When Rebecca Nichols Alonzo was just 7 years old, she watched her mother bleed to death after an armed man – a former family friend – opened fire on their Sellerstown family home one Easter Sunday. This ended a decade long reign of terror committed by a fellow church attendee who had regularly strapped bombs to the family’s home.
At age 52, Corrie Ten Boom was arrested by Nazi soldiers and taken with her sister Betsie and father Caspar to Ravensbruck prison camp. She was subjected to public humiliation and abuse everyday for nine months until her release in December, 1944. Her father did not survive the journey and her sister did not live to be released.
Steve Metcalf was the son of a Protestant missionary working in Japan. In 1942, Japanese militia infiltrated the school Steve attended, taking all staff and pupils captive. He was left with no contact to his parents or sister, Ruth until his release in 1945. For all he knew, his family had been killed. In 1943, whilst interned in Weifang prison camp, Steve met Olympic athlete and profound Christian Eric Liddell who implored him to pray for his captors. Liddell died in February 1945, six months before the prisoners were liberated.
When Rebecca Nichols Alonzo was in her latter teens, she met her childhood tormentor. Now an orphan, Rebecca and her brother were contacted by the newly released Mr. Watts. The last time she had seen him was when she testified against him, when she was just 8 years old. When he asked for his forgiveness, she responded:
“Mr. Watts, my brother and I forgive you. In fact, we had forgiven you long before you asked for forgiveness.”
(Nichols family: mother Ramona, Rebecca, brother Danny and father Robert, circa 1970)
When Corrie Ten Boom was speaking in Germany in 1947, she was approached by a familiar face. She was approached by a man she recognised as the prison guard responsible for taking her sister’s life. After having spoken on the very real need to forgive, she was surprised at her own reluctance. Yet, as he extended his hand towards her, she took it. Later, she wrote
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
(Ten Boom family: Betsie, Nollie, father Caspar, Willem, mother Cornelia, Corrie)
Following his release, Steve Metcalf moved to Australia. Whilst trying to forget his past, Steve wrestled with Liddell’s words and saw the running shoes the runner had given him as a continual reminder that he needed to forgive the Japanese. In 1952, after completing training at Melbourne Bible College, Steve and his sister Ruth were accepted by OMF International as missionaries – in Japan!
(Metcalf speaking at the Eric Liddell monument in Japan)
How did these people learn to forgive?
How did Jesus look to those who had murdered him and say “Father, forgive them!” (Luke 23:34)
Their stories disturb me, because I cannot forgive. I do not have their strength, to look into the eyes of their tormentors and say those three little words. Mercy is fantastic, when it’s extended towards me. But I can’t extend it to anyone else. No, if you hurt me, you’re going to feel my pain.
As these people model, forgiveness is powerful.
Forgiveness means the slate is wiped clean. No grudges are kept, no scores are settled. It is a free gift. No judgment is spent.
Forgiveness does not mean that trust is restored. But it does mean that events of the past are forgotten – not hidden in the recesses of our memories, not resurfacing whenever we interact with that person – but completely gone.
And forgiveness is enormously important to God. I have detailed 12 scriptures about forgiveness in the adjoining post (‘Forgive One Another’ https://usydstudentlife.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/forgive-one-another/).
We often don’t feel forgiveness, as if it were a transient emotion that miraculously takes away our pain. But we have to make a choice to forgive.
A friend of mine once told me that when we start to pray for someone, we begin to love them.
Love and hate cannot co-exist.
So make a choice to forgive, and begin praying for those who have hurt you.
It’s a challenge, but one that is worthwhile.
“There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.” – Corrie Ten Boom.
Stories paraphrased from:
- The Devil In Pew Number Seven (2010) Rebecca Nichols Alonzo with Bob DeMoss
- The Hiding Place (1971) Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizebeth Sherrill
- In Japan The Crickets Cry (2010) Steve Metcalf with Ronald Clements