Grace Triumphant - Chapter 17 - Homeward Bound!


Homeward Bound!

“Let the sighing of the prisoner come
before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou
those that are appointed to die.” (Psa. 79:11)

The Lord indeed had heard our groans and had preserved us.  Now we
were to spend six weeks in Bilibid waiting for repatriation.  The
military authorities hadn’t been able to prepare adequately for
us.  Anna and Rose slept on a hard cement floor for several nights
before blankets were provided.  The boys and I were on those hard
metal bunks.  Food was supplied, but it seemed to us somewhat
limited.  Then we learned that in Santo Tomas Camp food had been
abundant. The Red Cross even brought in coffee and donuts.  The
hungry internees there gorged themselves and suffered for it. 
Many were quite sick.  So at Bilibid they limited us at first for
our own good.  But the interns found the garbage dump—bright shiny
cans were still considered treasures.  Also in many of those cans
some food remained!  The G.I.’s couldn’t understand their fellow
Americans.  To us we couldn’t understand why they would complain
about the food.  They turned up their noses at scrambled eggs made
from canned powdered eggs—we thought it was gourmet.  After all we
hadn’t tasted eggs for months.  One day the fragrant aroma of
newly-baked bread assailed our nostrils—we hadn’t smelt anything like
that in years!  To our dismay they wouldn’t let us have any until
the next day.  At the first they needed to fly in food by
parachute drops as the trucks couldn’t get through fast enough.

The second day an MK (missionary kid) told me some fellow was asking
about “Plymouth Brethren” missionaries.  I soon located Homer Grob
working with the hospital unit set up there.  Homer was from
Cleveland and in later years came back to the Philippines as a
missionary for a while.  Through him we met some other Christians
and had some good fellowship together.  In the evenings we would
spread a blanket on the ground and have a time sharing the Word
together.  Sometimes we also shared some of the goodies they could
obtain.  Those were refreshing times of spiritual uplift for all
of us.

A number of wounded Filipino civilians were being cared for in the
hospital, and we learned that our good friend Maria Calica was a
patient there.  Mr. and Mrs. Calica and their family lived on the
Canlubang Sugar Estate in Laguna.  We had come to know them
through Mrs. Dayton and her family who also came from there.  In
May 1941, the boys and I with a Filipino evangelist had made an
evangelistic trip to a number of towns.  We spent a night in
Canlubang then, had a gospel meeting, and stayed in the Calica home.

In the hospital in Bilibid she told me her story.  In the fighting
around Canlubang, a shell had demolished their house and her son had
been killed.  She and other members of the family had been
injured, and they had lost all their earthly possessions.  She had
saved her Tagalog Bible and showed me how many pages were stained with
her blood.  What could I say to comfort this dear sister?  It
was she who comforted me!  Through her tears she said, “But we
know that all things work together for good to them that love
God.”  She was a woman of much prayer and triumphant faith. 
Up until the time she passed away some 35 years later she remained a
faithful prayer partner.  There in the hospital she asked me to
get her some Testaments or gospel portions from the chaplain if
possible.  She was having a Bible class and witnessing to other
patients as they gathered around her bed.  In the 1950’s it was in
her home in Canlubang that we had a part in helping in the formation of
a local church.

Naturally we were concerned about the believers in San Juan, the
chapel, and our home.  Some news came to us through meeting Ismael
Alfonso, one of the young fellows from San Juan.  He was driving a
truck for the Americans.  Manila was still not safe as many
Japanese snipers were holding out in big buildings and the Walled
City.  With the help of the chaplain we got passes for the boys
and me to ride into Manila with the chaplain in his jeep.  What a
scene of ruin and destruction as we drove through the south side of the
city!  For blocks and blocks there was nothing but ruins. 
The retreating Japanese had gone on a rampage as they realized that
only a small minority of Filipinos had been won over by their
propaganda.  We heard many stories of the atrocities.  Some
Spanish and better-class Filipinos took refuge in the chapel of the La
Salle College; it was no safe sanctuary for most of them were brutally
murdered there.

Most of the bridges across the Pasig had been blown up and replaced
with temporary “Bailey” bridges.  The chaplain took us to Santo
Tomas and warned us to be back there by five o’clock as there was a
curfew from dusk to dawn.  Anyone on the street would be shot,
either by Japanese snipers or by patrolling troops.  There were no
kinds of transportation so we walked out to San Juan and called on some
of the Christians.  Some were still in their homes for there had
been little destruction in that area.  Others had fled to the
provinces and generally had suffered loss.  One sister and her
child had died from sickness while they were fleeing.  An American
Bazooka bomb had exploded in front of the chapel.  The building
was riddled with holes from the fragments, but we could not see any
structural damage.  Our home was intact and empty with some damage
to fixtures by previous occupants.

Returning to Santo Tomas, we spent the night there and met some of our
friends who related their stories of God’s preserving care for
them.  The next day we returned to Bilibid.  In our walking
through the city there had been times when we hardly recognized where
we were.  It was helpful to assess the situation there as we
prayed for guidance from the Lord about our future.  Should we
stay on and re-establish the work at San Juan?  Or should we go
home for a badly needed and much delayed furlough?

