The other day, a colleague posted an inspirational memes on our office intranet. Perhaps this young woman, fresh out of college, had never before heard of Corrie ten Boom, the cited author of the inspirational quotation. But I had. Corrie was a big part of my life when I was a kid.
Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983) was part of a family of Dutch Christian watchmakers. In the 1930s her family joined the Nazi Resistance and started hiding Jews in their home. They constructed a secret room at the top of their house in The Hague and instituted an alarm system so that when police stopped at the door, the illegal guests could rush to the hiding place within seconds.
After helping to ferry many Jews to safety, Corrie and her family were arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where her sister and father died. But Corrie survived. Eventually she started writing and speaking, and in 1971 she published an autobiography, “The Hiding Place,” which was made into a movie in 1975.
As a boy I was obsessed with Corrie ten Boom’s story — the cool hiding place, the villainous Nazis, the innocent Jews whom the ten Booms helped. I too wanted to help the innocent, to be crafty in opposing evil, to be utterly fearless. I found a place in my house to serve as a hiding place for the innocent if Nazis ever threatened. I was ready.
Eventually I got to hear Corrie ten Boom in person, and it was a thrill! She reminded us of her sister Betsy’s words, just before dying in the camp: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”
I realize that my childhood fascination with Corrie ten Boom was naïve. As an adult, I understand that the Shoah was, for 6 million Jews, a pit so deep that God’s presence was not felt. I have visited concentration camps and caught just an inkling of the horror.
Yet I don’t think it’s wrong to look to the helpers.
Look back at Corrie’s birth date. She was in her 40s when the War began — a professional woman (her country’s first licensed female watchmaker!) who lived a quiet life. She was nondescript until she was called to live for others in a way that she never could have imagined.
Here we are, in month six of our lockdown, and feeling antsy. But I’m recalling how purposefully the ten Booms lived, how caring they were, how willing to embrace risk for the right cause, how patient in suffering. And I pray that God will give us all the strength to endure whatever we must endure, to live our lives for others, and to bring hope where there is no hope.
There are still people dying, and the helpers are still needed. I pray that I’ll be one.
Associated Church Press Board Member
Publisher, In Trust magazine