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A Short Biography of Juan Boonstra

Who would have imagined that the voice of a young peasant farmer from the Argentine Pampas (plains) would become recognized by Spanish-speaking peoples throughout the world? This is the story of Juan Boonstra.

From the Netherlands to the Southern Lands

The adventure began when, at the end of World War I, four Dutch youths saw little future for themselves their native country. Packing a few meager possessions, they hid themselves in a cargo ship headed to South America. Disembarking in Peru the boys soon found employment, but the work was too heavy and the pay too low.Word of a new opportunity took them to Bolivia, but there also the work was overwhelming, pay scarce and the landowners difficult to please. One of the young men heard that there were opportunities in Chile, however that adventure reduced to a struggle to simply survive.Two of the youths returned to their home country ill and disillusioned.

The remaining two followed opportunity on the other side of the snowy mountains in the fertile plains of Argentina.The trip through the Andes, one of the most imposing passages in the world, put them in the country of the gauchos (cowboys or plain-dwellers). It was in the Argentine plain one of the four adventurers, Johannes Boonstra, established himself. He worked with livestock, animals that he knew well since his youth in the Southern Netherlands. The weather was moderate like that of his homeland and there were other Europeans in the neighboring plantations. The pay was bad and the conditions worse than those of Holland, nonetheless Johannes decided to stay.

During the '20s, Mr. Boonstra saved his earnings, married an Argentine, and eventually acquired a small tenant dairy farm from the Salvation Army. In 1926, the Boonstra couple was blessed with a son, Juan Samuel, who was raised as a true Latin-American.

Life in the plains during the first half of the twentieth century has been compared with the North American west. Plainsmen and livestock roamed the fields. The plantations were big and the virgin prairies extended for kilometers between farms. The towns were widely separated and when the gauchos came into the towns on the weekends drunkenness and flings were the order of the day. Fistfights were frequent and sometimes there was shooting.This environment provided the backdrop for the early life of Juan Boonstra.

From the Plains to the Pastorate

In the year 1937, Juan met Reverend Jerry Pott, a missionary from the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination with headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.Through the influence of this pastor, Juan enrolled in Calvin College, a university in the United States. Reliving the adventures of his father three decades earlier, young Juan arrived in Michigan in 1948 with little more than the clothes on his back and without knowing the country's language. But he learned quickly. In 1954 he graduated from Calvin Seminary and returned to Argentina as a pastor of the Reformed Church in Argentina.

The first ministry of the young pastor was a small congregation whose members were scattered through the length and breadth of hundreds of kilometers in rugged Patagonia. The majority of them were hard ranchers. Among them were men who knew how to use their revolvers – in fact, many of these parishioners had been forced in one time or another to kill in self-defense. The young pastor, as was the custom of the old itinerant pastors of the nineteenth century, made extensive trips by paths more like tracks than roads to apply the power of the Gospel in the life of his hardened parishioners.

Radio Ministry

1956, Seymour Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan offered to help Boonstra start a radio ministry in Argentina. He received a tape recorder and through trail and error learned that the best hour for recording his programs was after midnight. This was the only hour in which the electricity generated by the city of Comodoro Rivadavia was stable enough to complete a good recording.These radio programs caught the attention of many listeners. The people of the city recognized that there was a good orator among them. In a culture in which great importance is given to the ability to make vivid and evocative expressions, the talent of this minister of the Gospel was not overlooked.

In 1961, Juan Boonstra met Dr. Joel Nederhood, director of radio programming for the Christian Reformed Church. The two collaborated in the translation of the program "The Hour of Return to God" into Spanish. Four years later, accepting the invitation of the Christian Reformed Church, Pastor Boonstra relocated to Chicago to establish a new radio ministry in Spanish. Soon his program "The Hour of the Reformation" was being broadcast througout Latin America. His vibrant and relevant messages unchaining a flood of correspondence that in time exceeded 1000 letters per month.

The spiritual wealth that Reverend Boonstra spread through the radio waves earned him more listeners every day. Eventually invitations came to visit different countries and to preach in evangelism campaigns. He only accepted these invitations one or two times per year. The humble spirit with which he had been reared always caused him to be amazed at how God richly blessed his messages, and the manner in which God used his voice to strike at the heart of his listeners.

The Legacy of Juan Boonstra

The voice of Pastor Boonstra was an exceptional gift, apt for the radio message. It was rich in sonority and had a great burden of authority. But the blessing did not reside only in the voice.

There was in the man a biblical solidness and a reformed theological richness that was capable of taking the gospel to simple ears as well as enriching learned pastors. He was so widely respected that he eventually received a Doctorad Honoraria Causa. For twenty-five years his messages were edited and distributed throughout Latin America. It is impossible to do a complete evaluation of all the blessings derived from his ministry but there is evidence that thousands of people were brought to Christ through his efforts in promoting the Kingdom of God in his Latin America.

Final Days

Dr. Boonstra always kept his Argentine citizenship. He would never admit it, but his friends knew that part of his heart was always anchored in the plains. His house in Chicago, where he lived with his wife and children, always had a nearby vacant lot where he raised some horses, young cattle and veal in, like in his native country. It was this identification with his continent that which permitted him to speak with the clarity and authority recognized by his hearers.

Dr. Boonstra retired from his full-time ministry in 1992. He supported Rev. Guillermo Serrano, his successor in "The Hour of the Reformation," wrote articles, conducted television programs, gave seminars and spoke at conventions and campaigns through the length of the Hispanic world until his unexpected death in 1995. Today, his voice still resonates through the radio, the television and the written page with the power of one who carries the message of the gospel, of the kingdom of God and of the Reformation to the length and to the width of the Hispanic world.

 

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