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Tribute - Sonja Southwell

Lieutenant-Colonel Sonja Southwell was peacefully promoted to glory on Friday evening 17 February 2023, aged 83, having served as a Salvation Army officer for more than 55 years.

Sonja Ingrid van Kralingen was born to Dutch Salvation Army officers Ryer and Johanna on 4 November 1939 in Jogiakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. In 1953, Sonja’s family migrated to Australia, where her parents were appointed to provide ministry to Dutch migrants in inner Melbourne. On a visit to Fairfield Corps in 1966, Sonja met Ian Southwell.

On 4 February 1967, they married, and one month later, they entered the Officer Training College, Australia (Southern Territory) as cadets in the Messengers of Faith session. Following their commissioning in January 1969, Ian and Sonja were appointed to Little Bourke Street Corps. In July of that year, their first daughter Sharon was born.

Sonja and Ian were blessed with two more daughters, Jenni (1971) and Cathy (1973). After a brief appointment leading Melbourne City Temple, they received their first international appointment – Chikankata Mission in Zambia (1970–1975). Here they worked as part of a multidisciplinary, international team staffing a hospital and secondary school, Sonja taking on the responsibility of clinic sister at the school. From 1973 to 1975, Sonja and Ian were appointed training officers at the Officer Training College in Lusaka, Zambia Territory.

Their second international appointment was in the Philippines, based in Manila. They were initially responsible for the Army’s youth work across the archipelago (1975–1977), along with literature and post-commissioning studies. In 1978, they were appointed to the School for Officer Training in Manila, with Sonja as Training Officer and Ian as the College Principal.

At the end of 1979, the Southwell family returned to Australia after Sonja miraculously recovered from a grave illness. Two corps appointments followed, Hawthorn (1980) and Hobart (1982). In 1985, they were appointed to the Officer Training College in Melbourne, where Sonja taught church and Salvation Army history. Sonja, a registered nurse and qualified midwife and theatre sister, also worked on building and reconstituting The Salvation Army Medical Fellowship.

At their next appointment (1989) in the Melbourne Central Division, Sonja continued as Territorial Medical Fellowship Secretary, also assuming the League of Mercy Secretary role.

In 1992, Sonja and Ian found themselves in Western Australia as the Divisional Leaders. Two years later, they were back in Melbourne, where Sonja was appointed to administer the International Child Sponsorship Program as Territorial Sponsorship Secretary. Together, in 1996, they coordinated residential programs and courses at the Geelong Conference Centre before returning to international service In Korea (1997–1999), with Ian as Chief Secretary and Sonja, Territorial Secretary for Women’s Ministries and also Secretary to the Korean Medical Fellowship.

From 1999 to 2003, they were appointed leaders of the Hong Kong and Macau Command, and from 2003 to 2007, Ian became Secretary and Sonja Associate Secretary for International Training and Leader Development.

Sonja officially retired in December 2005 but continued her ministry at IHQ until Ian’s retirement in 2007.

Sonja’s last 15 years of retirement overflowed with ministry and service for the Lord. She travelled internationally to support leadership development and supported a monthly cluster group of Chinese-speaking corps officers in Eastern Victoria. Longstanding support to The Salvation Army’s World Mission Fellowship and various ecumenical initiatives, including the Maroondah Fellowship of Churches and especially organising the World Day of Prayer in Ringwood from 2009–2019, was also on Sonja’s extensive ‘to-do’ list.

An active member of the Ringwood Corps, she served as chaplain to the Craft Group in 2008, supporting the Byways community meal program, being an active member of the pastoral care team, and regularly helping with Christmas Kettle and Red Shield appeal collections. She also co-led and hosted a weekly home Bible study group.

Amidst the business of her wide range of ministries, she found time to research, write and publish the memoir of the lives of her parents, Johanna and Ryer van Kralingen. A Safe Arrival tells the story of her parents’ remarkable faith, bravery, and compassion for others, especially during their internment by the Japanese during World War Two. Celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2017, Ian’s and Sonja’s joint biography, Safely Led to Serve, was released.

On 4 February, Sonja’s immediate family gathered at Park Lane Residential Aged Care, Croydon, for the 56th anniversary of her marriage to Ian, celebrating an extraordinary life of love and service together. Less than two weeks later, she was peacefully promoted to glory at Maroondah Hospital following the onset of an acute inoperable condition five days earlier.

Our love and prayers and heartfelt sympathy cover and surround Lieut-Colonel Ian; Sharon, Greg Restall and his son Zac; Jenni, and Sue Coleman; Cathy and Major Darren Elkington; Stephanie and Nathan; extended family and friends.

“Her master said to her, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful ... Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23)


A Funeral Service of Thanksgiving & Celebration of Lieut-Colonel Sonja Southwell’s life was held on Thursday 23 February 2023 at 2pm at Ringwood Corps in Melbourne. The Live Streaming Link for the service:


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