Remembering Christian Heros & Heroines

Today, being the last Sunday of October, my church held on to the tradition of remembering the 16th-century Protestants Reformation by Martin Luther.  Without his daring reformation, believing that 'the just shall live by faith' (Romans 1:17), we might not be able get hold of the physical Bible that we have today.  You may read about an article written by my pastor on this here.

I am sharing here today, a book I have read not too long again on a Holland Christian heroine called Carrie ten Boom.

If you are like me, who have not lived through war-stricken live before, it is not easy for you to understand what kind of destructions civil war can bring to the common people.  I am born in the 1970s, by God’s mercy, I have not witnessed any civil war thus far.  But I remember, a decade or so ago, Singapore’s broadcasting company did broadcast a drama series on Japanese invading Malaysia & Singapore during the World War II.  The drama series is called ‘Wu Suo Nan Yang (雾锁南洋)”.  As I read through this book which talked about Germany invading Holland during the World War II, images of the drama series came into my mind.  Having watched the drama series & now reading this book on Corrie ten Boom, I can picture the scenes of torment described in the book better.

The 1st chapter of the book started with the description of Corrie, her older sister Betsie and her father being dragged to the prison as the family had hidden 6 Jews in a secret place (called Angels’ Den) in their house. From 2nd chapter onwards, it was a flashback of Corrie’s life since 17 of age.

Corrie was the youngest in the family.  She had 2 sisters & a brother who was being trained to be a pastor.  They could all speak German, English & Dutch. The family even fostered 10 children, raising them to adulthood.  Corrie’s father ran a clockshop and was 1 of the most skilled clockmakers in Holland. Corrie saw the popularity of wristwatch and thus went to Switzerland to learn how to make & repair wristwatches.  At age 32, she was certified as a watchmaker.

The family had been strong in their faith.  Every morning, Corrie’s father would read a chapter of the Bible aloud after breakfast, and always ending with a special prayer of blessing for the queen of Netherlands.  Everyone in the house, except those sick in bed, was expected to be at the morning Bible reading and prayer.

To most of the local people, Corrie’s father was known affectionately as “Haarlem’s Grand Old Man”. He was so popular that many would visit his shop for advice, kind word or prayer.  They even pooled their money together to buy him a radio!

Because of the geographic location of Holland, it would be difficult not to be involved in a war, as ally or enemy, when Germany started World War II.  On 9 May 1940 9.30pm, the Dutch prime minister assured his people over the radio that they would not go into war, something which Corrie’s father thought was naive.  True enough, in the wee morning of the next day, Germany attached Holland.

Nazis (the ruling party in Germany then) hated the Jews, and thus the 115,000 Jewish people who lived in Holland were slowly and relentlessly isolated from the rest of the Dutch society. Jews were forbidden in public libraries and restaurants. Dutch Jews holding government jobs were fired and men were sent labour camps in eastern Holland. Many old and familiar Jewish businesses were forced to shut down. Jews were not allowed to own bicycles, use public transport or accept a ride in a private car. Whenever German soldiers saw Jews in the street, the mocked them. Whenever the Jews were out in public, they had to wear on the front of their clothes a patch bearing a large yellow Star of David with the word 'Jew' stamped across it. The Nazis hated the Jews so much that they wanted to wipe them from the face of the earth.

Casper ten Boom, father of Corrie, would not have second thought about suffering for God's sake or even dying to help a Jewish person. So when the first Jewish person came to seek refuge at their house because her Jewish husband had been arrested and her son went underground to avoid being captured, Casper ten Boom was more than willing to take her in. Very soon, more & more Jewish persons were housed.

The excitement of the book starts from the building of the secret room, called the Angels’ Den, extended from Corrie's bedroom where the Jews could hide in Corrie's house when a raid happens. The secret room was built by 1 of Europe's most famous architects.

