I remember being very touched by the story of a soldier from the British Army who fought in the 2nd World War and suffered imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp. He witnessed appalling cruelty, but he survived.
For most of the rest of his life he had a hatred for anything Japanese. However, as an old man he was persuaded, some years ago, to visit Japan. A television documentary was made about his visit along with some other former soldiers.
The cameras showed him walking alongside a canal with a Japanese family, and a little girl took his hand. I don’t remember exactly what happened but the man’s heart melted as the little girl walked alongside him. He later spoke to the camera about the moment. How could I continue to hate everything Japanese, when it would include that innocent little girl?
I don’t know if he ever managed to forgive the Japanese guards who imprisoned him, but in a wonderful moment a great burden of bitterness was taken away.
From 16th – 23rd November, we are hosting an exhibition, from The Forgiveness Project, of 23 stories. They are stories of people who have suffered terrible crimes and somehow found the ability to forgive the perpetrators. One of the stories is that of Hanneke Coates.
Hanneke was a young Dutch girl on the island of Java (now Indonesia) in the Dutch East Indies, when the Japanese invaded in 1942. She spent three and a half years of “hell on earth” in a Japanese Concentration Camp. She will tell her story to pupils at Prince Henry’s Grammar School on Friday 18th November, and that same evening at an event in the Parish Church starting at 7.30pm.
On Tuesday 22nd November, we’ll show the film The Railway Man (Certificate 15), starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It’s a superb, challenging film based on the true story of Eric Lomax who was captured in Singapore and sent to a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.
Forgiveness is rarely easy. It is usually costly. But lack of forgiveness may be even more costly. I hope we’ll be inspired to seek it and to offer it. And somehow we will all be drawn deeper into the amazing love of God in Jesus – who continues to stretch out his wounded hands and plead “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”