Back to Especially for Women
Common Sense Not Needed
By Corrie Ten Boom
Before World War II I started a work to bring the Gospel to feeble-minded people who were not in institutions. They were not able to go to church: they could not understand the sermon. But did they not need the Lord Jesus, just like you and I? We learn from the Bible that the Lord Jesus has a great love and concern for everyone who is in need. For He said, "Come unto me all..."
Everyone needs the Holy Spirit to understand spiritual truths. I found that when we taught the Gospel in an uncomplicated way the Holy Spirit did not need a high I.Q. to reveal Himself.
The feeble-minded whom I taught in the Bible class we had every Sunday afternoon called it their church. We tried to make it as "churchy" as we could to please them!
In this booklet I tell something of what I learned and experienced during the five years I carried on this small work. It was perhaps unimportant in the eyes of the world, but not worthless in God's eyes. No effort can be valueless when it is in obedience to the command of Jesus, "You must go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15, Phillips).
I am sure that earthly values are different to heavenly ones. I believe that the joy among the angels of God is as great when a subnormal person is saved as when a V.I.P. gives his heart and life to the Lord. Possibly greater. One cannot tell.
A WASTE OF TIME?
Once, in a concentration camp, I was questioned by a Nazi officer. He asked me much about my life, about my work in the Underground, and about my spare time. I told him that I had given Bible lessons to subnormal people.
"Don't you regard that as a waste of time?" he asked. "Surely it is much better to convert a normal person than a subnormal one."
This was fully in accord with his Nazi way of thinking. So I told him about Jesus, who had always cared for all who were weak and despised, adding that it might well be possible that the officer and I were much less important in the sight of the Lord Jesus than one of these poor creatures. I was sent back to my cell.
The next morning the officer sent for me and said that he had slept badly. He had thought much about what I had said.
"You spoke about Jesus," he said, "I don't know anything about Him. Tell me what you know of Him."
I then spoke of the Lord Jesus as the Light of the World who can lighten our life, if we give ourselves to Him and receive Him as Savior and Lord. Three days I was questioned and three days I had the opportunity to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A conversation about the feeble-minded had changed a most dangerous moment for a prisoner into a testimony to the glory of God.
THE OLD, OLD STORY
"How do you explain the things of the Bible to the feeble-minded?" I asked teachers at the American schools where they really did their best to teach the Gospel.
"Oh, just as we do to normal children," they said, "only simplified, and repeating as often as necessary."
Is an adolescent or an adult with a low I.Q. similar to a young normal child? In the slums sometimes we find subnormal persons in their own surroundings. Are their problems the same as the problems of a child?
Yes, many have the same difficulties, but the subnormal often have many more. They have also many problems of normal adults. For instance, they are interested in a strike.
They do not comprehend; they do not have the solution; but at the same time they are called upon to share the struggle for life. Who will bring them the answer? Who will tell them that the One who can help them is Jesus, and Jesus alone? He knows the answer to every situation.
I know from experience, for I was in a concentration camp, where there was a concentrated mass of problems and misery--but Jesus gave the answer. In this dark place I discovered that demons flee at the name of Jesus; He is Victor. That is the message the world must know.
Kareltje was a little boy twelve years old. He had blue eyes and curly hair. He was one of a large, poor family, and his father was cruel to him because Kareltje was feeble-minded. He listened as I told the story of the disciples giving food to five thousand people. As the five loaves and two fishes passed from Jesus' hand to theirs, the bread and fish became sufficient to feed the multitude.
Suddenly Kareltje jumped up, and swinging his arms around him, cried, "There is enough! There is plenty, plenty for everyone! Just take, take as much as you like. There is enough. There is plenty!"
I wished every child of God rejoiced as Kareltje did about the plenty that we have, when taking all from Jesus' hands and passing on to others.
WHO IS CALLED?
Who should bring the Gospel to the subnormal? I asked this question in America of those who understood the need, and always the answer was, "Of course, the ministers."
