“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Living together in community is not easy, even a church community. There are so many reasons to get offended by things others say and do. Then, of course, we ourselves say and do things that offend others. Is it even possible to take people from such a variety of backgrounds and opinions and live in community the way Jesus wants us to?
I appreciate the example of one woman who found herself living in the worst possible ‘community’, yet living the love of Christ.
Imagine being imprisoned, along with 35,000 other women, from all over Europe. You find yourself being beaten, stripped naked, laughed at, starved and made to work in the heat, rain and cold.
Betsie and Corrie ten Boom found themselves in Ravensbruck, one of Hitler’s extermination camps, during WWII, sharing a barrack with 1400 other women. It wreaked of every foul excrement that could come from a person’s body, and with so many women sharing such a cramped space, there were bound to be fights.
One night there was screaming and name calling – over an open window! Some were too cold, others were too hot. Betsie grabbed Corrie’s hand and prayed in as loud a voice as she could.
“Father, bring your peace to us. There has been far too little praying and the walls of this room are witness to it. For where You are, strife and hatred cannot be.” Peace did eventually come that night to Barracks 28.
However, Nazi cruelty was taking its toll upon poor fifty-nine year old Betsie.
One miserable, rainy day some of the prisoners had to shovel dirt along the prison walls. Betsie was exhausted and could only manage to lift a fist-sized amount of dirt. The guard grew angry and, in front of all the other women, made fun of her pathetic attempts. Instead of getting angry, after all, it was their own cruelty that made her incapable of working any harder, Betsie jokingly agreed with the guard. The other women laughed. The guard pulled out her leather crop and whipped Betsie over and over. Before Corrie could attack the guard, Betsie stopped her.
“Corrie,” she said, blood oozing from a wound on her neck, “do not return evil for evil.”
Ever since Betsie arrived at Ravensbruck with Corrie eight months before, she prayed for the Nazi guards. To her, they were caught in a prison far worse than she and Corrie. Their ‘hope’ in Hitler’s reign was misplaced and so temporary. But no matter how they treated her, she always responded with a kind word or look. In the cruelty and hatred of that place Betsie was like a soothing balm on an open wound.
When she eventually got so sick that she couldn’t work, it was one of the cruelest of the guards that made sure she was taken to the prison hospital, where she got some much needed rest.
However, one month later, Betsie died in that prison camp. Sad for her sister, Corrie, but for Betsie, she had gone on to be with the One who gave her the ability to love, unconditionally. All those months of imprisonment, Betsie never gave in to the bitterness and hatred of her surroundings.
What a challenge to us!
We, who live in community with other believers. I pray that we would be quick to forgive and show kindness and compassion to each other.
Check out information on my drama Impossible Faith: The Story of Corrie (and Betsie) ten Boom. I would love to share this amazing story with you if you haven’t experienced it yet.
Blessings as we serve our Lord together!