There was an obvious need to help the Filipino believers through the
time of re-gathering and rebuilding.  The chapel needed extensive
repairs and the work needed to be reorganized.  Also, it was
necessary to see about our home, involving legal matters and
repairs.  On the other hand, we hadn’t been home for over seven
years.  Our health had been seriously impaired by months of
starvation diet.  The children needed to resume their
education.  Our loved ones were anxious to see us.

The authorities gave us a choice.  They would take us home then by
troopship or we could stay on.  If we stayed, it would be months,
perhaps years, before other shipping would be available.  Also, it
was uncertain how soon normal mail service and banking facilities would
be available.  As we prayed about this matter with a sense of
urgency because we had to sign up for one or the other, we felt led to
decide that if our home could be disposed of that would be an
indication we should go home.

We were able to make another trip into Manila.  Len’s Spanish
friends had been living in the home of other American friends. 
The latter was an electrical contractor and on his release from Los
Banos foresaw big business opportunities in the rebuilding ahead. 
He wanted his house back, and the Spanish friends were therefore
looking for another place to live.  Naturally there was a housing
shortage, so they asked Len if I would sell to them.  The offer
they made was not excessive, and it would probably have been possible
to ask for more; but it was reasonable and later I calculated it
covered all I had ever put into that house.  Also the arrangements
were made for them to assume the remaining small mortgage, pay off
loans owed to Chinese who had befriended us in our need, and deposit
some in the bank for a future home.  All of this added up to a
clear indication that we should return home.

What about the work in San Juan?  God provided for that
also.  Homer Grob was transferred to a medical unit close to San
Juan.  With other fellows they helped repair the chapel and
encourage the believers.  Regular services were resumed and the
testimony continued.  Some of the older Christians still remember
with affection the friendship and loving service of these
servicemen.  This happened in a number of places.  Christian
G.I.’s fellowshipped with the small groups of Filipino believers and
helped rebuild their chapels and homes.  This was much more
obvious with Protestants than with Roman Catholics.  It was one
factor that paved the way for times of blessing and outreach with the
gospel in the post-war years, but it did not benefit the Filipinos
alone.  Many of those servicemen saw the spiritual need and the
opportunity for missionary work.  Some years later I estimated
that more than half of the new missionaries were ex-chaplains and

On April 9 it was our turn to leave Bilibid by truck.  We had been
given some Red Cross kits with toothbrushes and toothpaste, safety
razors for men, and toiletries for women.  Also, we had been
issued some army fatigues and boots.  Prior to that, we had one
pair of shoes left.  It wasn’t a case of “Can I have the car this

On the way, we marveled at the huge stocks of supplies piled high on
vacant lots.  There were no warehouses to hold them.  To
Filipinos who had been deprived of so much for years, these supplies
presented a big temptation.  Many of those items were being sold
in the black market.  Hundreds of jeeps were stolen and converted
into the famous Manila jeepney.  The U.S. Navy traced one jeep to
a body shop where it was being converted.  As soon as the work was
completed they confiscated it.  Shortly after they were presented
with a bill for the work done!  Whether it was ever paid, I don’t

In the Manila North harbor we boarded a large troopship, S.S. Admiral
Eberle.  The women were segregated in the forepart and men towards
the stern.  We were in canvas bunks four deep, so if we drew up
our knees we bumped the fellow above.  The air conditioners didn’t
cool it but did keep the air fresh.  The ship was clean but
hot.  No one was allowed on deck after dark, so we lay on our
bunks with the perspiration running off us.

After a couple of days we pulled into anchorage in Leyte Gulf. 
Flags were half-mast and we learned President Roosevelt was dead. 
Then who succeeded him?  Some of the crew said, “Harry
Truman.”  “Who’s he, never heard of him.”  We had been
completely out of touch with what had been going one.  We left
Leyte in convoy with destroyer escorts.  Each morning one member
of the family stood ready with a blanket when the hatches opened, then
dashed to claim a spot on the deck for that day.  With 3000
internees, rotating troops and crew, there were over 5000 on that
ship.  Deck space was not for promenading but for sitting, as
there was no room for anything else.  Woe betide the hapless
individual caught by the Marine guards without a life belt around his
or her waist.  Those belts would have been good for reducing
except we didn’t have anything to reduce.

We ran through a storm and felt sorry for the crews of the destroyer
escorts as they wallowed through the waves.  That night the ship
rolled and pitched and we had to hold on to stay in our bunks.  A
fellow across from me had put his dentures in a tin plate under his
bunk and with fascination we watched his dentures sliding back and
forth across the deck.

One evening we pulled into the reef-bound island of Ulithi in the
Caroline Islands.  We looked with amazement at the fleet of ships
being assembled there for an assault on the mainland of Japan. 
After replenishing supplies, we pushed on across the Pacific in
beautiful weather.  Usually two meals a day were served on those
ships, but because of the needs of the internees they served us three
meals.  That meant the chow lines were almost continuous. 
After our years of deprivation it hurt us to see so much food wasted
and left on the trays.  To this day the customary waster of food
in the average American home or restaurant is still most
deplorable.  In boyhood days we couldn’t leave the table until our
plates were clean.  With millions around the world starving to
death it is high time Americans awoke to the sin of waste.

