The people of the French mountain village Le Chambon-sur-Lignon are remembered for their great heroism during the Second World War: At risk of their own lives, the villagers rescued some 5,000 Jewish refugees from the Nazis.
But many do not know the story behind the heroism -- the story of Pastor Andre Trocme, who urged his congregation to make Chambon a city of refuge. Like another hero of that war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Trocme is an example of knowing when it’s right to disobey earthly authorities because they contradict God’s laws.
In his new book, The Hidden Key to Happiness, my great friend Drayton Nabers writes that when the Nazis began rounding up French Jews to send to concentration camps, Trocme -- a French reformed pastor -- determined to provide sanctuary for them.
They did so despite the fact that the punishment for sheltering Jews was death. They did so even though the villagers themselves were desperately poor; since the Trocmes often had several children staying in their home, the Trocmes’ own four children often had very little to eat.
At various times, government and even church authorities ordered Trocme to turn over any Jews hiding in the village. He refused, and was himself thrown into prison. His cousin Daniel Trocme, who also rescued Jews, was executed in a concentration camp. Other villagers also died while protecting Jews. By the war’s end, Le Chambon was known to be a city of refuge, and the Trocmes were recognized by Holocaust memorial groups for their heroism.
Learning about the people of Le Chambon, Nabers wondered: How are we to understand such extraordinary group submission to the call of God, and Trocme’s ability to lead his people to such valiant obedience?
First, Trocme’s sermons “were biblically based with a heavy emphasis on the source of the believer’s power to follow God.” He often focused on the Christian’s obligation to protect the helpless, even in defiance of the authorities.
Second, the courage of the villagers was strengthened by regular small group meetings that were washed in prayer, moving “the hearts of those who would later provide refuge at risk of their lives.”
Third, the Protestant villagers could identify with persecution, because their Huguenot ancestors were persecuted in Catholic France. Fourth, the villagers had developed habits of virtue, compassion, helping; rescuing the Jews was the fruit of these habits.
Sadly, many Christians most committed to social action brush aside the need to fully and deeply know what our faith teaches. They consider theology dry, dusty, reading that will put off new converts. But it was training in that “dry,” “dusty” theology that drove the people of Le Chambon to defy civil authorities -- and offer up their lives for the strangers among them.
So, what is the key to happiness? Pastor Trocme’s story and other great stories you’ll find in The Hidden Key to Happiness show clearly that true happiness is found only in living a life of obedience to God.
Drayton Dabers makes this case powerfully with this book and with his life. Drayton is the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who spends one day a week teaching the prison unit we run in Alabama. If we were forced to try to save Jews, and figuratively speaking, we might be, Drayton is the kind of man we could count on. Please, come to our bookstore at BreakPoint.org and order a copy of The Hidden Key to Happiness.
This article published on July 5, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.