I absolutely love the final chapters of Hampton Sides' great book Ghost Soldiers: the incredible story of the Cabanatuan Rescue, where US Army Rangers liberated a Japanese concentration camp toward the end of World War II. If you like that sort of thing—and if you have the stomach, I must add—I strongly recommend it.
During the final months of the imprisonment, the poor British and American POW's were desperately fighting to stay healthy and sane and, sometimes, they resorted to the most desperate measures. The men would often concoct elaborate visions of home and family. Visions of food on tables. They would spend hours together in the night, on their cots preparing collectively, in their minds, an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner. Step-by-step, they'd go through every recipe, never missing an ingredient, each guy contributing a different dish from where he lay on his bunk in the barracks.
Tommie Thomas finally decided it was time to build his dream house. He'd been putting this project off long enough! Not that he had any real experience doing such a thing: he wasn't a contractor or builder or anything like that. But he started building it anyway, in his mind: the house he was going to live in when he got back to Grand Rapids. Nothing fancy, just a bedroom, kitchen, living and dining room, a couple of rooms upstairs and a porch.
Day after day, he worked on that house in his mind: sawing and hammering, never missing a detail. He measured out the floor plan; poured the foundation; laid every brick; plumb-lined the walls. He was never in a rush: a good job takes time; and a house like this was certainly not something you want to rush through, you know? In fact, the longer it took the better. In the long, meaningless monotony of the prison camp, this at least was something that made sense, that had a purpose; had a plan. It made life in Cabanatuan more bearable.
When Tommie got done with building the house, a deep, empty sense of panic set in. Now, what would he do?
That's when he heard about something that was happening over at one of the medical tents. Section 8 of the medical ward was the tent where all the poor mentally wounded prisoners were kept. And there were quite a few.
One of the sad men in Section 8 was a guy who kept 'broadcasting' baseball games in his mind. He was an old Chicago Cubs fan, and he wasn't doing it to stave off insanity: The insanity was doing it all by itself. The derangement had already come!
Whenever this dear man went over the edge, a game would start! He would start reeling off, out loud, a play-by-play of an entire baseball game that was so convincing and so realistic that people walking by would swear there was a radio blaring inside the barrack.
It was the same game every time—Cubs versus Giants—and this poor baseball-obsessed gentleman would be rattling away, calling out the plays, calling out the count and the innings and the score—even coloring it all with stats and commentary!—and all completely oblivious to the fact that a little audience of POWs had begun to gather beneath the window, hungrily devouring every word, every play. So desperate they were...
...for home! For America!
The very first time Tommie Thomas joined the men and crouched down with them under the window, a late arrival came up quietly and asked in a whisper: "What inning is it?"
God bless 'em!
Want to know the amazing thing about that rescue when it came? The Rangers had been warned to be ready for prisoners who would resist! Can you believe it? There will always be some who resist a rescue!
One of the great challenges these rescuers faced was the unbelief of the POWs themselves, who had already begun to accept their prison as their only home; who had long since given up hope for the real America and had turned their prison into an 'America' of their own making.
Some would have to be convinced that a rescue was even underway; that they were actually being freed; that their real home was not this prison!
And so every Army Ranger who came into the camp, came equipped with 'proof' to give the prisoners. They carried Hershey bars, and baseball cards and other little American trinkets, as proof that would convince them all that they had truly come from 'home' and had come to bring them back!
Isn't it amazing?
But—you know?—no less amazing, dear family, is the resistance this sad captive world puts up against the rescue sent for us; our sad, delusional attachment to this present "camp"!
This world is not our home, dear ones! And we don't need Hershey Bars or baseball cards to convince us of that fact! No! We have the precious word of God proclaiming it: "Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who comes..." Phil 3: 21 We join with those who have always embraced the truth that "they were strangers and pilgrims on this earth..." and who thus were "seeking a better country; a heavenly one." Heb 11:13-24; 16
Oh, how our world needs to join them as well!
Pray for that, dear ones! It's the very reason this church exists!
I love it every time we meet!
Cya next Sunday! RAS