It was not easy for Corrie's family to take those people in. Beside the extra mouths they need to feed with the already limited resources, there were also washing & health issues to consider. Every person who entered Corrie's house could be a spy, and even a person loyal to the cause might be caught and tortured by the Gestapo officers (or the secret police) for information. Under such torture, any contact could give them all up.

It was unfortunate that a spy, posed as a window washer, went to spy on Corrie’s family and had probably noticed some unusual stuff.   One afternoon, a local policeman who helped the underground whenever he could, informed Corrie that another underground refuge was going to be raided. Corrie had wanted to help to inform the underground but it was already 5 o’clock and the curfew was 6.  There was no time to send someone to the underground to pass instructions on the raid. But a 17 year-old guest of Corrie volunteered himself, so Corrie let him.  However, the 17 year-old was arrested and knowing the age, it was right to assume that Corrie’s house would soon be raided as a 17 year-old could keep no secrets under terrible torture.

And yes, Corrie’s house was raided but it was another guy called Jan Vogel who betrayed Corrie. Some guests were able to hide in the secret room on time, 3 others were not. They, together with Betsie, Corrie’s sister and her father, were caught by the Gestapo officers.  They guided the house for the whole day as the suspects refused to reveal anything.  Eventually the ten Boom trio were locked up in a camp together with the rest of the captives.

But the guests in the secret room were kept safe.  Days after the Gestapo officers guided the house and found no refugees, they handed the house to the local police to guide it.  1 of the local police officers worked closely with the underground, found out where the secret room was, released those guests hiding there.

Corrie, Betsie and her father were tortured in the camp.  Her father died when he was in the prison for 10 days, and Betsie, her sister, who had not been in good health since birth, also died slightly before Germany was defeated. Finally, 3 days before 1945, Corrie and the rest of the captives in the same camp were released. Eventually, all of her siblings died, leaving Corrie alone.  Though he saly me, yet will I trust him (Job 13:15a) – Corrie’s faith in God never wavered even though trials after trials came upon her.  There wasn’t any moment that she questioned God why such mishap must come onto her and her family.  It was so remarkable. 

It is very difficult to imagine how one can survive extreme torment alone, with no loved ones beside you to give you mutual support and encouragement.  When Corrie was locked up in the prison cell, she was alone.  Her father and sister were not with her.  Corrie was already quite sick when she was taken to the cell.  In the inhumane condition of the cell – with a slice of bread daily and sleeping on thin mattress, and at times with lice, it was easy for one to just give it up and yearn for death.  Corrie, on the other hand, only yearn for 1 thing – the Bible.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).  Having insufficient feed of physical food was not important, having insufficient feed of God’s Word was more important.  Through some contacts, she managed to get a Bible, which she treasured dearly, and she even conducted bible studies for the ladies in the cell.

The healing process for Corrie was not easy, at the same time, the words of her sister Betsie kept ringing in her ears -  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper”. So, beside setting up home for the captives who were released from the camps to heal and recover from the terror they had received, she also opened her home for the betrayers who had helped the Nazi official to stay for help and healing.  To love and to forgive was what Corrie had been sharing.  The testimonies of the ten Boom family as remarkable – Corrie’s father was ready to die for the standing firm in his faith, her sister Betsie prayed for their enemy the Germans, and Corrie forgave the persons who betrayed the family.  She later traveled to many countries sharing about God’s love.  She relentlessly shared God’s love with people she encountered – on the road, on the plane, etc.  She died on her 91st birthday.

I hope you could now fully understand what I meant when I said in the beginning it is not easy for one to understand what kind of destructions civil war can bring to the common people unless you have been through one.  Thank God that we have movies on war when we can visualize for ourselves the torments that the prisoners have to go through.  With that, it helps us to visualize the horrible scenes described in this book.  If you have seen any war movies before, you should be able to read this book with greater understanding.  We will not be able to comprehend the depth of mercy God has on us until we see the mishaps of others.  May this book be a blessing to your lives too.

The Bible Witness Web Radio has a broadcast on this book review which you may listen here.


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