It’s been said, “When it rains, it pours.” At times, life can feel like things keep going from bad to worse. It’s a struggle to be an optimist when we feel we’ve hit rock bottom, or have lost something so major that our lives may never be the same without it. Even harder is to be thankful in the midst of such adversity.
Brigadier Josef Korbel (1907-2002) was a Salvationist who knew the hard-knock life well. In his unhappy childhood, his father was abusive to his mother. Similarly, Korbel wrote in his autobiography, In My Enemy’s Camp, “My father had no interest in [my siblings and I]. I cannot remember him ever talking to us kindly or holding us on his lap when we were small. We were scared of him. And as soon as we heard his approaching steps, we all hid.”
Though his mother loved them dearly, Korbel still felt lonely and empty. His home was spiritually poor, and his heart longed for someone he didn’t know yet. When Korbel went away to school, he finally found fulfillment. Happening upon a Salvation Army open-air service, he met Jesus for the first time and became a Christian.
In 1927 Korbel became a Salvation Army officer. He married Erna Von Thun, whom he served in Czechoslovakia with until the atheistic Communist government took power around 1949. At this time, many Christians were arrested and imprisoned.
Korbel was among them. Days before he planned on starting missionary work in South Africa, his apartment was bombarded. Communist agents tore up his home and forced Korbel into a chair, jabbing a gun against his neck. He was arrested on charges of being a dangerous religious influence. Sentenced to a concentration camp, he would not escape for another 10 years.
Camp was a nightmare. The guards were cruel, prisoners lived through abusive conditions, and escape seemed impossible. This certainly wasn’t the life Korbel had wanted.
One bitterly cold, snowy morning, the prisoners were forced to stand outside in a corral of barbed wire. In his misery, Korbel asked God why this had happened to him. He was sure God called him to a special mission in Africa. Though he prayed “Thy will be done,” he was still hungry for an answer.
Korbel would find that the prison was his mission. Preaching was not allowed in Czechoslovakia—much less the prisons—but God could act powerfully through Korbel where he was. Here’s a snapshot of what took place:
- When arrested, Korbel was falsely accused of trying to undermine the Communists. They tried to beat a confession out of him, and Korbel prayed, “Lord, for 22 years I have been preaching about Thy power which is able to sustain and protect Thy children. Manifest Thy power just now. Make me strong so that I am willing to die rather than bring disgrace to Thy name.”
When the Communists heard this, they cursed, wanting to beat him all the more. But as Korbel braced for the first blow, something strange happened: “They were trying to [hit me] but they could not touch me!” Korbel wrote. “It was as if I were surrounded by an invisible shield! They ran in fury against me, but every time they approached, it was as if invisible, mighty hands were pushing them back.” (My Enemy’s Camp)
- Korbel’s frequent, wholehearted praying introduced other prisoners to Christ. Many joined him in prayer, and Korbel’s petitions to the Lord once saved a man from suicide.
- When a fellow prisoner spied on his companions and ratted them out to the guards, the inmates found out and angrily attacked the spy. But, Korbel forgave him. Remembering Christ died for all, he knew he had no right to judge anyone. When he went to comfort the wounded spy, others were moved by his compassion and joined in to help. After that, many asked Korbel to teach them about Jesus.
A MODEL OF THANKSGIVING
Despite grueling conditions in the camp, Korbel was still thankful for God’s blessings. The little he did have, he offered back to Him. Each morning, the prisoners would receive a tiny piece of bread—their only food for the day. Most would devour it immediately, but Korbel saved half in his pocket. He remembered Christ feeding the crowds with only some bread and a few fish, and he prayed God would let this morsel keep him strong.
The second piece he shared with his fellow prisoners. Korbel prayed, “Lord, I have nothing from which to pay my tithe for Thy goodness and love. Lord, take this little piece of bread as my tithe. You said that ‘Whatsoever you give to the littlest of mine in My name, it is given as unto Me.’ So dear Lord Jesus, accept this little piece of bread I gave to my fellow prisoner as a sign of my gratitude.”
Korbel lost everything while in prison—his home, his family, his freedom. But his response to adversity saved those around him. Instead of complaining, He trusted God and chose to be thankful.
The next time you’re going through a rough spot, turn to God with your worries. As seen in Korbel’s story, God can transform any situation, any person, any time. What might seem hopeless can indeed have a purpose far greater than we know. Christ overcomes adversity and there is no place so dark, or cruel, or cold where His loving power can’t reach. Even if you don’t understand why hard things are happening, pray and trust God. Ask Him for guidance and strength, and never lose hope.
Be thankful for the struggles in life. When you’re being challenged, you have the opportunity to train your spiritual muscles. You have the chance to choose right over wrong; hope over despair; God over the Enemy. God is preparing you to be perfect (Matthew 5:48) each time something difficult pops up. See the struggles as opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work through you, and you’ll find they may be blessings in disguise.
Mariam Aburdeineh, Editorial Assistant