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Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Railway Women

There is an inspiring story told by Frances Rockmore Velie about four courageous women of the Quaker faith.  During the Second World War these women were in German-occupied Toulouse when they learned that eight hundred captured Jews were packed on a train, in a single cattle car, and were heading for an occupation camp.

In route, this train would soon arrive in Toulouse where it would stop briefly. The Quaker women knew that those Jewish “passengers” would have traveled two days without water. 

The four women promptly nabbed every reachable container and worked through the night pouring water in hopes of easing the torment of the suffering Jews.  But when the train arrived at the station a ghastly nightmare unfolded before their eyes. The train did not have eight hundred Jews; rather it was packed with three thousand Jews. 

Suddenly, the stark reality became apparent to the women.  Should they give eight hundred people the water they had prepared, and let the rest of the anguished passengers be made to endure unbearable agony? Was it right for some not to receive any water, particularly after having to watch others drink?  The four women had wanted to share a moment of mercy; instead, the moment of mercy had turned into a time of woe. 

Yet there was one woman who would not accept surrender in the face of such an evil challenge. Approaching the Gestapo officer in charge, she quietly, but with great authority, demanded that the officer engage in efforts to help ease the suffering of the prisoners. 

For a protracted moment the German soldier stared at her.  Then the Gestapo officer turned to his aide.  "This woman is from the American Friends Service Committee," he said.  "The Quakers saved our village from starvation after the last war."  "Yes," mumbled the subaltern, "they fed us, too."

And so the Gestapo officer ordered his men to move.  SS men rounded up baskets of food and additional water from shocked villagers; they were performing deeds of mercy.  The suffering Jews received their water and food--from their enemies.

The quiet strength of four Quaker women moved cold-hearted men-indoctrinated to kill-to comfort their enemies.  Likewise Christians, empowered by the quiet strength of the Holy Spirit, have the privilege to help determine the fate of the world, not by defeating people on the battlefield, but by telling human beings about Jesus.

One confusing statement in the Bible for me has always been Matthew 5:5b—"...for they {the meek} shall inherit the earth." What I believe the phrase "inherit the earth" to mean is that Christians have the privilege of participating in the salvation of Humanity. 

To put it another way, when Jesus said, "inherit the earth" he was using imagery from the Old Testament, which the Jews associated with the Kingdom of Heaven.  So when a first century Jew heard Jesus say this, there was a good chance he thought in his mind that he was going to have the opportunity to participate in the infiltration of the Kingdom of God throughout the earth.

I am not a Quaker. I don’t know if Quakers still exist, but those four women almost 70 years ago were definitely participating in Kingdom work on this earth. I would do well to do the same.


  1. Greetings~
    I hope you know now that Friends (a/k/a Quakers) do indeed still exist. From the sounds of what you wrote above, I think we might "speak to your condition," (Quaker jargon for "address your search.")
    For more information please see Quaker Quaker

  2. Donne,
    It was good to hear from you. Thanks for clarifying!.