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Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Gutsy Girls Book Two: Sisters, Corrie & Betsie ten Boom

by Amy L. Sullivan 2016 / 36 pages This is the true story of two Dutch sisters who knew that God could be trusted with their lives and that assurance gave them and their whole family the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Our introduction to the sisters starts with the older Betsie ushering the daydreaming little Corrie out the door so she can go to school. Then we leap ahead to their adult life, with Betsie taking care of the household and Corrie helping her father in the family's watch shop. Then the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As you might expect from a picture book, it is a G-rated account. That's accomplished via cartoonish pictures, and by covering what the Nazis had planned for the Jews in only limited detail like this: "German soldiers planned evil things against people who were Jewish. In order to easily identify them and set those who were Jewish apart from other Dutch people, German soldiers forced Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their coats and ration cards around their necks. Before long German soldiers took many Jewish people away from their homes." But even so, the reader learns that the Nazis hated the Jews, and the ten Booms knew God wanted them to act. We are shown how they smuggled in bricks to create a false wall in their home that Jews and others could hide behind, should the Germans come looking. In one interesting note, the author shares that the width of that space – at just 23 inches (by 8 feet long) – was not even as wide as this book, when opened up! The ten Booms helped 800 people before they were caught. While readers are, again, spared from the worst details, we do follow the ten Boom sisters to a concentration camp, where Betsie dies. That isn't where the story ends, of course: in the final pages we see Corrie freed and, through God's grace, able to forgive the very Germans who so mistreated her and her sister. Caution There are no cautions for this book but it is the second of a series of 5, and the subject of Book 4 is Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who has had a big role in promoting theistic evolution. So the ten Boom book is well worth getting, but not so the series. Conclusion This is a very good first exposure to the ten Boom sisters for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. My hope, though, is that it wouldn't be the last exposure they get – for teens and adults there really is no more encouraging biography than Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Torchlighters: the Eric Liddell Story

Animated / Family 2007 / 31 minutes Rating: 6/10 Eric Liddell is best known for the stand he took to not compete in the 1924 Olympic 100-meter race. He was among the United Kingdom's best chances at a medal, but he didn't want to run because doing so would require him to run in a heat on Sunday. Despite enormous pressure to compromise for the sake of his country, he still refused, pointing to the 4th Commandment's call to "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." His country was important to him, but it came a distant second to his God. Eventually, a different sort of compromise was struck, which had Liddell run in the 200 and 400-meter races instead, winning a bronze and a gold. His firm convictions, and his outstanding athletic performances, were the subject of the 1981 film (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) Chariots of Fire. However, Hollywood indulged in a bit of artistic license. They made it seem as if Liddell only found out about the Sunday heat on the boat ride to the Paris Olympics, but the truth, as shown much more accurately in this animated video, is that Liddell knew months before. While both film and video cover Eric-the-athlete, this video covers his later years too, as Eric-the-missionary. Liddell was born in China, to Scottish missionary parents, and while educated in Scotland, actually spent most of his life in China. He returned there after the Olympics, serving as a missionary from 1925, until 1943, which is when the Japanese invaded. He could have fled, and he did send his family away, but Liddell stayed to continue telling the Chinese about God. That cost him, as he ended up in a Japanese internment camp, but even there he remained a faithful witness until his death in 1945, likely due to a brain tumor. Cautions This would have gotten at least a 7/10 if not for the choice the creators made to have Chinese characters speak broken and stilted English – their inarticulate language skills make them look a little dumb. Liddell was raised in China, which means his Mandarin was likely excellent, and for important conversations, they likely would have all used the language they all knew well, and his Chinese friends could have been shown speaking clearly and articulately in their native language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were all trying to learn English, and so that's the language they all spoke all the time, some better, and many worse. But I doubt it, and that's why I knocked a star off what is otherwise a solid account of a faithful and fascinating man. Also, as noted earlier, Liddell does die in a Japanese camp, and while that is not depicted, if you have some sensitive younger souls, you might want to give them a heads up early on, so that ending doesn't come as a shock. Conclusion This is more educational than entertaining, but I think families could enjoy watching this together – that it is a true story does make it compelling. To say it another way, this might not be the sort of video your kids will ask mom and dad to put on, but if you start it going, and the whole family is watching together, I don't think there will be many complaints. So sit back and be inspired by a man who knew that God was worthy of all honor, and most certainly came before fame and before his own safety. You can watch The Eric Liddell Story for free below, though with quite a lot of commercial interruptions. For an ad-free presentation, you can sign up, also for free, at RedeemTV.com. ...

