1013) Forgiving the Enemy

     Jacob DeShazer was a young air force recruit in California when he first heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Furious at what the Japanese had done, he resolved to retaliate personally.  In April of 1942 he got his chance.  He was selected to be a B-25 bombardier when Doolittle’s raiders made their daring attack on Tokyo.

Jacob DeShazer (1912-2008)

     During that dangerous mission, DeShazer’s plane went down and the crew had to bail out over enemy territory.  DeShazer was captured and spent the next 40 months as a prisoner of war, most in solitary confinement.  Three of his buddies were executed and another died slowly of starvation.

     With plenty of time to think, Jacob began to wonder what it was that made people hate each other.  He thought he remembered that the Bible had something to say about loving and forgiving our enemies.

     He asked his jailers for a Bible and eventually received one.  He read and reread it with fascination.  Ten days into his study, he asked God to forgive his sins.  “After that,” he said, “when I looked at the enemy officers and guards, I realized that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel.  My bitter hatred was then changed into loving pity.”  Jacob remembered Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and he asked God to forgive those who tortured him.

     Fourteen months later, in August of 1945, American troops liberated the prison camp that held Jacob DeShazer.  After the war, a chaplain on General MacArthur’s staff was looking for ways to heal the animosity between the United States and Japan.  He heard about DeShazer’s prison conversion, and had the story written and printed.  Before long, DeShazer’s story was being circulated in a pamphlet called I Was a Prisoner in Japan.

     There was also much serious soul searching in Japan after the war.  Japanese Navy pilot Mitsuo Fuchida was the chief commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had advised against attacking the United States, but when given orders to proceed, he led the assault.

Mitsuo Fuchida  (1902-1976)

     Throughout the war, Fuchida was involved in hundreds of combat missions.  But his closest brush with death was on the ground in Japan.  He was in Hiroshima the day before the atom bomb was dropped there.  His life was spared because orders had come for him to go to Tokyo.

     When the war ended, Fuchida returned home.  One day he was given a copy of the booklet that told the story of Jacob DeShazer.  Intrigued, Fucida began reading the Bible.  Despite his upbringing in the Shinto religion, he came to believe in the Bible’s message and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

     Eventually, Mitsuo Fuchida and Jacob DeShazer met.  They became good friends, and for many years traveled together, speaking in churches about their experiences and their own conversions.  Tens of thousands of Japanese became converted to Christianity because of their story.

     It all began when Jacob Deshazer was moved by the example of Jesus Christ to forgive his enemies.

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“I read in Luke 23:34 the prayer of Jesus Christ at His death: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’  I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed.  The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love which Christ wishes to implant within every heart.  Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time.  I understood the meaning of His death as a substitute for my wickedness, and so in prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins.”  –Mitsuo Fuchida

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Matthew 5:43-44  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Luke 23:33-34a  —  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals; one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Acts 7:59-60  —  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Romans 5:10  —  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

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“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

–Jesus, Luke 23:34