Godly Saints From The Past: A Look Into The Lives Of Forgotten Saints In Christian History (Corrie Ten Boom 1892-1983)

Corrie Ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892 to a Dutch  family in Holland, Netherlands. She was the youngest of two sisters, Bellie and Nollie and one brother named Willem. Corrie had the privilege of being raised in a very Godly family and were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Corrie’s grandfather, Willem, had established an watchmaker shop in 1837 in Haarlem, Holland in the same city she was born. The shop was on the ground floor while the family stayed in the upstairs premises. Corries father, Casper, inherited the shop after Willem had passed and then it was passed onto Corrie to inherit. After an church service in 1844 Willem was so moved that he began a weekly prayer service to pray for the Jewish people out of his home. Casper continued on that tradition of prayer and those prayer meetings lasted 100 years until Corrie and her family were taken prisoner in 1944. The house in which Corrie lived in was known as the Beje House after the street it was located on. Their house was always open to those that were in need and needed help and they had a special love for the Jews in which they referred to as “God’s ancient people.” Corrie’s mother had instilled in Corrie to love all people including the mentally and physically disabled. They were constantly having Bible studies in there home for anyone wanting to attend. They were always helping those that were down and out and especially taking in orphaned children from World War 1. Corrie’s father was a well known and respected man that had a great heart to help people. Often times when individuals brought their watches in he would do the work for free. As result it put the family in some times of hardship financially, and although her father was an exceptional watchmaker he was not a good businessman. In 1920 Corrie began training as a watchmaker and in 1922 she became the first female watchmaker to gain a license in the Netherlands. She was a great businesswoman as well, and her father put her over the finances. As result the business began to flourish enough to take care of the family and to help those that came to them for help.  The examples that were set for Corrie and her sister Betsie in their childhood carried over for them into their adulthood. Alongside being a watchmaker Corrie and her sister began to establish girls clubs in which they taught them English, went hiking, practiced gymnastics, sewing, performing arts, as well as religious instruction as well.

In May of 1940 Corrie’s  world along with her family and all those living in the Netherlands would change drastically. It was in 1940 that the German Blitzkrieg began to infiltrate the Netherlands to begin the “Nazification” of the Dutch people. The Nazis had invaded the Netherlands and put Holland under military occupation.  Yet instead of doing nothing, the entire Ten Boom family decided to become active in resistance, not with weapons or fighting, but through prayer, faith in God, and taking in families to hide them out in protection at the expense of their own life. As result they decided to use their store as a front to able to hide out Jews who were on the run from the Nazi regime. The watchmaker shop was a great decoy for Jews could come into the store as if customer’s and then would be hidden out. It also provided cover for when they would need to leave to get supplies to bring back, as those coming and going would seem to be mere customers, and could go undetected. The Ten Boom home became a “safe house” for refugees both Jews and non-Jews seeking protection against the Nazis. Some would stay for a few hours and some for days before being transported to safer locations. Due to all the contacts the Ten Boom family had made by being watchmakers they were able to develop a underground system of transporting refugees to safe locations. Corrie was the leader of about 80 individuals who managed this underground network.

The underground network that Corrie was connected with eventually allowed her to meet one of the most renowned architects in all of Europe. He came to Corries in the Netherlands and built for her what has came to be known as “the hiding place.” Many of the refugees that were hiding out would carry in large bricks and mortar and put them in large grandfather clocks, newspapers, and briefcases. There in Corrie’s room they built a fake wall about two feet from the real wall along with a closet with a crawl space at the bottom. It  was only about 30 inches deep and could fit six to seven people inside of it. To enter the room the individual had to enter through a sliding on a plastered brick wall under a  bookshelf and crawl on their hands and knees to get in. Corrie had developed a system in to which she had a bell in the house and when the bell would ring it meant that those in the home would have to go into hiding. When the bell would ring they would have little over a minute to be able to gather there things and get to the room in order to be able to hide. They would have training during certain days to get individuals prepared in case the bell did ring, they would know what to do. It was estimated that nearly 800 Jewish people were saved through efforts of the Ten Boom’s family hiding place.