People we should know

Betsie, the watchmaker's daughter

“But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44. ***** Extraordinary stories of extraordinary men and women make up the fabric of history books: men and women who by some incident in their lives have been able to capture the attention and imagination of those living today. They usually comprise those of outstanding intellect; those who have invented things; those who have led armies to victory; those of noble birth who have ruled well; or those who have explored unknown territories. We rarely delve into the lives, however, of the little folk, of those who merely accomplish the sometimes boring, day-by-day tasks that God has assigned to His people. Yet the days written in God’s book of those little people - the widow who dropped a seemingly worthless mite into the temple treasury, the man who provided a donkey for the Master’s use, and those who shared bread and fish in times of hunger – are endless. There is the story of Betsie – Betsie the watchmaker’s daughter – Betsie, an ordinary, little woman - who used her time well. Father’s arms - 1889 A 1950s picture of the ten Boom watch shop. She often sat on the single stone step leading down from the doorway of her father’s shop on the corner of Barteljorisstraat, watching the children of the neighborhood run by. The ragtag and bobtail of the city’s youngsters sprinted by her as they kicked a ball, skipped noisily with skipping ropes and ran helter-skelter in all directions playing hide-and-go-seek. Soft auburn hair framed her face and she smiled into the shouts as if she were participating in the games. Her feet in the high, laced-up shoes, tingled. They longed to gallop and rush about in wild abandonment as well. “Betsie, meisje (little girl).” A strong hand touched the small, hunched up back. “What are you doing sitting here on these cold steps? You’ll get sick again.” Betsie turned her head and looked up, smiling at the bearded man framed in the open door of his shop. Then she slowly stood up and father Ten Boom picked up the four-year-old, carrying her into his workshop. “So,” he whispered softly into her ear, “you are studying the other children running and playing and inside you there are some tears because God did not make Betsie strong and able-bodied and fit.” Betsie’s arms tightened around her father’s neck. His beard scratched her cheek and she nuzzled into it. “Yes,” she whispered back. All around them in the 1889 watchmaker’s workshop clocks ticked and chimed and spoke of time. Father Ten Boom sat down on his chair by the workbench and settled the child onto his lap. He rocked her back and forth. “God has a reason for making each one of us the way we are, Betsie. Perhaps you are often tired and ill in your body so that your spirit might grow strong.” The child sighed and thought of the wind on her cheeks and how she would love to run into it, stretching her arms wide to receive its blowing head-on. “You are very special, Betsie. God loves you very much and maybe you can show others His love also.” He kissed the top of her hair. “Now then, let’s go upstairs and see if mother has some tea and if your brother Willem is home from school yet.” He stood up and the child, light in his arms, was strangely solemn as she looked towards the street door – a door she passed with her father as they made their way up the stairs. ***** The years passed and the watchmaker was blessed with two more children, two more daughters, who were named Nollie and Corrie. There were also the three aunts, sisters of Mama ten Boom, who lived in their brother-in-law’s home until they died. The watchmaker’s house, though overflowing, was filled with happiness as he taught his children and his neighbors how to live faithfully before the face of God. 2 Peter 1:5-8 teaches a very important precept which is that certain qualities will produce a well-rounded, productive Christian life. The passage reads: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not everyone in the world is born with amazing talents, with awe-inspiring gifts. Although there are some who can sing as if they were Caruso, and others have the ability to draw in the manner of Michelangelo, and still others play the violin like Itzak Perlman, the truth is that most people are run-of-the mill, ordinary people; people who appear average and unremarkable. And yet it is good to remember that all mankind is made in the image of God and that all Christians have access to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Betsie ten Boom was spoon-fed on 2 Peter 1’s promise and as a child, and later as a young woman she strove for godly qualities; as she labored, she increased in faith and in compassion. She developed a deep love for other people who experienced pain or trouble. The years passed, and God blessed the frail child in ways that may not have been obvious to others. Times changed in the ten Boom household after World War I. The children grew older. Nollie and Willem married. The aunts and mother ten Boom died. Betsie’s health, although fairly stable, was never quite up to scratch and she made a conscious decision not to marry but to stay home and take care of her aging father and her younger sister, Corrie. Initially, she helped her father in the watch shop downstairs, but Corrie took her place and Betsie was happy to take charge of the household side of things. There were scores of foster children who passed through the ten Boom household, all receiving Christian nurture, love and care. Together with Corrie, Betsie, a single mother in Israel, was effective and productive in God’s eyes. The radio address - May 1940 The year 1940, a year, which would celebrate Betsie’s fifty-fifth birthday, also hosted the onset of World War II for the Netherlands. Although the Dutch had hoped to remain neutral in the looming conflict which was already raging in Europe, this was not to be. The Third Reich, after invading and occupying Poland, Norway and Denmark, also invaded her little western neighbor. The evening prior to this invasion, on May 9, 1940, father Ten Boom, Betsie and Corrie stayed up to listen to their radio. After their usual prayers and Bible reading, they were getting sleepy. It was past their usual bedtime, but the Prime Minister of Holland, his Excellency Dirk Jan de Geer, was slated to speak and most of the people in Holland were eager to hear what he had to say. Flowers were blooming in the parks and in the ten Boom windowsills. Conflicting rumors flew around. Betsie heard them from the people next door; she heard them in the shops when she bought food; and she heard them on the steps of the St. Bavo church after she worshipped each Sunday. Holland would be drawn into the war, many said while others were convinced that the German Nazis, who had pledged goodwill to the people of the Netherlands, would not invade. But France and Britain were already in the war and shouldn’t those countries be supported? The radio crackled and both Betsie and Corrie sat up straight in their chairs. It was 9:30. They strained their ears towards the wireless. Prime Minister de Geer's voice was mild. There is nothing to worry about, he assured his radio audience. War will not happen. Had he not just spoken with influential government officials? Father Ten Boom, Betsie, and Corrie looked at one another skeptically. The Prime Minister’s words seemed to be full of air, unrealistic, carrying no weight. Father ten Boom turned off the radio. Then the family rose quietly from their high-backed, wooden chairs, kissed one another goodnight and trudged up the stairs to bed. Sleep was difficult to come by even though the blankets were tucked in tightly. There were too many thoughts running around in Betsie’s mind. She sighed, tossed and turned. The city of Amsterdam lay seventeen kilometers to the east. Betsie noted through her window that the sky was aglow with a strange color. It was an unearthly glow, and the house on Barteljorisstraat seemed to be shaking from time to time. Corrie, who was huddling next to Betsie, whispered: “I had a dream.” “What did you dream, Corrie?” “I dreamt that I saw a big wagon in the middle of Haarlem. Four huge, black horses pulled the wagon. I was in the wagon, Betsie… and you were too… and father was in it as well… and some of our friends.” She hesitated and Betsie waited for her to continue. “The horses began to pull the wagon and we couldn’t get off but we didn’t want to go where they were taking us.” Corrie stopped again and then leaned heavily into the curve of her sister’s back. The house shook again. “Oh, Betsie! I’m so afraid! Do you think the dream was some kind of vision?” Betsie answered softly, turning and putting her arm around her sister. “I don’t know. But if God has shown us the bad times that are coming, it’s enough to know that He knows about them. That’s why He sometimes shows us things – to tell us that He is in control.” Amsterdam was bombed on May 11, 1940. ***** The ten Booms became acutely aware, as the next few months passed, that life was being made extremely difficult for the Jews living in Holland. First posters, then signs, shot up reading “No Jews Allowed.” After this yellow stars became mandatory as part of the dress code for the children of Abraham. Finally, groups were seen being herded onto trucks and taken away. Father ten Boom said, “Those poor people,” but it was the soldiers perpetrating this ungodly work to whom he was referring. Betsie understood her father with her deepest spirit. Were not the Jewish people the apple of God’s eye? And were not those who hurt them to be pitied? A secret room was constructed in Corrie’s bedroom behind a false wall. It had a ventilation system and could hold six people. A buzzer was installed which could be heard throughout the house to warn refugees to retreat to the secret room as quickly as possible if a raid was imminent. Almost overnight the ten Boom home became part of the resistance movement - a sanctuary where Jews could turn up and hide from their oppressors, from those who sought to kill them. Eight hundred Jews were eventually helped as father ten Boom and his two daughters risked their lives in feeding and sheltering the persecuted. “Fear God and honor the queen” – February 1944 For four years things went well until a German raid on the ten Boom residence in February of 1944 seemingly brought Jewish aid to a grinding halt. The raid happened on a day when Corrie was not feeling well. Feeling miserable and running a high temperature, she was roughly pulled out of her bed by Nazi soldiers. Permitted to put on clothes over top of her pajamas, she was taken downstairs. Her father and Betsie were sitting on chairs pulled back against the living room wall. “Where are the Jews?” The Nazis barked out the question and when no answer was forthcoming, Corrie was struck twice, so hard that she almost fainted. “Lord Jesus,” she whispered, “Protect me.” “If you say that name again, I’ll kill you.” Betsie was led from the room and returned later with swollen lips and a bruised cheek. “Oh, Betsie,” Corrie moaned, “They hurt you.” “Yes,” Betsie answered thickly, “and I feel so sorry for them.” The German officer in command turned, yelling: “Prisoners will remain silent!” He then turned to father ten Boom. “You, old man, I see that you believe in the Bible. What does it say in your Bible about obeying the government?” “Fear God,” father ten Boom answered in a clear voice, “and honor the queen.” The German officer stared at him suspiciously. “The Bible doesn’t say that!” “No,” father ten Boom admitted, “It says ‘Fear God and honor the king,’ but in our case that is the queen.” ***** In this 1950s picture, a man points to the entrance to the secret room. The secret room was not found during the raid although it was not for lack of trying by the Nazis. They ransacked the house from top to bottom. The ten Booms, however, were not allowed to go free. Along with thirty-five other people they were herded to the police station where they were put in a room together. There were mats on the floor where they were told to sleep. Father ten Boom read to the entire room from the Bible: the Bible which was stored within his memory. “Thou art my hiding place and my shield…” The old man’s voice was firm and the others who had been arrested drank assurance from it. “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” They all slept soundly that night. ***** The next morning, after another period of questioning, they were all packed onto a bus. “The dream,” Corrie spoke under her breath to her sister, “It’s the dream, Betsie.” After a lengthy drive of more than an hour, they were ordered off the bus and lined up against a yellow wall. The men were separated from the women at this point. As the sisters were being led away, Corrie turned her head to look back. “God be with you, father!” Father ten Boom turned his face away from the wall also and answered, calling back clearly, “And with you, my daughters!” These were the last words Betsie and Corrie heard their father speak on earth. Becoming ill in the Scheveningen prison to which they had been taken, he died in a hospital corridor only ten days after the arrest. Vught camp - June The next months in prison were difficult. For the first time in their lives, Betsie and Corrie were separated. Providentially, four months later, as women were being loaded onto a transport train to a different internment camp at Vught they were reunited. Vught was a political concentration camp. With barbed wire fencing surrounding it, the place appeared both dismal and terrifying. The women guards were cruel and made the inmates stand for hours on end. It was a somber, desperate and dirty place and it never had enough food for the people housed within its enclosure. Roll call each morning was five o’clock sharp and if only one prisoner was late, all the other prisoners were punished. ***** “Betsie,” wailed Corrie, one early morning, “How long do you think we shall be here?” “Perhaps a long, long time, Corrie,” Betsie answered slowly and thoughtfully, “Perhaps many years. But what better way could we spend our lives?” “What are you talking about, Betsie?” Corrie was frustrated at the answer. “These women here with us, Corrie, look at them. If people can be taught to hate, then they can be taught to love as well. And we must find a way to teach them.” ***** Betsie’s work assignment was sewing uniforms, whereas Corrie’s job was labor in a factory. They had been able to smuggle a Bible inside the camp and took turns carrying it about in a small cloth bag hanging from their neck. In the evening, prayer meetings were held and many women crowded around the bunks to hear the comforting words of the Bible. Ravensbruck – Sept In September of 1944, the sisters were transported once again. This time it was to Ravensbruck. Fifty miles north of Berlin, it was the largest concentration camp for women in the German Reich and housed political prisoners, gypsies, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others deemed dangerous by the Nazis. If conditions had been bad in Vught, conditions in Ravensbruck were far more brutal. The straw that covered the bunks in the eighteen barracks that made up the main camp was filthy. Women prisoners slept in three-tiered wooden bunks, and each barracks had but one washroom and toilet. Food rations were meager and sanitary conditions abominable. Many women were subjected to unethical medical experiments as SS doctors put chemical substances on wounds to ascertain what the results would be. These doctors also tested women on various methods of setting and transplanting bones and they cruelly amputated limbs to facilitate these tests. Countless prisoners died as a result of these horrific experiments. It was in such an environment that the ten Boom sisters arrived in the last winter of the war. ***** “We should cut our hair, Corrie.” Betsie’s advice was down-to-earth and practical. Everywhere around them women were cutting each other’s hair. Long hair was difficult to keep clean. “Oh, Betsie!!” Corrie sobbed as she snipped several inches off Betsie’s thick dark hair. Later, they buried their hair in the sand around their barracks. The three-tiered bunks were appallingly grimy. Rotting straw had been placed on top of broken wood and the women were so crowded that they were forced to lay three in a single bunk – making it very taxing to get any rest at all. “How can we live in such a place, Betsie?” “Show us how, Lord,” Betsie prayed in reply and then she opened her eyes and said, “Corrie, what did we read this morning?” “We read from Thessalonians.” “And what did our text say”? Reluctantly, Corrie answered her sister: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” “That’s it. That’s God’s answer.” “What is His answer, Betsie?” “To give thanks … to give thanks in everything.” The sour smell of human sweat and dirt drifted around them. Lice moved the straw in the bunks. “In everything, Betsie? Must we give thanks in everything?” Corrie’s voice was small and resigned. “Yes, in everything. Listen, Corrie. We’re together. That’s a blessing, isn’t it? And then, well we have a Bible. Think of it!! A Bible!! And then, last of all, we’re really crowded and that means we’ll be able to tell more women about Jesus.” Corrie nodded, subdued. “So then,” Betsie closed her eyes again, “thank You, Lord, for the lice…” “Oh, Betsie,” wailed Corrie, “not the lice!” “It says ‘in everything,’ Corrie.” ***** Barracks 28, where Betsie and Corrie were housed, was an extensive melting-pot of nationalities. The women housed there came from a diverse number of countries – Germany, France, Poland, Holland, to name a few. Because the quarters were so cramped, there was much quarreling. In the dark of the night Betsie took Corrie’s hand. “Lord Jesus,” she prayed out loud, “send your peace into this room. There has been too little praying here. The very walls know it. But where You enter, Lord, the spirit of strife cannot exist.” Gradually things quieted down and the angry mutterings stopped. ***** Ravensbruck held no sewing detail for Betsie, nor a factory job for Corrie. Both sisters had to work outside, leveling rough ground. Lifting shovels full of heavy dirt was almost too much for Betsie. She staggered if the load was too massive and at one point a guard struck her. Corrie, seeing her sister hurt, lost her temper and wanted to fly at the guard with her shovel, but Betsie restrained her. A red stain became visible on Betsie’s shirt. “Oh, Betsie!” Corrie was overcome with sadness, but Betsie covered the bloodstain with her hand. “Don’t look at it, Corrie. Only look at Jesus.” ***** There were worship services. These services were not conducted in a chapel or in a church of any kind but were held at the back of the barracks under a dangling, pitiful little light bulb. These services were conducted, not just on Sunday night, but every night. More and more women attended these services. First they sang softly, the Polish women singing a Polish hymn or the French women singing a French hymn. Then either Betsie or Corrie would open the Bible, translating the words into German as they read. And one of the women would translate their words into Polish and another would translate into Russian and another into French. In this way, all the women would hear the Word of God in their own language. Sometimes Betsie and Corrie wondered why no one interrupted these services. Later they discovered that the lice – the thanked-for lice – kept the guards away from Barrack 28. ***** Betsie was not growing stronger. The frail child, who had sat on the front step of her father’s workshop watching other children play, had run with the best of them. But she was now visibly wasting away. There was a small vitamin bottle that Corrie had carefully saved. Whenever Betsie was especially weak, Corrie would insist that her sister take a vitamin drop. But there were other women who were also ill. Corrie tried to save the drops for those who needed it most. But there were so many ill women. First there were fifteen, then twenty, and then still more. Yet every time she tilted the small bottle, another drop petered out. “There was a woman in the Bible,” smiled Betsie, “whose oil jar was never empty.” One day one of the other women prisoners managed to obtain some more vitamins, several large bottles of vitamins. The prisoners felt rich but they decided together that before they use their new cache of nutrients, the small bottle should be finished off. But when Corrie tried, at this point in time, to shake another drop out of the faithful jar, nothing happened. No matter how hard she shook the bottle, nothing materialized. It was finally empty. ***** “Corrie!! Corrie!! Wake up!” “What is it, Betsie? It’s in the middle of the night. We need our sleep.” “I have to tell you something important, Corrie.” “Can’t you tell me tomorrow?” “No, it’s really important. It’s about what God wants us to do after this war and I’m afraid that I will forget it if I don’t tell you now.” “All right, Betsie, go ahead. I’m awake now.” Through the darkness of the barracks, Betsie’s hands found Corrie’s hands and squeezed them. “We must rent one of these camps after the war, Corrie. And we must clean it and make it comfortable so that the German people who will have no home left can begin a new life. And in Holland, Corrie, in Holland we must find a house where we will be able to take care of all those who will survive these concentration camps.” “Where would we live, Betsie, in Holland or in Germany?” “We would live in neither place, Corrie. For you will travel all over the world and tell everyone what we have learned here: that Jesus is very real and that He is stronger than any power of darkness.” Released - December The days passed. Betsie grew more tired each day and was barely able to fill her quota of work. One morning a fit of coughing seized her and when it was over a blood stain darkened the straw on which she lay. “Are you sure we’ll be together after the war, Betsie? You said that we would…” Corrie could not finish and helplessly watched as her sister coughed again and again. But afterward Betsie did answer. “Always, Corrie … you and I.” The morning dawned when Betsie could move neither arms nor legs. She was carried away on a stretcher to another building where the very sick were kept. Corrie managed to find out that Betsie had been put on a cot next to a window. She stood by that window, smiling at her sister until the camp police shouted at her and told her to move along. At noon Corrie tried again. Betsie looked tremendously thin and frail in the cot. Her lips were blue. But those blue lips smiled at Corrie and formed words. “So much work to do.” It was not until the next morning that Corrie was able to visit the window once more. But a nurse blocked her view. Corrie pressed her face against the pane. She tried to peer past the white form. Another nurse entered. When they both moved to the side, Corrie finally saw Betsie. That is, she saw what had been Betsie. There was only a body now – a thin, yellow skeleton whose soul had flown straight into the arms of a waiting and loving God. Corrie sobbed as the two nurses wrapped her sister’s body in a sheet, lifted her off the cot and carried her away. There was a room where the dead were kept. Bodies were piled on top of one another along the wall. Betsie’s body was put there alongside all the others who had died that night. But her face was no longer lined with sorrow, hunger and pain. She looked peaceful. She appeared to be sleeping. She seemed to be leaning on her father’s lap, as she was wont to do when she was a little girl. And so she was. Betsie ten Boom had reached her Shield and Hiding Place. Two days after Betsie’s death, Corrie’s name was called out during morning roll call and she was commanded to stand to the side before reporting to the administration barracks. When she came to the administration barracks, a clerk stamped papers on which was written “Certificate of Discharge.” Although it was later discovered that this was a human clerical error, it truly was God’s providence. After a brief hospital stint because of her swollen legs, Corrie was released from Ravensbruck at the end of December 1944. Reunited - 1985 After the war Betsie’s sister, Corrie, was able to open a camp in Germany for the many homeless people there. God also permitted her to begin a home in Holland for war victims. Later she traveled all over the world, carrying the message of Jesus until her death in 1985. “Are you sure we’ll be together, Betsie?” Corrie’s question echoes down the corridors of time. And always Betsie’s answer rings out firmly, rings out firmly to encourage all followers of Christ. “Always, Corrie … you and I.” And so they are, even as all Christians will be, together before God’s throne. The “Voor Joden Verboden” picture is adapted and used with permission under a CC BY-SA 3.0 NL license, from the original at the Museum Rotterdam....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Freiheit! The White Rose graphic novel

