Holding Hands and Letting Go (Close to Home – Part II)

The taxi pulled up to Hampden Dubose Academy in Mount Dora, Florida. George was nervous as he jumped out and prepared to execute his surprise visit on Frances. He hoped to lie low and not create a big stir among the tight knit staff and students as he called on her.

It wasn’t that he needed to be nervous exactly…since their chance meeting during his first furlough back to the states, they had been writing.

Frances had been teaching at Hampden Dubose Academy for seven years; and while the ministry to Christian children of missionaries had its joys (including time teaching students such as Elizabeth Elliott); her family said (perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek) that the long hours and no pay had turned into borderline slave labor and nunnery. Her family encouraged George to “get her out of there;” and George’s sister (who had been roommates with Frances at Wheaton) offered helpful hints along the way. The families seemed to be all for the union.

In addition, not being big on suspense he had written her before leaving on this second furlough and asked her to marry him and she has said yes. So this surprise was just…well…the fact that he was there. And the ring, of course.

But it turned out to be George that got the surprise at Hampden Dubose. Or rather, he learned there is no such thing as surprises at Hampden Dubose. The first girl he saw offered to help George find Frances. But, unbeknownst to him, she was the headmasters’ daughter and tipped off both Frances and her parents that he was there before he even found her. And while his reception by Frances was warm, his overall reception at Hampden Dubose was quite cool.  They didn’t want him to take her away.

[I tell more of my grandma’s story including in this blog.]

Five months later, June 5, 1948, George and Francis were kneeling side by side in Canadensis Moravian Church. Her in her wedding dress, and him with a gaping hole in the bottom of his shoe. The depression years had been good preparation for mission life; he was (and still is) that tight.

[If you missed it, read more about their nearly 70-year marriage in this blog.]

George’s second tour in Japan had only served to convince him even more of the unique need and opportunity for the gospel. George had been assigned to a chapel in Hamadera (Osaka). Whole families from the US moved there as part of the occupation and the two groups were integrating as Japanese often worked for them as household help. His new chapel soon became a mix of American and Japanese. It was the first time in their lives that these Japanese had the freedom to read or even own a Bible.

And while most Allies were struggling with a hatred for the Japanese after the brutalities of the war, George had an unusual love for them. Perhaps his lack of racial prejudice traced back to the way he saw his mother eat with, pray with, and celebrate with Maddie, their black housekeeper in his early years.

During the war, he had not had much direct interaction with Japanese since he saw only one Japanese surrender…an old blind man who came out of the jungle with a rice sack tied to his sword.  Even then, George had done his best to protect him and even get treatment for his medical needs.  The old gentlemen was in such poor shape, he had maggots even in his eyes. The old man didn’t understand his kindness and neither did the other soldiers. It was all he could do to keep him alive long enough to reach the aide station.

And George had seen enough of the Japanese cruelty to understand the animosity. His responsibilities had included not only spending final moments with dying soldiers, but also writing to their families afterwards. Even worse, during his time in Manilla, he saw the aftermath of the atrocities committed to women and children.

Maybe that was why the Japanese were so surprised by the civility of the American occupation forces. Despite the bitter traces of the atomic bombs, the Japanese were anxious to learn English and learn from the tall, white Americans busy releasing the grip of the Emperor who, until now, had been not only their dictator, but their god.

Ministry in Japan took off immediately with receipt of a telegram. Another missionary named Esther Bower who worked near the Mikimoto Pearl farm (on the East Coast of Honshu) needed help restoring their bombed out mission. Together, they were able to start a church and a kindergarten.

So after kneeling at the altar holding hands with a man with holes in his shoes, Frances stood up to a new adventure as wife of a missionary headed to the war torn nation of Japan. There was no candidate school, language school, or transition time. She and George would visit churches, start a new “Mino” mission, share about the opportunity to minister in Japan, begin a family, take a long boat ride across the Pacific, and begin a new diet of fish and rice.

George’s brief time in reserves came to an end when he found out he had been given orders to Korea. The orders had been sent to Philadelphia by mail and then, slowly, by boat to eventually catch up with him in Japan. By the time he received them, he was already considered AWOL. There was nothing to do but write back and let them know that his service in the US Army was over.  He was fulfilling a different set of orders: that of “bringing the blessing of the gospel.”

