Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille (1900 – 1976) risked his life during World War II to keep Jews out of Nazi death camps. At the beginning of the war, before many people could fathom Hitler’s true intentions, he served under the Protestant Federation of France (FPF) as chaplain for refugees in southern France. His job was to make living conditions in the internment camps as comfortable as possible. When it became clear the Jews were not being merely relocated but killed, Toureille pushed his colleagues to adopt a more aggressive stance. They refused, preferring instead to maintain their cordial relations with German authorities. Thus rebuffed, Toureille began secretly hiding Jews in his own church-members’ homes or smuggling them to safety in Switzerland. He finally resigned in frustration from the FPF in 1945.
Some years later, Toureille wrote about the Christian Church’s mission in the world. In true evangelical fashion, he pointed to a fate even worse than physical death in a German gas chamber—spiritual death. In the face of an enemy so terrible as that, he said, the Church simply cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.
There is a Buddhist saying, adopted by the Quakers as a motto for their aid to the needy: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” It is in passing the light to others that one disperses the shadows . . . I often see boxing matches on television where the boxers lose because they only defend themselves without ever attacking. The same is true today for the Christian Church. It is by going on the offensive that the Mission will save the world.
Please understand me: it is not uniquely the church’s mission to save men socially, economically, politically. But above all else, it is the church that must save men’s souls. If the church does not accomplish this task, nothing else will. A church that does not evangelize is useless on earth. If the Church does not go to the front, with zeal and faith, the world will die, however it might be magnificently equipped technologically, monstrously rich and developed, endowed with superior social legislation and possessed of the best possible material conditions for living comfortably—this world will die because it has no soul. Unless the world has this peace of the soul that authentic conversion and the assurance of eternal life can give, all is useless and in vain. The night comes, when no one can work. Let us work, then, without cease.1
Why is it possible to step into the shadows of human pain and sorrow with a divine flame? It is because Jesus, the Light of Life, entered our world two millennia ago. The offspring of the Virgin, the shoot form the stump of Jesse, and the Servant who liberates us from the dungeon of despair, this Jesus illumines our hearts so that we can shine his life-giving presence into the lives of others. Help us Lord, we pray.
1 Tela Zasloff, A Rescuer’s Story: Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille in Vichy France (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 211.