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Be Strong and Very Courageous

Tricia Miller, Ph. D.

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.

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