Bernard Lefrandt: Dutch-Indonesian Pioneer

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“Bernard Lefrandt: Dutch-Indonesian Pioneer,” Ensign, Feb. 1990, 59

Bernard Lefrandt:

Dutch-Indonesian Pioneer

Bernard Lefrandt initially refused to listen to the two American missionaries who came to his home in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1950. It was an uncharacteristic response for a man whose hospitality was well known throughout his native Indonesia. But Bernard—or Bert, as friends in several countries came to know him—already had a God who had preserved his life innumerable times. Bert had been saved from the wild animals he hunted in island forests, from enemy soldiers when he was dropped behind enemy lines in World War II, and most recently from assassins’ bullets when he was blacklisted in Indonesia. Bert’s God had even spared the lives of his wife and children in a refugee camp. How, then, could he turn to a new one?

The missionaries first came to the Lefrandts’ home in Holland at the end of 1950; the family had moved there in 1948. Nora, a deeply spiritual woman, felt touched by their message of God’s goodness and a restored gospel. God’s mercy had ushered Nora and her family through almost insurmountable difficulties. She accepted the Book of Mormon as well as the challenge to read it. But when Bert learned of the visit, he stubbornly refused to have anything to do with either the elders or the book Nora had so fervently read.

Were it only a matter of courage for him to face up to these Mormon messengers and their book, then no one came better equipped than Bernard Willem Lefrandt. A descendant of Dutch, Indonesian, and French ancestry, Bert was an expert at courageously confronting challenges in Indonesia. His immense physical strength earned Bert a reputation among the villagers of having almost supernatural power. He was unanimously declared throughout the islands the national champion of wild-pig catching, a sport he accomplished with his bare hands.

Neither could his hesitancy be attributed to ignorance. Bernard Lefrandt’s intelligence, education, and native liberality tempered his physical prowess and instilled in him a fair, open, and loving attitude toward everyone. Bert worked as a customs officer for the Dutch government when he met and married his boss’s daughter—a bright Dutch-Indonesian schoolteacher named Nora. Eventually he went on to become an officer in the Royal Dutch Navy. Bert and Nora were both gifted linguists, speaking French, German, Dutch, and English, as well as several island languages. Together, they taught their children to believe in God’s goodness and in the value of Christian principles.

The major obstacle for Bert was the definite ideas he held about right and wrong religions. In Indonesia, he had remained uneasy with the prevalence of superstitious beliefs and spiritualism, often witnessing their darker sides. He searched for higher truths and once considered becoming a Buddhist priest—a consideration he abandoned because it would mean leaving his wife and children. His wife’s strong belief in Jesus Christ became his own, and he learned the Bible well from constant study.

Nora finished the Book of Mormon on her own. At the close of another solitary lesson with the missionaries, she felt the Spirit so overwhelmingly that she wanted to be baptized. But she also wanted to wait for her husband, whom she had noticed reading the Book of Mormon when he thought she was asleep. Late at night, he would turn on the dim light and read until two or three in the morning, pretending to have slept well the next day. Nora would wait for him.

She had learned about waiting during World War II when she thought her husband had died. The same bravery that led Bert to earn decorations from the Allied High Command and from the Dutch government for valor in the face of grave danger also led him to be parachuted behind Japanese lines with the English. He had been borrowed by the British forces, and Nora knew nothing about his whereabouts. Left alone with two small children, she ended up in a postwar refugee camp in Bombay, India, assuming she would never see her husband again after receiving no word from him for four years.

But one day in 1946 as she was teaching a class to some children, a man entered the room and stood at the back. It was Bert. On an assignment with the British, he had been stationed in Singapore, where he searched the lists of refugee camps in the country. After a joyful reunion with his family, Bert went on another assignment to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), this time with his family, before returning to Indonesia.

Bert continued to read the Book of Mormon in secret, and even started listening to the missionaries behind a door. When he finally consented to talk to the elders in person, he became known as a “very hard” investigator, constantly demanding biblical proof of every doctrinal point and requiring a year of discussions.

