I was talking with someone I’ve known for a long time about plans we have – hopes and dreams – and he said, “Yeah, you’ll do those things because you guys are risk takers.”
I was quiet.
Really? I never thought of myself as a risk-taker. We’re not dare-devils, throw caution to the wind kind of people… are we?
Yesterday I was watching a documentary on a Jewish family whose younger generation has become so hardened against anything non-Jewish that they have almost completely cut themselves off from any outside influences. Their grandparents had all been Holocaust survivors, and the middle generation, Menachem and his wife, Rivka, were deeply concerned that their sons were in danger of perpetrating a similar view of hatred and non-tolerance that the Nazi’s had unleashed.
So, they decided to take their sons to Poland – the land of their ancestors. They travelled to the cities where these boys’ grandparents had grown up, and been taken away to concentration camps. He showed them holy places that had become ruins but the boys mocked their father and laughed at his silly attempts to change their minds.
But then things changed. Menachem’s wife’s father and two of his brothers had not gone to concentration camps – they survived due to the kindness of neighbors – Poles who couldn’t just hand them over to the Germans.
Menachem, through the aid of translators, was able to find the farm where his wife’s father and uncles were hidden for 28 months during the German occupation. In fact, they were able to find the young couple, now old, who along with an extended family, had kept the boys hidden and secreted away all that time – literally risking their own lives. Bent and twisted from age and a hard life, the old woman clearly recalled her memories as if they were last year, not a life-time ago.
It was a beautiful reunion – all those people were there (and many more beside) because of the kindness of these neighbors. Pictures were exchanged, stories told, and the surprise visit went long into the evening.
But it was haunting as well. The boys’ mocking tone stopped. They, too, were moved by the simple kindness of these non-Jews.
Upon returning home, they were glad to report all they had seen to their grandfather – that these farmers had told stories of hiding the boys from searching German soldiers knowing that if the boys had been found, all of them, not just those three Jewish boys, would be killed. And yet, even the children of their Polish benefactors were able to keep precious silence.
I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful story of the tenBoom family –the Dutch watchmaker’s family who built a secret room in their home so that they could hide Jews and help them escape to safety – who had all been sent to the concentration camp for doing the same thing. Many of them lost their lives in order to save the lives of others. The fear that this Polish family described was real and it was well-founded.
The boys, brimming with gratitude for what these poor farmers had endured for the sake of their grandfather and his brothers smiled and asked their grandfather, “So, if things were reversed – you were the Pole and the Jews came to you – would you have hidden them, too?”
With broad and happy grins they waited eagerly for their beloved grandfather’s response. He started quickly and easily and their hope in him was contagious.
He said, “You know, it was awful in those days. The killing… Who takes that kind of risk?”
Stunned, the boys understood their grandfather’s words, but asked, “So…. you wouldn’t take them in?”
I’m still shocked by the answer he gave. Even after all the years of life and joy he’s had because they risked their’s? Even after he knew the sickening fear had given way to freedom because of what they did? Even after the mutual hardships that this family bore for their sakes? Who takes that kind of risk, indeed… who does? Not many.
Lord, let me always, then, be a risk-taker. Let me raise my children to do the same. Let me have boldness like the Hebrew midwives who saved the baby boys. Let me be like Rahab who hid the spies, like Joshua and Caleb who saw your promises and believed them, and were not afraid. Let me be like David who knew a great God when he saw a puny giant, and like Paul who could not be made silent through scourgings and shipwrecks and stonings.
The old woman said she had a question for the boys to ask their grandfather: “Why did he never send a postcard? Why did he never let us know that he made it out alive?”
His response was chilling. He said he figured they were indebted to those farmers – that they would want a great deal of money and they couldn’t pay.
I’m sure money would have helped that family over the years, but their indebtedness could hardly be measured in gold. How does one measure life? Children? Grandchildren? Freedom?
The grandfather was right – he owed a debt he could never repay.
And so did we, until Jesus paid it for us. Is there anything I would not risk for His sake?
How about you?