Be Strong and Very Courageous
Following the death of Moses, the Lord commanded Joshua to get the Israelites ready to cross the Jordan River to possess the land. The boundaries of the land given in Joshua 1:4 make it clear that the land the people were to possess was the same land God promised to Abraham, and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob, in the berit olam, the eternal covenant God made with Abram beginning in Genesis 12.
The reality that Joshua faced a daunting task is evidenced by the fact that in the first eighteen verses of the book bearing his name, the new leader of the Israelites was commanded three times to be strong and courageous, and one time to be strong and very courageous.
As Christian leaders, we also face a daunting task as we promote and support the right of the Jewish State to exist, and work to inspire others to do the same. Surely today, in the times in which we live, we too are in need of the encouragement found in Joshua 1. In order to do what needs to be done, we also must be strong and very courageous.
I have just returned from a several week trip that took me from standing inside the Hiding Place in the Ten Boom home in Haarlem, Holland, to co-leading a 12-day tour for Christian leaders through Nazi death camps in Poland, to meeting with Persian Christians forced to live in diaspora in London.
As I reflect on the range of experiences I just walked through, I realize that being strong and very courageous is a theme common to all of them. And I also realize that being strong and courageous as Christian leaders is essential for us here and now.
The Ten Boom family of Haarlem, Holland saved the lives of approximately 800 Jews over a two-year period during the Holocaust by hiding them in a small, standing-room only space built behind the wall in Corrie Ten Boom’s bedroom. At any one time, there were usually 5-6 people living in the home illegally. Whenever anyone approached the house, those being sheltered had to stand pressed together in the hiding place for as long as it took for it to be safe to come out again.
On February 28, 1944, the Ten Boom family was betrayed, arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. At the time of the arrest, there were six people safely hidden behind the false wall in Corrie’s bedroom. Forty-seven hours went by before those who were hidden could be liberated by others in the Resistance movement. But they survived. Corrie was released from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany as the result of a clerical error and was the only member of her family who survived Nazi imprisonment.
The spiritual strength and courage demonstrated by the Ten Boom family as they orchestrated a network of “safe houses” for 800 Jews during the Holocaust manifests today in a different way through a very small minority of Christians in Poland. In the town of Oswiecim (renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis), an Evangelical ministry works tirelessly to strengthen Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people. And they do this just a couple of kilometers from the infamous Auschwitz – Birkenau death camps, in which over 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
It takes strength and courage to persevere year after year in support of Israel and the Jewish people in a country in which blatant antisemitism and/or indifference to the fate of Jews still runs deep. Hostility and antipathy towards Jews are demonstrated by an alarming rise of antisemitic expression and events in the same country that lost three million of its own Jewish citizens to the Holocaust, and on whose soil Jews from all over Europe were annihilated by the Nazi death machine.
Just this past week in Warsaw, a group of Arabic speaking men approached a group of Israeli tourists and asked them if they were from Israel. When the tourists replied in the affirmative, they were mercilessly attacked and beaten, while the attackers shouted curses not fit to be repeated.
This kind of attack is horrible in itself. However, even more disturbing is the fact that none of the bystanders who witnessed the attack did anything to help. And according to one of the victims, “Even the security guards who were called to help didn’t lift a finger.”
Events like this are becoming more and more frequent, not only in Poland, but throughout Europe and in parts of the US as well. Jews are physically attacked on the streets of Los Angeles and New York, and swastikas are found painted on Jewish homes and synagogues. Recent vandalism on the walls of a historic fort in Massachusetts included swastikas, messages advocating violence against Jews, and the slogan “Hitler 2020.”
As Christian leaders, we must be strong and courageous as we continue to stand against the rising hatred and violence towards Jews, even as that hatred and violence expands and is directed towards all who stand with Israel and the Jewish people. We must not keep silent! As Dietrich Bonhoeffer – German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and Christian martyr – said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Thankfully, the Third Reich is no more. However, there is another ideology in the world today that promotes hatred and violence towards Jews and Christians alike – the determined force of radical Islam. Oppression and persecution of anyone who does not adhere to its beliefs is widespread. Of particular interest at this time, due to widespread international concern over the actions of the Iranian government, is the fact that the fastest-growing Church in the world has taken root in one of the most radicalized nations.
Iranians of Muslim background are leading a mass exodus out of Islam into the Christian faith through a rapidly-reproducing, underground discipleship movement that owns no property or buildings, and has no resources of which to speak. Furthermore, this movement operates and expands under the ever-present threat of arrest, rape, torture and death for each and every member.
The strength and courage demonstrated by Iranian Christians today should be a source of inspiration to those of us who have not yet known such hatred and violence as a result of our faith. For more information on what is happening inside Iran today, please watch the documentary, “Sheep Among Wolves,” produced by Frontier Alliance International.
Twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient Persia – the same land now known as Iran – the Jewish people faced the threat of complete annihilation. We know from the book of Esther that the Jews were saved from certain death through the intervention of Esther and Mordecai. Let us all heed Mordecai’s challenge, found in Esther 4:14, to not remain silent in the face of evil and danger, and to recognize that we are in the positions we are in for such a time as this.
May the examples of the Ten Boom family, the Evangelicals of Poland, and the Christians in Iran be a source of strength and courage we continue to promote and support the right of the Jewish State to exist, and work to inspire others to do the same.