Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) is best known through the book and movie The Hiding Place for the courage, faith and love she and her family members manifested by harboring Jews from Nazis during World War 2 and while being imprisoned in a German concentration camp. But most people know little or nothing about the first half century of Corrie’s life – formative decades filled with active, fruitful service of the Lord and others.
Corrie’s parents, Casper and Cor ten Boom, were devout Dutch Reformed Christians with hearts of warm devotion for the Lord and compassionate concern for the people around them. In addition to raising their four children, Casper and Cor invited three of Cor’s sisters, two spinsters and a widow, to live in their modest home in Haarlem, Holland. Casper struggled to support so many people on his limited income as a watchmaker, but the family was rich in many other ways.
Every morning and evening without fail, regardless of whatever else was on the family schedule, Casper gathered the entire household for the reading of a chapter of Scripture and prayer. Casper and Cor saw to it that their three daughters received a secondary education while their son achieved both university and seminary degrees. The children were also taught an appreciation for hymns and classical music, with each child learning to sing and play one or more musical instruments. Guests were frequently at the family dinner table, and Mrs. ten Boom was constantly baking a loaf of bread or cooking a pot of porridge to be delivered to some pale young mother or lonesome old man.
In addition to graduating from secondary school, Corrie completed a course of studies at a Bible school in Haarlem. She played a major role in helping to care for family members at home and in assisting her father with his watchmaking business. In an era and a country where young women were not involved in the business world, she went to school in Basel, Switzerland, for two years to learn the watchmaking trade. She eventually became the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland.
As the years passed, Corrie’s mother and three maternal aunts passed away. Corrie’s brother Willem and sister Nollie were both married and established households of their own, while Corrie continued to live in her girlhood home with her father Casper and her sister Betsie. For several months following World War 1, Casper, Corrie and Betsie took into their home a small group of frightened and undernourished German boys and girls. In 1925 the ten Booms took in the son and two daughters of a missionary couple serving in Indonesia. In the years that followed, eleven different foster children stayed in their home, with as many as seven living there at the same time.
Besides working at the watch shop and helping care for the children, Corrie taught Sunday school and Bible classes in the public schools. At the encouragement of a friend, she started a ministry to teen girls. Corrie’s exceptional organizational and leadership abilities were soon manifested. In a short time she recruited forty leaders to work with the large numbers of girls who flocked to her youth club. Club meetings consisted of games, music and a Bible study, while training activities included instrumental music, singing, sewing, handcrafts, folk dancing and gymnastics.
Corrie organized a number of such clubs. Before long a club meeting was being held every night. Girls who desired to learn more about spiritual matters were encouraged to join a confirmation class in one of the local Dutch Reformed congregations.
Another ministry that Corrie started up was a Sunday afternoon ‘church’ service for individuals with learning difficulties. If a disabled boy or girl wanted to join one of her clubs, or if a pastor approached her about such a person who was disrupting the normal Sunday service, she invited those individuals to her ‘special’ church. Corrie was burdened to share the Gospel with these people who could not understand a sermon but needed the Savior. She carried out this compassionate ministry for two decades.
A summer camp ministry for members of her various girls’ clubs was another of Corrie’s ventures. Early outings were done with tents while later ones were held at a plain log cabin that had room for about sixty girls. The highlight of each day was the evening campfire when the girls sat around the fire, wrapped in blankets, to sing and listen to Corrie’s meditation. They enjoyed her great sense of humor and her wonderful stories that always had a significant spiritual point.
Corrie’s girls clubs paved the way for the founding of the Girl Guide clubs of Holland, a European equivalent of the Girl Scouts of America. Corrie promoted a definite spiritual emphasis in the Girl Guide organization, believing that girls needed to be won to Christ rather than merely taught to be good citizens.
All too soon the events of World War 2 swirled down upon Holland, and the girls’ clubs were forced to close. The last time Corrie met with her club members, the girls struggled to sing the national anthem through their tears. “Girls, don’t cry,” she encouraged them. “We have had great fun in our clubs, but that wasn’t why we came together. Jesus makes us strong, even in times of war and disaster.”
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A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.
Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie