Corrie Ten Boom felt that the significance of her life was not that she was an exceptional person, but that she was ‘a very weak and ordinary one’. I don’t know how many of you have read this book, but it’s a bit of a classic. The first half of the book focuses on the family’s history, how it’s faith was demonstrated, and how they hid Jews from the Nazis at great risk to themselves. They are betrayed and the rest of the book tells us of Corrie’s experiences in the brutal concentration came – how she wished to fight against it, and how her sister Betsie continually was an example to her.
Her sister Betsie envisioned the home they would have to offer concentration camp victims post-war, and that they concentration camp they were in would be offered to them as a refuge post-war.
There are two sections of this book that I’ve always remembered – her sister encouraging her (p185):
In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
“Go on” said Betsie “that wasn’t all”
“Oh yes ‘… To one another and to all. Rejoice always, play constantly, give thanks in all circumstances for this it he will of God in Christ Jesus –“
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said
“Such as being assigned here together”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus”
“Such as what you are holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible “Yes! Thank you, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here. Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You on these pages.”
“Yes” said Betside. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for…”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” She quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between two piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
10 pages later: [Betsie has found out why the guards never enter their room, and thus why they’ve had more freedom than others. Earlier the supervisor had been called to something…]
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!”
My mind rushed back to the first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
And at the end, where she meets an ex-SS man who has since become a Christian (p220):
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ has died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him, give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Prepared for use as an Oak Hall Leader.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.