I do not think so. Ministers know the language of grown-up people. We cannot expect them to speak the language of the normal and subnormal at the same time. There will be people with a special gift for speaking to the feeble-minded. There are special difficulties and needs and problems in this peculiar mission. Sometimes I think I would prefer Kindergarten teachers. But they must understand that a grown-up feeble-minded person is different from a child of four. Once I heard a teacher speak to them in the same way that she would have done to her Kindergarten pupils. The women and men looked in my direction and laughed as if to say, "How silly!"
Children like to hear a story. These people like stories too, but after half an hour's talk about Jesus' love they will still be listening. They are grown-ups and they must be treated the same way as grown-ups. The language must be plain and clear--no dogmatic talk, no arguments, only the old, old story in plain language. The best way to reach them is by love. Love means understanding, and this love is available (Romans 5:5). God must lead, for without the Holy Spirit no one can bring the message to anybody, normal or abnormal. The human spirit fails, except when the Holy Spirit fills.
THE JOY OF BRINGING THEM THE GOSPEL
The feeble-minded lack common sense, but they also lack analytical criticism, which, like a brake, can be a hindrance to some normal people. When they trust a teacher (and they do that very soon) they believe everything told them. They just accept what is said.
Once Jake, a tramp, told me that he had seen lightning destroy a tree just in front of him. It was imagination, but I did not argue. I just said, "Jake, if the lightning had killed you, would you have been ready to die, ready to come before God?"
"No," he answered.
I looked at the other boys and asked, "And which of you boys would have been ready to die?"
Their heads went down, for feeble-minded people often express their feelings through their attitude. One boy said, "None of us is ready."
"Well, boys," said I, "we must seek the solution; for we all know that some day the moment will come when we must die."
Then I told a story, giving them examples, which is far better than arguing.
"Once there was a boy who had to die. He was not at all afraid, for he knew that Jesus loved him and had died for him on the Cross. He loved Jesus for that reason, and he knew that Jesus was preparing for him one of the many mansions in heaven. I am sorry that you do not know what that boy knew."
"But we do," protested one, and someone else added, "We are all ready to die, for we all know that Jesus loves us." The whole class was sitting upright at that moment and their faces beamed.
Is it so simple? I doubted it myself for a moment, and then the Holy Spirit said to me, "The jailer of Saint Paul received the same answer: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'"
How simple is the Gospel!
CONFESSION OF GUILT
I had no experience when I started "church" for feeble-minded adults. There they were sitting before me. For some weeks we had had our weekly service. One Sunday Joan was sitting near to Jake. In the midst of my message I saw that Joan could not resist putting her arms around the dirty neck of Jake. She held her face close to the unshaven cheek of the tramp. What should I do? My assistant saw the embarrassing situation. With a serious face, she came to me and said, "I want to tell you something. This morning I was in a church, and I saw all the gentlemen sitting in their pews on one side and the ladies on the other side. We have a real church here, but why do ladies and gentlemen all sit together?" I answered quite seriously, "I had forgotten, but indeed we are going to have a real church service. Come, gentlemen and boys, you sit on the right side, the girls and ladies on the other side."
Everyone obeyed, and the love-sick couple were separated, but the problem was only solved for the moment. That week Jake and Joan went into the woods for mischief. Fortunately the director of social work found them there and told Jake that if he did this again he would be sent to prison. Joan was sent to the institute, where she was given daily work under good leadership.
The next Sunday, when I was preaching, Joan ran to me. Her whole face was excited. She had been into mischief, had been scolded for it, and was very upset. She broke into my sermon, and laid her arms around me and sobbed: "I have been so naughty. I went a walk with Jake and I will never, never do it again."
A person often has a big ego. My first thought was one of irritation at losing the thread of my message through the interruption. But then I understood that this demonstration was a very plain form of public confession of guilt.
