Jan de Voogd’s legacy of compassion

Jan de Voogd’s legacy of compassion

Who was Jan de Voogd?

Jan de Voogd was a Quaker peace activist, musician, teacher, sailor and boat builder. Born in Japan to Dutch parents, Jan spoke several languages and throughout his life lived in Japan, China, Canada, the USA, Holland and Australia. Jan grew up in Union churches (which united more than one Christian denomination) and became a Quaker as an adult. His work for peace spanned more than 50 years. He was active in a variety of ways against nuclear weapons, war and militarism, as well as in matters of wage and labour justice and the protection of refugees.

What is the Jan de Voogd Peace Fund?

When Jan died in 2021, he left his estate to be spent on projects which foster peace and social justice and specified that it be fully expended within five years of his death. The Jan de Voogd Peace Fund is administered by the NSW Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The projects funded by Jan’s bequest, including the Koala Chaplaincy Project, have been chosen to reflect the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and earthcare/sustainability.

What is the Koala Chaplaincy project?

Forest defenders on the NSW Mid North Coast need support. After many years of community campaigning, a Great Koala National Park (GKNP) was promised by the present NSW government, but this has yet to be delivered. Indeed, industrial scale logging activity has increased within the proposed Park boundary. There have been significant wins in forest protection, but also many losses, which can leave emotional scars.

The Koala Chaplaincy Project, which is a part of the wider Forest Advocacy Ministry initiated by the Uniting Church:

  • Provides pastoral care (the offer of emotional, social and spiritual support through non-judgmental and confidential listening) to people of any belief system who are defending the forests, particularly within the GKNP area,
  • Supports collaboration between groups who work to defend the forests,
  • Advocates for Aboriginal sovereignty within the context of the GKNP.

The project employs a part-time Forest Chaplain, the Rev. Dr Jason John, and draws on a wider network of pastoral support.

How does the Koala Chaplaincy project further Jan’s legacy?

  • The Koala Chaplaincy project connects with and expresses the Quaker testimonies in the following ways:
  • Earthcare/sustainability: The project supports forest conservation and care for koalas and other creatures, including humans.
  • Simplicity: The project focuses on a spirituality of connection with the Earth and each other, rather than a spirituality of consumption and resource extraction.
  • Community: The project seeks relationship building and collaboration between the various individuals and groups involved in defence of the forests.
  • Peace: In the context of the pressures of ongoing logging, the project supports strong and creative responses grounded in love and care for each other and the Earth by providing pastoral care and assisting collaboration.
  • Equality: The project is sensitised by an awareness of the denial and neglect of Aboriginal sovereignty by colonial forces and advocates for change.
  • Integrity: Through providing care and support for others the project seeks to build relationships of trust and integrity between forest defenders.

A particular strong synergy with Jan’s life and witness centres on compassion.

Compassion, literally meaning to suffer with, is an embodied practice of solidarity. Jan practised and urged compassion for others throughout his life. His father was a diplomat and played a key role in helping thousands of Jews to escape Europe during World War II. Jan was twice a refugee himself, due to World War II and the Korean War. Strongly influenced by his father, Jan’s prayer was that he would “accept strangers and outsiders with the same love and compassion as my father did”.

Jan undertook training in nonviolence and peace building and his activism was highly embodied. He accompanied a priest who was in danger of being “disappeared” due to his support for local fishermen in his Sri Lankan parish to form a cooperative and bypass middlemen. He was part of the Peace Squadron and sailed out to protest against boats which carried nuclear weapons. In doing so, he did not demonise the sailors, in whom he sought God and whom he saw as likely victims of nuclear war. He was active in the Sanctuary movement, which offered places of refuge for asylum seekers at imminent risk of deportation.

The Koala Chaplaincy project is an expression of compassion, love and care for the forests and their inhabitants and for those who defend them. Intact forests are arks of biodiversity and are critical to maintaining the Earth’s life support systems. We all rely on forests for our flourishing. The Uniting Church believes that “God loves the divine creation and wills the development of its life. No creature is indifferent in the eyes of God. Each has its dignity and thereby also its right to existence… The Holy Scriptures attest to God’s covenant with the Creation.”

The work of defending the forests is a labour of love.

Speaking at a “Lament and Hope” event for forest defenders about his Gumbaynggirr homelands, Uncle Micklo Jarrett said, “I love this land. This land is a part of me. It is our father, our mother, our saviour, our everything. In each of these areas we have special places. Food, rock formations, sacred mountains, totems. Our names of places are after animals. Everything that we have in our life comes from Earth and the animals that live on the Earth.

“I find strength now that I can say something to stop people from chopping down the trees, and I do it with love and respect. Destruction is detrimental to all human beings and animals on this planet.”

It is thanks to the persistence and resilience of those who defend the forests that forests are saved. Forest defenders raise awareness in the community, engage with government decision makers, undertake citizen science to identify threatened species habitat, identify logging breaches by the Forestry Corporation and forest contractors, initiate legal processes to halt logging, hold vigils and stand on the frontlines when other avenues have failed. However, the work can also be exhausting and distressing. They witness the forests they love being destroyed. At times forest defenders are stereotyped, demonised in the media, and mistreated by police.

Speaking at the Lament and Hope event, Jo Armytage of Friends of Newry said, “It’s a blessing to be on this land. There is a pain that goes with defending the forests. But whenever I gather together with others, I feel my faith in humanity restored. Even through our traumas we are building a network that is working for a more positive future for the next generation. We can make a difference, working together in love.”

The Koala Chaplaincy project stands in solidarity with forest defenders by offering them pastoral care. This includes one-on-one listening and support; attendance at community gatherings, vigils, and even presiding at a “funeral for the forests”; and assists with connection to professional support services as needed. The Koala Chaplaincy project also provides input to the wider work of the Forest Advocacy Ministry to work with others for a rapid end to the industrial scale destruction of vital forest habitat and ecosystems across NSW.

Speaking at the ceremony inducting Jason into his Forest Chaplain role, the Rev. Phil Dokmanovic reflected on the story of the story of the Sermon on the Mount: “Jesus goes up a mountain and stands there in the great cathedral of nature to share his teachings, to call people back to remind them that they are sacred and that others around them are sacred and that the world is sacred.

“He reminds people that it’s often those that are on the margins, those that society hasn’t cared for, those that we forget, who are the sacred or the blessed ones: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. This leads naturally into the idea of forest chaplaincy: this wonderful calling to remind those that are hurting, traumatised, struggling because of what they see and witness around them that they are blessed, they are sacred. And may all of us remember – blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

Miriam Pepper


  • Jan with the rainbow peace flag. Photo: The Australian Friend
  • Community members gather on logged habitat at Tuckers Nob. Photo: Miriam Pepper
  • Walking in appreciation through Pine Creek Forest. Photo: Jason John
  • Community members gather on Gumbaynggirr Country to lament the loss of forests and build hope through love. Photo: Jeff Kite

This article was reposted from UnitingEarthWeb where you can find more resources for forest protection and climate action.


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