Friday, July 26, 2013

When You Walk Through the Fire...

"I will be with you..."
Isaiah 43:2
Where does one find the courage to enter the blazing furnace of fire in our lives, screaming at us and taunting us with the threat that we will surely be obliterated by the flames? 

When I read this passage from the Word of God, taken from the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah, I am overwhelmed with the promise of our God.  He says not to even fear, for He is in the fire with us.  We will not even be burned.  There will not even be the smell of the furnace when we emerge.  For He is with us.  He is with us.  He is with us... 
Recently I wrote a post about the Jewish children who suffered unimaginable horrors during World War II.  Facing all the military might of one of the most massive war machines ever assembled, it surely must have felt as if anyone who tried to stand against Hitler and his army would never stand a chance. 

As a student of history and of the Word of God, I find myself fascinated by the stories of those individuals who found amazing courage under fire to risk everything they had, including their own lives, to stand up to the terror and the power of the Nazi War Machine, in order to save countless helpless victims of the evil that had been unleashed in their lives and the lives of their innocent children.

I would like to highlight some of those heroes and heroines for my readers, beginning with the amazing story of Irena Sendler, a young nurse/social worker in Poland, at the start of the war.

Irena was a twenty-nine year old nurse/social worker at the beginning of World War II, when the Nazi war machine invaded Poland and began to unleash their horrors on the Jewish people of Warsaw.  Irena, raised a Roman Catholic believer in Jesus Christ, could not and did not look the other way. 

Finding a way to enter the Jewish ghetto, she used every means at her disposal to rescue over 2,500 Jewish children from certain death.  This was actually far more people rescued from annihilation than were rescued by Oscar Schindler, the real life hero of the film, "Schindler's List".

In her old age, Irena recalled the heartbreak of having to persuade young mothers to give her their children, on the vague possibility that they might be saved from execution.  The great majority of these mothers never saw their children again.  When they asked Irena if she could guarantee the safety of their children, Irena said, no, she could not even guarantee that she, herself, would leave the ghetto alive that very day.  The incredible love and courage of all of these women, mothers and smuggler alike, are an amazing testimony to the ends to which our God will go to protect innocent children that are precious to Him. 

When we are often faced with the challenging question, "Where was God, when the Jews were being murdered in Nazi Germany?" we have to look no further than the eyes of these mothers and this little Polish nurse.  Where did they get the courage to do what they did?  How did these mothers give away their most precious possession?  Where did Irena get the courage to face down her fears and enter the ghetto to rescue them from certain death?  This is uncommon courage, in the face of unbelievable terror.  Without a doubt, I believe it was God, Himself, working through them, just as surely as if He took those children by the hand and walked them out of the fire, one by one...

Irena never forgot the heartbreak of those mothers as they said their last goodbye to their children.  She kept meticulous records of the children's names and that of their mothers, hoping to see them reunited at the end of the war.  Sadly, most of these children never saw their mothers again.  They were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps where their children would certainly have also met their death, without the intervention of this one courageous woman who entered the fire on their behalf.  To God be the glory for the things He has done...

Irena risked it all.  She knew what it was to have the heartbeat of God beating under her skin for these Jewish mothers and their children.  She wore a yellow star, required of all Jews, in order to identify with them. 

I am so humbled when I think of what this amazing young woman did to contend with the powers of evil in her time.  In 1943, she was captured by the Nazis, tortured and sentenced to death for her "crimes." Nothing they could do to her ever forced her to tell them the names of the women and children she had rescued and hidden right under the eyes of the German army.  On her way to her execution, she was rescued at the hands of one of her executioners who had accepted a bribe from the underground Polish resistance, "Zegota", of which she was a founding member.  After her release, she returned to her work under a new name. 

Late in her life, her native Poland finally recognized her work in the rescue of these little ones during the war.  She responded with a letter to the Polish Senate saying: "Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer alive, is the justification of my existence on this earth and not a title of glory."

Irena lived the gospel teaching from the Book of James:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless
is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
 and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." 
James 1:27
In our own times, in our own fiery furnace, may we be found faithful...


Note:  If you would like to know more about Irena Sendler, I invite you to check out the following resources:

Book, "Life in a Jar" by Jack Mayer

Book,  "Mother of the Children of the Holocaust."  This is a biography of Irena, written by Anna Mieszkowska.

PBS Film:  "In the Name of Their Mothers"  by Mary Skinner.  This special aired in 2011.  See YouTube for more information.

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