Where did the people of Le Chambon find the strength to defy the Nazis? The same place the Derksens found the strength to forgive. They were armed with the weapons of the spirit. For over 100 years, in the 17th and 18th centuries, they had been ruthlessly persecuted by the state. Huguenot pastors had been hanged and tortured, their wives sent to prison and their children taken from them. They had learned how to hide in the forests and escape to Switzerland and conduct their services in secrecy. They had learned how to stick together.
They saw just about the worst kind of persecution that anyone can see. And what did they discover? That the strength granted to them by their faith in God gave them the power to stand up to the soldiers and guns and laws of the state. In one of the many books written about Le Chambon, there is an extraordinary line from André Trocmé’s wife, Magda. When the first refugee appeared at her door, in the bleakest part of the war during the long winter of 1941, Magda Trocmé said it never occurred to her to say no: “I did not know that it would be dangerous. Nobody thought of that.”
Nobody thought of that. It never occurred to her or anyone else in Le Chambon that they were at any disadvantage in a battle with the Nazi Army.
But here is the puzzle: The Huguenots of Le Chambon were not the only committed Christians in France in 1941. There were millions of committed believers in France in those years. They believed in God just as the people of Le Chambon did. So why did so few Christians follow the lead of the people in Le Chambon? The way that story is often told, the people of Le Chambon are made out to be heroic figures. But they were no more heroic than the Derksens. They were simply people whose experience had taught them where true power lies.