My assistant helped me again. She took the hands of Joan, which I could not get loose, and said, "I'm glad, Joan, that you told this to Miss ten Boom. Let's go into the corridor and ask the Lord Jesus to forgive. Then we can go and have a drink of water."
They left, and after a few moments I rediscovered the thread of my sermon.
WHO IS NORMAL?
It was winter. Holland was occupied by the Germans. We were sitting around the stove before the service began. A girl entered and said, "I hate all Germans, and my father does too."
"That is not right," said Herman.
"Why not?" she replied. "They are our enemies! They have taken away our food! They have taken my brother to Germany! They have..." and a list of crimes followed.
"Hate is not right," repeated Herman. "Jesus says, 'You must love your enemies.'"
"I can't," said the girl.
"Jesus does, and He can teach you," said the boy.
That same evening I was at a dinner-party with many normal Christians, and the conversation was about the Germans.
"We are not only allowed to hate," said the leader of the dinner party. "We MUST hate."
Who is normal, and who subnormal?
"Your work among the feeble-minded is nothing more than hypnosis," people told me. "They have no common sense, and no criticism. They just believe whatever you tell them."
"I believe in the Holy Spirit," I answered.
During the war, bombs were falling on Haarlem. One fell on a house, near where Jo was living. Jo was a girl of thirty-two, a poor creature, nervous and fearful. The next Sunday she came to church and told me what had happened.
"The bomb fell and all the windows broke and there was a terrible noise, and..."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"I was so frightened, but I just thought of one thing."
I understood what she meant by "one thing". "One thing" meant prayer.
"What happened then?"
"Jesus took all my fear away!"
How many normal people thought at a moment when bombs were falling, of praying? There was no one there to put this idea into Jo's mind by suggestion, or hypnosis.
No human being, yes, but Jesus was there.
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Once the father of a backward girl spoke to me.
"Why can my daughter never partake of Communion? Is the Lord's Supper only meant for strong-minded people?"
"Pray about it!" I answered. "I'll do the same."
That week I discussed the matter with a minister. God showed us that it was His will for them to receive the Lord's Supper as well as Baptism. About fifteen people I knew who loved the Lord were baptized and received the Lord's Supper. Never have I received such a blessing from the Sacraments. There was earnestness and joy.
A boy continued to kneel and would not rise. I took his hand and brought him back to his chair, but he kept his eyes closed. In this way he wanted to preserve the blessing and joy of that moment!
We in Holland have a long, imposing formulary for the Holy Communion. Before we all went to the Lord's Supper, I translated the dignified words into their language.
"He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."
I explained the text in the following story:
"Once there was a lady who went to the Lord's Supper. But she did not believe that Jesus had suffered on the Cross for her, and she did not love Him at all. What do you think about that?"
"That is terrible," they responded.
"Yes, I think so too," said I, "and the most serious thing is that God also thinks it is terrible, and He says: 'It is far better NOT TO GO AT ALL than to take the bread and wine without loving Christ. For if one does so, I must punish him.' If you don't believe, don't go."
CONFESSION OF SIN
We were together in our church room and I spoke about the meaning of "sin".
"Do you all know what the word 'sin' means?"
They told me they surely knew. It was disobedience, bad words, and ugly thoughts. It was lying, killing, beating, swearing, unbelief in Jesus Christ.
"Have you ever sinned?" I asked.
"Never," was the unexpected answer from Marie, a poor imbecile woman.
Her whole face was radiant with pride. I tried to argue, but could not convince her. Then I spoke of the love of Christ and she told me:
"I know that Jesus loves me so, that He died on the Cross for me. I love Jesus and tell Him everything." Her whole face was beaming with joy.
I knew that Marie had only some months to live. She had cancer. I was not afraid that she was not ready to appear before God's throne. Why Jesus died on the Cross she did not understand, but she was thankful for His love--perhaps more thankful and glad than many good, normal Christians, who have a sound theology but whose eyes do not sparkle as do Marie's eyes, when one speaks of Jesus' love.