Friday, July 8, 2011

The Hiding Place

Kip and me in The Hiding Place

I have both looked forward to and postponed writing about our 23 hour layover in Amsterdam. Like most of this trip, it was fun and challenging and deeply touching spiritually. I am almost afraid of slighting it by summarizing it in a few short paragraphs, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to blog on it either.

So even though it has been a month ago now, I’ll try.

On the way back from Norway we stopped in Amsterdam. When we booked our tickets we could schedule anything from a 1 to 23 hour layover. Since we had never been to Amsterdam we picked the longest possible layover and decided to take in as much of the city as we could.

We found a cheap little hotel, a block away from the central train station. To maximize time, we checked our bags through to Los Angeles and just took my backpack. I had basic personal items, a change of clothes and my camera. Perfect.

After stopping by the hotel and dropping the backpacks, we got back on the train and headed out to Haarlem to visit the BeJe, the museum of Corrie Ten Boom's home. I felt bad insisting that we leave Amsterdam as soon as we arrived, but it was the ONE thing I wanted to see in the Netherlands.

Corrie's Story

Of all the real-life stories I heard growing up, nothing shaped my life as much as the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a middle-aged, never-married woman who chose to defy Nazi German occupation and hide Jewish people in her home.

She was an unlikely leader in the Dutch underground, a deeply religious woman who lived a quite life at home with her elderly father and spinster sister. But in the time of crisis they did what they had always done, loved their neighbors and offered hospitality to God's chosen people, "the apple of God's eye," until the day the Gestapo raided the house, searching it down to the floorboards.

Although the Nazi’s spent the entire day searching and interrogating the family, they never discovered the six refuges hiding in a special shelter behind Corrie’s bedroom wall.
Six people hid here for two and a half days while Nazis searched the home.

 They did, however, find stolen ration cards. For this offense they arrested the entire family as well as several of their friends who were helping them. Corrie’s 84-year-old father died in prison and Corrie and her 59-year-old sister were sent to a harsh concentration camp in Germany. The work camp housed 50,000 political prisoners who built roads all day and were barely fed or clothed against the elements. Corrie’s sister died in the camp and Corrie only escaped after the guards mistakenly released her the day before they mass murdered all the middle-aged prisoners.

Through the entire ordeal, Corrie and her sister had one message: love and forgiveness. They shared God’s love with fellow prisoners and made their bunker a haven from the Hell around them. They preached love, including love for the guards who were mistreating them. After the war Corrie opened her empty house to people who had been displaced and needed somewhere to recover. Her guests included Dutch people who had betrayed their countrymen and cooperated with the Germans.

Then at 53 years old, Corrie began traveling the world, telling her story. She continued for the next 30 years during which time my parents heard her story.

One of the stories that I heard growing up was about how, during a speaking engagement, Corrie met one of the notoriously cruel prison guards who had beaten her and her sister. The woman stretched out her hand and asked Corrie to forgive her. It was a real test for Corrie, but she chose in that moment to forgive the guard. As she embraced her, God filled Corrie with forgiveness and love toward the guard.

There were several books written about Corrie including the Hiding Place, which I read for the first time last summer. Even though it was the first time I had actually read the book, I felt like I had grown up with the story because people in my church circles had always quoted Corrie. But I think more than anything, I was drawn to the book because it is one of the few stories of Hope in the Holocaust.

And so when I realized our Norway travels would take us through Amsterdam, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to go to the BeJe and see the actual hiding place.

The BeJe

Kip and I were the only people for the English speaking tour. We stood sheepishly in the alley outside the house and waited for someone to open the door. An elderly woman who had known Corrie personally greeted us in her own formal way. She took us into the parlor where she told us the story in her thick Dutch accent.

She showed us family pictures and took us on a tour of the home. More than anything I realized that it wasn’t just a story about Corrie, but an entire family who gladly sacrificed everything to do what was right.

