Tuesday, April 03, 2012

C is for Corrie

Words elude me whenever I try to speak of the impact that Corrie ten Boom has had on my life.
I had the rare privilege of hearing her speak to a packed-out crowd assembled in a huge auditorium when I about 12 or 13 years old.

In her heavy Dutch accent, Corrie spoke beautiful English. Her voice was low and soft, but commanding. I sat there listening to her recount the blessing her father was to her and to a handful of Jews he hid in his home during Hitler's regime. I heard her voice swell and then crack as she remembered the love she and her sister Betsie shared.

But the main thing I remember is this story, as told in her book , The Hiding Place:

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset 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, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

“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 center 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.]

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard 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. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. 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.’

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“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. ‘… Help!’ 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!’


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If I had the time, I would write a far better post than this to honor the memory of a woman whose example in life and death have ministered to me time and time again.
Corrie ten Boom's legacy of forgiveness has given me a perspective that the vilest offender in my mind is no better than me. In fact, we are the same.

5 comments:

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Oh me too! She actually visited my summer camp in Tuxedo, NC when I was probably 10 or 11. I actually snuggled up next to her on the front porch. She reminded me of my Swedish great grandmother, Baba, with her grey hair spun into a bun and her cotton dress.

I still have the signed paperback copy of her book. As the daughter of a Jewish mother (I had a very mixed up religious upbringing), I couldn't help but relate to her on a deep cellular level. Thank YOU for posting about her today.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Powerful powerful post....thank you.

Danielle said...

Very powerful reflections, Zoanna. Sounds like Corrie Ten Boon has the same place in your heart that Elisabeth Elliot has in mine.

That story you shared is so amazing. Only the work of God can help us forgive like that. Indeed, being able to forgive, I think, is one of the most compelling ways we can show the world Christ has changed us.

Laurie said...

A better post than this? This was perfect! I never tire of hearing this story and I pray I will never hear it without celebration of God's message of forgiveness warming and filling my heart, mind and soul (and eyes with tears) because yes, we are also the vilest offender in need of forgiveness.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, who bore our sin and death on the cross! Praise God for forgiveness and new life in victorious Christ!

Brenda said...

Her book was one of my favorites to read as a young woman. I remember this 'forgiveness' testimony so well too. Can you imagine? A we get so upset over such inconsequential things.