Focus – More than a conqueror

by Ted Horwood, Captain – 

by Captain Ted Horwood“Our food ration was one cup of starchy porridge with a few grains of rice in it, and a piece of stone-hard bread per day. We also received one teaspoon of coarse sugar per week, so my mother made us count exactly how much sugar we could have each day.”

That was the recollection of my mother as a young girl describing life in the Japanese concentration camp during World War II. In 1934, my grandmother entered the Training School in the Netherlands. Within months of her commissioning she was married and received transfer orders to the Dutch West Indies (Indonesia). Life in the Dutch Colony was nothing short of idyllic up to 1940, and for the large population of European officers serving there, the Dutch West Indies provided an excellent opportunity to reach a country relatively untouched with the gospel.

By December 1941, Indonesia had been brought into the war, and my grandfather was told to join the Dutch military. Three months later the Japanese invaded Indonesia, and quickly took control of the islands. Within weeks, The Salvation Army was outlawed, property was confiscated and my grandmother, now with four children under eight years of age, joined thousands of Europeans, and many Army officers and their families in a concentration camp.

Life in the concentration camps was deplorable. Disease, brutality and depression were rampant. In four years my mother’s family was shuffled to seven concentration camps. Public prayer, singing and Bible reading were outlawed. In fact all learning was outlawed. My mother recalls learning to write by drawing letters with her fingernail on the skin of her arm. Compliance was the rule, obeisance was the practice.

Finally, on August 18, 1945, there was freedom once again. But nothing would be the same. My grandfather’s death on the infamous Burma Road two years earlier wasn’t known yet and there were more hardships to be endured as the family returned to war-torn Holland.

Over the ensuing years, my grandmother’s testimony never wavered. She had experienced the sword, extreme hunger, torture and separation from everything she loved. Yet she emphatically declared Rom. 8:35, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship…No, in all things we are more than conquerors.” Throughout her life she remained steadfast in her faith and assured of God’s grace upon her.

Life is so different today. Although the media gives cursory attention to the brave men and women of the 9/11 disaster and the Iraq War, I suspect many of us seek heroes who have walked through spiritual fires and, although not perfect, can be models of integrity and honor, and exemplify the character of Christ. At times it seems that the scriptural admonition to “think” on that which is true, noble, right and admirable runs counter-cultural in an era in which political, cinematic and athletic anti-heroes get the acclamation.

I find the witness of individuals such as my grandmother tremendously challenging. She provokes the need for personal contemplation. What is inhibiting penetration of greater grace in my life? What must be peeled away for deeper spiritual sensitivity and greater usefulness? Perhaps I need to be looking more closely for exemplars of Christ’s life, and seek to glean from their relationship with the Master. My grandmother passed away last month at the age of 94. She never re-married, attended the Army her entire life and remained steadfast in her love for Indonesia, her fellow officers and her family. She was more than a conqueror, she was a hero.

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