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What I learned this week from an Auschwitz survivor

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence. Among those pictured are Tomasz Szwarz; Alicja Gruenbaum; Solomon Rozalin; Gita Sztrauss; Wiera Sadler; Marta Wiess; Boro Eksztein; Josef Rozenwaser; Rafael Szlezinger; Gabriel Nejman; Gugiel Appelbaum; Mark Berkowitz (a twin); Pesa Balter; Rut Muszkies (later Webber); Miriam Friedman; and twins Miriam Mozes and Eva Mozes wearing knitted hats (Credit: USHMM/Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography/Alexander Voronzow and others in his group, ordered by Mikhael Oschurkow, head of the photography unit)

I am returning today from another study tour of the Holy Land.  Each time I lead a group on a pilgrimage to Israel, I become more convinced that every Christian should visit the homeland of our Savior.  The experience turns God’s word from 2-D to 3-D, from black-and-white to color.

To walk on temple steps that Jesus trod, to visit the site of Jesus’ synagogue in Capernaum and stand before the “gates of hell” in Caesarea Philippi, to sing Christmas carols in the cave where our Lord was born, to share the Lord’s Supper while looking over Jerusalem and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, to stand before Calvary and worship near the Garden Tomb—each time I come I am grateful for this privilege.

And each time, the Lord arranges a new transforming experience for me.  This trip, my lifelong memory was created at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  Reuben Nevo, one of our outstanding tour guides, introduced me to an elderly woman he met in the museum cafeteria at lunch.  She told me her story in broken English.  She is from Yugoslavia and was taken to Auschwitz at the age of 14.  She never saw any member of her family again.  She showed me the number tattooed on her arm.

A year and a half later, Soviet troops liberated her camp and saved her life.  Now she volunteers each week at Yad Vashem, working to help find the names and stories of Holocaust victims.  She came so close to being one, herself.

Next, our group walked to the Children’s Memorial.  Of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, one fourth were children.  Five candles are lit in the center of the memorial.  They reflect on mirrors to create 1.5 million candles all around us.  The names and ages of children who perished in the Holocaust are read perpetually.  It is always one of my most emotional experiences in Israel.  As I walked through the memorial, I thought of the survivor I had just met and the children who perished.  

From the explosion in West, Texas to the Boston Marathon bombings, from floods in the Midwest to the shootings in Seattle, the news continues to prove that life is fragile and tomorrow uncertain.  So I’m going to follow the example of the Auschwitz survivor I met at the Holocaust museum.  She refuses to allow the pain of her past to limit her purpose in the present and hope for the future.

Paul agreed: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  What “present sufferings” would you trust to the hands and hope of God today?