It was 1943, no particular month, just 1943. Time had lost its meaning. The days were dark. The burdens were becoming increasingly heavy. The morale of the prisoners was very low. Local conditions prompted this but, worst of all, the news from outside was all bad. It looked as if we might be slaves for the rest of our lives. I came to the conclusion that if one was to survive, it was essential to lose oneself in the needs of others and to draw strength and courage from my Heavenly Father.
The commandment to love your neighbor is difficult at any time, but infinitely more difficult in days of acute strain. “How can I love my neighbor?” I asked myself. Loving one’s neighbor was more complicated that I had ever recognized. After deep spiritual exercise I found that I could love my fellow prisoners in spite of having seen them in the raw. By stretching my love almost to the limit I could love the natives outside the wire, despite their betrayal of some of the fine lads who tried to escape. One last tremendous obstacle remained, the Japanese. Could I love them?
The issue could not be evaded; there was no way around it. God’s Word distinctly said, “Love your enemies, bless them that persecute you.” I spent sleepless nights wrestling with this question and with God -- surely there were exceptions to this commandment. The outcome of this deep spiritual exercise was that I accepted the great though painful truth that all men, no matter the color of their skin and the baseness of their nature, were my neighbors and I must love them for Christ’s sake. In those abortive conditions, the desire to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Japanese people was born. Having reached this decision a great burden was lifted and the peace of God flowed into my heart. My newfound conviction was to be tested sooner than I expected. The events of Chapter 1 chronologically fit in here.
In August of 1943, I faced a haggard and disheveled group of men. More forlorn creatures could not have been found anywhere. Of course the preacher was no different from his audience. I faced them with a powerful four-word text.
“My text tonight is very simple,” I began, “only four words: ‘Fear not, only believe.’ I want you to picture a scene of a heartbroken father making his way to a source from whence he would receive comfort, practical help, and sympathy. All his hopes and ambitions were shattered; his dreams had come to naught. The flower of his home had been plucked in its freshness and beauty. Death had left its inevitable scar on a home of tranquility. His daughter of twelve years was dead.
“His need was great, but he believed it could be met. So he came to Jesus. His servants sought to discourage him. ‘Trouble not the Master,” they said. He sank to the utmost depth of despondency. No one seemed to care; no one seemed able to help. Alone and unaided he stood, a picture of grief. Then the words of the Master came through the dull mists of uncertainty, ‘Fear not, only believe.’
“The look of sorrow left his face -- his burden also left. Confidently he followed the Master. Gladly he received his daughter back to life again. His faith was rewarded, his hopes restored. ‘Fear not, only believe,”
The haggard men about me brightened perceptibly. An occasional tear gave way to faint smiles of joy as the Spirit of God drove home the Word.
“How many of us,” I continued, “like this man, have lost courage? Our hopes have been undermined; ambitions have fallen shattered, at our feet. Our youth has been snatched from us. Many are withered. Our hopes are fading one by one. We find ourselves sinking. We are weary and downcast. Disease had gripped us. Malaria, dysentery, fevers, all have tended to draw us down and make us despondent. But through the dim mists of uncertainty, breaking as a ray of sunshine upon our darkened lives, come the cheering words of comfort, calculated to give us confidence and raise our hopes, ‘Fear not, and only believe.’
“Never were men subjected to such privations; never have humans been asked for so much and given so little. Our faith has failed and our spirits are running low. But do not be discouraged, be of good cheer. Listen! Listen! Words of comfort to the sick, words of cheer to the weary, can you hear them? ‘Fear not, only believe.’” It was times like these that kept many a man full of hope and courage in his darkest hour. The Word of God was precious in those days.