewish couple was directly across the street from the German Waffen S.S. Headquarters—a Nazi protection squadron. Den Hartog continued helping the couple until the Nazi police took them away late one night. Deeply saddened, she never heard from them again, but she still worked to help the needy or ill however she could.

DEFYING GERMAN AUTHORITY

As if risking her life to help others was not a great service, den Hartog felt at age 19 that “the only show of her faith in God was her weekly attendance at the local Salvation Army meetings, permitted by the Germans so long as nobody wore uniforms” (Moved With Compassion, 1977). She wanted to serve God with her entire being.

One Sunday, den Hartog noticed a Belgian officer proudly wearing her Salvation Army uniform in the streets. She spoke of the great love of Jesus Christ for the world. Surely the German police would snatch her away for defying their authority, den Hartog thought. But the Belgian officer didn’t care. “I am allowed to wear this uniform in Belgium so why not in Holland?” she replied.

Her brave defiance stirred a new wave of inspiration for den Hartog. She now had the strongest desire to be a Salvation Army officer and take God’s love to people in the neediest of countries.

Having come from a broken home, and having lived under the care of The Salvation Army as a very young child, den Hartog was familiar with the church. But after the Belgian officer came through her town, she ran the next day to The Salvation Army’s headquarters and told the commanding officer, “I want to be a Salvationist as quickly as possible.” Just before Christmas of 1943, her wish was granted.

THE FIRST MISSIONS

Den Hartog was soon sent to replace a nurse at a Salvation Army home for 50 chronically ill patients. She washed patients who were too ill to wash themselves, and sacrificed for them even when her life was at risk. In just one example, when the bombs of war caused power to go out, den Hartog ran to a Catholic priest to gather candles from the church and brought them back to the nursing home.

Eva den Hartog was content to help others as she was assigned, but she desperately wanted to be an officer and serve abroad. At her next assignment—serving the poor in Brussels through evangelical work—she applied herself wholeheartedly, knowing she was being assessed for candidacy. She also learned French to be “missionary material” and become an officer faster.

STRUGGLING TO SERVE

She was on the right track. In 1947, she gained admittance into Paris’ training college. But only three months later, she was stricken with anemia. Time after time, she would recover for a brief moment, try another service assignment, and then would be sent to bed rest. This repeated for years.

Now 28 and unable to serve others as a missionary, she wrote to the Territorial Commander that she would go to nursing school.

All hope was not lost for den Hartog. In early 1957, the Commissioner called her saying, “I have heard from London and they want to know whether you are prepared to go to the Belgian Congo. I know that you speak French and they’re quite short of nurses out there.”

After passing all her nursing exams with honors, in March 1958, she was off to the Congo. Finally, she would serve The Salvation Army overseas.

LIFE ABROAD

In the Belgian Congo, den Hartog lectured on hygiene, and served as a nurse, doctor, midwife, and surgeon to the needy. Everything was going relatively fine for a time, until the Congo transitioned into a war-torn state, filled with political and civil unrest and extreme torture. Den Hartog provided medical and spiritual relief for the Congolese for 12 years—just before the country’s independence and through the civil war that followed. She became known as a “Christian soldier bringing medicine, food, healing and solace to the victims of famine, war, poverty, and disease” (Soup, Soap…Salvation, 1981).

From one war zone to another, den Hartog’s love for others never ran out. She attended to refugees, the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the forgotten people of the world. In addition to her extensive work in the Congo, she:

  • Served in India during the confrontation between East and West Pakistan
  • Supplied spiritual and medical help to those in Vietnam, as well as trained Vietnamese nurses in their own country
  • Directed all Salvation Army relief operations in disaster-ridden Bangladesh
  • Led the Christian medical team in the Cambodian refugee camps of Thailand and Kampuchea
  • Provided relief to those in Bengal after the hurricanes of 1967
  • Served as a missionary nurse in many other troubled areas, including Guyana, Kenya, and Uganda

The world took notice of her impact and her overflowing love for the Lord. In 1970, den Hartog was knighted by Queen Juliana of The Netherlands for her outstanding and dedicated service in the Congo. Internationally she became known as a friend of the poor, having served as a medical officer for more than 30 years and having helped the destitute in many third world countries.

Image of Eva den Hartog Aiding Infant in Bangladesh

Eva den Hartog in Bangledesh.  (Photo credit: The Salvation Army National Archives & Research Center)

KINDNESS IS NEVER WASTED

Looking at the lives of influential people, such as Eva den Hartog’s, it’s hard to think we could make such a great impact ourselves. However, no act of kindness is ever too small; and we may never know how far one act of love can reach in its ripple effects.

Though we may not always have direct access to help those whom society considers the neediest, there are people in our own inner circles who need to feel God’s transforming love, or be reminded of it. Your family, friends, classmates, teachers, or coworkers may be deprived in these ways, without you even realizing it.

Major den Hartog’s words about those who are suffering in third world countries very well applies to how we should treat the people we encounter each day—those who are silently suffering, and those who are hungry, thirsty, lost, or displaced in literal or non-traditional ways:

“To convey the love of God to people who have suffered so much, we must first listen and care. [We must be] interested in them, in sitting beside them and letting them speak, letting them pour out what they think”
(War Cry, April 27, 2002).

LIVING THE FAITH

How would someone know you were a Christian if you couldn’t verbally tell them? If you weren’t wearing a cross, and it wasn’t a Sunday—could someone see by your actions that Christ lives in you? To say we are Christian, but not act like it, is to fool no one but ourselves (James 2:14-17).

Major den Hartog desired to express her faith beyond weekly prayer meetings. Just as she lived out her love for the Lord, pray that you will be able to see opportunities to do the same, and have the strength to extend God’s peace to others in those situations.

—Mariam Aburdeineh, Editorial Assistant, Young Salvationist Magazine