Irena Sendler. Perhaps still an unfamiliar name to some people, but this remarkable Polish woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
As a health worker, she sneaked children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them.
Some children were taken out in gunnysacks or body bags. Some were hidden inside loads of goods. A mechanic took a baby out in his toolbox. Some kids were carried out in potato sacks, others were placed in coffins.
But the Nazis became aware of Irena’s activities, and on October 20, 1943 she was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, who broke her feet and legs. She ended up in the Pawiak Prison, but no one could break her spirit.
‘I could have done more…’
Though she was the only one who knew the names and addresses of the families sheltering the Jewish children, she withstood the torture that crippled her for life, refusing to betray either her associates or any of the Jewish children in hiding.
Sentenced to death, Irena was saved at the last minute when Zegota (underground Rescuers of Jews) members bribed one of the Gestapo agents to halt the execution. She escaped from prison but for the rest of the war she was pursued by the Nazis.
Irena Sendler did not think of herself as a hero. She claimed no credit for her actions. ‘I could have done more,’ she said. ‘This regret will follow me to my death.’
In 2007, she was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. At a special session in Poland’s upper house of Parliament, President Lech Kaczynski announced the unanimous resolution to honour Irena Sendler for rescuing ‘the most defenceless victims of the Nazi ideology: the Jewish children.’
During the ceremony Elzbieta Ficowska, who was just six months old when she was saved by Irena Sendler, read out a letter on her behalf: ‘Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.’
A Nobel Prize recipient, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote: ‘Those times there was darkness everywhere. In heaven and on earth, all the gates of compassion seemed to have been closed. The killer killed and the Jews died and the outside world adopted an attitude either of complicity or of indifference. Only a few had the courage to care …’
Where’s the church’s courage to care?
Until the church adopts this same passion and sense of purpose we are in danger of being irrelevant. The question facing us is, ‘Do we have the courage to care?’
The only reason the church is still here on earth is to reach the lost. We can worship God in heaven, we can fellowship with the saints in heaven, but we cannot bring people to Christ in heaven. This is our only chance to bring closure to the great commission (Matthew 28: 18-20).
That great missionary statesman, Oswald J. Smith, once challenged: ‘Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfil the great commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.’
There is a story of two Moravian young men who, when they came of age, sold themselves into slavery so that they could travel to an island to minister and witness to the slaves there who had no other means of hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There was no turning back for them. There was no, ‘I don’t feel led to do this anymore.’ There was no, ‘This isn’t comfortable anymore.’ They were slaves; bound to the mission they began, even unto death.
When the two men were departing on the boat, they looked back to see their families and church family standing there on the docks weeping for them as they left. They both knew they would never see them again, yet they both knew they were fulfilling the callings of the Lord in their lives.
In a final parting one of the young men looked back and shouted to those standing, ‘Shall not the Lamb have the full reward of his suffering!’
Church – Second Coming? Sinners need the news of the first coming!
Is this not the purpose for which Jesus died, to redeem humankind to himself, to establish his church that we might be salt and light in a world of darkness, and to make disciples of all nations?
The church can get so caught up in programs and pet doctrines that we forget our true purpose and the reason for our existence – to bring to the Lamb the reward of his suffering.
Ross Winchester, preacher, teacher and missionary to Asia is author of The Stolen Cow and 99 Other Stories and audio messages Kingdom Perspectives. Book orders: firstname.lastname@example.org – cost AUD$15 plus postage.
Links: https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/06/16/can-you-hear-the-cry-of-the-children/ / https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/02/04/feeling-helpless-keep-pressing-on-but-note/