If you choose to resist evil and you choose it firmly, then ways of carrying out that resistance will open up around you.
In the 1979 book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, Philip Hallie writes, “During the four years of the German occupation of France, the village of Le Chambon, with a population of about three thousand impoverished people, saved the lives of about five thousand [Jewish] refugees (most of them children)” (xiii).
“This village, as a whole community, worked to save the innocent.”
Hallie’s book is more than a historical retelling of a rescue effort. I would describe it as an ethical forensic analysis, looking for the root causes that explain why this village, as a whole community, worked to save the innocent. What amazes me most is how three thousand people together agreed to give themselves to the rescue.
Rescue the Perishing
It’s inspiring, to be sure, to read of individuals who answered the call to “rescue those who are being taken away to death” (Proverbs 24:11). German Christian Fritz Graebe, for example, delivered hundreds of Jews to safety during the same time period. He came to be known as “the Moses of Rovno.” The work broke him physically, depleted his resources, and forced him to cut himself off from his family lest they be endangered by his actions. He said it was the Golden Rule that guided him. Graebe’s life testifies to the truth of Isaiah 32:8: “He who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.”
It’s a further wonder to me, beyond the heroics of individuals, how families risked their lives during this time. Exposure multiplies as the number of people involved increases — and the blow falls not just on any group, but on their family.
My admiration for Casper (Papa) Ten Boom and his family starts here. Proverbs 24:10 says, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” The day of adversity in view in this passage is not the day you lose your job, or even the day you find out your loved one has cancer, painful as those experiences are. No, the day of adversity is when you witness the intentional killing of innocent human beings. On that day, if you shrink back in fearful self-preservation, your faith is weak and God-belittling. The opposite is expected. “Rescue those who are being taken away to death” (Proverbs 24:11).
Casper was in his eighties when the Germans seized the Netherlands. His daughter Betsy was exceedingly frail her whole life. Corrie, the youngest, was in her fifties and was a watchmaker. Yet they ran to the point of the spear and rescued over five hundred Jews from death before being betrayed and imprisoned. Only Corrie survived.
Wonder of Le Chambon
The stories of individuals and families risking their lives are truly remarkable. How much more wondrous, then, that a whole village — with its spectrum of personalities and beliefs and its wide range of maturity, spiritual and otherwise — should agree to risk their lives and coordinate their efforts to rescue five thousand Jewish refugees.
Le Chambon’s residents were descendants of Huguenots (French Protestants of the Reformed tradition). “During hundreds of years of persecution, her pastors and her people were arrested by the dragoons of the king and then hanged or burned either in Le Chambon itself or in Montpellier to the south” (25). When the Jews were marked for slaughter, the village, led by the biblically reflective pastor André Trocmé and his pragmatic, action-oriented wife, Magda, held a proud identity and template for resistance.
I came across Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed around 1987. I was a pastor of a small inner-city church in Boston. Five years later, I was leading a citywide effort to organize churches in setting up the first of six ultrasound-equipped medical clinics dedicated to rescuing the innocent, one mother and baby at a time. My wife, Kristen, and several other women provided the original workforce. They met with women and couples in a pregnancy-related crisis and labored to help each one discover God’s provision as a parent or through adoption.
“Rescuing the innocent is not new; it’s just our turn.”
By 2002, I was writing a brief book for my fellow pastors on leading well in this sensitive but preeminent moral crisis. I wanted to examine from Scripture how defending the innocent is an outworking of the gospel itself. I also wanted to provide historical examples to show that rescuing the innocent is not new; it’s just our turn. After I went back to the midwives in Egypt and gathered examples through the ages, I suddenly remembered Le Chambon.
I pulled Hallie’s book from my shelf and was stunned. It was full of scribbled side comments and observations on André Trocmé. His motives, methods, setbacks, and sufferings were heavily underlined. I read several invocations from my past self: “Do this to respond to the SOIB!” (shorthand for “shedding of innocent blood”). Though I had forgotten the source, here were the prompts that explained my own efforts to rescue the perishing. Thirty-five years later, they still do.
Move Toward Rescue
Hallie summarizes a theme in Trocmé’s sermons like this: “If you choose to resist evil and you choose it firmly, then ways of carrying out that resistance will open up around you” (92). Was this not the case with the Samaritan? He drew near to an innocent man about to die, and then figured out how to save him. Fritz Graebe did not look for a book on how to rescue the innocent from slaughter. He resolved to do for others what he would want others to do for him if he was marked for death. He figured it out from there.
Nor did Corrie Ten Boom take a class in crisis-intervention strategies. She and her family felt compelled by the law of love to resist a preeminent injustice whatever the cost. Once resolved, opportunities presented themselves. Similarly, villagers in Le Chambon were mostly poor shopkeepers and farmers. Yet their resolve catalyzed an organizational effort worthy of scholarly analysis.
In God’s kindness, he has given me my own story of moving toward rescue. In 2006, after discovering that Miami had over thirty abortion businesses, almost all of which targeted minority neighborhoods, I felt burdened to go to Miami. I did not know a single person in that city. I sat in a local Panera, mapping out the plague by neighborhoods, and prayed, “Lord, I am here. Now what?” Soon after, a friend from Boston called me. He said, “Call my friend, Pastor Al Pino, in Miami Springs.” A year later, we stood together as we dedicated Heartbeat of Miami, a minority-led, ultrasound-equipped, church-supported pregnancy help clinic. It later expanded into four clinics, and since then, they’ve rescued over 55,000 mothers and babies from abortion.
In 2010, God brought me to China, where abortion, infanticide, and gendercide (the killing of baby girls mostly) is especially concentrated. The infamous one-child policy was in full force. I was able to meet with 75 house church pastors in the unregistered (underground) church in Beijing and present them with the four questions that have proved most helpful to me in “answering the crisis of abortion with the gospel of life.”
Now, after 29 trips to China, I can testify that the Christian leaders there used those four questions to train up an army of good Samaritans (over three million to date) committed to treasuring human life, rejecting abortion, experiencing God’s forgiveness, and rescuing the innocent, one mother and baby at a time.
God Meets Us to Save
We often experience those “it just so happened” moments, when our obedience meets God’s providence. Trocmé was saying, “Count on this happening!”
Let me offer a final example of the wisdom of his advice. Last September, in Bogota, Colombia, I handed out fetal models to 160 Christian leaders who were determined to lead well in resisting abortion.
After lunch, one pastor said that on his way to the restaurant, he met a woman who was clearly pregnant and in distress. He learned that her father was an acquaintance of his and was coercing his daughter into abortion by kicking her out of his home. He went to see her father straightaway and handed him the fetal model just received. The father choked up at the sight. The two then pledged to find God’s provision for his daughter and grandchild. And they did. Baby Violet was born December 15, 2021.
“If you choose to resist evil and you choose it firmly, then ways of carrying out that resistance will open up around you.”