by Andrea Grosso Ciponte 110 pages / 2020 I grew up reading stories about the Dutch resistance during World War II, and it was only years later that I realized the Germans had their own committed dissenters. Freiheit! is the story of one such group, "The White Rose." These university students wrote and distributed pamphlets urging Germans to rise up and actively resist their government. The problem, they said, was not that everyone supported Hitler, but that too few opposed him – too many were being silent bystanders. "We are your guilty conscience" their pamphlets declared, as the group tried to prod their fellow Germans to oppose Hitler, not just in thought, but in deed. The White Rose story doesn't have the happy ending we'd want: within a year the group's leaders - all of them 25 or younger - were caught and executed by the Gestapo. But their bravery inspired others, and when the Allies got a hold of their pamphlets they ended up using quotes from the final one in a flyer, and dropped five million copies of it as leaflets over Germany. Today that willingness to stand up to wicked leaders, no matter the cost, continues to inspire. That's the appeal of this graphic novel – this is good food for our own young men and women. The White Rose's pamphlets, translated and printed in the back of this graphic novel, make it clear that there were some Christian underpinnings to what they were doing. Andrea Grosso Giponte's art style is effective, and unlike anything I've seen before, at times photo-like, but of the low-resolution newspaper sort, and with the sort of angles and shadows that made me feel like I was watching an artsy spy movie. Check out the book trailer below to see what I mean. The story is a bit jumpy, so this isn't a graphic novel for pre-teens. It requires some work from the reader because the author isn't holding our hand, explaining every last thing. He expects us to think through and fill in what must have happened between those jumps. It is worth the effort. I'd recommend this for 16 and up, not because of any content cautions, but only because of the effort it requires. If Freiheit! is of interest, you may also enjoy The Faithful Spy, about German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a plot to kill Hitler. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Winston Churchill

by John Perry 158 pages / 2010 Though the man himself has been gone 50 + years now, the myth is enjoying a revival. Churchill has made recent appearance in the big screen productions Churchill and Darkest Hour, and has also shown up on the small screen in the British drama Crown. For a more accurate accounting we need to turn to print, and there can’t be a better reasonably-sized biography than John Perry’s Winston Churchill. Since it's part of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's 16-book Christian Encounters biography series, I wondered if that meant Churchill himself was Christian. But, no, sadly it wasn't so. It turns out that while Churchill knew his Bible, and would sometimes speak of God – particularly in rousing speeches to the British public – he thought that, if there was a God, then God owed him heaven. As Perry makes clear, Churchill had a spiritual type of fatalism. Early on Churchill came to understand that no man is in charge of his own fate; the fact that one man lives through a battle and another dies has little to do with the men themselves. So when Churchill survived a number of dangerous encounters, he grew in his conviction that he had been destined for something great. Destined by Who? The answer to that question wasn't all that pressing for Churchill. Caution As a rule I don't recommend (or even review) books that take God's name in vain – why would I praise someone who is mocking God? This is especially true when it comes to fiction, however, a case can be made for exceptions when it comes to history. In detailing Churchill's agnostic attitude towards God (and his son Randolph's especially arrogant view) it would seem unavoidable that some of Churchill's blasphemous quips and comments would need to be shared. But while these quotes do seem necessary, this is an instance where less is more, so we can be grateful for the restraint with which Perry shares them. Conclusion Why, then, is Churchill being profiled in this Christian series of biographies? Because we can see God's hand on the man. He was destined – from birth God was preparing him to be the right man, for the right time. And He so arranged things that Churchill was in the right place too, as the war time prime minister. This was all beyond Churchill's arranging, but looking back, we can see how God laid out events, and how He can use whomever He will because, whether Christian or agnostic, all are a part of His plan. That's the real reason to read this biography – it is a treat to see how God has acted in history to preserve His Church. Churchill was a great man in ways, but he was also a petty one in others. He blew through taxpayer dollars to fund his own high living, and he was known to indulge in "alternative facts" in his writings. At a different time, he might have been run out of politics. That's the lesson here – the greatness of this great man can't be found in the man himself. Instead what's on display is God's gracious providence in providing for us the response we need to Hitler's Third Reich. Winston Churchill is a quick, eye-opening read that anyone, teens and up, would be interested in if they have the slightest interest in the subject. And while the paperback is running at $1,000 right now, the e-book can be had for just $5....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Auschwitz Escape

by Joel C. Rosenberg 2014 / 461 pages Joel Rosenberg is a fantastic writer, a New York Times best-seller, but his political thrillers are based in large part on premillennial views that I don't share, and that does take away from some of the fun. But in The Auschwitz Escape he's having a go at historical fiction, so his end-times eschatology doesn't factor in, even as his mad story-telling skills still do. Jacob Weisz is a seventeen-year-old Jew in Germany in 1938. His parents are passive, hoping that if they just stay the course, eventually it will turn out alright. His uncle is a member of a Jewish resistance group that knows things will only get worse unless people start fighting to make it better. Jacob isn't as naive as his parents, but he does respect them. But when the Nazis come for his family, Jacob escapes and begins to fight alongside his uncle...for a time. As the title indicates, soon enough he gets caught and sent to Auschwitz. There he meets a Protestant pastor, imprisoned for helping Jews, and Jacob can't understand why the man was willing to risk his life when he could have stayed out of it and stayed safe. Jacob has a hard time trusting a man whose Christian motivations are so hard for him to understand. Rosenberg makes clear that while the two principal characters are fiction, their experiences were not – he researched the actual escapes, as well as the escapees' attempts to let the world know what was going on in these death camps. That research, along with his impressive writing chops, give the book its authentic feel. And speaking of authenticity, Rosenberg has inserted a gospel presentation in the book, but his is more subtle and more natural than what most other Christian writers manage. I really enjoyed it and am keeping it on my bookshelf because I can imagine reading it again in a few years. I'd recommend it for older teens and up....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch the trailer below, and rent and stream it from Vision Video here or here at Amazon.com. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Desperate Journey

