God finds us: Lessons from a Holocaust survivor

As a little girl, I loved the hidden corner near a bookshelf in my brother’s room. Camped out beside his towering stacks, I chose from among the remnants of his voracious habit and years of summer reading lists. Picking several for my own reading enjoyment, some escaped me. I recall studying the cover of “The Hiding Place,” but I never found this “friend” until I needed it the most. By brilliant accident, I discovered Corrie ten Boom in the weeks before COVID-19 hit the headlines. “The Hiding Place” recounts Corrie’s participation in the Nazi Resistance during World War II. It traces her journey from sheltering Jews in her home through her arrest and imprisonment to Ravensbrück concentration camp. As our news reports darkened, the book provided incredible perspectives. I felt Corrie holding my hand, albeit, in a socially distant way, as I faced fear, isolation and uncertainty. Here are a few lessons I gleaned.

In the home

For the ten Boom family, love began in the home. Their lives were rooted in Scripture and service. They welcomed the vulnerable into their home and prayed for peace, especially for the Jewish people. In the end, Corrie’s father, brother, two sisters, nephew and Corrie herself would all face imprisonment for protecting God’s chosen people. As she shared in another writing, “So many times we wonder why God has certain things happen to us. We try to understand the circumstances of our lives, and we are left wondering. But God’s foolishness is so much wiser than our wisdom. From generation to generation, from small beginnings and little lessons. He has a purpose for those who know and trust him” (“In My Father’s House”).

The foundation of faith laid by Corrie’s parents for the ten Boom children provided the essential tools they would need to endure and overcome the future tribulations life would bring. I find this relevant now as I continue to see the beauty and comedy in God’s plans for family life. A friend recently commented, how funny it is that the family is the cell of society that threatens the kingdom of hell. Yet, when we look closely, it’s sticky, chaotic and often dysfunctional. For my family, quarantine has been messy. We’re in the midst of potty training, and we’ve had a monsoon of sibling squabbles, flaring tempers of which I’m guilty and cabin fever with my husband valiantly trying to work from home. Knowing lessons learned at home will shape our identities, our sacrifices become a springboard to future capabilities. How I respond to frustrations with patience and love builds an experience of practical faith for me and my family members.

To be found

Playing a game of hide-and-seek with a 3-year-old can be challenging. My 6-year-old came into the house upset because his little sister wasn’t playing by the rules. Why did she reveal her hiding place even before he began searching? When I asked him about his favorite part of the game, he replied, “Hiding, of course!” Wrapping him in a hug, I explained how he had played the game when he was her age. Before I could finish counting to 10, an exuberant yell would come from upstairs, “Mommy, come here! I’m hiding in my bedroom. Look behind the door.” At this memory, my son smiled widely. “I guess I just wanted to be found.”

There is profound wisdom in the childlike desire to be found. As a young woman, Corrie experienced a terrible heartbreak when the man she loved chose another. Her father wisely counseled that she could kill the pain and lose part of her ability to love or ask God to open up a new path for love to travel within her. This became Corrie’s prayer, to see others as God saw them despite their human failures. It was her “secret key” to overcoming loneliness. The lesson grew stronger over the course of her life. After her arrest, Corrie spent three grueling months in solitary confinement. In the midst of it, God answered her prayer to open up a new path for love to travel. Jesus found her. He was her hiding place where she could endure isolation and find moments for God’s love to enter.

Scrolling through my phone, my chest tightened as I read my city’s soaring infection rate. Staggering numbers, but what can I do? Hearing my newborn’s cries, I made my way upstairs wondering. What would Corrie do? In the dark room, I held my daughter. I imagined myself as a tiny baby in God’s hands. Then one by one, I placed my family members in his arms. My prayer widened to include our city and state leaders, medical personnel and all affected by this virus. I prayed, Jesus be my hiding place. Jesus, come find me. I recalled Psalm 91: “He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield (Psalm 91:3-4). I realized the enduring truth: Fear isolates. Trust liberates. Jesus found me.

Rejoice always

When Corrie and her sister arrive at Ravensbrück concentration camp, they find the bunks in their sleeping barracks swarming with fleas. For Corrie, it’s too much to bear. For Betsie, the fleas are an opportunity for surprising gratitude. The two sisters recall St. Paul’s words, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:16-18). At Betsie’s prodding, Corrie murmurs a reluctant prayer of thanksgiving for the fleas. In time, the sisters initiate reading Scripture with the women in their barracks. This delivers hope, transforming attitudes and deepening their connection to one another. God’s word, actions and abiding presence began healing their isolation, loneliness and fear. Though life in the camp continued to be harsh, curiously the prison guards never entered the sleeping quarters. Why? The answer arrived with God’s unmistakable humor. It was the fleas!

I find the timing of the bad news reports thought provoking. There is the arrival of spring, light dispelling darkness, renewal and hope as we move toward Easter. Our prayers find answers in Christ’s victory over death. As baptized Christians, we are children of the light. We are called to manifest the light of Christ to the world whether we are quarantined in our homes with our families or reading Scripture in the barracks of a concentration camp. We’ve been given this gift of time for a purpose.

Like Corrie, when circumstances are tough and we are fearful, we can turn first to prayer and reading God’s Word. Here, we will find consolation, peace and confidence. God’s Word is living, active and applicable in our daily lives. He promises us restoration and a new life. We can stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us as we continue to seek his will and purpose. It may not look like what we originally had in mind, but it will be blessed, corrected and fruitful for ourselves and others. I pray that Jesus finds you and that you might discover an old “friend” along the way.

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