Deep in the heart of England, the most famous outlaw shoots his bow and arrow in the name of justice. In a medieval castle, a valiant legend saves his kingdom from brutal invasion through his bravery, might, and captaincy. And in a galaxy far, far away, rebel spaceships battle for peace and freedom against an oppressive empire.
Robin Hood. King Arthur. Star Wars. Story after story, we are drawn to heroes of resistance movements; we are inclined towards characters who not only fight for justice, but live for it. They passionately seek to do what many can only wish: to set a broken world straight again or—at the least—leave it better than before.
In The Salvation Army, the bravery and courage of Major Marie Ozanne fueled her calling to step up and act. Despite having her life on the line, she defiantly broke the rules to spread the Gospel.
THIS MEANS WAR
Ozanne was always active in her corps. When World War II started, she led the St. Sampson Corps on her hometown island in the British Channel, Guernsey. The next year, in 1940, German troops invaded. As a result, physical repressions, arrests, imprisonments, executions, and degrading slave labor (to build Hitler’s Atlantic wall defense system) became a daily reality.
Guernsey was the only part of the English Channel to be occupied, and Hitler intended to make it a sort of battleship in his plan of conquest. This meant the island was heavily fortified, and resistance was virtually impossible.
This didn’t stop resistance fighters, though. Small sabotages to German equipment, underground distribution of newspapers, and the smuggling of Jews to safety to the UK mainland all took place. Ozanne, however, took her resistance efforts above ground.
Ministry in Defiance
When the Germans overtook the island, they ordered The Salvation Army to be shut down—no worship services, no music, no uniforms, no preaching.
Ozanne deliberately disobeyed. She wrote the German commandant saying she absolutely wouldn’t close down the corps, and she followed through with that promise. Not only did she continue to wear her uniform and preach the Gospel in the St. Peter Port marketplace, but she also publically protested the shutting down of The Salvation Army by the Germans.
Amidst all this, Ozanne followed through with her regular duties as well. She was heavily involved in women’s ministry, leading a weekly prayer meeting that sustained spirituality and morale during such dark times of Christian suffering.
Eventually Ozanne’s defiance became too much for the Germans. When personally directed by the German commandment to give up her uniform, her continued resistance caused the military police to confiscate it from her.
This still didn’t stop her. In civilian clothes Ozanne preached the Gospel on the streets. To minister to German soldiers who might have had the opportunity to overhear her preaching, she took up the German language.
SHRIEKS OF INJUSTICE
To satisfy Hitler’s cruel demands, 6,000 slave laborers—who were brought over from Spain, France, Russia, and Poland—built bunkers, defense walls, and weapon emplacements in anticipation of a British attack.
Hitler’s troops treated these laborers like scum—they were flogged, beaten, given little to eat, and many were worked to death. Ozanne heard one of the slaves’ shrieks as they were tortured from an internment camp near her home. She couldn’t bare their inhuman treatment. Illegally, she would bring them food and preach the Word of God and His hope. To others she publically spoke out against how the occupying forces were abusing them.
READY FOR ANYTHING
Ozanne’s love for others continued to show through in her willingness to suffer for them on multiple occasions.
After an anonymous person vandalized a German building, she wrote the German commandant that she was ready to suffer punishment on their behalf, if it would prevent the whole island from being punished. “This would be a way for me to serve my fellowmen,” she wrote.
When some innocent Frenchmen were to be put to death because two German officers had been murdered, she wrote again, ‘Could it prevent others being put to death, I am ready to be shot in their place’” (Campaigning in Captivity, 1947).
THE PRISON SENTENCE
“After two years of her interference, in August 1942, the [German] commandant realized that Major Marie was more than a lunatic or religious fanatic. He ordered her arrested and imprisoned. From prison, she wrote to him that she would ‘not take back a single word,’ that she would not stand by to watch her fellow men treated so savagely. She told the commandant she was revolted by the oppression and hatred with which the slave laborers were treated. He released Major Marie after only two months, in October of 1942, but she died shortly afterward as a result of the horrible mistreatment received while imprisoned” (Courage Under Fire: A Profile of Major Marie Ozanne, Valerie Murray).
HERO OR FOOL?
Ozanne was branded as a fool by many people—including several Salvationists who wished she would stay quiet for safety’s sake. Trying to silence her or change her ways was never an effective option though. Her faith mattered so much to her, that she was willing to sacrifice it all to do what was right and spread God’s love. In November 1947, she was posthumously awarded the Army’s highest honor at St. Sampson Corps: the Order of the Founder.
Deep down, we are drawn to resistance heroes because their characters ignite a wish that we would do the same—that we would boldly step up and be the heroes this world needs.
As Christians, we all have a common calling: to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). How each person lives out this calling will be unique, but we are all working toward the same mission of the Kingdom.
BRANDED A FOOL
When surrounded by people of similar upbringing, faith, or ideals, it’s usually easy to get along. We’re not embarrassed to be ourselves or say what we believe because we’re around safe company—we share the same things to be true.
Ozanne didn’t always have the luxury of being around this kind of support system. The Germans—and even fellow Christians—tried to silence her preaching. But her love for God was greater than any embarrassment or punishment that could be inflicted upon her.
Christ said, “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Now that you’ve read Ozanne’s story, pray that Christ would ignite a love of God in you that is so great and so strong that nothing can break it. Pray that in times of struggle, embarrassment, or temptation that you will be able to proclaim your faith in Christ with boldness, and without shame.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of YS. Photo Credit: The Salvation Army Archives and International Heritage Centre.