Black and White / War / Drama 107 minutes / 1942 RATING: 7/10 Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn are two members of an Allied bombing crew assigned a near-impossible mission over Nazi Germany. When their plane is shot down, they set out to make it home again....and to do as much damage to the Nazis as they can along the way. Their desperate journey has plenty of explosions, fisticuffs, arial shootouts, guns blazing, and, at one point, Errol Flynn diving through a window to tackle two Nazi guards at once. There are laughs too, especially when the crew has the chutzpah to steal a ride on Nazi leader Hermann Göring's private train car. Desperate Journey is jingoistic, and at times not so realistic (ie. the real Nazis were smarter than movie Nazis) but it has an authenticity to it that comes of being made during World War II. This film was part of the war effort, made to encourage those back home that not only were we in the right, but that Australians, Brits, Americans and more could come together as a team to outsmart and beat back the Nazis. CAUTION As the crew is chased across Germany it isn't surprising that there are casualties along the way. And while there is no real gore, those losses make this a film that children could find too dramatic and emotional for them to deal with. So this might be best for 12 and up. CONCLUSION I watched this with a group ranging in age from 40 to just shy of 80, and all eight of us enjoyed it. If you have any sort of appreciation for World War II films made during World War II, this is one of the especially fun ones. Only downside? It only seems to be available on DVD right now, with no streaming options. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Hunger Winter

by Rob Currie 2020 / 236 pages Author Rob Currie drops his readers right into the action in the opening scene, with an anxious neighbor furiously banging on the front door to tell 13-year-old Dirk Ingelse that the Nazis have his older sister. And they'll be coming for him next! It's November 11, 1944, and while the Allies have started liberating the Netherlands, the Ingelse farmstead near Oosterbeek, is still under German control. What makes it even more difficult for Dirk is that he has no one to turn to. His mother had suddenly passed away not too long before, and his father is in hiding, working for the Resistance.  That's left just him and his older sister Els to take care of their six-year-old sister Anna. Now Els has been arrested, and Dirk has to run. But where to? That's when he remembers his Tante Cora less than a half day's walking away. The book is, in a sense, one big chase with Dirk doing his best to keep his sister safe, finding brief moments of calm, and then having to run again. Dirk shows himself to be a clever boy, and daring even despite his fears, as he finds hidings spots, and escape opportunities, and even figures out how best to fight the Nazis who are after them. As we follow along with Dirk and Anna, we also get occasional peaks into how Els is doing, facing her Gestapo interrogators. In another way, this is all about Dirk trying to live up to the example his father set for him. He has a good dad who invested in him by spending time with him, so even though Dirk doesn't have his dad around right when he most needs him, the teen is constantly hearing his dad's advice come back to him whenever he needs to make another decision. CAUTION There are no cautions to list, but maybe I'll note one disappointment: for a book by a Christian author, and put out by a Christian publisher, I would have expected God to be more than a minor character. Even as the importance of prayer is mentioned with some regularity, God Himself is not. Maybe the author is trying to portray a journey in Dirk's relationship with God, going from nominally Christian at the beginning – he doesn't pray, except at his little sister's insistence – to something at least a little deeper at the end. But God's near-absence is odd, especially considering this is a book about people in life and death circumstances. CONCLUSION That said, this is an intriguing, entertaining, and fast-paced story, with the whole book taking place over just three weeks. And while there are some tense moments, it all gets tied up nice and neatly, making this a great book for ages 10 to maybe 14. The Netherlands setting will appeal to the many RP readers who have a Dutch background, and the time period – the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, when Allies hadn't yet liberated all the Dutch, and the Germans weren't bothering to feed them – is one that teens may not have read too much about before. So there's a lot of reasons this is a very interesting read....

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Silver Fleet

Drama/ Black and White / War 1943 / 88 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is well-done, almost unknown World War II film told from the Dutch perspective. As the occupation begins the Nazis ask Dutchman Jaap van Leyden whether he would like to continue on in his job as shipyard manager. They want him to complete work on two half-built submarines that were originally intended for the Dutch navy. When he decides to accept the position both his workers and his wife question his patriotism – why was he willing to be a collaborator? But while van Leyden may not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis, someone else does. The workmen have started receiving anonymous messages outlining a daring sabotage plan. The notes are all signed "Piet Hein," a historical Dutch hero from the 17th century, and stirred by the memory of Hein's great deeds done long ago, and their own strong love of country, the workmen are happy to help this mysterious figure. Cautions Silver Fleet doesn't fully explore why these men were willing to risk their lives. Their love of country is the expressed motivation, but for Christian viewers, who know that our country can do nothing for us after death, patriotism should strike us as a wholly insufficient reason to risk one's life. But while God is not mentioned in the film, we know that it was their love of God that prompted our Dutch grandparents and great grandparents to take the risks that they did. So, with that in mind, Silver Fleet can be enjoyed as a secular tribute to the bravery of Dutch men who, whether the directors cared to acknowledge it or not, were willing to risk their lives for love of God and country... in that order. Conclusion The Nazis are at times more buffoonish than threatening, but overall the acting is quite good. The Silver Fleet is a solid World War film that I would recommend to any 1940s film enthusiast, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the War from the Dutch perspective. There seem to be no trailers available for The Silver Fleet, but the 3-minute clip below gives a feel for the film. While it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere online, cheap copies on DVD are readily available. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Bataan

Drama / Black and White / War 1943 / 114 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a movie unlike any other you will ever see. In the early months of 1942, Japan launched an attack on the Philippines and, over the course of three months, they drove General Douglas MacArthur and his American forces right off of the islands. Bataan is set during that retreat. A group of 13 men are assigned the task of blowing up a key bridge after the Allies cross it, and before the Japanese reach it. The 13 are castoffs and strangers to one another. In all the fighting they'd become separated from their original units. But now they'd been asked to come together and delay the Japanese advance for as long as they could. The motley nature of this crew makes for some solid character-driven action but what makes this film so very unusual and exceptional is when it was shot. America had been forced out of the Philippine Islands, and those wounds still stung. This was not the seemingly invincible America that we know today, but was instead America the bloodied. It would still be a year's time before the US returned to the Philippines, and for Bataan's audience it was far from clear what the outcome of the war would be. The typical war film is about men facing incredible odds and eventually winning. They couldn't do that in Bataan, because it was about a battle the US lost. So, instead, Bataan was made as a pledge to honor the courage and sacrifice of men who died never knowing if victory would even happen. The result is an emotional rollercoaster that keeps your attention right to the very end. CAUTIONS There is a lot of fighting in Bataan. And right from the opening – with the Japanese dropping bombs on the retreating columns of soldiers, Filipino families, and the wounded – there are a lot of people being killed. However there is very little blood. In the 1940s directors didn't feel the need to make things hyper-realistic, or depict killing blows in slow motion, so, compared to today's gore-fests Bataan isn't going to disturb adults. But the sheer volume of killing makes this a film unsuitable for the very young. CONCLUSION This is one of the most memorable, and certainly the most unique World War II film I've ever seen. I'd recommend this for guys who have the patience to appreciate black and white films and who have an interest in learning about World War II from the films of the time. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Flying Tigers

Drama / War / Black and White 104 minutes / 1942 RATING: 7/10 On January 3, 1942, just one month after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of three American fliers staged a daring attack on a Japanese base in Thailand. The three were not members of the US military, but were, instead, part of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) – they were civilians hired by the US government. The AVG was going to be an unofficial group that could help the Chinese fight the Japanese, even as the US remained officially neutral. But delays in the group's initial organization meant they only saw action after war had been declared. Flying Tigers is about the 1st AVG, the group that led America's first daring response to the Japanese attack. But as movies do, there are some liberties taken with the facts. In the film version Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) and the 1st AVG have been conducting attacks on the Japanese long before his country's official entry into the war. What isn't a liberty is how successful the Flying Tigers are shown to be. On film and in real life the 1st AVG was constantly and often massively outnumbered, and yet never lost an air battle (they are credited with at least 296 kills, while only 14 of their own pilots were killed). Still, as the fighting continues, the casualties do come, and Capt. Gordon has to take whatever pilots he can find, even if some of them are troublemakers. And the biggest troublemaker of them all is Capt. Gordon's independent and down-right self-absorbed buddy Woody Jason. This film has a message and it's the same one that Woody Jason has to learn: to win this war that independent streak that's so much a part of the American make-up will need to be restrained. Yes, individual ambition helped make America prosperous, but ambition unrestrained is simply selfishness. What Woody learns can be summed up in biblical terms: we need to govern our ambition with the Second Greatest Commandment. Selfish ambition makes Woody despised; ambition and a love for his neighbor makes him remarkable. Cautions There is very little blood shown – a Japanese pilot will get hit, throw his hands up to his face, and then, for a moment, we will see blood seeping between his fingers before the scene cuts away. That happens a half dozen or so times. The only other warning would concern the portrayal of the Chinese and Japanese.  They only make brief appearances, but when they do they come off as a little bit silly or simple. That can be credited in part to the language barrier - anyone speaking a language they only partially know is going to sound a little simple. But there's also likely an element of racism here, which parents might want to point out to their kids. Conclusion A modern audience might find the pacing in the first 30 minutes slow, up until Woody Jason shows up. So some patience is required, but this is a fascinating look at the earliest of America's action against Japan. It would be a good one for John Wayne fans, and for a family with kids who are 10 and up who have an interest in World War II...and who haven't had their attention span ruined by constant video and TV watching. ...

