Sermon Illustrations

For thirty years, Hiroo Onoda was stuck in that time warp known as 1944. The rest of the world continued to change around him, but Onoda stayed the same. When he reemerged into our modern world, he was not prepared for what he would see. Onoda, of course, never did travel into space. Instead he was lost in another form of time.

He was born in the town of Kainan, Japan in 1922 and when he turned seventeen, he went to work for a trading company in China. Onoda lived the life of any ordinary teenager. He worked all of the day and partied all of the night at the local dance halls.

In May of 1942, Onoda was drafted into the Japanese military right just after the United States entered the war and fighting escalated to a global scale. Unlike most soldiers, he attended a school that trained men for guerilla warfare. At a time when becoming a prisoner of war was considered by the Japanese to be a crime punishable by death, Onoda was taught that this action was okay and to stay alive at all costs.

On December 26, 1944, Apprentice Officer Hiroo Onoda was sent to the small tropical island of Lubang, which is approximately seventy-five miles southwest of Manila in the Philippines. His orders were straightforward. He was to do anything to hamper enemy attack on the island. This included destroying the Lubang airport and the pier at the harbor. He was sent in alone, ordered not to die by his own hand, and was told to take as many years as was needed to accomplish his mission.

But as the years passed by, you would think that he would want to surrender to those who were pleading for him to give up.

You must understand his whole rationale. First, he was trained to treat everything with suspect. Second, it was well understood that it could take one hundred years to win the war and that Japan would never surrender until every last Japanese citizen had been killed. In his mind, there were still Japanese citizens alive, so, clearly, the war must have been still going on.

He was prepared to die on the island. Then, February 20, 1974, he encountered a young Japanese university dropout named Suzuki living alone in a tent. Suzuki had left Japan to travel the world and told his friends that he was “going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order. He found Onoda and Onoda approached cautiously and the two soon struck up a conversation that lasted many hours. The two became friends, but Onoda said that he was waiting for orders from one of his commanders.

Suzuki left and promised that he would return. And he did.

On March 9, 1974, Onoda went to an agreed upon place and found a note that had been left by Suzuki. Along with the note, Suzuki had enclosed two photos that they had taken together the first time that they met along with copies of two army orders. The next day, Onoda decided to take a chance and made a two-day journey to meet up with Suzuki. His long hike paid off handsomely. Suzuki had brought along Onoda’s one-time superior commander, Major Taniguchi, who delivered the oral orders for Onoda to surrender his sword.

Hiroo Onoda’s thirty-year war was now over.

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