On the shoulders of giants
You may have heard the phrase, “We stand on the shoulders of giants”. This saying means the privileged position we have today is possible because of those who have gone before us. In our evening services, we have been looking at the lives of spiritual giants. These are men and women who have displayed faith in a great God, and inspire us to do the same. Corrie ten Boom is one such woman. From her life through World War Two and the Holocaust, there are four pillars within her testimony that will help us bring glory to God and joy to the city.
Pillar #1: The testimony of availability
Corrie ten Boom was not the sort of person you would typically imagine to make a big difference in the world. Our culture tends to elevate athletes and movie stars. But Corrie was none of these things.
Corrie was the daughter of a watchmaker in the small town of Haarlem in Holland. At the start of WW2 she was single, living at home, and in her late 40’s. At the start of her autobiography she describes herself as woman whose ‘waistline had long since vanished’ and never gained much attention from any man.
Corrie did grow up in a Christian home with parents who loved Jesus. She had four older siblings and each one of them in their own way served the Lord. Her father had a deep respect for the Jewish people as he saw them as God’s first love, the first people that God created and called his own.
When the Nazis invaded Holland, they did something more horrible than killing the Dutch: they converted them. Many Dutch people sided with the Nazis, which ultimately birthed the Dutch Underground – a secret movement created to resist the Nazis and create escape passages for the Jewish people.
Corrie’s home, the city of Haarlem, changed. Jews were terrorised, the Dutch turned on the Dutch and something needed to be done. The ten Booms decided to be a refuge for Jews, and after the ten Booms helped their second Jewish person escape Holland in partnership with the Dutch Underground, Corrie prayed this prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.”
Corrie was an ordinary woman, living in an extraordinary time. Do you still believe the lie that to be used by God in the world you need to be approved by the standards of the world? For your effectiveness to increase as you serve in God’s kingdom, the only thing God needs more of from you is your availability.
God does not judge our ministry effectiveness by the world’s standard. In fact, God constantly chose the most surprising of candidates.
Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Joseph was abused, Moses had a stuttering problem, Gideon was afraid, Sampson was a womaniser, Rahab was a prostitute, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Naomi was a widow, Peter denied Christ, the Disciples fell asleep with the one job to protect Jesus, Martha worried about everything, the Samaritan woman was divorced, Zaccheus was too small, Paul killed the children of God.
You don’t qualify yourself for serving in the Kingdom of God, God’s grace qualifies you.
Pillar #2: The Testimony of Perspective
Smuggling Jews out of the Nazi overrun areas of Holland took time. The ten Boom family would house individuals and families for months. For 2 years, the ten Booms risked their lives to save the others. To keep this up, they needed to build a hiding place for when they knew their house would be searched. With the help of the Dutch Underground, they built a false wall at the back of Corrie’s room changing the depth of her room by only 30 inches.
In February of 1944, the ten Boom family were betrayed by one of their own countrymen, arrested and taken to Scheveningen prison, where Corrie’s father would die only ten days later.
Amazingly, the Nazi’s never did find the six Jews that the ten Booms were hiding in that secret room. They stood upright for 47 hours before they were rescued by a local police resistance group.
The arrest catapulted Corrie into one the most horrific places anyone in history has found themselves: under Nazi imprisonment.
In Scheveningen Prison, Corrie was interrogated by a German Nazi Lieutenant. Lieutenant Rahms quizzed her about her work prior to the war, when she ministered to children with a disability.
He said, “Surely one normal person is worth all the halfwits in the world!”
She writes this, “And then to my astonishment I heard my own voice saying boldly, ‘May I tell you the truth, Lieutenant Rahms?’
‘The truth Sir,’ I said swallowing, ‘is that God’s viewpoint is sometimes different from ours – so different that we could not even guess at it unless He had given us a Book which tells us such things.’
I knew it was madness to talk this way to a Nazi officer. But he said nothing so I plunged ahead.
‘In the Bible I learn that God values us not for our strength or our brains but simply because He made us. Who knows, in His eyes a half-wit may be worth more than a watchmaker. Or – a lieutenant.’”
It was madness for Corrie to speak this way to a Nazi officer. How could she be preaching the gospel to a man who must have been responsible for sending hundreds, if not thousands, to their death?
