In these days one walked hand in hand with danger. I learned in these circumstances to live, “moment by moment.” Life was uncertain, everything was uncertain. We knew not what a day would bring forth. When cholera was raging, I did some quick mental arithmetic. Assuming the number of men that were in the main camp and knowing the number of men who were dying daily, I calculated that not one of us could live more than six weeks. This was a sobering thought and prompted much heart searching. About this time a fellow was brought into the compound, and with him came his reputation for dishonesty and deceit. He evidently had been the cause of a sick young soldier’s death, by stealing his blanket. His companions never forgot this action and waited for the day of revenge. He was stricken with cholera. I had witnessed many agonizing deaths during my incarceration, but I never saw a death like this man’s. He seemed to be tortured mentally as well as physically, and cried out time and time again, “Don’t let me die, don’t let me die.” We did everything in our power to save him, but he grew worse. We spoke to him of the Lord but he was too busy hanging on to life to listen. My heart bled for this man who, humanly speaking, was being punished for his past deeds.
One day I heard his agonizing call for help and rushed into the tent. In my hurry I forgot to adjust my facial mask. While I was bending low over him on my knees he vomited right into my face Apart from the loathsomeness of the situation, this was serious. It probably meant death. I rushed outside and washed my face with scalding hot water, scarcely daring to breathe. Then in the shelter of the jungle I committed myself to my Heavenly Father. The next few days were anxious ones, and as I waited God worked a miracle; there were no after effects. That same day this unfortunate man crawled out of his tent into the jungle and spent his last minutes alone within its inhospitable confines.
I had often heard preachers talk of the “school of experience” without knowing the full implication of the term. At this period I was being taught some hard lessons, which gave me a different outlook on my circumstances. I approached this particular phase of my work with fear and trembling. The brevity of life, the shortness of time, troubled me. Some of these men were hearing the Gospel for the first time and probably the last time. “Oh God, how can I reach them,” I prayed. I decided to bring the message in a collective way. We held meetings on Sunday, at least when we thought it was Sunday, for a short period.
Come with me now in spirit to a clearing in the dense bamboo jungles of Thailand. Picture in your mind, a group of unwashed, unshaven, and unkempt men sitting in the brilliant sunshine. These men were once the flower of British youth and they made good soldiers. Now, more dead than alive, with staring non-seeing eyes, sunken cheeks, and bent frames, they sat in numbed silence. Their hair hung down their necks, their beards were full of lice and other tormenting bugs. Some of their bodies were disfigured for war wounds and accidents. Most of these skeletons plucked recently and miraculously from the gaping jaws of death, contained embittered hearts.
As I stood before them on this particular day, (we found out later that it wasn’t Sunday), I read to them the words of the Lord Jesus, as recorded in John 11:28, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” I reminded these men of the fact that our enemies had successfully cut us off from our homeland, our friends, and our loved ones. So far as the outside world was concerned we were lost or dead. But there was one door, which they could not close: the door to the Throne of God. Though surrounded by enemies on every hand, with no possible way of escape, there was always access into God’s presence. If at times He seemed to be so far away, He was not really far way but was right in our midst. I paraphrased the text a little, quoting, “The Master is here, standing by your side, and calls for you.”
The men seemed perceptibly moved as this tremendous truth broke into their bewildered and darkened souls. Beaten, bruised, lonely, and unwanted, they now rejoiced in the glorious fact that God was near, very near. The Lord seemed to be speaking, and men were making great decisions, some passing from death into eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God’s dear son.
“The Lord Jesus is close by your side,” I reminded them, “He is ready to take you with all your sin, He can save you, He can cleanse you, change your life and eternal destiny, but you must respond to His invitation.”
Near the end of the message I was constrained to repeat the text, “The Master is here, and calls for you.” Over on my left, a young golden-haired boy who must have been the idol of his mother’s heart listened intently. He had been a sailor on board the great battleship, “Prince of Wales,” which along with other ships had been sunk by some ghastly mistake. He had been delivered from a water grave, taken to Singapore, given an old rifle and sent into battle. He had escaped death a dozen times, but now the grim reaper drew near as he lay in the final throes of the dread cholera.
As the text was repeated, the lad struggled to a sitting position. His face shone with a new light. “If He is calling for me,” he said distinctly, “I’m gong.” He rocked unsteadily, fell back and was gone. Gone, we believe, into the presence of the Master Who called him.
Winding up the message, I again recited the text. In an old tent nearby, a huge six-foot-six bronzed Australian, once a handsome specimen of a man but now only a shadow of his former self, lay in the last stages of the disease. Many times he had shown me the pictures of his lovely wife and children. There was nothing he wanted more than to return to them. His end was near and he listened in the afternoon quietness to the clear message of the text, “The Master is by your side, and is calling for you.” As the challenging words fell softly into his heart, he mustered all his remaining strength, sat up, and said, “I know the Master is here and is calling for me, I am going to Him, I am going now.”
That positive declaration was the last word he ever spoke, he passed away from the stress and strain of his burdened life into the presence and love of his Lord.
The death toll continued to multiply. With a hasty calculation on our part of the number of men who had died and the number still left in camp, we estimated that we had only another seventeen days left before the complete extermination of all personnel. Mercifully, God came in and stayed the plague. It had raged for over three months and it left just as quickly as it had come.