Meanwhile, Nora and her daughter, Bertie, were baptized. Wanting to share her joy with those nearest her, Nora wrote to friends in New Guinea, telling them of her new church. Only a few days later, she received a letter from them—the letters had crossed in the mail. Her friend told of a fisherman in New Guinea who had discovered a strange book in the sea, a Book of Mormon. Did the Lefrandts know anything about this book or about Joseph Smith? Surely, the book was a book of God, the Lefrandts’ friends assured. They encouraged their friends in Holland to find out what they could about the Mormons.

Their appeal had a salutary effect upon Bert, who had learned to listen to friends. When he had returned to Indonesia from Singapore in 1946, he returned to a country rife with political turmoil. Indonesian nationalists were fighting for independence from the Netherlands, a sentiment Bert understood and even sympathized with. But he was still a Dutch officer and had even received an assignment to hunt down and kill nationalist snipers. He hunted them down, then saved their lives by letting them work in his garden at home. When the nationalists took over, a former “gardener” for Bernard became a government official and relayed a message to the Lefrandts: Bert was on a blacklist to be shot for his affiliation with the Dutch. Ten days later the Lefrandts and their three children were on a boat to Holland.

It was there that Bert finally gave up his resistance to the truths of the gospel. One day during a discussion with the elders, Bert set his Bible on the table and rested his hand on it. “I don’t know what else to ask you,” he said. Within a year of Bert’s baptism in March 1952, he was called to be the president of The Hague Branch.

The tenacity and determination that took Bernard Lefrandt through jungles and enemy territory now found a purpose in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Bert and Nora became faithful servants and pioneers not only in Holland, but in New Guinea, where Bert was later transferred by the Dutch government from 1954 to 1956. There the Lefrandts held Sunday School and sacrament meetings in their home for their family and the two other members stationed in New Guinea. Bert introduced the gospel to other naval officers and held monthly meetings with Catholic priests and Protestant ministers to teach them about the Restoration and the Book of Mormon.

Always cognizant of God’s goodness to their family, Bert and Nora exemplified His love and generosity, earning a reputation of fairness, generosity, and open-mindedness wherever they went. Bert spoke enthusiastically about the gospel whenever the opportunity arose, and he left New Guinea having given away a large supply of LDS books and pamphlets in an effort to build the kingdom.

The Lefrandts returned to Holland in 1956, this time to Amsterdam, where Bert was again called to be a branch president. After they moved again to The Hague in 1960, Bert was called to be a counselor to the president of the first stake in Europe: The Hague Netherlands Stake. He brought to these callings an enthusiasm that his children—Frank Cornelius, Bertie Louise, Eric Gerard, and Robert—always sensed. “My parents were true builders, true pioneers,” recalls Bertie (Mrs. Jack P. Van Oudheusden). “Both of them were always working; you could just feel their love for the gospel.”

When Nora died in August 1971, people came by busloads to the funeral. Bernard’s funeral in January 1985 occurred in the midst of a blizzard so harsh that a burial was impossible that day. Still, many weathered the freezing temperatures to pay tribute to their friend.

In Holland, as in the other countries through which Bernard Willem Lefrandt traveled and lived, he seemed to know every member and was always happy to counsel, help, or give to someone in need. Countless seeds that he planted have come to fruition, and honor his efforts as an international pioneer and servant of the Lord.

After receiving no word from him for four years, Nora Lefrandt assumed her husband had been killed in World War II. But one day in 1946, as she was teaching a class to some children in Bombay, India, a man entered the room. It was Bert—he had searched refugee camps until he had found his family. (Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett.)

Ten years later, the Lefrandt family posed for this photograph in New Guinea. Back row (left to right): Frank Cornelius, Nora, Bernard, Bertie Louise. Front row (left to right): Robert, Eric Gerard.