Betsy, our tour guide, and me

This is the place in the stairs where the ration cards were found. Betsy told us that had the Gustapo found the hidden Jews they would have carted them off to a death camp and the Ten Booms would have been shot on their front step for the neighborhood to witness the public execution.

Betsy is using Corrie Ten Boom's embroidery to tell me the infamous illustration Corrie used to show that life this side of Heaven is messy and seemingly chaotic, but God is weaving a beautiful tapestry that we cannot see.
When I asked our guide how she knew Corrie, she said that she had known Corrie's family as a child. Her own father had died in a concentration camp. One of us commented how hard that must have been to lose her father, wouldn’t it have been easy to hate the Nazis? But she looked at me with her clear blue eyes and said, “There is really no other choice than to love.”

It was Corrie’s message living on.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On to Oslo

The train to Oslo
The day after the epic bike ride, we took the scenic Flåm Railway, up to Myrdal. We could see the road we had biked the day before and were amazed that we had made it all the way up. It was a much quicker journey, and when we got to Myrdal we transferred to a more modern train to Oslo.

Kip loves trains.
When we arrived in Oslo, we were greeted by "John" a  very friendly Romanian guy we had met in Flåm. Even though he had only been in Oslo a couple days, he seemed to really enjoy showing us around town. I was amazed at his ability to communicate in English even though it was his third or fourth language. Europeans always amaze me with their language abilities. 
John and Kip

In front of the palace. The guards were stoic, but let us pose for pictures.
John took us to Vigelandsparken, a famous park with hundreds (ok maybe dozens) of statues by Gustav Vigeland. The statues seem to depict human relationships from birth to death. It was interesting.


Is it super dad, or a man fighting off the responsibilities of parenthood?

After hours of walking around Oslo, Kip found some reasonably priced Indian food in the train station. He said it was the best meal in Norway. He is a man of spice.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Biking in Norway: Part 2

The pictures speak for themselves. We just kept climbing up in elevation. It was turning out to be a very tough ride, but we were addicted to the scenery.

That is a real smile.

This is water flowing through a mountain.

And under a bridge..

This is a flock of goats, kept back from the world by a little gate with a polite sign in English "Please shut the gate after you go through." I love the implication that people will naturally be respectful and shut the gate. It's a glimpse of the New Earth.

I was a little nervous at first.

It took a little convincing these gentle animals that we really were going to shut the gate and not let them out.

You can see how high the road is climbing.

The train rumbles on  up to Myrdal. We are less than half way there at this point.
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Biking in Norway

Every once in a while you see a movie that you had never seen a trailer for, one that your friends haven't told you the plot, one that doesn't fit the genre formulas; and it turns out to be the very best film you have ever seen, the kind of movie you can't wait to tell someone about.

Our bike ride from Flåm to Myrdal was just about like that. Kip called it one of the best days of his life. It started out with us deciding to rent bikes and go for a short ride to see 400 year old church. It was actually Sunday morning and that seemed like a nice thing to do. Kip had wanted to ride the Flåmbana railroad up to Myrdal and rent bikes back to Flåm. But we found out that the train ride would be $100 and we were planning to take it the next day on our way out of Flåm to Oslo, so we opted for just renting bikes and peddling around the area.

We through a couple of apples and a bottle of water in a backpack and headed out. It was storybook beautiful with idyllic farms with a few sod houses and contented flocks of sheep.

We found the church, took pictures and decided to go just a little further.

The door was open, but no one was inside. Can you imagine how many weddings and Christmas Eve services there have been here since 1660?

Sod roof

We decided to go a little further. The road was getting steeper, but we could see waterfalls in the distance and it was only just noon.

Ewe and her lambs going for a walk

That look on Kip's face means, wow, we just road bikes over a waterfall. Isn't this amazing?

By this time we were both hooked. Could we ride all the way to Myrdal? It was almost 3,000 feet in elevation from where we started. We decided to go a little further.

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