Prisoner 66729 and Prisoner 66730. Those are the numbers assigned and tattooed on the arms of two, middle-aged sisters, Betsie and Corrie ten Boom -- the central characters in the true story, The Hiding Place.
Their crime? Hiding Jews in their home during Hitler’s invasion of Europe.
Their sentence? Imprisonment at Ravensbruck concentration camp, known today for its inhumane conditions and gas chambers.
But God went with them. God sustained them. God used them. And God watched over them.
God also had lessons for them. One came as they entered their filthy, smelly, cold and dark housing for the first time. There were no beds, only planks of wood with soiled straw and blankets infested with fleas! Here’s an excerpt, slightly condensed, which is both funny and profound:
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them! How are we going to live in this place?”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me awhile to realize that Betsie 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. Where was it? Read that part again.”
“Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all . . .’” It seemed expressly written for Ravensbruck.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh, yes: ‘. . . to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks.’ That’s what we can do. We can thank God for every single thing about this new barracks.”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus.”
“Such as what you are holding in your hands.”
I looked down at my Bible. “Yes, thank you, dear Lord.”
“And for the crowding here. We’re packed so close, that many more will hear.” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank you for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank you,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for –-"
The fleas! This was too much. “There’s no way that 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.”
But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
But Betsie was right. They learned later the guards refused to step inside their barracks due to the fleas! giving Corrie and Betsie the freedom to read the Bible aloud to others.
Sadly, Betsie died at Ravensbruck, and soon after her passing Corrie was released due to a clerical error. She lived another 40+ years travelling the world to tell their story, often saying, “No pit is so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.”
It’s a remarkable piece of non-fiction. One you continue to think about long after you turn the last page. For me, my mind kept returning to how they could face and endure such hatred and atrocities without succumbing to bitterness. Though there was a period when Corrie wrestled with God over the injustices and evil around her.
This book has influenced my perspective of God and how I see others. It's
challenged me to live with a thankful heart and obey God even when I don't want to. And it's given me one other valuable treasure: A positive view of women who never marry.
Wanting to know more about Corrie's post-war life I went on a search for other titles by or about her. Over the decades I acquired 11. Through them her life unfolded, providing additional facts and bits of wisdom about her Dutch upbringing, her broken heart over a man she had hoped to marry, her skill as a watchmaker, her far-reaching travels and ministry, her failures, her heart of compassion, and how she lived out the final five “silent” years of her life.
Today, I realize that Corrie ten Boom was my mentor, via all her books, modeling for me what it truly means to trust and obey God. No one has impacted me more.
P.S. Anyone read "The Velvet Room" or "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis? These two recommendations came in last week. Thank you Sharon and Denise for your comments. Have a book you think is outstanding?