How did a quiet, humble woman become a pillar of the faith? What made an ordinary person willing to risk everything to save others? What was so special about the faith of Corrie Ten Boom and her family that they refused to stand by and let others die?
1. She had a history of Christian service
When Holland surrendered to the Nazi invasion, Corrie Ten Boom was 48 years old. She was a watchmaker in the shop started by her grandfather and unmarried. She lived with her father and older sister Betsie in rooms above the shop, and the family was well known in their neighbourhood for their generosity and Christian charity.
It was this practice of regularly giving to others and helping others that prepared Corrie and her family to act when the need arose.
Corrie said her father was the one who taught her to walk out her faith. He was a godly man who knew nearly everyone in their town. The family home above the shop was always open to those in need.
Corrie’s grandfather had started a weekly prayer service that continued for over one hundred years and only ended when the Nazis arrested the family, breaking up the prayer meeting that was in progress. In their prayer service, they would pray for the Jewish people and for the peace of Jerusalem.
2. She was not afraid of the consequences of acting on her faith
One day shortly after the Nazis had taken over, Corrie was trying to convince a pastor to take in a mother and baby who were fleeing from capture. The pastor refused, saying, “We could lose our lives for that Jewish child.”
Her father had been listening from nearby and took up the child and said, “I would consider that the greatest honour that could come to my family.” That self-sacrificing love led them to open their home to many fleeing Nazi persecution.
Corrie, Betsie, and their father built a tiny hidden room into the wall of Corrie’s bedroom where they would protect people from their persecutors until the resistance could take them to safety. Although the punishment for hiding fugitives was severe, the family believed that God would want them to take the risk.
In all, it is estimated that as many as eight hundred Jewish people may have been sheltered in that room and saved from death in the eighteen months that the Ten Booms were able to operate their safe house.
3. When trouble came it drove her towards God not from Him
Corrie and her family were betrayed to the Nazis and arrested. Within ten days her father died from the harsh conditions, and she and Betsie were eventually transported to Ravensbrueck Concentration Camp in Germany.
The sisters had miraculously been able to hide a tiny Bible from the guards (Corrie later said it was as though they couldn’t see it), and they would lead worship services in the camp.
She or Betsie would translate the words to German, and the other prisoners would then translate the reading again to their language so that Polish, Russian, Czech, French and Dutch prisoners were all able to hear the word of God.
Conditions in the camp were brutal, and Corrie had one tiny bottle of vitamins. Each day she would give some to her sister Betsie, who had always been of ill health, but as more and more prisoners fell ill, she had to step out in faith and share with them. She would give each person a drop of the vitamins, praying that God would make it last. Each day there was enough in the bottle.
Betsie prayed for their captors, telling Corrie that she could see them through Christ’s eyes. She even thanked God for the fleas in their mattress. Those fleas were the reason that the guards stayed away from their rooms, so they could sleep and worship in peace. Corrie would pray for all the needs of the women prisoners, and many came to a living faith in that terrible place.
Betsie had always had fragile health and was older than Corrie. The conditions in the camp were so terrible that she became ill, but she died with peace in her heart and a smile on her lips because of her great faith.
Corrie would later say that some of her last words were, “(we) must tell them what we have learned here. 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.”
4. She never looked back
A short time after Betsie’s death, Corrie was miraculously released from the prison camp one week before all other women her age died. Somehow a clerical error had been made. Naturally, Corrie attributed this miraculous escape to God.
She made her way home to Holland to find that she had been changed by her experiences in the camp and was not content to return to her previous life of watchmaking. Like Betsie, she felt God wanted her to go out and tell others about what she had experienced during her time in captivity.
Corrie, now aged 53, began to travel and tell everyone about God and the wonderful things He had done in the camp. Over the next 33 years, she wrote several books about her experiences and travelled the world spreading her faith to any who would listen. She even opened a convalescent home for concentration camp survivors.
5. She forgave
One day after a speaking engagement, a man approached her and wanted to shake her hand. To her shock, she realized that he had been one of the prison guards who had treated the women shamefully. Everything within her rebelled at the idea of forgiving the man, but she knew she must.
He told her he had become a Christian and knew God had forgiven him, but that he wanted her to forgive him as well. Reluctantly she took his hands and forced out the words of forgiveness. To her shock, she was filled with the healing power of God and tearfully proclaimed, “I forgive you brother, with all my heart!” By forgiving her former tormenter, she was healed of anger and resentment and filled with peace and love.
This was one of the greatest things she learned and taught. She said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” So it was that a quiet, humble spinster learned to be a giant of the faith.
Corrie died peacefully in California on her 91st birthday. An old Jewish belief says that only specially blessed people die on their birthday.