Summary: How to capture Osama Bin Laden?
Many powerful and poignant stories came out of the Prison Camps of the 2nd World War - and some funny ones too. In the film "COLDITZ", the whole Prison Camp was brought out on Parade by the Camp Commandant. "I will give special privileges to anyone who will come to work for us" he said. "Step forward any prisoner who will work for the Germans". There was total silence in the ranks. For several seconds nobody moved. Then one prisoner stepped forward.
The Camp Commandant said to him "What is your job - what work do you do?" - "UNDERTAKER, SIR!", the Prisoner replied!
Another story sticks in my mind, this time from a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. The Bishop of Singapore, Leonard Wilson, was captured by the Japanese when they took the city. They determined to break him. They threw him into prison and starved him - often they took him from his cell and beat him. "There came a point when I wanted to stop asking God to give me the courage to face these beatings, because every time I did, they came in again and beat me", he said. . This went on for many months, and, in the end he didn`t break, but, when the beatings stopped Leonard Wilson couldn`t get this terrible treatment out of his mind. "There was one guard who was the worst of the lot. His face kept coming to me in my dreams".
After his release the Bishop returned to Singapore. One day he was conducting a Confirmation - one by one the candidates came forward to kneel in front of him. "To my horror I recognised one of them" he said. "It was that terrible guard, coming to kneel before me. I was filled with the most violent anger. I said to God, "I can`t do this. I can`t forgive him for all he did to me"..... but God said, `I can, through you`, and so, as he knelt before me I laid my hands on his head and asked God to give him the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and God did".
When the Service was over, and the Bishop went to speak to the candidates, his ex-Guard said to him, "YOU are the reason why I`m here today. I did everything I could to detroy you and your faith, but your courage challenged me. I knew it couldn`t come from you, and, in the end I surrendered to this God who had given you such strength".
Some time ago the Duke of Edinburgh went on record saying he felt it wasn`t reasonable to ask Prisoners of War to be reconciled to their Japanese captors. In a sense he was right - there are things which happen to us which are too terrible, too horrifying to forgive. They go deep into us and eat us away. When I was in Southport in the 1970`s a man who came regularly to our Mid-week Communion left the Church one morning before the Service was over. When I asked why, he told me - we used to sing songs at our Wednesday Morning Communion, and one of them was called "Thank-you, Thank-you, Jesus". That morning I had said, "Ours is a world-wide Church with Christians from many nations worshipping the same Jesus that we do - there`s a verse of this song in Japanese and I`d like to sing it now".
"I was captured by the Japanese during the War and forced to work on the Burma Railway. As you sang that verse all the horrors I had experienced in the Japanese Prison Camps came to the surface" he said, "I couldn`t face it. I had to go". Over the next weeks we talked about it many times, tried to face it, but the hurt went too deep. He found it impossible to come to terms with his feelings - he just couldn`t forgive the Japanese, and in the end it almost destroyed him. Leonard Wilson struggled with the same feelings.
I thought of that story again when I read this morning`s New Testament reading from 2nd Timothy. Paul too was in prison. Paul too was suffering terribly and was in chains, but, he says, "I endure everything for the sake of God`s chosen people, in order that they may obtain the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and brings eternal glory". Paul`s natural reaction was to hate and reject those who were imprisoning and torturing him, but he endured it so that God` salvation could be proclaimed. Many of his captors were captured by and converted by his message.
Leonard Wilson`s natural reaction was to hate and reject that prison guard, but he found that, when he confessed these feelings to God, these PERFECTLY NATURAL FEELINGS, feelings that you and I can understand, and maybe even agree with, saying "it isn`t reasonable to ask Prisoners of War to be reconciled to their Japanese captors", when he confessed these feelings to God, God released into his life a new power, a new freedom to act in ways that went beyond his own natural action, so that, as he tapped that power, he found himself filled with forgiveness for that vicious Japanese Guard - not Leonard Wilson`s forgiveness, but God`s, the God who said, "I can forgive him through you".