Although the Ten Boom family would help all those that needed it and would not turn them away, as long as they could be trusted, that suddenly changed on day in 1944. On February 28, 1944 Corrie Ten Boom woke up that morning and she had the flu, in which she suffered from for 2 days. On that day a man came to the door saying that he was part of the underground and that his wife had been arrested for hiding Jews, and that he needed money to bribe the police in order to get his wife released. Corrie was unsure and uneasy about his story but nevertheless  she got money for the man and he left. The man was actually a Dutch informant and he went back and told the Nazis what was happening in the Ten Boom house. Shortly after the Gestapo (Secret Nazi Police) arrived at Ten Boom home to raid it and find the Jews. When they arrived at the house Corrie had went back into her bed for rest, when she heard the bell to the house ring, and those refugees running past her into the secret room to hide from danger. She awoke to the noise of the bell and the people running and looked down and saw that her bag was on the floor with all the contacts and their addresses of her underground. She quickly gathered up the bag and threw it into the room with the individuals hiding out, and slid the secret door shut, and got back into bed just in time before the Nazi police came in. Corrie and he sister Betsie were questioned upon the arrival of the Nazis with “Where are you hiding the Jews?” They both refused to answer the question in which they were struck in the face by the Nazi officers. None of the Ten Boom family would speak and as result they led to various prison camps. By the end of the day 35 people including the entire Ten Boom family were arrested. The German soldiers searched the house thoroughly but they never did find the six individuals that were hiding in the secret room. They remained in the secret room for six days without moving or speaking, and without food and water until the Dutch underground rescued them and took them to safety.

Corrie’s father Casper was taken to Scheveningen prison and upon arrival a guard asked him if he knew that the could die for protecting the Jews, to which Casper replied, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people.” It would be 10 days later that Cassper did just that and he died at the age of 84. Corrie and her sister Betsie were taken to a couple different camps before finally being settled in at Ravensbruck camp near Berlin, which was also known as “the death camp.” It was the September of 1944 when they arrived at Ravensbruck and the conditions were not great. There were many miracles that God provided for Corrie and her sister while at the camp that were only explained by the supernatural working of God. One of them being that everyone who entered into the camp was checked for any goods they might have on them before entering the camp. Corrie had a little small New Testament that she carried in between the folds of her dress. When she walked in she under God’s divine hand was the only woman who was not checked by the guards and she was able to carry the Bible into the camp along with vitamins for her sister Betsie’s health as well. Another act of God came when the women go to their barracks which was a place built for 200 but now was housing 1,200 women. As result it was not a sanitary place filled with dirty women without abilities to clean and shower on regular basis. One of the things that resulted was that lice was rampant among the barracks. Yet because of the lice it kept the guards away which meant for Corrie that she could read her Bible and hold church services in the barracks, without being detected by the guards.  Corrie thanked God for the fleas for it enabled her to give hope to the women of the camp through providing Bible studies and having prayer groups. Not only this but because Corrie was able to smuggle in vitamins for her sister, she was also able to share these vitamins with other sick women as well and give them healing. Corrie recalled that it seemed that the vitamins though regularly given out, never seemed to go empty but kept on going, until another bottle was brought in that a woman was able to steal from the infirmary. Corrie was a constant encouragement for the women and a source of hope unto them in the midst of such depression and evil all around them.

One week before Christmas in 1944 Corrie’s sister Betsie became ill, and she told Corrie that before January 1, 1945 that she and Corrie both would be free. Shortly thereafter Betsie died thereby freeing her from the prison of sickness and the evilness of man that surrounded her in this temporary life. Corrie’s freedom would come four days after her sister’s death. By another  work of God, through a clerical error, Corrie was given a certificate of discharge. Nearly one week later, all the women her age were sent to die in the gas chambers. When Corrie was released she returned back home in the Netherlands with her sister’s last words burning in her mind and heart. Some of the last words that Betsie told Corrie before she died was “..we must tell them what we have learned here (prison camp). 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.” When Corried returned To Holland she began preaching the gospel and sharing her story of what happened to her and her family in the Nazi prison camps. In May of 1945 Corrie rented a house in which was called “Schapendunien” which was a home for disabled people and prisoners from the German, Japanese, and India prison camps and she would continue with this work till 1966. In 1947 Corrie traveled to Germany to tell her story of what God had done in her life, and it would be there that God would teach her one of the greatest lessons of her life. Corrie records in her book, Tramp for the Lord (1974) the following account of what happened after one of her talks that she gave in Germany:

