You Are No Corrie ten Boom!

Posted by admin in July 30th, 2021
Published in Uncategorized

“You know Teri. You are no Corrie ten Boom, right? I mean you know that!”


The words would have hurt more if Marianne’s face hadn’t been so angelic. She thought, as my new friend, she was doing me a big favor by giving me a reality check, but in reality, she was crushing me beyond belief.


I was in the middle of a civil servants’ strike in a socialist country where all public services were at a halt. I had no money, due to unforeseen circumstances caused by the strike, and was staying with a nice couple I had just met at church that morning. Marianne and Aimo were trying to help me figure out how to get from Helsinki, Finland, to Beijing via Moscow. The original plan was to cross the Soviet Union by train, but Finland’s strike had shut down train services and made that trip impossible. I was trying to explain to my hosts that God would provide some way for me and was using Corrie ten Boom’s story to illustrate this point.


“I just keep thinking that God told me to come this way through Helsinki to Moscow. You know Corrie ten Boom tells a story about when God called her to take a certain route and the airlines said it was impossible because there were no routes going that direction. She insisted on that specific route and they laughed at her. But the next day, the ticket agent called and apologized because the airline had started a brand-new route exactly as she had requested it. The agent had actually said, ‘God must have built you an island Miss ten Boom because now the plane has a place to refuel. Congratulations.’”


I looked expectantly at Marianne and Aimo, who actually knew Corrie ten Boom from their years working in the Hague. Marianne smiled at me, “You know Teri, you are no Corrie ten Boom, right? I mean you know that!”


And she was right. No one ever had the nerve to tell me that before, but now I was forced to recognize the ridiculous notion that I could be like Corrie ten Boom. Marianne gave me a much-needed reality check.


With all train services stopped, I decided to fly from Helsinki to Moscow and then on to Beijing. I knew I could work at my university in China over the summer. There was always a standing invitation to teach there. I could go to China and figure things out from there. I hadn’t given up on the idea of praying my way across the Soviet Union on the Tran-Siberian Railroad. Though things hadn’t worked out exactly as I planned, I still believed my original purpose was possible.


I had Aeroflot tickets in my hand the next day and was scheduled to leave Helsinki on Sunday, April 27, with a layover in Moscow and then on to Beijing. But Aimo strongly cautioned me not to get too excited as I still didn’t have my Chinese visa and that was, in his words, a very big hurdle.


Aimo wanted to help me with the Chinese visa. “They won’t let you on that plane Sunday without it. We need to work on that right away.”


Aimo was the reluctant servant. He was the Big Brother in Christianity that does things by the Book. He was disciplined, cautious, obedient, practical, a tither, a great dad, and a caring husband. He always did the right thing, even when it wasn’t always convenient. Thankfully, Aimo decided he needed to help me, against his better judgment. Aimo didn’t think I was a bad person, just a silly one. Still, he helped me.


Fretting over the visa, Aimo said he would do what he could for me. So, early the next morning, he drove me to the Chinese Embassy just outside of Helsinki and we went into the dark scary building together.


Aimo tried to explain my situation to the Chinese receptionist at the front desk, but she just wouldn’t budge. She was not interested in helping us. Gatekeepers with a tiny bit of power can sometimes behave this way.


“Visa take two week minimum! No exception!” she was firm.


Aimo tried to explain to her that I didn’t have two weeks. Aimo had instructed me in the car to keep quiet in the Chinese embassy and let him handle everything. Afterall, he was a Finnish Foreign Affairs officer. He had experience and some clout. He knew how to get things done in these types of situations. He was an official diplomat.


Aimo tried again, “You see, she leaves on Sunday so we need to ‘expedite’ this visa.” He smiled and decided to show her his official Finnish Foreign Affairs ID.


“Two week minimum! No exception!” she just kept repeating that phrase over and over.


In the meantime, Aimo picked up a visa application, stuck it on a provided clipboard, handed it to me and told me to go sit down and start filling it out. I obeyed.


Now he was trying to charm the woman, explaining the situation yet again, reasoning with her and still, like a punch button recording, “Visa take two week minimum! No exception!”


There was a question on the visa application I didn’t quite know for sure how to answer. I walked up to the desk where Aimo and the Gatekeeper were still going at it. I tried to be polite and gently interrupt, but they were in a gridlock. So, mostly for impact, but also to get her attention, I said in my best Mandarin Chinese, “Dui bu chi, xiao jie. Zhe shi she ma dong xi?” (Excuse me, Miss, but what is this on the application?)


The woman stopped talking, looked at me in surprise and asked me in Chinese, “You speak Mandarin?”


“A little” I replied in good modest Chinese style.


