Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom were simple, unassuming women who allowed God to use their lives. They now stand as amazing examples of bold, faithful Christians.
Reading about Corrie and her sister Betsie was incredibly challenging for me because I operate in that mindset that single life needs to always look exciting. These two women changed my view of what a meaningful life should look like.
They were servants.
Their whole household was characterized by a servant mentality. From the time Corrie and Betsie were young, three of their aunts lived with them. The ten Boom house was already small, but rooms were made even tinier to accommodate these extra women.
The ten Boom’s deep faith also prompted them to serve their community. Mrs. ten Boom was chronically ill and weak; however she was still involved in social work, making food baskets and bringing them to the poor. She especially sought to help needy young mothers and new babies. Later on the ten Booms became foster parents, providing homes for numerous children.
In her book The Hiding Place Corrie writes about her sister Betsie’s love for others. Like her mother, Betsie was chronically ill and never had a job outside the house, but she made the care of the house her ministry. Betsie never seemed to view her role as an unmarried woman living at home degrading. Rather, she reveled in it and people were drawn to her. Betsie made their home a beautiful, safe place where all were welcomed and God’s Word was lived out.
Corrie, also unmarried, lived the life of a working woman. After finishing school she took over all of the accounting for her father’s watch shop. Seeking further challenges, she learned watchmaking, eventually becoming the first female watchmaker in Holland.
The ten Boom house was a place of music, laughter, and a strong faith in God. Two of Corrie’s other siblings married, bringing many children to the family. Their lives were full of peace and joy.
Until World War II.
Corrie and Betsie were already in their fifties when the persecution of the Jewish people began. They had many Jewish friends in their neighborhood, which they immediately began to help. Their brother Willem managed an old folks’ home and turned it into their first base of operation. Elderly Jewish friends were sent there and then were carefully removed to safe houses.
This activity became the foundation for other work. Even though Mr. ten Boom was in his eighties he believed it was their Christian duty to help God’s chosen people. Their watch shop was the front for almost constant underground activity, turning the quiet, peaceful ten Booms into players in a vast network, with Corrie in the middle of it all. She worked tirelessly, getting stolen ration cards, finding places of safety, biking in the middle of the night to meet contacts, and eventually overseeing the building of a tiny secret room behind the bookcase in her bedroom.
The family managed to hide and aid close to 800 Jewish people and other refuges before they were betrayed. A man that frequently came into their watch shop as a customer was actually a spy. Their house was raided and Corrie, Betsie, and the rest of their family were arrested. Thanks to the hiding place in Corrie’s bedroom, six Jewish people remained undetected and were later rescued.
In a matter of days their father died in prison. While their brother and sister were released, Corrie and Betsie were kept in prison. Later, they were moved to the death camp Ravensbruck. Corrie’s account of their time there is one of the most moving things I have read. Instead of focusing on the violence and hardships of the experience, she turns praise back to God, over and over. While making little of herself, Corrie also draws attention to Betsie, sharing how she worked to make her prison cell a place of order and beauty.
Betsie viewed their imprisonment as an opportunity to share the gospel, even with the guards that treated them cruelly. Betsie saw the darkness in their hearts and pitied them. They had tiny copies of the Gospels, smuggled in on strings around their necks, and Betsie read hers each night. Corrie recounts how Betsie encouraged her to give thanks in all things, even the fleas crawling around their beds. While Corrie couldn’t find anything praiseworthy in biting fleas, it was later revealed that the guards wouldn’t come in their bunker because of the fleas. The horrible insects were a means of unprecedented freedom for the women, enabling Betsie time to read the Bible out loud each night.
Near the end of the war, Betsie’s weak body succumbed to illness. After she passed, Corrie was allowed to see her. I wept as I read Corrie’s account of the peace and joy on her sister’s face. Betsie had maintained her faith and testimony and lived a beautiful life for Jesus, even in a concentration camp.
Corrie was released not long after, due to a clerical error. She found out later that all the women her age were actually sent to the gas chamber soon after she left. God saved her for His special purpose- to tell others about her experiences and to proclaim Him.
It had actually been Betsie’s desire to help others after the war. She told Corrie about a recurringdream she had, where there was a big house full of people who came to recover from their wartime experiences. Betsie insisted that it was their job to tell others about God’s love and forgiveness. She believed people would listen because of what they had been through.
Betsie’s dream was fulfilled through Corrie. She established not one, but two safe houses for war victims. One of these was even in a former German prison camp.
In The Hiding Place Corrie shared how she struggled with feeling empty and purposeless after the war, in spite of the good she was doing. Eventually she realized God wanted her to do more- He wanted her to share His message of love and forgiveness with a world recovering from war.
And so she did.
Corrie travelled to more than sixty countries, sharing the message of God’s love and the importance of forgiveness. Like her sister Betsie, Corrie’s life shone as a bright light for God. She practiced what she preached, famously forgiving one of the Nazi guards from her prison camp.
Her life is an example to us all- you don’t have to be extraordinary for God to do extraordinary things through you.
If you haven’t read Corrie’s autobiography, The Hiding Place, I strongly encourage you to find a copy!
“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” –Corrie Ten Boom