Remembrance Day

War through the eyes of a child: Alice Kuik shares her memories of World War II

“The horror and sacrifices of those who endured a war must be recorded and remembered. If we fail to do so, we will soon take peace for granted and exaggerate small inconveniences.” –  Jan Hendrik Luiten A CHILD OF WAR My birth must have been a moment of mixed emotions for my parents. To be sure, I have every reason to believe that they were delighted with the arrival of their first-born child. However, my birth took place just three months after the German army had invaded the Netherlands. I was not born in a country where we could speak freely or go outside without worry. No, I was born in a country that was tightly controlled by an enemy. Fears and secrets were a normal part of my life. I was born a child of war. Yet, the horror of war was not unbearable for me. I endured it with acceptance and resilience. This remarkable ability to take things in stride had two reasons. First of all, I did not know what it meant to live in peace. I was not able to compare my current situation to better days. War was all I knew. But the second reason was more significant. At all times I felt supported by people who cared for me. My mother absorbed my fears when she took me in her arms. The members of our extended family provided emotional support and practical help. And, last but not least, I was comforted by the prayers that were spoken at meals, at church, and at times of great concern about loved ones. It is to honour my parents and family members that I feel compelled to share my story. I understand now that their practical helpfulness and their natural loyalty were expressions of their love for God. By their actions they unwittingly taught me that the Lord can always be trusted, and that He always hears our prayers. Even when the enemy is constantly harassing us. THE WAR COMES HOME My memories of the war would not have been so vivid if my parents would not have provided a hiding place for a Jewish couple. But they did, and soon the Germans suspected it. Without delay they placed our house under surveillance. I was completely unaware of the hiding place. But the stress of being watched by the Germans without knowing the reason for their suspicion had a deep impact on me. Mind you, my parents did not seek the danger. Their defiance of the Germans happened as a natural outflow of their faith in the Lord and their love for the neighbour. Our family belonged to the Reformed church in Enschede. Their minister was a man whose faith showed itself in his works. He had taken it upon himself to obstruct the plan of the Nazis to eradicate the Jews. Not only did he preach this conviction from the pulpit, but he also practiced it. With relentless determination he collected the names of the Jews who were short-listed for transportation to the death-camps. He then carefully selected members in his congregation who would be suitable to hide these Jews. It is telling of my parents that they were among those whom he selected for this onerous task. Of course, I was too young to know what was going on. But even if I had been old enough, my parents would not have discussed this matter until I was asleep in my bed. I can imagine that my father was immediately convinced that this was a task that the Lord placed on his path. My mother probably thought so too, but my father’s conviction allowed her to voice the objections. Where do we hide them? We cannot risk putting Alice’s life in danger! And we have no idea how long this war will last! What if the Germans find out? Then we will all die! What if the Jews get sick? And how do we keep it a secret? But soon all the concerns faded to background. My parents were already making plans. A hiding place could be constructed upstairs. The cupboard in the spare bedroom could be enlarged toward the back. Soon the construction started, with the help of my father’s brothers. The back of the original cupboard was replaced with a door that could be locked from the side of the room under construction. Attention was paid to details. The newly created space was decorated with brown-yellow wallpaper. I remember that wallpaper distinctly because after the war my sister and I used to play with our dolls in that room. But of course I do not remember anything of the construction. Neither was I aware of the fact that my parents had opened their home to Alfred and Reina Hen, whom they soon affectionately referred to as “our Jews.” And so it happened that my parents, Jan Hendrik Luiten and Geertruida Klos, became personally involved in the Second World War. NOISES AND WHISPERS I have no early childhood memories of a carefree summer evening, or of a cheerful family gathering. No. My first memories consist of unpleasant noises. I could clearly hear them in my bedroom when my uncles and aunt visited my parents. It sounded as if they were all talking at the same time, at the top of their voices. Through the closed door of my room I could feel the tension. Something was wrong. My uncles were very agitated. They were discussing the war. They always talked about the war. I got the impression that the situation was getting worse. The voices of my aunts sounded very worried. Once in a while I could clearly hear them sigh. All the voices together sounded restless. It was oppressive. I wished my mother would come to my room. The daytime had bad noises too. There was one sound in particular that scared me. It was quite different from the secretive talking of my family. This sound came from outside. It started as a rhythmic rumble in the distance. As it came closer I could sense its vibration in the air. Then the group of marching German soldiers appeared in full view. Proudly they paraded through our street, loudly stamping their boots to the beat of a song. The sound of the song was aggressive. I vividly remember the words “Ach wehr fahren, ach wehr fahren gegenüber England,” “We will make war, for sure, we will make war with England.” It made me feel terrible. I felt the fear in my stomach. But the most alarming noise may well have been the roar of the fighter planes. I could already hear their faint drone when they were still far away. Slowly the faint drone turned into a deafening rumble, right above our heads. Then it faded away again, like a ripple. It left me wide awake and worried. At the time I did not even understand that these planes were bombers on their way to a target. To my surprise I noticed that the sound of the family gatherings at our house was changing. The uncles and aunts still visited us. We needed each other. But they started to whisper, afraid to be heard. To me their muffled voices were much more unsettling than their loud noises had been. It was clear that my family needed to be very cautious. They were on guard, constantly. No-one else was allowed to hear what they were talking about. Someone could be listening in! A German soldier, or a traitor. It was very unsettling. I tried to be brave. But it was not easy. Alice's father, Jan Luiten WITHOUT MY FATHER Little did I know that my family had good reasons to be on guard. Not only did we hide two Jews, but my father had made the decision to join the Resistance. Both were serious infractions of the German rule of law. Both were punishable by death. After my father joined the Resistance he did not come home anymore. Often we did not even know where he was. This was very difficult for us. We felt lost and lonely without him. Thankfully our extended family continued to look after us. My grandfather supplied us with bread from his bakery. Another relative, who owned a branch of the well-known grocery chain “Spar,” always made sure that we had a sufficient supply of groceries in the house. My mother’s younger brother and his wife, who were childless, visited us often. Together our relatives were a source of light in these dark days. Not surprisingly, the Germans noticed that my father stopped coming home. His absence seemed convincing proof to them that we were hiding Jews. As a result our family was placed on an even higher level of suspicion. At any time of the day a group of Germans would come to our house, banging on the door with great force and shouting, "Wo Sind die Juden?" "Where are the Jews?" But, however thoroughly they searched our house, they did not find Jews. In no uncertain terms they questioned my mother about my father. Boldly she would enter into an argument with them, explaining that they had no reason to be suspicious. With brave determination she dodged their questions about my father, calmly stating that she expected him home in the next day or so. My mother would always take extra time for bringing me to bed on days that the Germans had searched our house. "Where is Papa?," I would ask her. She could not say. But she prayed with me, and sang songs. Her soothing voice helped me to feel safe again. It was during these dark days that my sister Hinke was born. One morning it was not my mother who called me out of bed, but Tante Aaltje, my aunt. I was very surprised. I was even more surprised when I noticed that my mother did not come to the breakfast table. She was staying in bed. That was not like her at all. But, thankfully, Tante Aaltje took charge of the things my mom usually did. She was also the one who told me that I had received a sister. I did not know what to think. Where did the sister come from? Where would she sleep? Tante Aaltje suggested that I should see the baby. But I was not sure. Everything felt unreal and scary. Soon I realized that things had changed. My mom and I were not together anymore. We were joined by a little person who needed care around the clock. It was sad that we could not tell my father about our baby sister, because we did not know where he was. Would things ever become normal again? I kept asking about my father. And I always received the same answer. We did not know where he was, or when he would come back. We were not even sure if he was still alive. Over time this uncertainty became our new normal. We accepted the pain of not-knowing and forced ourselves to carry on. For my mother this new normal included looking after the Jews upstairs. Then we received the devastating news that my father had been caught by the Germans. He had been transported to a concentration camp in Germany. I did not fully know what that meant. But I did understand that his situation had become dreadful. And that he might die. I felt lost. I wanted to cry. Everybody seemed numb. The silence did not feel right. But at that moment there were no words. Only sighs. And silent prayers. THE WORST OF TIMES The news that my father had been caught changed the way I looked at things. I gave up hoping that he might come home soon. I started to imagine how we would live without him. I was sure that my mom would manage well. The evidence was clear. She kept looking after her regular commitments. She took care of my sister. She kept our house tidy and clean. And she prepared the meals with the groceries that our family provided. At the time I did not understand how lonely she must have been. One day I noticed that my mother took a tray with food upstairs. I was confused. Maybe she brought it to her bedroom for a late-night snack. But I could not figure out exactly where she took it.  I sensed that it was not any of my business to ask about it. But boldly I asked her anyway. “Mom, where are you going with the food?” Without blinking an eye my Mom answered, “I am looking after a sick dog.” That was exciting! It had never occurred to me that the secret would be a surprise for me! My imagination soared. Soon my mom would take a healthy dog downstairs, and I would have a playmate. I would take the dog for walks. I could look after feeding him. And maybe he could sleep in bed with me. At the first opportunity I shared the exciting news with my friend next door. The friend hastened to tell her mother. At that point the situation took an unexpected turn. My friend’s mother rushed over to our house. She talked to my mom in a hushed, but agitated voice. Only after the war I was told what transpired in the conversation. The neighbour lady explained to my mom that soon the whole neighbourhood would know that she was bringing food upstairs for a sick dog. But they would very likely understand that we did not have a sick dog upstairs. And not all the neighbours could be trusted. My mother should be careful not to draw any attention to our house. We were already under suspicion! But I think that the Germans had made up their mind already at that point. Their suspicion that there were Jews in our house was all but proven. They were dead-set on finding them. One day we heard the loud singing and stamping of marching soldiers in our street. It stopped at our house. We were holding our breath. But soon all doubt was removed. After a loud knock a large number of German soldiers barged inside. Suddenly the house was filled with dark-grey uniforms and Wehrmacht army caps. My mother placed her arms securely around me. The soldiers searched for a long time, especially upstairs. But again, their search was unsuccessful. Venting their anger they grabbed my mom by the throat and kicked her into the hallway closet. Then a soldier looked at me, picked me up and threw me into the cupboard too. Another soldier started to kick me viciously. I felt the blows of his heavy boots on the lower part of my back. It was hurting badly. Their kicks damaged my spine. For life. The incident in the closet changed me. It destroyed my hope that things would get back to normal. I lost my childlike optimism. The Germans would undoubtedly come back to our house. My father was gone. Dead maybe. My back hurt. I was concerned for my little sister. I was confused by the secrets. But I felt safe with my mom. And I loved it when the relatives came. Thankfully my family had an inner resilience. They had a faith that passed understanding. I felt that. NO MORE WAR A while later I noticed that the conversations of the relatives were changing again, slowly but surely. But this time it felt like a good change. Their voices became less hushed and more cheerful. Excited even. Other things changed as well. The German soldiers were not marching through the streets of Enschede anymore. Their bragging songs had stopped. Then the exuberance broke loose. The war was over! It took a while for me to understand what it meant to live without fear for the enemy. The marching Germans had disappeared. There were no strange secrets anymore. But there were surprises. One day my mother called me to the kitchen. Two people were sitting at the table. A man and a woman. I had never seen them before. My mother told me that these people were Jews. They had lived upstairs in a secret room. My eyes must have been wide with surprise and my mouth probably fell open. The Germans were right then. We had been hiding Jews. Our Jewish guests turned out to be good company. It was very nice to have them in our house. Not much later the relatives began to discuss the Dutch Resistance workers in the German concentration camps. Supposedly many of them had started to walk home from the camps. That was very good news! Filled with new hope I asked my mother when my father would be coming home. To my disappointment she told me that we could not be sure that he was coming back. He could have died. In the camp. Or on the way home. That worried me. But I remained hopeful. My hope started to soar when my mother told me a few days later that trains had been arranged to bring the liberated prisoners home. A train was scheduled to arrive at the Enschede railway station once a day. Names of passengers could not be provided. Although there was no certainty that my father would be on one of the trains, this was very good news. On the day that the first train was to arrive we got up early. It would take us about an hour to walk from our home on the outskirts of Enschede to the railway station in the centre of town. And we surely did not want to be late. We left the house in high spirits. My sister sat up in the stroller which my mother pushed with joyful determination. And I walked, hopped and skipped the whole way. As we came closer to the railway station we met several other excited people. This would be a day of happy reunion. It could be. We knew that not everyone would come back. But we wanted to be hopeful. We arrived at the train station plenty on time. The wait was long. But finally we could see the train in the far distance. It came closer and closer till it screeched to a halt. The doors opened. Strange-looking men came out. Their eyes were hollow and their bodies had points sticking out at the shoulders, the hips, and the knees. All the women looked closely to see if they recognized these strange men. Soon shouts of joy filled the air. But my mom was not showing any excitement. However hard she looked, she was not able to pick out my dad. Slowly it started to dawn on us. He was not on the train. The way home seemed very long. My mother was crying. But the next day we went again, in good cheer. We were convinced that this would be day that my father would have made it on the train. If he was alive. But again he was not there. On the way home I looked at my mother. She was crying. And so it went, for what seemed an endless number of days. Every morning again we left hopeful; and every afternoon we came home sad. Then the trains stopped coming. My mother was informed that the transportation of liberated prisoners to Enschede was completed. I decided not to believe any rumours anymore. The devastation of false hope was more hurtful than the nagging pain of hopelessness. I tried to stop thinking about my father. Life continued. I helped my mom and I spent time with my friends. One day I was playing in our backyard with some of the neighbour girls. Suddenly we heard happy shouts and laughter coming from our house. My mother appeared in the door opening and started calling my name. I ran over to her, curious to hear what was going on. “Alice! Sweet girl! Dad has come home!” What? Really? I could hardly believe it. Overjoyed I rushed inside. I ran into the kitchen. There was a man sitting at the table. I stopped in my tracks. Was that my father? He talked to me. “Hi Alice,” he said. “I am so glad to see you again. Mom was right. You have grown into a beautiful girl.” Gently he reached down to hug me, but I drew back. This man could not be my father. He did not look one bit like the wedding picture that we had treasured so dearly during his absence. And he stank terribly. I was scared. I looked up at my mom, and ran away. My mom did not call me back. At the end of the day she asked me if I would kiss my father goodnight. But I couldn’t. The next morning “our Jews” joined our family for coffee. We had a nice time with each other. It was clear that Mr. Hen and the man who said he was my father knew each other well. My supposed father used Mr. Hen’s nickname, “Frans,” rather than his formal name “Alfred.” It made me think. I was still not sure that this strange man was my father, but I was starting to consider the possibility. Mr. Hen must have been watching me. Turning towards me, he said, “Alice, do you trust me?” I had to think about that for a minute. Then I nodded. “Very well,” he continued, “Would you believe me if I said that this strange man is your father?” After a pause, I nodded again. Mr. Hen had one last question. “Would you give your father a little kiss to show him how happy you are that he came back?” I decided to stand up. Slowly I walked over to my Dad. He smiled at me. Then I did it. I gave him a little kiss. It was scary. And it was good. I was only five years old when I reconnected with my father. But the connection lasted till death parted us. And his memories are alive in my heart. From this moment on “our Jews” became our honourary relatives: Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina. It took time before my Dad was ready to share his story with us. He never told us the whole truth. He was not able to. He left out the most painful, most disturbing parts. He did not want to relive them, and he wanted to spare us the extent of his misery. And no one prodded him. He did, however, share the story of his liberation from the concentration camp. The Resistance workers in the concentration camp were never officially informed that the Germans had surrendered. But when the rumours of the German capitulation were eventually confirmed, the prisoners started to escape in small groups. My father and two other captives decided to undertake the journey home together. It was not an easy trip. Much of their physical strength had been lost due to the hard labour, mistreatment and malnutrition during their camp years. But they were helped along the way by German farmers. They discovered that many Germans had hated the war. These people were grateful for the opportunity to provide hospitality to the survivors of the camps. After several weeks my father and his two friends arrived at the border-crossing between Germany and the Netherlands, not far from Enschede. It was a very emotional moment. Soon they would embrace their loved ones again. They did not know what had happened to them in their absence. Maybe not all of them would have survived the war. But they trusted that the Lord, who had stood by them in their dark hours, would also have cared for their loved ones. In that confidence the three men traveled their final miles back to their families. THE WAR REMEMBERED The war may have been over, but its horror continued in my soul. Throughout my childhood I relived the fear that I felt when the roaring fighter planes dropped their bombs on our town. For many years I had nightmares about the sight and sound of these low-flying bombers. In these dreams I vividly heard the rumbling roar of bombs that fell on homes and stores, reducing them to ruins. I would wake up in a sweat and run to my mother’s bedroom. She comforted me with tight hugs and soothing words. I did not know at the time that these bombings were accidental droppings by American planes that missed their targets in Germany. After the war our family stayed in close contact with Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina. They found a place to live not far from our home. This provided us with the opportunity to visit each other regularly. Together the families reminisced about the hiding years. I was impressed to hear that Uncle Frans had kept himself busy with reading as well as writing. Together with other Jews who survived the war they decided to rebuild the synagogue in Enschede. When the restoration was completed they invited my parents for a tour. To their joy my parents accepted the invitation. Soon I was old enough to help Aunt Reina with small housekeeping chores. There was always something to do, the more so after the birth of their son. On Saturdays I had a special task. They did not do any work on that day of the week as it was set aside as the Sabbath. They could not even switch on a light. However, they did not object if I performed this task for them. Aunt Reina then treated me to a piece of delicious cake which she had baked the day before. Eventually the three of them emigrated to Toronto, where Uncle Frans started a successful tailor business. But their immigration did not prevent us from staying in touch with each other. My Dad needed to regain his strength. But in due time he, my mother and our dear relatives were all convinced that he was ready to return to work. Without delay he contacted the textile factory where he worked before he was taken prisoner. It was a great joy for him to hear that his previous position was available! I am sure that it made his transition from captive Resistance worker in a concentration camp to fulltime employee much easier. The fact that I passed his place of work every day on my way to and from school made it even more wonderful. What a big difference for me, from fearing that you might never see your father again, to walking by his workplace twice a day. I was very happy. A number of years later my brother Andre was born. We were very excited, and exceedingly thankful for our abundant blessings: health, family, friends, food, employment, and now a baby brother who was born in a time of peace. Several years later our family of five emigrated to Carman, a small town in Manitoba. Our correspondence with Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina gained a new dimension. We could understand their situation much better having experienced an emigration ourselves. My mother sealed the mutual friendship when she traveled by plane to Toronto. She was a brave, loyal woman. And my father was proud of her. **** The house today: Alfred and Reina Hen hid in the attic Several decades later it was me who made a historic trip, together with my husband Bert. We had decided to pay a visit to the country of our birth. One place we were sure to visit was Enschede. I was eager to show him the place where I was born. It was not difficult for me to find the old family home. “Bert, here it is,” I said. As I was saying these words, the present merged with the past. This was the place where I was born. In this house the Jews were hidden. Here it was where I had suffered the fear of separation from my father. Here it was that I endured the house-searches by the Germans. Here it was that I was kicked into the hallway cupboard by German soldiers. As I was sharing these stories with my husband, the front door opened. A woman stepped outside. “Are you looking for someone?” she asked. “No, this is the place where I was born,” I answered spontaneously. Immediately the woman opened the door wide and invited us in. But I was hesitant. Would it be appropriate to accept her invitation? Would I not impose on her privacy? But Bert put a bit of pressure on me. He would not want me to have regrets later, and he was curious to see the house. I felt a bit tense as we walked through the front door. Tentatively I looked around. The house was not as big as I remembered. But I recognized the hallway, the door to the living room, the kitchen. We went upstairs. The lady explained that her husband was working on some renovations. With anticipation I turned my head to the place where I expected the entrance to the hiding place. But all I saw was a wall with holes and loose boards on the floor. The husband was taking the hiding place out, board by board. Then, with a shock, I noticed that the brown-yellow wallpaper was still covering the walls. “This is the hiding place,” I uttered. “Our Jews lived here.” “Really?” the lady called out. “Please tell me more about your parents, and about the people that lived here in hiding.” **** Throughout my life I have often reflected on the war in the Netherlands. At the time I saw it through the eyes of a child. I feared the marching Germans. I was worried about my father. But I found comfort and safety in the arms of my mother. Now I have reached the age of the strong. Over the years I have learned to see the magnitude of the Second World War. Entire nations lived in fear. Many Jewish families were killed. Healthy young men died a horrible death, on both sides of the war. And wars continue to be waged. Yet, I have also learned to trust the Lord. We do not have to fear. He is our shield and our tower, our comfort in life and in death. This first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue....

