Ernest Gordon, a captain of the 93rd regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Scotland, was captured by the Japanese in February, 1942, and spent three and a half years as a Prisoner of War in camps along the Thai-Burma border. His story is one about the influence of the Gospel in the incomprehensibly horrifying conditions of Japanese Prisoner of War camps. In To End All Wars he recounts the story of being visited one evening after roll call by a fellow Argyll of the 93rd Highlanders, a young man who had just arrived in the POW camp. His name was Dodger Green.
“Life had not treated him kindly. He had spent his youth in an orphanage in the North of England, where he had sorely missed the happy rough-and-tumble of a normal home. I had always felt a certain air of sadness about him – something which he tried to disguise by carrying a chip on his shoulder. He was always a good soldier, though – better than he knew.”
As it turned out, Dodger was in terrible health and his prospects were not good. Gordon took up meeting with him regularly and got him to open up. Dodger hadn’t had much of an education, but he was hungry to learn, so the two of them began meeting regularly and discussing a wide variety of subjects. This is Ernest Gordon’s account:
“We went on to talk about history and the people who made history. Gradually we came to men and women and their actions. What made them the way there were? Why did they act as they did? What was unique about man? Such discussions took us naturally into the realm of religion. Dodger borrowed my Bible, and soon he was reading the New Testament with understanding and enjoyment.
“All the while, he was becoming more cheerful, more hopeful, more relaxed. The strain and frightened look faded from his eyes. He laughed more and took more interest in the company of others.
“One day, he suddenly said to me, ‘I’m going to look around and see if I can give a hand anywhere. I’ve been helping the orderlies in the hospital. But I reckon I can do more.’
“Eventually Dodger found where he could be of service – in a way that was badly needed. The filthiest job in camp was to collect the used ulcer rags, scrape them clean of pus, boil them, and return them for future use. A smelly, unpleasant job it was, but Dodger volunteered for it. He seemed to get satisfaction from it. Regularly I would see him going from hut to hut, carrying his noxious can of effluvious rags, and whistling to himself.
“Observing him, I concluded that he had come to terms with life. He knew that he hadn’t long to live. What he had to do was to live out the days that remained to him, moment by precious moment.
“Dodger turned out to have hidden assets. He had a quick eye and a sharp mind, perhaps unsuspected by himself until he learned to use them in the service of his comrades. He had only to learn of a particular need and he would take on the responsibility of trying to supply it.
“A prisoner’s mess tin went missing. Dodger devised one by beating two tin cans into something approximating to the desired shape. Or he would provide a container he had carved from a section of bamboo. Someone else couldn’t face the rice any more. Dodger would be seen crouched over his tiny fire with his little home-made skillet, cooking up an omelet – out of a duck egg and some lime juice. When a grateful prisoner paid him now and then for these small services. He accepted the money under protest. Then he used it to buy food for those in need.
“The last time I saw him, his slight figure was moving energetically along, intent on some errand for a comrade. He conveyed the impression of a man happy and fulfilled by having found a purpose.”
We are made to serve, and this week we will continue to think about living the Gospel in our neighborhood as it relates to seeking the welfare of others.
Pray: Remember II Timothy 3:16-17 as you pray, asking God to speak to you from His Word.
Read: Jeremiah 29:1-14. Read this portion of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles a couple of times carefully.
Meditate: What would it look like for the Church today to seek the welfare of the community in which we find ourselves? The questions below are designed to help us think about what the Lord said to His people over two millennia ago and how that might still apply to us today.