History abounds with people who have risen above bleak circumstances and remained steadfast in their purpose and their faith. When I think of true heroes of faith, Corrie ten Boom comes to mind. She and her father were Dutch watchmakers and devout Christians who hid Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Eventually, the ten Booms’ risky actions were discovered, and they were sent to concentration camps where both Corrie’s father and sister died. Corrie survived, and after the war, she wrote about her experiences, traveled the world and spoke about God’s grace and forgiveness. As a teenager, I read her books, Tramp for the Lord and The Hiding Place, books that changed my life and influenced its direction. I never imagined I would get to hear her speak in person.
When the Billy Graham Crusade came to the Hampton Coliseum sometime in the 1970s, the church choir I directed was invited to sing in Graham’s crusade choir. Corrie ten Boom was the guest speaker at that crusade. I will never forget listening to her accounts of unwavering faith amid one of history’s most atrocious events. She recounted numerous instances where only God’s hand could have turned an impossible situation into a blessing. One example was how an unexpected distraction during the body searches caused her to be passed over miraculously, allowing her to smuggle her Bible into the first concentration camp where she and her sister Betsie were interned. There, they were able to organize and lead secret prayer meetings without being detected by the guards.
I’ll never forget Corrie ten Boom’s powerful account of an incident that happened after the war. She said she was speaking to a church group in Munich. She had gone to post-war Germany for the express purpose of telling the German people about God’s forgiveness. In her message, she mentioned that she had been a prisoner at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. As she was leaving, a man approached her with his hand outstretched. Immediately, she recognized him as the cruel Nazi guard who had processed her and Betsie at Ravensbruck. He didn’t remember her specifically, even though she and Betsie had been forced to march naked past him. It was the same camp where Betsie had died a slow, painful death. Immediately Corrie’s heart filled with hatred toward the former soldier who said he was now a follower of Jesus Christ. He told her that God had forgiven him for his awful actions. When he held out his hand, asking for her forgiveness, Corrie couldn’t grant it. She stood frozen as horrific memories flooded her mind.
All these years since that night in the Hampton Coliseum, I still have a clear vision of Corrie ten Boom’s crystal eyes and outstretched hand as she relived the most difficult decision of her life, a decision that no act of will on her part could have accomplished. Yet she knew God was calling her to forgive this man who had once been an agent of evil. I remember her saying that when she uttered the simple prayer, “Help me, Jesus!” a warm surge of love flowed through her body and into her stiff, reluctant arm as she grasped the man’s hand. In her heavy Dutch accent she proclaimed that she never felt the love of God so powerfully or so completely as she did at the moment she was able to say to her former captor, “I forgive you, my brother.”
Jesus’ followers are called to forgive others as He has forgiven us. It can be a tall order to forgive those who have gossiped about us, said hurtful words to our face, made false accusations, or betrayed our trust. For Christians, this Wednesday is known as Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that God stands ready to forgive our sins when we confess them in sincere penitence. How, then, can we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us? Like Corrie ten Boom, we must learn to cry, “Help me, Jesus!” and then allow God’s love to fill us with the miraculous power of forgiveness.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com