It’s a timely question, in view of the trial we’re experiencing!
Today marks the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, a crucial early victory in World War Two—and the story that inspired my debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter. You may have seen the raid briefly but movingly depicted in last year’s movie, Midway. And for our encouragement today, I have four Doolittle Raid veterans’ reflections on the meaning of trials.
I put my “Rosie” 💪🏼 on to go see the Midway Movie
The movie left the Raiders downed and on the run in provincial China. My novel follows the gripping true story of eight of those airmen. They were captured, and endured the rest of the war—forty long months—as P.O.W.s, facing the worst the Japanese army could bring.
Doolittle Raider Robert Hite, captive in Tokyo, April 1942.
Detail from a WW2 publicity poster.
Brutal torture. Starvation. Thirty-six months “locked down” in solitary confinement. Tragically, the trial they suffered was so severe that only four of the eight men survived it. But their prison experience had a clear turning point. I’m deeply moved by this joint statement these four real-world heroes made as they looked back on it.
We were not what you would call religious men before we were captured. We went to Sunday school and church when we were kids… But we never really understood the meaning behind those words and the source of strength they represented in our lives….
We were given the Bible to read. We found in its ripped and faded pages a source of courage and faith we never realized existed. The verses we memorized as children suddenly came alive and became as vital to us as food. We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.
— George Barr, Jacob DeShazer, Robert Hite and Chase Nielsen, World War Two veterans reflecting on their experience as downed airmen imprisoned by the Japanese.
Four Came Home (Carroll V. Glines, 1995)
These men endured years in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, yet they had no regrets regarding the outcome for themselves. They came to know their God.
'We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.'–Doolittle Raiders held as P.O.W.s, 4/42-8/45 – @lthompsonbooks Click To Tweet
One of the four, Jacob DeShazer, was so transformed by what he read in the Bible during those miserable hours in his cell that he rushed home to get a Bible-college degree on his release. In 1948 he went back to Japan with his new bride, Florence, as Christian missionaries. The Lord had revealed to him in prison that He wanted to give the Japanese people an object lesson on the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was that walking object lesson.
This time I was not going as a bombardier, but I was going as a missionary. How much better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace! The strength and power must come from God, but God’s promise is, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” (Revelation 3:8)
– Jacob DeShazer on his return to Japan
Japanese people flocked to hear him. They peppered him with questions. At that time, the idea that one could hold anything other than implacable hatred for one’s enemies was completely alien to their culture.
There are a number of remarkable stories from Jake and Florence’s sojourn in Japan. The most famous is that of Fuchida Mitsuo, commander over the air attack on Pearl Harbor.
Do you get discouraged at the idea that things may never return to what we once called “normal”? I do, sometimes. Consider Fuchida’s situation. Celebrated as a hero in Japan during the war, its loss changed everything. He returned from the war to a bombed-out land, where he was fortunate to be able to eke out a living as a subsistence-level farmer.
But the loss of everything he’d once expected from life left him with time to focus on the existential questions.
As I labored on the farm I thought of God, creation, the miracles of the seasons, the growing plants. These things never failed to awe me.
Impressed by DeShazer’s participation in the Doolittle Raid, he picked up a tract Jake had authored. It made him curious about the Bible. When he read one, he found the answers he’d been seeking in Jesus’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Fuchida recognized he’d reached the end of
…a “long, long wandering…. This new element enriched my life—the knowledge of Christ.” (God’s Samurai, Prange, Goldstein and Dillon, 1990)
A few months later, the survivor of the first raid over Tokyo and the man who gave the infamous “Tora-tora-tora” signal that launched the attack on Pearl Harbor were speaking to crowds together, bringing to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people, and the power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Jake and Flo ultimately settled in the very city Jake had bombed during the raid. Their thirty-year ministry in Japan bore fruit in twenty-three church plants and in many changed hearts. Jake’s stunning journey from wretched and bitter captive to physical and spiritual freedom was the inspiration for my novel.
In a fascinating parallel, Fuchida revisited Honolulu and handed out Bibles. He told one recipient, “I came with bombs once, but now I come with the Bible. Jesus Christ is the answer.”
While we’re on the timely subject of finding God in the midst of our trials, and since we’ve just passed the Passover, we might ask what we can learn from the Exodus story and the plagues ordained for Egypt.
God did not leave His objective in piling those plagues on Egypt a mystery. It is clear, compelling, and still relevant.
Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:7)
“You shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Variations on that phrase are repeated nine times during the Exodus plague chapters, 7-19, while God extracts His children from Pharaoh’s brickyards. His goal? To make slaves over into “a people for His own possession” (Ex 19:5). (The Complete Word Study Bible renders this “a peculiar treasure unto Me”—how lovely is that?) Here are a few examples.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord (Ex 7:5)… That you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God (Ex 8:10)… That you may know that the earth is the Lord’s (Ex 9:29)… That you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Ex 10:2)
Most of these “you shall know” statements are directed at the Egyptians. The Lord instituted the plagues so that the world would confront the truth about Him. And so His children could demonstrate they are His own through loving obedience.
