Written by Tami Zacharias
I do not remember the first time I heard about Corrie ten Boom, but her story has remained with me to this day. Corrie, born April 15, 1892, spent most of her life in Haarlem in the Netherlands. Her family were watchmakers and dedicated Christians who collectively ran prayer meetings for Jewish people for 100 years, and diligently helped those in need. When World War II began, they faced a difficult decision: do nothing and remain safe, or follow their Christian faith and put their lives in danger. They counted the cost and chose to open their home as a ‘hiding place’ for Jews facing Nazi persecution.
Corrie, the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands, quickly became a ringleader for this risky operation. It was hard, and her life changed dramatically to help others. After a couple of years, the Nazis raided Corrie’s home and arrested Corrie and her family, sending them off to different concentration camps.
In the midst of the unspeakable horrors of the camps, Corrie struggled to remain focused on Jesus. Her sister Betsie often encouraged her, and together they learned that nothing is beyond God’s love and forgiveness. They led Bible studies for fellow prisoners, many coming to accept Christ because of their witness.
After nearly a year, Corrie was released due to a clerical error. Most of her family were killed, and Corrie knew she had to share with the world what happened in the camps. It would have been easy for her to be bitter and seek revenge, but instead she forgave the Nazis and travelled to more than 60 countries over the next 30 years telling others of God’s love and forgiveness in even the darkest of places. Corrie shared Jesus’ hope in the midst of despair, Jesus’ love in the midst of hate, and Jesus’ forgiveness in the midst of bitterness.
Although most of us will never be in a situation like Corrie’s, her story reminds me of two key lessons we all face in leadership: choices and forgiveness. Leadership would not be leadership without difficult decisions. Many of these involve a choice between playing it safe, or taking the risk to do what is right. When I am tempted to engage in self-preservation, Corrie’s example inspires me to take the risk and do what is right and just, even when the cost is high.
Leadership also involves getting hurt. Co-workers talk behind our backs or sabotage a project. Colleagues criticize us. Whatever it is, leadership inevitably involves pain. Through Corrie’s story, I am encouraged to forgive, even when I do not feel like it, and even when there is no earthly justice. She has truly been an inspiring female leader in my life, and I hope she will be in yours as well.
Tami lives in Canada and works for the Christian charity Operation Mobilisation. She recently finished studies in Adult Education, and enjoys conversations about feminism and tea.