Corrie ten Boom - Happy Birthday

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Posted by Julie Edensor on 15 April 2015 | Comments

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“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Corrie ten Boom

Today I rejoice and celebrate with countless others the precious life of Corrie ten Boom. The Ten Boom family were instrumental in my salvation. After reading 'The Hiding Place' and learning how Corrie and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II (saving nearly 800 lives) I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

Cornelia "Corrie" ten Boom was born in Haarlem, Netherlands, in 1892, and grew up in a devout Christian family. During World War II, she and her family harboured hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by Nazi authorities. Betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen, the entire family was imprisoned. Corrie survived and started a worldwide ministry and later told her story in a book entitled The Hiding Place.

Early Life

The ten Boom family lived in the Beje house in Haarlem (short for Barteljorisstraat, the street where the house was located) in rooms above Casper's watch shop. Faith inspired them to serve society, offering shelter, food and money to those in need. In this tradition, the family held a deep respect for the Jewish community in Amsterdam, considering them "God's ancient people."

Seeking a Vocation

After the death of her mother and a disappointing romance, Corrie trained to be a watchmaker and in 1922 became the first woman licensed as a watchmaker in Holland. Over the next decade, in addition to working in her father's shop, she established a youth club for teenage girls, which provided religious instruction as well as classes in the performing arts, sewing and handicrafts.

World War II Changes Everything

In May 1940, the German Blitzkrieg ran though the Netherlands and the other Low Countries. Within months, the "Nazification" of the Dutch people began and the quiet life of the ten Boom family was changed forever. During the war, the Beje house became a refuge for Jews, students and intellectuals. The façade of the watch shop made the house an ideal front for these activities. A secret room, no larger than a small wardrobe closet, was built into Corrie's bedroom behind a false wall. The space could hold up to six people, all of whom had to stand quiet and still. A crude ventilation system was installed to provide air for the occupants. When security sweeps came through the neighbourhood, a buzzer in the house would signal danger, allowing the refugees a little over a minute to seek sanctuary in the hiding place.

The entire ten Boom family became active in the Dutch resistance, risking their lives harbouring those hunted by the Gestapo. Some fugitives would stay only a few hours, while others would stay several days until another "safe house" could be located. Corrie ten Boom became a leader in the "Beje" movement, overseeing a network of "safe houses" in the country. Through these activities, it was estimated that 800 Jews' lives were saved.

Capture and Imprisonment

On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis of the ten Booms' activities and the Gestapo raided the home. They kept the house under surveillance, and by the end of the day 35 people, including the entire ten Boom family, were arrested, Although German soldiers thoroughly searched the house, they didn't find the half-dozen Jews safely concealed in the hiding place. The six stayed in the cramped space for nearly three days before being rescued by the Dutch underground.

All ten Boom family members were incarcerated, including Corrie's 84-year-old father.  When Casper ten Boom was interrogated in prison, the  Gestapo  told him they would release him because of his age so that he could "die in his own bed". He replied: "If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help".When asked if he knew he could die for helping Jews, he replied, "It would be an honor to give my life for God's chosen people." On 10 March Casper died at the Hague Municipal Hospital, at the age of 84, after ten days in Scheveningen prison.

Corrie and her sister Betsie were remanded to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp, near Berlin. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944 (Twelve days later, Corrie was released for reasons not completely known)

Thanking God for the fleas

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells of a time she and her sister Betsie discovered that God was working even in the most horrific circumstances. Corrie and her sister Betsie had been imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews behind the wall of their Holland home, and Nazi prison conditions pretty well unbearable.

Corrie writes: "Barracks 8 was in the quarantine compound. Next to us perhaps as a deliberate warning to newcomers were located 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. We would stand in our ten deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop. "It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering.

Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy." Yet, in the midst of the suffering, the women prisoners around Corrie and Betsie found comfort in the little Bible studies they held in the barracks. Corrie writes they gathered around the Bible "like waifs clustered around a blazing fire…The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God." When they were moved to Barracks 28, Corrie was horrified by the fact that their reeking, straw bed platforms swarmed with fleas.

How could they live in such a place? It was Betsie who discovered God's answer: "'"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the 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…" They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God's Word. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas. "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 tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong." It turned out that Betsie was not wrong; the fleas were a nuisance, but a blessing after all. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. They finally discovered that it was the fleas that kept those supervisors out.

Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse and harassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope giving Word of God. Through those fleas, God protected the women from much worse things and made sure they had their deepest, truest needs met. We all have "fleas" in our lives. We all have those things that we can see no use for, things that are obviously horrible, unpleasant, painful things that we want gone. No life is free of "fleas", but if Corrie and Betsie can be our examples, God can use even these nasty insects for our protection and blessing. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, lets thank God for His constant care and provision, and for His hidden blessings that come in ways we can easily overlook.

Betsie’s Death

Before her death, Betsie ten Boom experienced three visions from God about what she and Corrie were to do after their release. She believed they would be released by the New Year. Her first vision was of a house for former prisoners. The second was to own a concentration camp where they could teach Germans to learn to love again. The third was that she and Corrie would travel the world telling what they had learned of God while in the camps. Betsie ten Boom died in Ravensbruck on 16 December 1944, at the age of 59.

Betsie, who perished there just days before Corrie's own release on December 31, 1944. Inspired by Betsie's example of selfless love and forgiveness amid extreme cruelty and persecution, Corrie established a post-war home for other camp survivors trying to recover from the horrors they had escaped. She went on to travel widely as a missionary, preaching God's forgiveness and the need for reconciliation. Corrie's devout moral principles were tested when, by chance, she came face to face with one of her former tormentors in 1947. The following description of that experience is excerpted from her 1971 autobiography, The Hiding Place, written with the help of John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

I'm Still Learning to Forgive

"I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us."

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. ...

And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...

"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.

"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ..." his hand came out, ... "will you forgive me?"

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." ...

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.

Life after being released

Corrie ten Boom returned to the Netherlands after the war and set up a rehabilitation centre for concentration camp survivors. In the Christian spirit to which she was so devoted, she also took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the occupation. In 1946, she began a worldwide ministry that took her to more than 60 countries. She received many tributes, including being knighted by the queen of the Netherlands. In 1971, she wrote a best-selling book of her experiences during World War II, entitled The Hiding Place. In 1975, the book was made into a movie starring Jeannette Clift as Corrie and Julie Harris as her sister Betsie.

In 1977, at age 85, Corrie ten Boom moved to Placentia, California. The next year, she suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. Corrie loved the Psalm 91 how wonderful that she died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. Her passing on this date evokes the Jewish traditional belief that states that only specially blessed people are granted the privilege of dying on the date they were born.

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