Corrie’s Story

We have just celebrated Holocaust Memorial Day. The Holocaust was one of the most evil events in human history in which 6 million Jewish people were murdered by the Nazi regime. Yet out of those dark days amazing light sometimes shone. During the German occupation of The Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews from arrest and deportation in their home in Haarlem. In February 1944 the Gestapo came to the house and arrested Corrie and her family, but did not discover the 6 Jewish people in the hiding place. In September 1944, Corrie and Betsie were deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. They managed to stay together until Betsie died in December. Later that month Corrie was released, but really struggled to come to terms with Betsie’s death.

After the war, Corrie spoke in many places about the need to forgive in order to overcome the psychological scars of the Nazi occupation. In 1947 she was speaking in Germany when she saw a man in the audience whom she recognised as a guard from Ravensbruck. Immediately she remembered him in his blue uniform and cap with its skull and crossbones. She saw the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes on the floor and remembered the shame of walking naked past this man. She saw Betsie’s frail form ahead of her.

The man came up to her, thrust out his hand and said, “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! You mentioned Ravensbruck, I was a guard there, but since that time, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein, will you forgive me?”

Corrie described the massive inner turmoil she faced at that moment. “Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me, and as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes, ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried, ‘with all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

Courage and Hope in the Face of Adversity

In a moving speech Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman, has announced that she is stepping down. On 8 January 2011 Gabrielle was the victim of an assassination attempt when she was shot in the head at a public meeting near Tucson. The gunman went on to kill 6 people and wound 13 others. Gabrielle, who is married to a former astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander, was awarded Arizona Family Literacy’s Outstanding Legislator in 2003. Since the shooting her whole life has changed as, first, she battled to survive and, then, showed tremendous courage in the long process of recovering from her terrible injuries.

Gabrielle said, “A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that. Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery so, to do the best for Arizona, I will step down this week. I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.”

Gabrielle is a great example of strength and determination in adversity. Sometimes things happen to us which devastate our lives and from which we can never recover in this life. We cannot go back to how things were but have to face a new and, often, very difficult future. Such experiences can crush us, but they can also be the means of bringing out amazing courage which is an inspiration to us all. We pray that each day the Lord will give Gabrielle and her husband the grace and strength they need.

Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, is the focal point of Christian faith. He experienced a depth of pain and suffering that no one else has ever endured. He died the agonising death of crucifixion and suffered the penalty our sins deserve. He was hated by his enemies and deserted by his closest friends. It seemed his death was the end until on the third day he rose again, as he said he would! He triumphed over sin and death. He is the greatest source of hope for us all, whatever life may bring to us. He gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. In him God promises us new life in heaven when he will heal all the sadnesses of this life and wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Dying with Dignity

An unofficial Commission has recently reported on the subject of assisted dying/suicide. The Commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a former Justice Secretary, and was funded by Sir Terry Pratchett, the well known author, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The Commission was set up because those involved felt the present law, which makes assisted dying illegal, is “inadequate.” Most of the members of the Commission were known to be in favour of legalising assisted dying/suicide.

The recommendations of the Commission were that, in certain circumstances, assisted dying should be legalised. If a person is over 18, has a terminal illness, and is not expected to live more than 12 months, they should be permitted to kill themselves, provided they are not mentally impaired and are able to make a voluntary decision. The person would also need to be independently assessed by two doctors before being given the medicine to end their lives. The Commission believed there was a “strong case” for this procedure to be legalised. Many people refused to give evidence to the Commission, including the BMA, who said the majority of doctors do not want to legalise assisted dying.

This is a very important subject for any civilised society. Since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed there have been 7 million abortions in the UK. Mothers expecting babies whom tests reveal have a disability are routinely encouraged to abort them so that the child will not become a drain on resources. Now it is being proposed, in the guise of being caring and allowing freedom of choice, that the terminally ill be helped to “die with dignity.” This is a serious issue for us all.

It is very important that we affirm the sanctity of every human life. We all bear the image of God and have an eternal soul. The way we care for the terminally ill and elderly affirms the value we set on every individual person. I have often witnessed the loving care of families and medical staff for those who are dying. When life is drawing to an end it means so much to be surrounded by our loved ones. The excellent care now available in hospitals and hospices eases the final days for many. Long may this loving care continue. How tragic it would be if the law allowed people to ask their doctors to give them a fatal dose of drugs so that they can commit suicide.

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet

Professor Stephen Hawking is a remarkable man and has won the admiration of millions of people around the world. He is a brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist and has demonstrated amazing courage and determination in the way he has coped with motor neurone disease for nearly 50 years. This weekend he celebrated his 70th birthday and was due to deliver a lecture at Cambridge to a distinguished invited audience. Unfortunately he was not well enough to be there but had pre-recorded his speech, as he always does.

The lecture was personal and moving as he described how he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and had been told he had only a few years to live. At first he became depressed because he seemed to be getting worse quite rapidly and there didn’t seem any point in completing his PhD. However, when it became clear that his condition was developing more slowly, and also he was engaged to Jane, who became his first wife, his spirits were lifted. Describing this change he said, “After my expectations had been reduced to zero, every new day became a bonus and I began to appreciate everything I did have.“

As he concluded his lecture Professor Hawking said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and, however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” His words reminded me of Johann Kepler, the great 17th century German mathematician and astronomer, who proved scientifically that Copernicus was right when he said the sun, not the earth, was the centre of our planetary system. As he studied the universe Kepler said he felt he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

It is good for us all to look up at the stars and to be moved with awe at the creative wisdom and power of God. We do not have to be eminent scientists to appreciate this. All over the world people of every culture and language can see God’s wonderful visual aid, know that he is there, and worship him. Three thousand years ago King David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

The Love that Gives

As a New Year begins, and most of the news is bad, the story of Manoly Viravong and Veronica Buttigieg is wonderful and so encouraging. Manoly and Veronica met for the first time last summer at a mutual friend’s wedding anniversary party. Manoly, who has 2 teenage children, told Veronica that she had been waiting for a kidney transplant for 5 years. A close relative had said he would donate one of his kidneys, but had changed his mind. Manoly was on dialysis for 8 hours every night and the need was becoming urgent.

When Veronica heard Manoly’s story she said, ”Why don’t you have one of my kidneys!” In July, 2 months later, the operation took place and Manoly is now well on her way to recovery. Veronica said, “I barely knew Manoly but after talking to her, and hearing how desperate she was, I felt it was the right thing to do. We all knew that there was a chance I could die, but I wasn’t worried at all. I am a Christian and I felt that God said it was right. I had real peace about it because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I felt completely calm.” Manoly says, “I can’t really thank her enough. We are very close now, like sisters. I’m really very grateful to her and I count my blessings every day.”

The story of Manoly and Veronica reminds us of the wonderful love of God. One of the best known verses in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Many people think that the message of the Bible is about God telling us what we should do. But Christianity is not about what we do, but about what God has done in giving us his Son. The Christian life begins for each of us when we gratefully receive Jesus as our Saviour.

We can never repay God for his amazing love in Jesus, but when we receive him as our Saviour, our hearts are filled with love for him and overflow in love for others. That’s why Veronica gave her kidney to Manoly. She had experienced God’s amazing love for her in Jesus and wanted to show that love to Manoly. This is a love we can all know and show.