(Stay tuned for Part III…because stories worth telling just can’t be rushed.)



Boring Old Easter

Let’s face it. For those of us who grew up in the church, Bible stories get boring. It’s hard to find a new insight from the Easter story. The sentimental feelings are gone. Sometimes trying to light the fire is like taking a match to a used firecracker. There are no sparks, no noise, no drama, just a tiny flame that burns briefly before going out again.

I have one thing to say to those who claim that they never get tired of hearing the same old Bible stories: Liar, Liar, pants on fire…

But…it is Easter.  You can’t ever stop telling the story.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

What those words must have meant 2000 years ago to a small handful of followers who saw the nail prints in His hands. His death had seemed so untimely. They expected their Messiah to throw off the cruel Roman dictatorship. For a few awful days, the only logical conclusion was that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. Just a good man; a powerful prophet; an eloquent preacher.

But the resurrection changed everything. Jesus defied death and He showed Himself to the disciples as proof. The gates of hell had failed at their primary mission since the Garden of Eden—to prevent the birth, redemptive death, and resurrected life of the Son of God.

And in the following days, weeks, and months, the church was born. The fastest-growing movement of all time. [If you’re still reading this I’ll buy you a soda.] The strongest force on earth—the power of grace through faith—gripped the hearts of men, women, and children throughout the known world.

He was alive. Just as surely as they had seen Him go, He would come again. The growing group of believers made it their mission to live and die for His imminent return.

That was 2000 years ago.

A week ago or so I picked up a magazine—something I almost never do—and read an article that left me speechless. Or almost speechless anyway. I wasn’t surprised, but I was amazed as I read about the influence of Christian missionaries around the globe.

After fourteen years of research and study, Robert Woodberry demonstrated the influence of Protestant missions over the past 100 years or so. Where Christian missionaries have been, there is more democracy. There is less illiteracy, less slavery, less poverty, lower infant mortality, less corruption, and higher education levels (especially among women) than in non-evangelized countries around the world.

The research differentiated between “colonialism” and state sponsored church work (which had virtually no effect) with the true influence of the gospel. Woodbury himself described the difference as “shocking.”

The results were so overwhelming that he critically surveyed his research, testing other possible theories and explanations for the marked difference between cultures that had received the light of the gospel and those that had not. There simply was no other way to explain why, for example, literacy (an ingredient of democracy) was so prevalent in Ghana while so lacking in neighboring West Africa. Over a hundred years ago, British missionaries in Ghana had established printing presses, meanwhile missionary work was severely limited in the French-governed West Africa.

As I mentioned, this article was amazing, but not surprising really. It was just a little glimpse of what the church has done since Jesus set Himself apart once and for all from all religious leaders of history by rising from the dead.

Every country has religion. But that doesn’t mean that they have a purpose, a hope, or a motivation to treat other human beings with any level of dignity.

The church is the body of Christ on earth and everywhere that Christians go while glorifying their Savior, they leave our planet a little better than they found it. They give. They forgive. They speak truth. They lift up burdens. They take in orphans. They visit widows. They heal sick. They bring peace to strife. They teach labor for provision. They are good stewards of what is entrusted to them. They are the light that illumines and the salt that preserves.

As Christians, we have not only the manger, not only the cross, but the resurrection.  The resurrection set us a part.

Frankly, I don’t need proof that the resurrection changes everything. I am proof.

Let it be said of us that the resurrection still changes everything; that we are still living and dying like our Messiah’s return is imminent. Let us take our ugliest sins to the cross and be set free. Let us regard the suffering of this world as fulfilling a purpose—sometimes disciplinary, sometimes corrective, sometimes growing and strengthening, sometimes testifying of our God in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Let us be the proof that we serve a risen Savior.

Let there be no explanation for us except the resurrection. Let us not give anyone the reason to doubt for a moment that He is risen. Let us be more passionate, more intentional, and more sacrificial in the ways that we bring the good news of the gospel to the world around us.

He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.

Let us never lose sight of what that means to a broken, needy world.