It was a dangerous time in the country of Germany. In the 1930s and 40s, the church, eager for greater popularity, was swayed by the new political regime. Marches merging church and state included people chanting: “The future belongs to us! We are the future!” Yet many young people wondered where they would find their future.
In the meantime, God called out a 16-year-old young man from a German aristocratic family. Although no one in his home espoused Christianity, Deitrich Bonhoeffer enrolled in a Berlin University as a teenager and by age 25, was ordained as a pastor. He was committed to the centrality of God in all things at a time when politics and culture edged the church toward violence and war. Those who knew Bonhoeffer’s dedication to spiritual disciplines and heard him preach commented that he was a “man entirely in God’s grasp.”
Ruth von Kleist was one who took note and responded to God’s call. She met young Bonhoeffer and determined now was the time to grow and champion others by giving during this critical point in her country’s history. Widowed at 29, just after the birth of her fifth child, Ruth is described as a strong-willed and accomplished woman who had no patience for “wishy-washy” messengers.1
A woman of courage, she set out to cultivate courage in others. At great family risk, she offered her patronage to Bonhoeffer at the underground seminary at Finkenwalde (pictured above). Her wealth would be used for good as Finkenwalde began to equip a new generation of church leaders trained in orthodox doctrine and practices, ready to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ. These students would go back into churches as “illegal” pastors prepared to suffer for their belief.
In two short years, Ruth made a tremendous impact through her courageous giving.
- She became a patron to Bonhoeffer and the young seminary students.
- She advocated for the seminary among other families locally, generating the resources for training and placement.
- She offered her home where Bonhoeffer penned The Cost of Discipleship, one of the great books on Christian growth.
- At age 70, she decided to learn New Testament Greek and immersed herself more deeply into the spiritual disciplines modeled by Bonhoeffer.
Ruth’s influence continues to this day. Baylor University’s Finkenwalde Project records: “The Finkenwalde Seminary’s project to recover for congregations the deep and rich Christian tradition is not a remote historical event with little bearing on the life of faith today. Rather, it serves as a prominent model for an increasing number of young twenty-first-century Christians.”
Ruth had every reason to say, “not me, not now, it’s too risky.” Yet her life and actions resolutely declared, “I’ve been blessed with much for such a time as this.” Ruth von Kleist was a woman giving well and we are a benefactor of her bold, selfless generosity.