Here is a thought that haunts me. The ten plagues the Lord inflicted on Egypt were a direct smack-down on their pantheon of idols.
What about this culture’s idols?
Do we idolize athletes? Entertainers? Financial “security”? Material “success”? Comfort and convenience?
In three short months, the Lord has shut down stadiums so we can’t worship athletes. Concert venues and theaters, so we can’t worship entertainers. The economy and the supply chain, so we can’t worship wealth.
Consider this for a moment. Movie idol Chris Hemsworth has amassed a $130M fortune portraying pagan idol Thor, the storm god who heads the ancient Nordic pantheon. Those movies—some of which I confess I have enjoyed—have grossed over $9.7B. No, that’s not a typo.
That should give us pause. But does it?
Here’s a nineteenth-century depiction of the Norse storm god Thor:
The infamous swastika, representing lightning, was one of Thor’s symbols. Here it is in a detail from a ninth-century Danish runestone.
Orr…. perhaps you’d be interested to see an even more ancient representation of the storm god? Does the name Ba’al ring any bells?
It should. The Bible names Ba’al as God’s ancient enemy almost ten times more often than it mentions Satan or Lucifer.
This stele depicting Ba’al is dated to 1300-1500 B.C., from the Amorite capital of Ugarit. Here he wields his sacred club forged by the craftsman god, which he used to defeat the chaos monster—in Norse lore, personified by Loki. If you’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe depiction, some of that might indeed sound familiar.
Ba’al has repackaged himself many times through history. He’s probably best known to us in his guise as Jupiter or Zeus.
Would you see a movie that glorifies the exploits of Lucifer? Yet more than half the adults in the U.S. have seen at least one of the Marvel movies featuring Chris Hemsworth as a repackaged Ba’al.
It may all seem like harmless fun, but we mock God at our peril!
Our idols aren’t always so blatant. When we ascribe god-like qualities to anything other than God, when we place our trust in anything other than God to provide us with well-being and security, that thing is an idol. I’m afraid we all have them—myself included. <<Cough—comfort and convenience?>>
In their long hours of confinement, the Raiders also drew comfort from the importance of the ideals they had fought for.
In the hundreds of lonely hours we spent trying to retain our sanity… one of the documents we remembered and recited to ourselves was the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….”
The meaning of those words really comes home to you when you are confined by a brutal enemy who totally reject the concept of individual liberty….
Our United States, when still a young nation, proudly proclaimed its position to the world in its slogan “In God We Trust.”… Our buddies… died to perpetuate those ideals. We do not think they died in vain.
How things have changed in the seventy-five years since V-J Day!
Last Monday, New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations in his state had started to plateau. He had the gall to explain, “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that….”
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to cling to our Lord for our lives, rather than to things which are quaking under our feet!
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), if you’ve never invited Him to save you from sin and death, please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.
Linda Thompson stepped back from a corporate career that spanned continents to write what she loves—stories of unstoppable faith. Her debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, is an O.C.W. Cascade Award winner and a finalist for several 2019 awards: Christy and Carol Awards, plus the International Book Award in two categories. Linda writes from the sun-drenched Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as her Chief Military Research Officer, one mostly-grown-up kid, and a small platoon of housecats. When Linda isn’t writing, you’ll find her rollerblading—yes, that does make her a throwback!—enjoying their first grandchild, or taking in a majestic desert moonrise.
He made aviation history in WWII’s daring Doolittle Raid. Now he’s downed and on the run.
She wants to bury a knife in him. Can her victim offer redemption instead?
“A taut, crisp debut achievement that colorfully evokes the Pacific theater of WWII. Start this one forewarned: it’s a stay-up-all-night read.” –Jerry B. Jenkins, 21-time New York Times bestselling author
Winner, 2019 Cascade Award |
Finalist, 2019 Christy and Carol Awards |
Inspired by Actual Events
1942. Pilot Dave Delham revels at the success of his historic Japanese bombing mission. Until he’s caught and endures years of torture at the hands of cruel captors. Despairing that he’ll survive, Dave vows if he escapes, he’ll answer God’s call on his life.
Osaka, Japan, 1948. Miyako Matsuura longs to restore her family’s shattered honor. After watching her little brother die in a horrific American air raid, she was reduced to selling her body to survive. When the pilot whose bomb stole her brother’s life returns as a missionary, her thirst for revenge consumes her.
Two damaged people race along a collision course that could bring eternal change. Can Dave and Miyako transform their tragic histories and surrender to forgiveness and faith?