In the Gospel of Luke, he records that Jesus was appointed for the ‘fall and rising of many in Israel.’ (Luke 2v34) The rising, because the gospel brings new life, but the fall because the gospel is offensive to the proud. It teaches us that we’re not worthy of God’s grace. We cannot earn God’s grace, so all men and women come to God equally with nothing to offer Him.
This bold proclamation to the Lieutenant could have been the end of her.
People remember Corrie ten Boom’s life for the deep love she had for people that it was much easier to hate. She had a perspective that all people matter. Why? Because all people matter to God.
I wonder what your heart is for that difficult person at work, for that family member that you just can’t stand or for that person who publicly mocks your faith? Do you have a faith-filled Corrie-Ten Boom perspective?
Pillar #3: The Testimony of Together
I’m sure Corrie would jump out of her grave if she heard her life being characterised as a life of perfection. Let me reassure you now, no testimony of any Christian from the annals of time will be a testimony of perfection.
Corrie was first kept in Vught Concentration Camp for three months and then Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for four months. Corrie describes the barracks in which she and her sister, Betsie, were kept at Ravensbruck as being next to the punishment barracks.
“From there, all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace,” she writes.
In her book, Corrie says the women witnessed over 700 men being executed by Nazi soldiers. Truly, life in Concentration Camps was beyond our understanding.
There is this one scene in Vught, where Corrie is overwhelmed by her imprisonment and is dreaming of life outside of this camp.
“‘Betsie!’ I wailed, ‘how long will it take?’
‘Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?’
I turned to stare at her. ‘Whatever are you talking about?’
‘These young men. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…’
She went on, almost forgetting in her excitement to keep her voice to a whisper, while I slowly took in the fact that she was talking about our guards. I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a grey uniform and a visored hat: Betsie saw a wounded human being.
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of a person she was, this sister of mine… what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on the all-too-solid-earth.”
All through their time in Concentration Camps, Betsie shines to Corrie like a lighthouse of Jesus love. Corrie has rage against her oppressors; Betsie is compelled by love and forgiveness.
Through the love of Jesus, the bunker in which they stayed was transformed from a selfish place where women would fight each other for scraps to a place where prisoners developed an overwhelming love for one another.
As her body became weaker, just before Betsie died in Ravensbruck at the age of 59 she said, “We must tell the people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie because we have been here.”
We all need a Betsie and we all need to be a Betsie.
The truth is there are times in our lives when we need a Betsie. This is only possible when we make the decision that we ourselves need to BE a Betsie. Who do you need to encourage today of the strength of our heavenly father?
Pillar #4: The Testimony of Gospel Living
God used Corrie’s father, Casper, to raise a daughter with a deep love for the Lord. God used Corrie’s sister to teach Corrie to apply the forgiveness she saw so powerfully in the Gospel. Amidst Corrie’s wrestle with anger, suffering and resentment, such resilience in her faith had developed that she carried the joy of the Lord with her wherever she went.
Through what could only be described as a miracle, Corrie smuggled a Bible with her into prison. While each woman was searched from head to toe, she walked into Ravensbruck without being touched by a guard.
The Gospel mission of Corrie and Betsie was profound. This is what she described the purpose of her life as living in Ravensbruck:
“But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the centre of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God.”
This ministry saved many women and many believers persevered in their faith because of God’s miraculous hand working through the boldness of Corrie and Betsie.
How were Corrie and her sister able to achieve such self-sacrificing ministry? It was because they had a functioning conviction that the Gospel defined their lives.
The legacy of an unwitting giant
Because of a clerical error, the Nazis released Corrie ten Boom from Ravensbruck a week before everyone her age was murdered. She left the Concentration Camp and went straight back into helping the Jews. After the war was over, she set up a refuge for those affected by the war, Germans and Allies alike. She also travelled to 60 countries in more than 30 years proclaiming the message that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”
The legacy of Corrie ten Boom is not how impressive her stature was or intellect or craftiness was, and I’m sure that Corrie would be disappointed if the lesson we took from her life was anything to do with her holiness, even though her holiness was most evident. The legacy of Corrie ten Boom is how she allowed the Gospel to change her.
How will you choose to define your life?
By Pastor Carl Robinson
References: ten Boom, C 1971, The Hiding Place, Hodder & Stoughton, London, UK.
Metaxas, E 2015, Seven Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness, Nelson Books, Nashville, TN.