Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I was amazed to read the true and inspiring story of Jacob DeShazer, an American war veteran who died aged 95 back in 2008. It’s almost unbelievable that one man could endure such suffering and yet love those who hated him so much. Let me tell you a bit about him.
It’s part of history that America didn’t enter the Second World War until December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour with 360 planes. It was a turning point, and the next day the US entered the war. At that time DeShazer was a young serviceman who enlisted in 1940, but hated the Japanese so much he volunteered for a bombing mission on the Japanese. He wanted to wipe them out for what they had done—but on the return home, his plane ran out of fuel and they ditched in China and all survived. But the next day they were captured by the Japanese and placed in a terrible prisoners of war camp.
Life as a Japanese POW
He was imprisoned for 40 months—34 of those months in solitary confinement. Three of his mates were executed and one was starved to death. He was in hell—starved, beaten and tortured. He was labelled a ‘war criminal’ and sentenced to life imprisonment. For almost two years, DeShazer and the others struggled, fought dysentery and other illnesses, froze in winter without blankets, and baked in summer with no ventilation. At times the airman grew so angry at the brutal guards that he worried about his sanity. In quieter moments he wondered how they could be so inhumane.
What he didn’t know was that every day his mother back home was praying for him. He grew up in a Christian home—his father was a minister. He asked a Japanese guard for a Bible, which was reluctantly given to him to have for three weeks. Years later he wrote this:
I eagerly began to read its pages. I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. I realized that these people did not know anything about my Saviour and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel.
This remarkable man read Romans 10:9: “You will be saved if you honestly say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and if you believe with all your heart that God raised Him from death”. He gave his life to Jesus Christ, after reading what Jesus said as he hung on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing”. He made a promise to God: if he survived the camp, he would return to Japan as a missionary. And that’s exactly what happened. Jacob DeShazer felt God said to him, Go and teach the Japanese people the way of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Life as a Missionary in Japan
When the war ended in August 1945, he was released, a broken and ill young man, and returned to the US. But as a committed Christian, he knew what God wanted. He went to Bible seminary, studied and returned to Japan in 1948 with his wife where they ministered for 30 years, and actually established a church in the very city he had bombed. Isn’t that remarkable! This man’s hatred for the Japanese turned to love and concern, and he spent his life spreading the message of Christian love and forgiveness.
This true story reminds me of another wonderful verse from the Bible. It’s 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new”. And verse 18 says, “God has done it all. He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others”.
Without Jesus Christ, Jacob could never have accomplished what was thought impossible. How can anyone forgive like that? Without Jesus, it is impossible. It is his power working within us that makes this step possible. He was truly a peacemaker because Jesus has said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).