When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi war machine began to roll across the European continent in WW II, their confidence was high and one country they believed they could count on was the Netherlands. The Dutch of this country were considered by the Nazis to be Aryan brothers and they expected they would fold into the Third Reich easily. But there was one thing they had not considered or counted on – Dutch Christians across the nation considered a higher power than they and refused to yield to the evil schemes and demands of the Nazi war machine. The Dutch Christians stood on the biblical principles they held dear and many of them lost their lives in doing so. They not only sought to fight back with military weapons, but also fought back by developing a network of people who risked all to hide the Jewish people among them and later the Resistance fighters that needed a safe place to hide.
Lynn Austin’s newest novel, Chasing Shadows, gives us a glimpse into some of those people and that time period. The title refers to those people who were hidden for protection and could only risk slipping from barns, haystacks, and all manner of hiding places at night for a bit of fresh air or food. They are referred to as the “shadow people” in Austin’s novel.
This compelling story weaves together a series of characters in ways only God could arrange, or Lynn Austin could conceive. Their paths intersect in unexpected, often challenging and dangerous ways. The de Vries family is central in the story and their journey spans from June 1939 through the fall of 1945. Lena, wife, and mother, is a character any woman can identify with as she seeks to keep her family safe and provide for them amid danger and lack of provision for daily life increases each year. Other family members you will meet are Pieter, her husband, Ans, the oldest daughter, Wim, a son, and the youngest daughter, Maaike.
Lena and Ans are two of the three women who are focal points of the unfolding tale. Their lives change immediately when the Nazis invade their beloved Netherlands in ways neither of them expect. The third woman, Miriam, is a young Jewish woman, who has immigrated with her father from Cologne, Germany to the Netherlands to escape the rise of the Nazi hatred of all Jews. You sense the anguish and sorrow she and her father felt as they fled Germany and left the rest of their family behind who trusted the Nazis would never do what Miriam and her father believed.
One of the powerful themes of the story is how faith is challenged and evolves for each one of the characters in the story as it unfolds.
Lena and her family have been active in the church where her father serves as the pastor, but Ans has been eager to shun the simple farm life of her family and her uncertain views on their faith to move to a nearby town. Miriam has not been active in her Jewish faith traditions nor well versed in the Torah. But the challenges each of the characters face allows God to open their eyes in new ways to discover what they had not believed or taken for granted previously.
Tests come for each one that means they are left alone to wrestle with God and what they believe, and it makes it easy to pause and consider (as a reader) how any one of us would respond in the same kind of places.
When standing for your faith and godly principles mean risking your life, it puts faith to a test unlike others that life hands us. It makes how we love others (even our enemies) come front and center into focus and examines whether we are willing to lay down our lives for others we may not even know. Together these tests reveal how much scripture we have heard and hidden in our hearts and how the hymns we have sung have echoed in our spirits. In trying times these are the things the Holy Spirit can bring to mind to lead and strengthen any one of us.
This book will keep you turning every page as you deal with the uncertainty of what will happen next with each of these characters and others you will meet. The fate of each will not be clear until the book ends.
Let me leave you with a quote from near the end of the book that gives you a glimpse of how the faith of one character changes. The quote comes as she sits in church after the war has ended and begins to reflect on who she was and who she became on the journey you read in Chasing Shadows:
“As she listened, the past came rushing back to her – the discontent she’d once felt in church, her restlessness and longing for something different. And with those memories came a flood of guilt. How arrogant she’d been to say that the church didn’t make a difference in people’s lives. She’d had no idea how God was working in their minds and hearts. She’d chafed at sitting here week after week, but the words and songs had worked their way deep inside her just the same, and she’d found them rooted there when she’d needed them so desperately.”Lynn Austin in Chasing Shadows
Let us never underestimate the power of scripture and worship music that can seep into us even when we have discounted them, but also let us take every opportunity to soak more and more into these things – and never take them for granted.