A Certain Hope in Uncertain Days: 30 Days of Hope-filled Focus
Day 5: Hope for the Hopeless
Romans 10:9, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
Jacob DeShazer was born in Salem, Oregon to devout Christian parents of modest means. He grew up in Madras. Following graduation from high school he spent several years in various farming type of jobs. In 1940, as a part of a “peace-time conscription” he joined the Army and for a two-year period received training as an airplane mechanic and bombardier.
After Pearl Harbor plans were undertaken to retaliate by bombing Japan. General James Doolittle was put in charge of an incredible scheme. Refitted B25 bombers were to fly off an Aircraft Carrier and make their way over Tokyo. Jacob DeShazer was on board one of those planes.
After the successful bombing, he and his crewmates parachuted out of the plane over China. He found his way to a village, where he was confronted by soldiers. He didn’t know at first whether they were Chinese or Japanese. It turned out that they were Japanese. He was captured and then repeatedly beaten and tortured. The Japanese intended to put all of the “Raiders” to death, but the emperor granted a reprieve, and only three of the “Raiders” were executed.
DeShazer spent a total of 40 months in various Japanese prison camps. The conditions were deplorable. The men were underfed, over disciplined, and subject to extreme temperatures, solitary confinement, and various diseases. Not all of them survived that ordeal.
At one point in his captivity he was given a Bible—but for only three weeks. So, there he was, in his little prison cell, in Nanking, China, with nothing but a Bible to read. The light was dim. The print was small. But he devoured the Scriptures. He read the entire Bible several times. He read the Prophets six times. He spent many hours memorizing Scriptures. Hour after hour he read, and the Holy Spirit opened his heart.
The date was June 8th, 1944. He had been reading Romans 10:9, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” He responded in faith to the truth. He later wrote, “My heart was filled with joy. I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone at that time. Oh, what a great joy it was to know that I was saved, that God had forgiven me of my sins.”
God saved Jacob and God changed him too. He had read Jesus’ command to love and the description of love given in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. He knew that he needed to obey Christ’s command, but how? He began to treat the prison guards with kindness. He would say “Good morning” to them. He would ask about their families. Jacob learned how to love his enemies.
His captivity continued for some time after that, until the men began to see American planes flying overhead. They sensed that the end of the war was coming soon. DeShazer was Spirit-led to pray for peace on the day of Japan’s surrender. He was also determined, as he was being led by the Spirit, to return to Japan as a missionary once the war ended.
Ultimately the war ended, and the captives were brought home. His loving regard for his former captives made the news. As one who harbored no bitterness, the account of his captivity was indeed newsworthy. He was triumphantly greeted by his mother and his sister at home. Many colleges were excited about the possibility of having him study for missions with them, but his sister worked at Seattle Pacific College and that is where he ultimately ended up.
He finished his education at Seattle Pacific in three years, instead of four, despite the fact that he was constantly traveling about for speaking engagements. Many wanted to hear of his story and were blessed by his example and his determination to take the gospel to Japan. After a year at Seattle Pacific he married his wife. Later they had a son. And upon their graduation they left for Japan where they served in missions for many years.
From the biography of his life: “More than a million tracts concerning the Doolittle raider who turned missionary were distributed throughout Japan. The tract in Japanese contained a blank to be signed by those who would accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Many thousands of these tracts were signed and returned. In view of this, the name DeShazer, was known to many of the Japanese people. So, it was that on December 28, 1948, when DeShazer and his little family arrived at the Yokohama docks crowds were waiting to see them. Many were anxious to know the cause of the change of attitude of a man who had been held for so many months by the Japanese in a solitary cell. They could not understand how one’s heart once filled with animosity could now be overflowing with love for his persecutors.” (De Shazer: The Doolittle raider who turned missionary; The Light and Life Press (1950), Charles Hoyt Watson)
During the course of his ministry he received many testimonies. One of the most amazing was that of Mitsuo Fuchida. He was the commander of the 360 planes that had bombed Pearl Harbor. God used the tract which spoke of DeShazer’s testimony to speak to Mitsuo. Within a month of his conversion, Mitsuo Fuchida was privileged to stand side by side on a platform in a large evangelistic meeting in Osaka, where both men gave their testimonies. 4000 people were crowded into the auditorium; 3000 stood outside; 500 professed faith in Christ that day. Mitsuo himself became a missionary and traveled as far as Europe in sharing the gospel.
I love Jacob DeShazer’s story—it speaks to truths we hold dear. The Bible is no ordinary book—it is the inspired Word of God. The Bible is no impotent or docile book—it possesses the power to save and transform lives—even to turn an embittered prisoner of war into a missionary to the people who had held him captive.