“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 filling out of the basement room I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to 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 over 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 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 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, but since that time, 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 you lips as well. Fraulin will you forgive me” as he stuck his hand out. 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 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 tresspasses,” Jesus says “neither will your Father in heaven forgive you trespasses.” And I still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion, and 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 up 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 hand, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never know God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

Starting in her mid-50s Corrie would visit more than 60 countries over a 33 year period, often times speaking as much as three times a day so as “to not waste the Lord’s time.” One individual in describing Corrie’s life said of her “Spreading God’s Word has no regard for race, social position, or living conditions. Corrie saw people as individuals with a need to know Jesus Christ, their background was inconsequential.”  The theme of Corries messages was about forgiveness, both in how God’s forgives individuals and how individuals were to forgive others. Once a man commented to Corrie that he was unable to forgive himself, she responded, “Jesus will blot out your sins like a cloud. A cloud does not return. He will put your sins as far as the east is from the west. If you repent, He casts them into the depths of the sea, forgiven and forgotten. Then He puts out a sign, no fishing allowed.” She was asked once as to why she didn’t spend more time talking about her time in the prison camps, she responded, “It is not that important. What is important is that the people hear the Gospel.” Corrie also wrote many books yet her most popular book was entitled The Hiding Place  in 1971 which eventually was made into a movie in 1975 by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In 1977 Corrie was 85 years old and retired from speaking and the public life and rented a home in Placentia, California and in the same year received permanent status in the United States. In 1978 she suffered several strokes that affected her ability to speak and left her a near invalid. Then on April 15, 1983 Corrie went on to be with the Lord. Interestingly she died on her 91st birthday in which according the Jewish tradition only the very blessed people were allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday.

So incredible was Corrie’s life and story that in 1968 the Jerusalem Museum of the Holocaust asked her to plant a tree to honor the memory of the many Jewish lives she and her sister helped to save in the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles.. She also received the knighthood from the Queen of the Netherlands and the Israel’s award, Righteous Among the Nations. Today the Ten Boom house still accepts for free all those who come to it. In 1987 The Corrie Ten Boom Foundation bought the building and the following year opened it up as a museum and historic site and there is still a watchmaker’s shop in function on the ground level floor. In continuing with the family tradition, The Corrie Ten Boom Fellowship, still today conducts prayer meetings to pray for the peace of Israel and encourage Christians to help the Jewish people.

Corrie’s life message was the gospel and that people would repent, be forgiven and then forgive. She was often referred to as a “tumbleweed for God” and bringing many souls into the kingdom by God’s work through her. She had a passion for the lost to come to know Christ saying once “In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.” She not only modeled the love and passion of Christ in her life, but also the forgiveness of God, which became a theme for her life. Corrie once said “God gave us love to enable us to pardon our enemies,” and “There is no pain so deep that God’s love cannot reach it.” Corrie’s life can serve as a model for us in the way we love God and love others. In the way that God has forgiven us of so much in way of our sins against him, so must be willing to forgive others no matter what they sin against us. Corrie said in regards to forgiveness, “Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chain of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. The forgiveness of Jesus not only takes away our sins, it makes them as if they had never been.” Corrie also had a passion for the suffering church as well, from her own experience she knew these were often forgotten people, but she was concerned about and loved the suffering church. May we as well pray for the persecuted church and those who don’t have the same rich blessings we do in America. Corrie once said “In America, the churches sing, “Let the congregation escape tribulation,” but in China and Africa the tribulation has already arrived. This last year alone more than two hundred thousand Christians were martyred in Africa. Now things like that never get into the newspapers because they cause bad political relations. But I know I have been there. We need to think about that when we sit down in our nice houses with our nice clothes to eat our steak dinners. Many, many members of the Body of Christ are being tortured to death at this very moment, yet we continue right on as though we are all going to escape the tribulation.”

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