I was a prisoner of war for 40 long months, 34 of them in solitary confinement.
When I flew as a member of a bombing squadron on a raid over enemy territory on April 18, 1942, my heart was filled with bitter hatred for the people of that nation. When our plane ran out of petrol and the members of the crew of my plane had to parachute down into enemy-held territory and were captured by the enemy, the bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.
Taken to prison with the survivors of another of our planes, we were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, terribly tortured, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture and 14 months later, another one of them died of slow starvation. My hatred for the enemy nearly drove me crazy.
It was soon after the latter’s death that I began to ponder the cause of such hatred between members of the human race. I wondered what it was that made one people hate another people and what made me hate them.
My thoughts turned toward what I heard about Christianity changing hatred between human beings into real brotherly love and I was gripped with a strange longing to examine the Christian’s Bible to see if I could find the secret.
I begged my captors to get a Bible for me. At last, in the month of May, 1944, a guard brought me the book, but told me I could have it only for three weeks.
I eagerly began to read its pages. Chapter after chapter gripped my heart. In due time I came to the books of the prophets and found that their every writing seemed focused on a divine Redeemer from sin, One who was to be sent from heaven to be born in the form of a human babe. Their writings so fascinated me that I read them again and again until I had earnestly studied them through six times. Then I went on into the New Testament and there read of the birth of Jesus Christ, the One who actually fulfilled the very prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and the other Old Testament writers.
My heart rejoiced as I found confirmed in Acts 10:43, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His Name, whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins.” After I carefully read this book of the Acts, I continued on into the study of the epistle Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome.
On June 8, 1944 the words in Romans 10:9 stood out boldly before my eyes: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
That very moment, God gave me grace to confess my sins to Him and He forgave me all my sins and saved me for Jesus’ sake. I later found that His Word again promises this so clearly in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
How my heart rejoiced in my newness of spiritual life, even though my body was suffering so terribly from the physical beatings and lack of food! But suddenly 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 Savior and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel. I read in my Bible that while those who crucified Jesus had beaten Him and spit upon Him before He was nailed to the cross, on the cross He tenderly prayed in His moment of excruciating suffering, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
And now, from the depths of my heart, I too prayed for God to forgive my torturers, and I determined by the aid of Christ to do my best to acquaint these people with the message of salvation that they might become as other believing Christians.
With His love controlling my heart, the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians took on a living meaning: “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in truth; beareth all things, believeth all things. Love never faileth.”
A year passed by and during that year the memories of the weeks I had been permitted to spend with my Bible grew sweeter and sweeter day by day. Then, one day as I was sitting in my solitary confinement cell I became very sick. My heart was paining me, even as my fellow prisoner had told me his was paining him just before he died of starvation.
I slid down onto my knees and began to pray. The guards rushed in and began to punish me, but I kept right on praying. Finally they let me alone. God, in that hour, revealed unto me how to endure suffering.
At last freedom came. On August 20, 1945 parachutists dropped onto the prison grounds and released us from our cells. We were flown back to our own country and placed in hospitals where we slowly regained our physical strength.
I have completed my training in a Christian college, God having clearly commanded me: “Go, teach those people who held you prisoner, the way of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ,” and am now back in that land as a missionary, with one single purpose–to make Christ known.
I am sending this testimony to people everywhere, with the earnest prayer that a great host of people may confess Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Jacob DeShazer – 1950