Adult non-fiction, Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to kill Hitler

by John Hendrix 176 pages / 2018  The world “pastor” is not often paired with words like “plot” or “kill.” But when the Nazis took over Germany, and used nationalism and intimidation to silence its churches, and then set out to conquer the world, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to do something. And he felt himself pulled to do what would once have been unthinkable to him: Bonhoeffer joined a conspiracy to kill his country’s leader, Adolf Hitler. At 176 pages, and text-dense, author John Hendrix has a lot of space to explore Bonhoeffer and his time.  He starts with his birth and family life, before showing how World War I impacted the Bonhoeffers – one of Dietrich’s older brothers was killed – and how the runaway inflation that came shortly afterwards destroyed everyone’s savings. In 1921 a German could exchange 75 marks for 1 US dollar, but by the end of 1923 to get that same US dollar he would have to bring a wheelbarrow, or maybe a dumptruck, to carry the 4 billion marks that’d now be needed. Money, jobs, and hope were scarce, and this set the scene for the rise of Hitler. Germans wanted a way out, and Hitler presented himself as a savior. Meanwhile, Bonhoeffer was learning, via travels in Europe and America, that a love for one’s country doesn’t mean you have to support everything your government does. So when the Nazis, only a few months after they came into power, fired Jews from any government positions, Bonhoeffer was one of the few church leaders to speak out. He published a public paper called “The Church and the Jewish Question” in which he laid out an explicitly Christian justification for resisting the government. He described three ways the Church can and should respond to an evil government. Question the State and its methods: a True church must reject government encroachment on its beliefs Aid the victims of State actions: the Church has an unconditional obligation to the victims... Strike back: it is not enough to just bandage the victims under the wheels, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself! As you can tell, this “comic book” gets into some big and heady topics. What’s more, “how to deal with a hostile State?” is a topic of growing relevance these days. That makes this an important book, but also one that should be discussed between parent and child. There is some serious theology here, and while the general thrust is right on – we owe our allegiance first and foremost to God, even if that means resisting the State – what exactly it looks to live that out, back then and today, is a topic too weighty for a teen to work out on their own. This is a graphic novel worthy of both a teen and adult audience. The thought and research that’s has gone into it is evident throughout. Even the coloration of the book is fascinating, with Bonhoeffer consistently shown either in teal or with a teal background, the Nazis always highlighted with the use of red, and when death makes an appearance there is a predominance of black. I’d recommend The Faithful Spy for any teen who has begun to think on big issues, and anyone anyone interested working through what it means to live to God’s glory in tumultuous times. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Theology

A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...

Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”...

Remembrance Day

Forgive me!

The waiting room was full. I pulled a number - 135. I just knew it would be a long wait. Next to me sat a nondescript woman; everything about her was a brownish gray. I looked around and knew most of us were here to get our pension applications in. Everyone was around the same age, 65. I took out my papers and gave them a quick glance over. Everything was there. The woman next to me said, "Excuse me, can you look at mine?" I felt instant resentment boiling up. Why didn’t people make sure they had everything in order before they showed up? But I said, “OK, let's look." I saw her name, date of birth and her nationality, German. Thought nothing of it. I started asking questions, while going through her papers and she noticed my Dutch accent. "Forgive me!" she suddenly said. I looked up, surprised and asked, "What?" "Forgive me for what we did during the war." "The war? You were just a child, just like me. You did nothing wrong." Then she told me. She told me about the war and how they had to go to school and salute the hated flag. It was a Lutheran village and most of the kids did not salute the flag. Their parents told them it was wrong; she did not understand the why of it. She was only 8. Then one morning soldiers came in black uniforms. They told the kids that if they did not salute the flag they would be shot. The little girl in front of her did not salute. She was shot! She told me how scared she had been and that she SALUTED the flag. She was crying now. People were looking at us. Her sobs were loud. Again she lifted her tear-streaked face to me and said: "Forgive me!" "You were just a child,” I said again. We were standing now, facing each other, no longer aware of the others in the room. "Please, please, for just one time in my life I want to hear some one say ‘I forgive you,’" she cried. I did it – I said: "I forgive you!" We stood there oblivious to all others. We hugged each other and both cried…cried for the sorrow and the abuse of war, the sorrow we both had gone through, the hunger, the pain and the fear. “Calling number 135.” This an excerpt from “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” available for $20 + $3 shipping from the author at gerandy100@gmail.com....

Articles, Book Reviews, Remembrance Day

5 books to help us never forget

Next week will mark Remembrance Day, and to help us remember these men and women – many in uniform, and also many who were not – here are 5 books about their courage and conviction. There is something here for every age. By reading these – especially together with our children, or maybe in a book club with friends – we can be inspired and prepared. These stories remind us of why some wars need to be fought, and through these stories we can better appreciate those who fought for us so long ago. They provide us examples worth imitating for the battles, big and small, physical, and in our cases more often spiritual, that still need to be fought today. The reviews that follow have been arranged by the age of the intended audience - youngest to oldest - though all of these would be enjoyed by adults too. The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh 40 pages / 2012 How did poppies become the symbol for Remembrance Day? This beautifully illustrated (I love the water colors in this book - it's a treat just to look at it!) and well-researched children’s picture book tells the story of Moina Michael, who was 45 when World War I broke out. She was a teacher at the University of Georgia’s Normal School and realized that every home in America would be affected. “Her girls” would see fathers, brothers and sweethearts sent to the war front. As the war progressed, she did what she could to help. Her motto from a young age was “Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might." When she read John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” she knew what she had to do for all her beloved soldiers. She went on a search for poppies and found one large red poppy and 24 small ones in a department store. She put the large one in a vase in the YMCA canteen and gave 23 away. From that small, significant gesture, the Poppies have become a symbol of remembrance and bring much needed funds to help the veterans. The book has an epilogue that is helpful for teachers or parents who wants to tell children more about the history of the poppy. This book would be an asset to any elementary school library.  – reviewed by Joanna Vanderpol Innocent Heroes: Stories of animals in the First World War by Sigmund Brouwer 186 pages / 2017 Animals had a bigger role in WWI than most of us realize. Author Sigmund Brouwer has taken heroic stories of these animals and, in the interests of making a continuous, compelling storyline, fictionalized the details, placing all the animals in just one Canadian platoon, the Storming Normans. While each chapter is built around the story of a particular creature –a cat, a bird, two dogs, a horse, a mule, and a lion – the book's main characters are three fictional Canadian infantry soldiers. In the trio of Jake, Charlie, and Thomas, the author gives us soldiers who couldn't have more different backgrounds, with Jake a farm boy, Charlie the city-dwelling millionaire, and Thomas a Cree Indian. With this “odd couple” friendship Brouwer injects his story with humor even in the midst of the horrors of war. It also allows him the opportunity to educate readers as to how Natives were treated on the front lines and back home in Canada during this period. My highest praise for a book is that it is so good I have to read it to my family – we’re loving it! Brouwer has weaved these animal stories together into a compelling book that tackles some tough topics at an age-appropriate level for pre-teens and teens. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond 273 pages / 2016 "Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don’t know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God. Now when men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is good reason, and plenty of time, to talk about life's most important matters. Bond gives Lewis a fellow junior officer – Second Lieutenant Johnson – who won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their back and forth sparring is brilliant; Bond has pulled the points and counterpoints right out of Mere Christianity and other books Lewis wrote when he became the world’s best-known Christian apologist. Bond has crafted something remarkable here, capturing in grim detail what it must have been like to live, eat, and sleep barely more than a stone’s throw from enemy troops hidden away in their own trenches. I think older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis are sure to enjoy War in the Wasteland. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra Prison Letters by Corrie Ten Boom 90 pages / 1975 This is a collection of the correspondence between Corrie Ten Boom and her family while she and her sister Betsie were being held in prison by the Nazis during World War II. If you haven’t already her remarkable wartime biography The Hiding Place, then you must read that first. It recounts how her family hid Jews, not because they were brave or courageous, but simply because they were obedient to what they knew God was calling them to do. We see how God sustained them. It is a book of doubts being answered, and God being found sufficient even in the most trying of circumstances. If you loved The Hiding Place (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t) then this collection of letters will act as a moving appendix to that remarkable book. It is the same story, but told a very different way, one letter at a time. However, because no correspondence was allowed in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where Corrie and Betsie were sent last, the book ends abruptly. So, this will be a wonderful supplement to The Hiding Place, but it is not one to read simply on its own. – reviewed by Jon Dykstra On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 by Mark Zuehlke 2010 / 552 pages This book is a detailed account of the Canadian Army’s advance into the Netherlands and northwestern Germany during the last phase of World War Two. It is written in a popular (rather than academic) style and frequently relies upon first-hand reports provided by the soldiers themselves for a vivid narrative of combat and other experiences of frontline troops. For this part of the war, the Canadians were superior to the Germans in almost every way, but the terrain heavily favored the German defenders. The ground was frequently too soft for military vehicles so they were confined to roads, making them easy targets. As well, there were a large number of rivers and canals that had to be crossed to reach objectives. The Germans would blow up bridges as they retreated, and time after time the Canadians would have to cross by boat in the face of enemy fire. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the frequent accounts of heroic actions by individual Canadian soldiers. When the chips were down and the situation looked grim, some responded with acts of bravery that could be straight out of a Hollywood-style movie. For example, when Major Harry Hamley found his unit pinned down and threatened by a German attack he grabbed a large machine gun. Charging into the face of enemy fire, Hamley burned through a magazine as he ran, shooting eight Germans dead, wounding several others, and scattering the rest. There were many such real-life heroes. We learn here that the Canadians were not reluctant combatants. When Dutch authorities requested that Canadian forces undertake a particularly dangerous mission, the Canadian commander consulted his troops about their willingness to attempt it: “There wasn’t the slightest hesitation or any objection raised, they were prepared to lay it on the line for the Dutch people.” Author Mark Zuehlke goes into much detail about individual army units and their experiences as they move from one objective to another, fighting much of the time. Many of the events described occur simultaneously in different parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. At times it can be difficult to keep track of how each event relates to the others. This is not the fault of the book so much as a reflection of the large battlefront continually in action. Thankfully, there is a series of maps at the front of the book, making it possible for the reader to keep track of events as the Canadian Army advances over a broad geographical front taking in numerous cities, towns and villages. There are also two sections with photographs. In short, this book lucidly describes a period of history that will make any true-blooded Canadian feel proud, and anyone of Dutch roots so very grateful. – reviewed by Michael Wagner...

Remembrance Day

Why we remember

My grandfather was active in the Dutch resistance movement against Nazism and you can read more about him in my article "Prayers and Comfort in Sachsenhausen." But why should you? Stories like his are inspiring…but are they important? Why do we need to hear about men like Taeke van Popta and remember their stories? We need to listen because these people and their stories are part of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds and encourages us. His is but one of the accounts of Dutch Christians who risked everything for the sake of others. Many men and women living in the Netherlands during the perilous times of World War II and the Nazi occupation did what was right to help Dutch Jews, despite the cost. For countless it meant terrible suffering and even death. They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things – but only because they had an extraordinary God. Strengthened by Scripture, song, and prayer, they withstood the powers of evil to obey the command to love their neighbors as themselves. Doubtless, they had times of despair, but remarkably one often reads about how thankful they were for God's provision. We do not know what we have yet to undergo as we await the return of our Savior. We, ourselves, may be persecuted, or we may witness the persecution of a segment of society which calls us to stand up for our neighbors. That’s why we need to remember and never forget the faithful obedience of those who have gone before us and let the remembrance encourage us to stand up for God and our neighbor. Rev. George van Popta is the Minister Emeritus for the Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church, and he blogs at VanPopta.ca. This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue....