A Coast Guard combo played what is called “music” on deck each day to
the delight of some and boredom of others.  Some years later in
Manila, we met Redd Harper or “Mr. Texas” of one of the early Billy
Graham films.  We learned then that he was in that combo but not
yet saved.  After he was saved he would not play any of the
worldly music.  His talents were devoted to the Lord to sing his

One Sunday evening a chaplain held a service in one of the dining
halls.  He announced his text was Acts 16:31 so we really expected
a good gospel message.  After all, how can one preach on that
verse and not proclaim the way of salvation?  That chaplain
managed to do just that.  Never once did he tell his audience what
it meant to believe in Christ.  I was just wishing he would give
me five minutes!

One day the ship pulled into the bay off Honolulu, just long enough to
pick up a number of customs, immigration, and FBI officials.  They
were to process the civilians for landing in Los Angeles.  The
original destination was San Francisco but was changed because of the
conference for the formation of the United Nations organization then
being held in San Francisco.  Ken saw the officials in suits,
white shirts, and ties and came to us, “Did you see those
fellows?  They sure look spiffy!”  Quite a contrast to our
shabby apparel.  We realized we were facing a cultural gap even
though we were coming home.

Between Honolulu and Los Angeles we were screened by those
officials.  We still had our British passport.  Our original
Canadian passport had been cancelled because we had lost our Canadian
status by being out of that country for more than five years on our
first term.  Holding a British passport, it was presumed that we
would be proceeding to Britain.  Although I had my brother George
in England, I had no intention of going there under war
conditions.  The FBI men showed considerable interest about the
U.S. dollars in my possession and that was quite natural.  They
seemed satisfied with my explanation.  Some dollars were given to
us by the British authorities in Manila for travel expenses to be
repaid on demand.  There had never been any such demand. 
Then the rest were U.S. dollars given as a down payment on our
house.  I had no idea where the Spanish buyers obtained
dollars.  We were questioned again about this on our arrival in
Los Angeles where again they accepted my explanation.

Because of the crowded conditions and strict discipline on the ship
there were no opportunities to gather together for services or Bible
study.  There was no privacy even for family devotions.  So
our spiritual exercises were mostly limited to our own private
devotions and Bible reading.  But it was also a restful time to
review all the way in which the Lord had led us.  Not only to
review the past but also consider what the future would hold for
us.  Of one thing we were very sure: the Lord would not fail
us.  For three years we had been cut off entirely from contacts
with the homelands.  There had been many trials, many dangers seen
and unseen, many testings of faith.  The Lord was faithful through
it all.  So we could face the future with confidence in Him.

When we got home, that absence of news about folks at home proved very
embarrassing at times.  With older friends we were embarrassed to
ask about their partners for fear they might have gone home to be with
the Lord.  On one occasion I was greeting a lady who had
graciously entertained us in her home some years before.  Then she
and her husband had a delightful little boy.  Innocently, I
inquired about her son and the dear sister burst into tears.  Then
I learned that this only son had passed away some time
previously.  It was most embarrassing for her and for me, but I
thought I could safely inquire about a young boy.

It was on May 2, Anna’s birthday, that our ship docked at Long
Beach.  What a birthday present—also for Ken whose birthday was
the previous day.  Excited troops and internees lined the
rails.  Not many relatives would be there because our arrival was
not announced until we had safely arrived.  As soon as the
gangplank was in place, one G.I. rushed down to kiss the soil of the
good U.S.A.  No doubt many times he had wondered if he would ever
see it again.

It didn’t take long to clear customs, for none of us were weighed down
with baggage.  That morning Anna had turned her ankle so was
somewhat crippled.  When the Red Cross ladies noticed this they
took special care of us.  We should not go on the buses to Los
Angeles; they would provide a car and driver for us.  This took a
bit of time and then on the way we had a flat tire.  We helped fix
this and finally arrived at the Elks Club, where we were to be
processed, in the early evening.

Perhaps the most impressive sight as we drove along were the stalls of
fruit in apparent abundance—how different from what we had left
behind.  Yet people grumbled about shortages and rationing of some
items.  Many evidently hadn’t faced up yet to the realities of
war.  The Red Cross had taken over the Elks Club facilities to
care for the needs of internees.  They were ready to provide hotel
accommodations, travel arrangements, communications with loved ones,
and even ration books were on hand.  While I took care of such
business, Anna was taken upstairs to a lounge where she could
rest.  Rose came along with a big orange which someone had given
her.  I asked her why she hadn’t eaten it.  She was waiting
until we could all get together so she could divide it equally. 
For months everything we had had been divided that way, but those days
were over!  She could go ahead and eat it all herself.  We
would get ours in due time.  We were home at last!

“And though by storms assailed, And though by trials pressed,

Himself our Life, He bears us up, Right onward to the rest.”