“How do you speak Chinese?” meaning, where did you learn it, how did you learn it, who are you?


“I lived in Changchun for two years,” I explained still speaking Chinese. “In fact Changchun is wo da di er gu shang,” (my second home town). The expression demonstrated love for China.


“Really?” she said still speaking Mandarin, “All of us that work in this office are from either Changchun or Harbin! We are all northerners, just like you! Wait a moment please miss. I want to get my chief.” And she left her little gate, uh, I mean desk, and headed down a dark hallway to the back offices.


Aimo stood there staring at me. Stunned. He was in total disbelief.


“I didn’t know you spoke Chinese,” he said.


“I do,” I smiled.


In a few minutes the woman returned with an unusually friendly guy in his 30s all dressed up in a blue Mao styled uniform. He held out his hand long before he reached me and gave me a warm and very vigorous handshake. In Chinese he said, “Huo Chi! Is that you?”


At first I didn’t recognize him, but then it hit me! He was the brother of one of my best students. In fact, I had actually been at his home for dinner once several years before.


“Yes!” I answered back in Mandarin. “It’s me!”


In the early 1980s, I was an English instructor at the Changchun Geological College in Manchuria—northeast China. It was a great experience for me and I absolutely fell in love with my students there. I had built some very good relationships with many of my students. China had gone through a horrible time called The Cultural Revolution when education came to a halt and the nation was almost destroyed by Mao Ze Deng’s insane and egotistical policies. With Mao’s death and Deng Xiao Ping’s new reforms, people were being allowed to go back to university as nontraditional students and to earn their degrees. As a result, my class was filled with these nontraditional college students—people older than I, who were eager to forget the pain of the past and try to start again, with new hope. It was an amazing time to be in China.


One of my students, a woman who became my best friend in China, was Rong Wei Wei. The man shaking my hand and almost teary-eyed before me was her elder brother Xiao Yu. At first, I didn’t recognize him, but when I realized who he was I starting laughing—a deep belly laugh. Then he started laughing. We laughed, we shook our heads, we slapped our knees in unbelief. The receptionist was stunned and she became a completely different person—warm and friendly and eager to enter in the conversation.


Xiao Yu asked, “What is your business here, Huo Chi? How can I help my good friend?”


“Well, Xiao Yu, I want to go back to Changchun. I already have my plane ticket, but I have foolishly forgotten my visa. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. You see I leave on Sunday and now I don’t know what to do.” Demeaning myself was a traditional Chinese way of showing humility and sincerity. I was letting Xiao Yu know I needed his help without asking for it directly.


“Let me see your application Huo Chi,” he asked and I handed him the clipboard with my partially finished document. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “Oh and I’ll need to see your passport.”


I gave it to him.


In about fifteen minutes my Chinese friend walked out of his office with a visa so new and fresh that the ink was still wet. He actually warned me to let it dry before closing my passport. Oh, and the usual $25 fee? It was of waived.


Aimo and I were silent on the way home, but you should have heard him telling the story that night at dinner. He went over the details again and again, each time explaining emphatically that I actually knew the consular. At the dinner table we bowed our heads to ask a blessing over the meal. We took hands and, as was their family tradition, Aimo said the dinner blessing. We waited, Marianne and me. No words. Then a sniffle. Then a cleared throat. Then Aimo, his voice a little cracked with more emotion than a Finn is used to showing, said it so well, “Thank You Father, for everything. Amen.”


You see I don’t believe Corrie ten Boom was an extraordinary woman. I believe Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman in the hands of an Extraordinary God. I believe she was a woman who yielded her life and allowed God to work in and through her not because of who SHE was but because of Who HE is and was and will always be. God isn’t looking for the brightest or the best or the most talented or even people who have it all together. God is looking to and fro across the earth for men, women, and children who are flawed with feet of clay, but who are willing to lift up imperfect and feeble hands toward the heavens as an act of surrender and say, “Here I am Lord. Please use me!” And God does. Because He loves using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise and the weak things of this world to confound the strong. In our weaknesses He always shows Himself mighty.


With my visa and tickets in hand, along with a fresh sense of God’s calling, I started preparing for my trip to Beijing, via Moscow. Little did I know that I would be heading into one of the worst disasters humankind has ever known. But that’s another story. Peace.




3 users Responded In This Post

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58738. Brenda Burnes said,
July 30th, 2021 at 8:50 am

Thank you for sharing your stories and your life. It encourages me.

58754. Amy Torres said,
July 31st, 2021 at 9:23 am

Oh, wow! What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing and encouraging us to trust in God in all things!!

58756. Sherry said,
July 31st, 2021 at 1:32 pm

Oh Teri,
What a faith-building story!
I needed this today.
Love and blessings and hugs.

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