The author, Ron Heynneman, and his wife, Mireille, are the leaders of the Toronto Ananda meditation group and have been Ananda members since 1986. Ron is a semi-retired engineer and business information systems director.
There are those rare people we meet in life who have a profound and lasting influence on our consciousness. Such was Ron Heynneman’s experience with Jeanne van Diejen (vahn DEE-yun), a woman of towering strength and courage, whom he met during his internment by the Japanese in WWII.
In his recently published book, Ibu Maluku, Ron shares with us Jeanne’s life before, during, and after her internment. Brimming with suspense, human drama, and vivid portrayals of people and places, Ibu Maluku is an inspiring account of courage, selflessness and devotion. Jeanne, a woman of deep faith who always placed the needs of others before her own, emerges as a heroine of the stature of Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa.
Internment by the Japanese
Ron Heynneman was born in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) and was eleven years old when the Japanese invaded to get the country’s extensive oil resources. His father and older brother were interned in a “man’s camp” in Central Celebes, while Ron, his mother, and younger brother were interned with 1600 women and children in southwest Celebes. (Celebes is an island larger than the State of Idaho.)
Ron met Jeanne van Diejen in the camp in 1943, when she was forty-seven and he barely thirteen. On the rare occasions when they met, she would tell about her life— always with a great sense of humor—while he listened spellbound, sometimes for hours.
A pioneering spirit
He thus learned that Jeanne married a Dutchman by proxy and left Holland to join him on a coconut plantation in the remote jungles of the Netherlands East Indies, the country she had at a young age read so much about in missionary journals. He further learned how she started her own coconut plantation (at a time when women were not supposed to work), and how her courage prevented the annihilation of the city of Ternate, in the Moluccas, by the invading Japanese.
In the camp, Jeanne organized and led a “garden team” to grow vegetables, cassava, sweet potatoes and rice. Had it not been for the efforts of this garden team, more people would have died of malnutrition or suffered the long-term effects of severe vitamin deficiencies.
Ron and Jeanne were interned for three years, separated from loved ones, and completely cut off from what was happening elsewhere in the world. They battled malaria, dysentery, and rabid dogs, and survived two devastating bombardments by Allied airmen who did not know they were targeting women and children.
When freedom finally came (too late for many), Ron and Jeanne went their separate ways. Ron and his family went to the Netherlands for badly needed medical care. Jeanne returned to her war-ravaged coconut plantation on Halmahera (the largest island in the Moluccas), where she learned that her husband had died at the hands of his Japanese captors.
Eradicating the fear of lepers
Ron met Jeanne again in Holland in the early 70s, and learned what had happened to her since the end of the war. Inspired by her courage and selflessness, he persuaded Jeanne to cooperate in the writing of her memoirs, never thinking it would take more than 25 years to publish them.
As interesting as Jeanne’s early life had been, she stressed that the period after the war was of greater importance to her. It was then, as a civil servant of the newly formed Republic of Indonesia, that she devoted herself fully to improving the lives of the people of the Moluccas, traveling by boat to the almost 1,000 islands that make up the famed Spice Islands of the Orient, and learning some 23 different languages and dialects in the process.
Eradicating the fear of lepers in the Moluccas, and helping cured lepers regain a useful role in the society that had once banished them, were only two of her many achievements.
In recognition of Jeanne’s exploits, Indonesia’s first President Sukarno started calling her “Ibu Maluku” (EE-boo mah-LOO-koo), mother of the Moluccas, the name by which she is still remembered today throughout the Moluccas. But Jeanne’s outspokenness finally brought her into conflict with Sukarno and she left Indonesia in 1958, returning only once, 25 years later, for a memorable visit with the now grown-up ex-lepers, whom she had saved as children.
“God just passed by”
A short vignette from the book describes a supernatural experience Jeanne and her husband had, before the war separated them:
A long walk, which took place on a beautiful Sunday, brought us an experience that I vividly remember to this day. Everything around us was quiet and serene, and infused with a feeling of peace. We walked through the kapok plantation, which, pierced by shafts of sunlight, gave the appearance of a cathedral.
The birds sang and chirped. The dog ran either behind us or in front, searching for some unseen quarry. It was all so stunningly beautiful that it made us speechless. Silently, side by side, we walked on. Then, something unreal happened.
The rustling of the trees stopped, the birds fell silent, and the air ceased to move. The dog stopped in its tracks and looked puzzled. We looked at each other: “What was happening here?”
Then a feeling of great happiness flooded over us. We felt ourselves becoming extremely light, almost bodily detached! The silence deepened; the light intensified; and the feeling of joy became even more intense.
The silence belonged to something grand, something supernatural.
We felt the urge to genuflect or kneel to that Being that enveloped us, that permeated us with this bliss and made our heads swim!
The incredible silence and indescribable feeling of happiness lingered for several minutes—and then it was over.
The wind rustled through the treetops again, the light returned to normal intensity, the dog resumed its never-ending search, and birds started again to sing and fly!
We looked at each other and tears of happiness were flowing down our cheeks. John took my hands, and whispered: “God just passed by.”
Ibu Maluku provides the reader with a rare, fascinating look at the world’s fourth most populous (yet little known) country, and a chance see why Jeanne’s extraordinary experiences led her to conclude “that there are inexplicable forces between heaven and earth that can destroy us, or protect and save us.”