© Wendy Anne Clark, 2020
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Over the past couple of years I have been reading and re-reading the testimonies of Christians who experienced very difficult circumstances, yet in those times continued to walk closely with God and to live in peace and joy, ministering to the people around them. These testimonies act as encouragement from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.
Darlene Deibler Rose a young missionary who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during WWII is a story well worth reading if you haven’t read it before or re-reading if you need some encouragement today.
There are many both challenging and encouraging stories in this book, but one that stands out to me involves Mr. Yamaji, who ran the Kampili POW camp where Darlene was held captive. He was a particularly cruel and unreasonable man. One of the things they were required to do was for each prisoner to catch 100 flies every day to help reduce the fly population in the camp. He would beat those who couldn’t produce 100 dead flies.
Darlene’s young husband dies in a separate camp, and Yamaji calls her into his office to deliver the news and to ask her to not lose the joyful influence that she has over others in the camp. Darlene assures him that her hope is not in this world and then shares the gospel with him:
“[Jesus] died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts—even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.”
He leaves her sitting in the outer office where she must wait until she is formally dismissed, and he goes into his private office where Darlene can hear that he is weeping, for some time. Whatever happened to him in that office that day, he begins to show evidence of a changed life. One striking piece of evidence that he is not the same cruel man he once was involves bananas.
After Darlene had been moved from Yamaji’s camp to solitary confinement in a prison where she is likely to be eventually executed, she observes a woman outside her window in the courtyard being passed bananas over the fence. She begins to long for a single banana and asks God to send her one but doesn’t really see how that might even be possible.
“I bowed my head again and prayed, ‘Lord, there’s no one here who could get a banana to me. There’s no way for You to do it. Please don’t think I’m not thankful for the rice porridge. It’s just that–well, those bananas looked so delicious!’”
The next day, Mr. Yamaji comes to visit her in solitary confinement and then delivers to her 92 bananas, which prompts her to kneel in confession before God:
“In all my spiritual experience, I’ve never known such shame before my Lord. I pushed the bananas into a corner and wept before Him. ‘Lord, forgive me; I’m so ashamed. I couldn’t trust You enough to get even one banana for me. Just look at them–there are almost a hundred.’”
God responds back to her:
“’That’s what I delight to do, the exceeding abundant above anything you ask or think.’ I knew in those moments that nothing is impossible to my God.”
Two encouraging words through this story. God loves us personally and knows what we need. He is faithful to care for us and to bless us, even when we can’t see how He will do it.
Second, we can minister to others and have influence even when that seems impossible.
After the war Mr. Yamaji was set to be executed for his war crimes, but because of the number of people who testified on his behalf, prisoners who said his manner changed and he was a great help to them, Mr. Yamaji was spared and sentenced to life in prison. Later however, because of his good behavior in prison, he was released from prison and went on to own a business. Though Darlene had not had confirmation of his salvation while in prison, Mr. Yamaji shared the Gospel on the radio in the 1980s, many years later.
We don’t always know the influence that we are having at the time, but if we stay close to God and remain faithful, God can use us, even when we can’t see how.