LT. COLONEL ALIDA BOSSHARDT
“‘What’s a mother?’” asked the ignorant Smee.” The oblivious pirate of J.M. Barrie’s most beloved story, Peter Pan, never gets a dictionary answer to his question. During the Neverland-centric adventures, mothers are instead described as the ones who straighten up children’s thoughts, who tuck their children in at night, who mend clothes and create pockets for their little ones, and who will not desert their children no matter the circumstance. A mother is more of a loving protectress, rather than someone of common family lineage.
In that sense, while Lt. Colonel Alida Bosshardt didn’t have any children of her own, she was a mother to many.
A WORTHY RISK
Since she was a teen, Bosshardt always wanted to be around people. She gave her life to the most important One at a Salvation Army open-air meeting in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands. During the meeting, she heard the Word of God, devoted her life to Christ, and became more involved with the Army.
As a Salvation Army soldier, Bosshardt volunteered her spare time at her corps (church). When she applied to enter the training college to become an officer, the Army’s leadership was hesitant. Because she was less educated (Bosshardt dropped out of school at age 14), and her health was poor, they thought taking her on would be a serious risk. She didn’t do the best in training college either. She was more concerned with helping people practically, rather than learning theology. Despite all this, the officers saw her love for people and believed she had potential.
SAVING THE CHILDREN
A year after becoming a lieutenant, Bosshardt was appointed to a children’s home in Rotterdam, Holland. This job proved harder than expected. Nazis were persecuting the Jews, and as World War II broke out, Holland was invaded and the German occupiers banned The Salvation Army. Since the Army worshipped and gathered covertly, it was also short on funds. Many more children, particularly from Jewish families, were being brought to the home. It was a challenge to take care of these additional children whose parents feared deportation.
Bosshardt had a plan. She begged for food for the children at farms and asked for unsold food at markets. But, the authorities accused her of raising money for the forbidden Salvation Army and she was locked up for three days. Each day they questioned her, but she remained true to her story, explaining how she was only trying to feed the children. Whether by act of a sympathetic police officer or by accident, Bosshardt’s prison cell was left unlocked when she returned to it and she was able to escape.
Bosshardt’s colleagues feared they’d be arrested if the authorities thought they helped her escape, so they didn’t allow her to return to the children’s home. Instead, the brave officer lived in a tent in the forest for a couple weeks until the trouble seemed to have settled down—“seemed” being the operative word.
One day a military officer came to the children’s home and demanded everyone leave so the German forces could have use of the house. Bosshardt was worried the officers would recognize the Jewish children and take them away, so she strategically stalled. She kept the German officer busy with conversation and questions while others in the home quickly made new housing arrangements.
During the five years of war, Bosshardt, her colleagues, and the children had to move 12 times. Bomb damage, orders from the authorities, or military raids were all causes of these moves. Thankfully, none of the children were killed, physically injured, or lost under Bosshardt’s care.
Despite the extreme risk of housing these young people, nobody was ever turned away. Bosshardt saved these children, “often taking them on her bicycle to homes where they would go into hiding” (The Sydney Morning Herald, July 2, 2007).
THE POST-WAR MISSION
After the war, Bosshardt was appointed to the Army’s national headquarters in Amsterdam. She soon realized that the Army was not active in the city’s “red light” district and requested to start working there. She became a mother figure to several new people. For those involved in prostitution, she established a “goodwill center” where these people could come for counseling, spiritual ministry, and receive help getting out of the business. The center also provided support to the homeless and to drug addicts. Bosshardt’s work in the “red light” district gained her national fame. In 1965, she accompanied Princess Beatrix on a secret visit to the district, and the publicity helped fund the center’s ministry (Unsung Heroes, 2007).
Bosshardt retired in 1978 and continued volunteering until she died. Among Bosshardt’s many awards, she was knighted into the Netherlands’ Order of Orange-Nassau and was honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the state of Israel in 2004.
True love does not only apply to fairy tales and romances, but to all relationships (1 Corinthians 13). Love is goodness, patience, protection, hope, sacrifice, and selflessness. It is a choice, as well as a mirroring of God’s character. Through His grace working in us, we can love others in the ultimate sense and live in communion with one another.
Lt. Colonel Alida Bosshardt exemplified this type of love. No military officer, threat, nor imprisonment was enough to prevent her from saving the people around her—regardless of their nationality or faith. Though she had no biological children, she was a spiritual mother to many people, and she was a great blessing in their lives.
Take note from Bosshardt’s example: those around you may be your “spiritual children.” Whether those people are younger or older than you, your life can be a godly example of what a loving relationship in Christ should be.
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NKJV).
—Mariam Aburdeineh, Assistant to the Editor of Young Salvationist magazine