…And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. Hebrews 11:4 NIV
“‘…must tell people what we have learned here,’ (gasped Betsie as she was dying.) ‘We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.’” (Corrie ten Boom: The Hiding Place)
If you have never read this inspiring book, or haven’t read it recently, I recommend you do so.
For Betsie was right: their stories reach out over the years and grab us by the throat. As the writer of Hebrews said of Abraham, “Though (they are dead), yet (they) speak.”
And what do they speak of? God’s presence and love in one of the darkest places and times the world has ever seen: Nazi concentration camps during World War II. We believe their stories because they lived them.
As you may remember, the whole ten Boom family was arrested by the Gestapo for helping Jews escape the Nazis in occupied Holland. Their elderly father died under the stress of the arrest. Eventually, the rest of the family was released—except for Corrie and Betsie who were sent to Ravensbruck. Many famous stories emerged from that awful place, including the one about the fleas which I used in a recent column (“Radical Thanksgiving.”)
But the story that took my breath away was about Corrie’s sister, Betsie.
It was winter. The sisters were assigned to a work crew tasked with leveling rough ground just inside the camp wall—difficult for anyone, let alone half-starved women shivering in inadequate clothes.
One morning it had rained hard. The ground was water-soaked, heavier than usual. Poor Betsie, with her failing strength, was only able to manage a little bit of dirt on her shovel, stumbling frequently as she walked back and forth.
Cursing her slowness, one of the guards mocked her walk, then laughed at her for the small amount she was carrying. Corrie says it best:
“As the laughter grew, I felt a murderous anger rise. The guard was young and well fed—was it Betsie’s fault she was old and starving? But to my astonishment, Betsie too was laughing.
‘That’s me, all right,’ she admitted. ‘But you’d better let me totter along with my little spoonful, or I’ll have to stop altogether.’
The guard’s plump cheeks went crimson. ‘I’ll decide who’s to stop!’ And snatching the leather crop from her belt she slashed Betsie across the chest and neck.
Without knowing what I was doing I had seized my shovel and rushed at her.
Betsie stepped in front of me before anyone had seen. ‘Corrie!’ she pleaded, dragging my arm to the side. ‘Corrie, keep working!’ … A red stain appeared on Betsie’s collar; a welt began to swell on her neck.
Betsie saw where I was looking and laid a bird-thin hand over the whip mark. ‘Don’t look at it, Corrie. Look at Jesus only.’ She drew away her hand; it was sticky with blood.”
Reading, I was awestruck. My eyes filled.
We’ve just celebrated All Saints’ Day. I know the church now teaches all believers are saints, chosen and loved by God, set aside for His purposes on earth. But I can’t help thinking that some of us come closer to the capital “S” saints of the church of old.
To keep her faith and her trust in God in those circumstances, to meet such hatred and cruelty with unfailing love, to see “Jesus only…” while she was bleeding from a blow she didn’t deserve—well, Betsie ten Boom just has to be one of those special ones.
Betsie died in the camp, dreaming of a place where they could help the people of Germany and Europe recover from the horrors of Nazism, forgive each other and be reconciled. Corrie spent the rest of her life making Betsie’s dream come true. After traveling the world, speaking and ministering, she joined her sister in God’s Kingdom of Joy.
But her words still speak, as Betsie knew they would, telling us there’s hope, that God is in control, that He is with us in the darkness and will help us endure whatever comes.
If we look with eyes of faith.