Corrie ten Boom: Victory through surrender
by Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird
Corrie ten Boom once said: “I’ve never had the joy of bringing to birth a child, but I’ve often had the great joy to bring the rebirth to someone else. The creative life that a woman had to be married and have children, I could use in the Kingdom of God.”
After the Nazis conquered Holland, 100,000 Dutch Jews were sent to concentration camps. Corrie’s father, Casper, known as the Grand Old Man of Haarlem, had a deep love of Jewish people, saying, “In this house, God’s people are always welcome.” No one was turned away. Corrie similarly prayed, “Lord Jesus, I offer myself for your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.” Through disguising themselves as Nazi soldiers, her underground team saved 100 Jewish babies who were about to be killed in an orphanage. A well-known architect built them a secret 2 1/2 foot wide hiding place behind a new brick wall in Corrie’s bedroom. Even after arresting the Ten Booms, the Gestapo were never able to find the Jews hidden in this ‘angelcrib’ hiding place. At the time of the arrest, Corrie’s interrogator painfully slapped her in the face after every question. Corrie cried out: “Lord Jesus, protect me!” He hissed at her, “If you mention that name again once more, I will kill you.” But miraculously, he stopped beating her. Corrie, Betsie and their Father all glanced at their fireplace’s plaque ‘Jesus is Victor’. Corrie thought: “It looks now as if the Gestapo were the conquerors. But they are not.”
Corrie and her sister Betsie hid over 800 Jewish people in their Haarlem watchmaker home, before being sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in East Germany where 96,000 women died. “The sufferings of Jesus”, said Corrie, “became very real to me at Ravensbruck.” She lost four family members in the concentration camps, including her beloved older sister Betsie who forgave and prayed for the guards even as they mercilessly beat her. “Don’t hate”, Betsie pleaded to Corrie. Three days before Betsie died, she shared with her sister Corrie the vision of first opening healing homes in Holland and Germany, before going around the world sharing about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Two weeks later, Corrie was set free through a God-ordained clerical error. One week after this, all the other women her age at Ravensbruck were taken to the gas chamber.
Upon returning to Holland, Corrie opened a home in Holland to bring healing for people, even including the ostracized Dutch who had collaborated with the Nazis. She was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands for her work.
Corrie told God that she was willing to go where he wanted her to go, but hoped that he’d never send her back to Germany. Finally, after sensing a blockage in her prayer life, she repented, saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll go to Germany too.” God sent her back to Ravensbruck to lead bible studies with former guards, now in prison. Then, she rented and cleaned up a former concentration camp in Germany to bring temporary housing and healing to some of the nine million Germans who had been bombed or driven out of their homes.
In Munich, a former Ravensbruck guard said to Corrie: ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein. To think, as you said, that he washes my sins away!’ Corrie later wrote, “His hand was thrust out to shake mine….Even as angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man. Was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him…Again I silently prayed ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness’. As I took his hand, my heart felt an overwhelming love for this stranger.”
Corrie became a penniless tramp for the Lord, travelling for three decades to 62 countries, and sleeping in over 1,000 different beds. Wherever she went globally, Corrie shared from her Ravensbruck experience that the light and love of Jesus Christ is deeper than the deepest darkness. She was the favourite travelling companion of the Bible-smuggler, Brother Andrew as they both did missionary work behind the Iron Curtain in Vietnam and 12 other Communist countries. In Vietnam, they gave her the honorific title of ‘Double-old Grandmother.” While in the Soviet Union, she intentionally preached the gospel in her hotel room, knowing that everything she said was being listened to and recorded by communist officials.
Corrie was a unique blend of the compassion of a Mother Theresa and the evangelistic passion of Billy Graham. Through her deep friendship with Rev. Billy and Ruth Graham, Corrie’s Hiding Place book was turned into a movie reaching tens of millions. Ruth Graham said: “I didn’t know anyone who had suffered so intensely for the Lord and for his people, as Corrie had, and come through with absolutely nothing but love in her heart for her captors —she forgave them.” In 1967, Corrie was recognized by Israel as a righteous gentile, planting a tree in her honour. When people kept telling her how brave she was, Corrie transparently prayed, “What little courage I have…I was not brave. I was often like a timid, fluttering bird, looking for a hiding place….Lord, I am weak and cowardly and of little faith; do hold me close. Thou art the conqueror. May that assurance give me courage and loyalty.”
Speaking in an African prison, Corrie said about Ravensbruck, “I knew that unforgiveness would do more harm than the guard’s whip…I could not do it. I was not able. Jesus in me was able to do it. You see, you never touch the ocean of God’s love as when you love your enemies.” When Corrie shared with prisoners in Rwanda, a revival of joy and hope broke out, even among the guards. As she was leaving, the prisoners swarmed around her, chanting ‘Old woman, come back. Old woman, come back and tell us more of Jesus.” Many people are unaware of the powerful international healing ministry that Corrie had, once even healing a leper in Vellore, India, through laying on of her hands.
Because of her work blessing indigenous people, Corrie was adopted into the Hopi First Nation and given the name, Beautiful Flower. While staying at a Kansas farm, Corrie challenged her host, who had recently kicked his son out, telling him to never darken his doorstep again. She said to the farmer: “If you believe in Jesus Christ and belong to Him, your sins have been cast into the depths of the sea, and that’s very deep. But then he expects also that you forgive the sins of your boy and cast them into the depths of the sea. Just imagine how you would feel if there should be another war, if your son had to go back into service and was killed in action. Don’t you think you should forgive him right now?” After riding together in silence, the farmer invited Corrie to go with him where he asked his son to forgive him. His son replied: “But Father, I should ask you for forgiveness.”
In her late sixties, Corrie was betrayed and hurt by some Christians she loved and trusted: “You would have thought that, having been able to forgive the guards in Ravensbruck, forgiving Christian friends would be child’s play. It wasn’t. For weeks, I seethed inside. But at last I asked God again to work His miracle in me…I was restored to the Father.” She later burnt the painful letters from her friends, as a sign of letting go. Are you willing, like Corrie, to find victory through surrendering your unforgiveness?
Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird – co-authors of For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship