I had been reading little bits of this book every morning as soon as I woke up, up until a week ago when I suddenly ran out of pages (forever the problem with good books)! ‘The Hiding Place’ is the memoir of Corrie ten Boom, who often travelled with Brother Andrew, a missionary who smuggled bibles to communist countries beyond the Iron Curtain (his biography ‘God’s Smuggler’ is truly wonderful, but maybe don’t read it if you’re not prepared to become a Christian).
Corrie spent the first 50 years of her life living peacefully with her father and sister above their watch shop in Haarlem, Holland. When World War II broke out, they began providing ‘hiding places’ for persecuted Jews. Their resistance work ultimately leads to their imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps, where both her father and sister die.
I found the book really challenging, so I’ve picked some small parts to share what it is I learned.
Service + love not in another place or another hour but in this place and in this hour
(Preceding this part is about 10 pages setting up a very ordinary tale of life)
“How could we have guessed as we sat there – two middle-aged spinsters and an old man – that in place of memories we were about to be given adventure such as we had never dreamed of? Adventure and anguish, horror and heaven were just around the corner, and we did not know.
Oh Father! Betsie! If I had known would I have gone ahead? Could I have done the things I did?
But how could I know? How could I imagine this white-haired man, called Opa – Grandfather – by all the children of Haarlem, how could I imagine this man thrown by strangers into a grave without a name?
And Betsie, with her high lace collar and her gift for making beuaty all around her, how could I picture this dearest person on earth to me standing naked before a roomful of men?”
I found it very striking that the whole story really ‘begins’ when Corrie is 50. And yet, when her family were just the local watchmakers, and not part of the Nazi resistance movement, they were still serving the Lord. Corrie’s father is universally adored, accidentally-on-purpose forgets to send invoices after working for those in poverty, and, as a household, each morning and evening whoever is in their home (and that very much could be anyone) gathers to read the bible. They are, altogether, living lives that reflect the fact that they are in the service of the Lord. What an encouragement to be serving the Lord in any and every situation I find that I’m in.
Delight in working
This is Corrie speaking of her Father’s prayers as he fixes particularly difficult mechanical problems:
“Lord, You turn the wheels of the galaxies. You know what makes the planets spin. And You know what makes this watch run…” Through the years he took his stopped watches to “the One who set the atoms dancing,” or “who keeps the great currents circling through the sea.”
I love both the simplicity and the earnestness of these prayers, it’s a challenge to me in making sure that my working and studying is part of my worship and service. Whilst I am not sooo poetic, I am trying to pray whenever I sit down to study. A lot of the ideas or concepts that come up in my work are complex and I don’t ever seem to have any actual answers to them, so it’s good to pray to the One who does.
Love where there is nothing to love
This is Corrie, on losing the love of her life because he must marry according to the wishes of his family, and then the words her father speaks to her.
In some deep part of me I knew already that there would not – soon or ever – be anyone else.
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course a part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel….. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms that this – places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.”
These words are so rich and they relate to something I read very recently, a quote from Alfred Plummer: “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” Love where there is nothing to love. (also known as grace!)
The greatest commandments of faith are about loving God and loving others. Loving when love has a cost and when love is sacrifice and not just where love is easy or cosy. I am hoping that my life is really just a narrative of my learning to love better and higher and further and greater. And love in the divine way that repays evil with blessing, because this is the sort of divine love that I am loved with. To love because I was loved first (1 John 4:19).
Care for Injustice wherever and whenever it appears
Need much more be said for this?
“or when letters to Jewish suppliers in Germany came back marked ‘Address unknown’, we still managed to believe that it was primarily a German problem.”
How often do I ignore injustice, or dismiss it, or fail to take it seriously?
Remembering where our Hope comes from
The pronouncement of her father as they listened to the radio for the Prime Minister’s announcement:
“Oh, my dears, I am sorry for all Dutchmen now who do not know the power of God. For we will be beaten. But He never will.”
Corrie’s father always remembers where his hope comes from, where his help comes from and is outward facing in the most wonderful way.
There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s Kingdom
About a week later, in a night of heavy bombing, Corrie goes downstairs as she hears her sister. When she returns to bed she feels for her bed and pillow, but in the darkness her hands close around a piece of metal shrapnel, 10 inches long:
“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen-”
“Don’t say it Corrie! “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The centre of His will is our only safety – O Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it.”
Would I have the strength of faith to have such a reaction!
The preciousness of Scripture
By means of a miracle, Corrie has a Bible whilst in Ravensbruck concentration camp, this is what she says of it:
“our Bible was the centre of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us'”
Rejoice always, rejoice for fleas
At Ravensbruck Betsie and Corrie are moved into a dorm with no beds or light, but only wooden piers stacked three high on which lies reeking flea-infested straw. This is the sister’s exchange:
“Betsie, how can we live in such a place!”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning…. ‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus-‘… We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room….
“Thank you,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for-”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,'” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’
They later find out that the reason they are able to hold their secret bible reading meeting in the dorm at night is that the supervisors don’t want to go in because of the fleas.
What a challenge to give thanks, and to have the discipline of giving thanks for those things for which we are not grateful.
What most struck me, of all the different events, was that Corrie was able to declare the following, that:
“In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”