Adult biographies, Remembrance Day, Teen non-fiction

The Hiding Place

by Corrie Ten Boom 1971 / 225 pages This was such an encouraging story, and in so many ways. If you know only the barest details of Corrie ten Boom's life story you might mistake her for a superwoman. After all, this is a lady who lost her father and sister to the Nazis, and who had to endure deprivation and cruelty of a German concentration camp and yet she still managed to forgive the very people who did her so much harm. That certainly doesn't sound like any ordinary person! However, while Corrie was most certainly a special woman, her biography is all about God's greatness and not her own. HER WISE EARTHLY FATHER... In the first third of the book she sets the scene, telling of her early life, and sharing the sage wisdom of her father. Once, when she was a little girl she overheard someone talk of "sex sin" so she went to her father and asked him, "Father what is sexsin?" He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it up on the floor. "Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. "It's too heavy," I said. "Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a heavy load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you." And I was satisfied. More than satisfied– wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to leave them in my father's keeping. ...POINTED HER TO HER HEAVENLY FATHER Later she, still as a child, has her first encounter with death – a small baby in an apartment on her same block has passed away - and she can't stop worrying about what she would do if her father and mother died. She can't eat, and can't stop crying. In response, her father points his little girl to her Heavenly Father. Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?" I sniffed a few times, considering this. "Why, just before we get on the train." "Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time." And that is just what Corrie finds, when years later this ordinary woman, who led such a quiet life for her first 48 years, finds herself as the leader of a Resistance cell, hiding Jews and members of the underground, stealing ration cards from the Nazis, and providing whatever help she could to whoever came asking. And that is what she found still in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, surrounded by cruel guards and biting fleas. God gave her just what she needed, just when she needed it. This is a wonderful story that will be encouraging to anyone contending with discouragement, sickness, or the death of someone close to them. Miss ten Boom wants us to know that God never stops being good, even when we ourselves are wavering as things around us go so very badly. We can trust Him. We can count on Him. He loves his children! I'd recommend it to anyone 16 and up and suggest it as a very good offering for any reading group - it would foster some wonderful discussions. There is also a "young reader's edition" which has been abridged to about half the length. But they accomplished this feat by taking out all the charm. The original reads just as you might expect an older Dutch lady to talk, but the abridged version has only a flat, generic narration to it - Corrie's unique voice is gone. So give it a skip, and go with the original, even for "young readers." Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Family, Movie Reviews

Swallows and Amazons

Drama / Family 2016 / 96 minutes RATING: 7/10 I remember my older brother reading Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons to me when I was very young, and being charmed by it. It was a story of four children - two brothers and their two sisters – making up their own adventures during a summer holiday on the lake, fighting off imaginary pirates and pretend sharks. It was a gentle book. That's why I thought it would make for a gentle movie to share with the family. But while a lot of the book's charm made it to the silver screen, the filmmakers decided that in addition to the children's imagined peril, they had to add some of the real kind – spies! The four Walker children are on a lake for the summer, in 1935 Britain, and they have their parents' permission to take the Swallow, a small sailboat, out to explore a densely wooded island and camp there. But they are not the first to land on the island: a sign, surrounded by animal bones, warns that it belongs to the "Amazons." This is all loyal to the book – the Amazons are a couple of girls with a sailboat of their own, and the two groups get to pretend to be rival pirate gangs. But the island is also home to a real life spy. And there are a couple of other suspicious sorts following him. For a small little island, there's quite the population on it! The additions of the spies adds to the excitement, but brings tension to a story that didn't really have that before. So, if you like the book, you probably aren't going to appreciate this adaptation – it's like adding a couple of spies to Winnie-the-Pooh. Exciting, yes, but not at all in keeping with the spirit of the original story. However, if you don't know the book, or can at least forget it for a bit, this is quite the adventure. There are chases scenes on the water and through the woods, and even through and on top of a train. We see spies following each other, Walkers following spies, and spies following the Walkers. I don't want to give the impression this is all action – there's also the calmer fun of the Walkers learning how to camp, create fire, and catch and cook their own food. It still has the charm of the book. Just with tension added. CAUTIONS There is a bit of language, with one spy saying "Damn it" in his native language, and the movie not so helpfully subtitling the translation for us. The siblings also call each other various names including "duffer" and "idiot." And one girl says, "shut up" a number of times. The only other concern would be some behaviors that we wouldn't want our own children to model. There are a few times where the children do something hazardous (like sailing a boat at night) against their mother's expressed wishes. So mom and dad might have to pause the movie here and there to ask what the Walker children should have done. CONCLUSION While Swallows and Amazons was far too scary for my 8 and under young'uns, I think some 10-year-olds and anyone 12 and up would find this just the right level of exciting for them. It's great movie night material for families with older children, and it's bound to inspire either a camping or sailing request. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

GOODBYE HOLLAND: The destruction of Dutch Jewry

Documentary 90 minutes / 2004 RATING: 8/10 I grew up reading Piet Prins’ Scout books and Anne DeVries’ Journey Through the Night, learning about the courage of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. I also heard stories about how my grandparents and my friends’ grandparents hid Jews from the Nazis. So it with shock that I learned three-quarters of the Jews in the Netherlands didn’t make it through the War alive. This was not the story as I had understood it! But it turns out that the heroes I read and heard about growing up were the exceptions, not the rule. That courage was so rare overall, but more common among our Reformed relatives, says something about the love they had for God. They were willing to risk their lives because they knew that whether they lived or died, they were the Lord’s (Roman 14:8). However there were not many like them. Along with Anne Frank, more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps, and they were often rounded up by Dutch policemen, whose work was overseen by Dutch officials, and they were shipped off on trains run by Dutch engineers. The Dutch weren’t merely silent; many were among the Germans’ most helpful allies. It wasn’t simply apathy; it was betrayal. That’s the point that director Willy Lindwer makes in this documentary. A son of one of the few Jewish survivors, he set out to discover why the Dutch allowed the Holocaust to happen in their country. He interviews both those who had the courage to help, and those who felt they had no other option but to go along with what the Germans were demanding. It is with this second group, those who went along, that some of the most compelling discussions happen. This film was made in 2004, so six decades has passed since the War’s end, and yet some had still not learned anything from it. One 70-something-year-old described his wartime boss as a “righteous man” – this same boss had been a police chief who rounded up thousands of Jews for the Germans. Though about half the film is subtitled (because the interviewees are speaking Dutch) it’s conversations like this that make the film so gripping. Evil men are supposed to look like Hitler, or Saddam – raving, shouting maniacs. But this man looks like your grandpa. LEST WE FORGET The Remembrance Day phrase “Lest we forget” speaks to how we must learn from the past. The value in this film – the reason it is a must-see – is precisely because the evil it uncovers is not at all dissimilar from the sort we see today. Long before orders were given to deport Dutch Jews, they were excluded from government jobs. Then they were kicked out of public schools, and a few months later they were ordered to publicly identify themselves by sewing a Star of David on their coats. It continued step by step. Why didn’t more of the Dutch resist? Maybe it was because each step, on its own, didn’t seem quite so objectionable. When the Dutch restaurant owners were told they had to exclude Jews or risk having their businesses shuttered, how did these businessmen think through their decision? Perhaps they thought, “I have to feed my family. And surely the Jews can…just buy their food at the grocery store, right?” So the Voor Joden Verboden (“For Jews Forbidden”) signs went up. Today we also face a step-by-step mounting pressure to conform to evil. Abortion is the biggest evil of our time, of course. But remember Melissa and Aaron Klein, the Oregon couple who were asked to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? They were fined $135,000 for refusing. So the message the government sent was that Christians bakers can either bake the cake or lose their business. They can spend a few hours making a cake – just flour, sugar, eggs, and some icing – or lose the business that it took them years and piles of money to build. It’s no coincidence that so much pressure was brought to bear on something quite inconsequential – a $135,000 fine for not baking a cake that the same-sex couple could have easily purchased at any number of other bakeries. But the Devil wants to present the first compromise like it’s the only logical course to pursue. BEST TIME TO SPEAK IS NOW We can ask, as one of the film’s interviewees does, why didn’t someone just throw sand in the engine of one of those Nazi’s transport trains? It wouldn’t have taken much to slow down the Jewish deportation if only someone had being willing to sabotage the trains. But the film also acknowledges the fears that drove many to inaction and collaboration. The Jews weren’t the only ones being shipped away to concentration camps – if you helped them, you risked being deported along with them. And yet…there was a time when action wouldn’t have been so costly. There was a time when speaking out might have, yes, cost someone their job, but it wouldn’t have cost them their life. And we can only wonder what might have happened if more had spoken up then. Could the Germans have killed nearly so many if there had been a loud early voice arguing against Dutch collaboration? What we must never forget, then, is that we shouldn’t delay in speaking up for what is right. We need to resist now, because if we wait, the pressure to stay silent and to go along will only increase. We need to speak now, because it is easier to turn things around before we’re heading full speed in the wrong direction. Speaking up doesn’t guarantee success, but it is obedient. It does bring God glory. And because God has chosen to work through us, we never know what changes God might effect through us, if we’re willing to act in obedience. We can shake our heads at the state of our culture, or we can ask, like Paul, how can the world respond to God’s Truth if we’ve never shared it with them (Romans 10:14)? There are so very many reasons to speak now. CAUTIONS The only caution to consider in this film is a perspective it offers on Jewish orphans being adopted by Christian couples. There were more than a thousand Dutch Jewish orphans at war’s end, and a well-meaning Christian group wanted to ensure they all went to Christian homes. They wanted to save these children’s souls, and planned to use adoption as a conversion tool. What this overlooks is that God places us with parents, and He has also gives our larger families a role in raising us too. So should a child’s parents die, then it is because we are Christians and respect the God-given role of the family, that we would arrange for a Jewish child to go their closest relatives, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever it might be. But the director pushes for more than that. He thinks that a Jewish orphan, one with no relatives to adopt her, should still be sent to a Jewish family. But this elevates ethnic ties to the level of family ties. And that is giving ethnicity a status it doesn’t deserve – God doesn’t say we have to stay with people who look and act like us. CONCLUSION One hundred thousand Jews were deported from the Netherlands. It is a shocking figure. It took three years and 93 trains loads to take them all to Germany. And very few did anything to help them. One hundred thousand is also the number of unborn children killed each year in Canada. What are we doing to stand up to the great evil of our time? One place to start might be watching this film together with your family, or in a high school history class, and discussing the place of courage, fear, and apathy in our day-to-day conversations and interactions with the world. Many of our Christian grandparents didn't see the matter of hiding Jews as a question to be weighed and considered - they simply did it because they knew God wanted them to love their neighbors (Mark 12:31). And they were comfortable with placing their families, their fortunes, and their lives in His hands. We have the very same faithful God. Do we have the very same faith in Him? "Goodbye Holland" can be borrowed from many libraries, and US Amazon Prime members can view it for free here. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

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