Veterans Day Devotion with Bill Mayall
Long ago, long ago in a place far, far away, I became a Prisoner of War. My B-52 was shot down over Hanoi, North Vietnam, on December 22, 1972. The experience was one that tested the very foundations of my belief system, one grounded in faith and hope. The words of Psalm 23, especially verse 4 (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff comfort me.”) were a lifeline that I clung to throughout the experience.
I was shot down near the end of the war and held in captivity for a relatively brief period of time, something for which I give thanks every day. While there are many different aspects of the experience, one stands out.
One day towards the end of my captivity, I was lagging behind our group as we returned to our cells. One of the guards said he wanted to ask me a question. He stated he had guarded American prisoners for eight years. “I see them in their cells in terrible conditions. They always ask for a Bible to read. When I ask them why, they always say that they have faith in God, and pray that someday they will be released to return home.” He went on to say he could not understand how anyone could place their faith in such a God and be left in these terrible conditions.
When I responded that it was a matter of faith and hope, trusting in God, he replied, “When I ask you when you will return home, you always say ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’, but for you…tomorrow never comes.” With that, he simply shook his head, walked away, unconvinced I am sure, of the wisdom of placing one’s hope in such a God.
At least that is what I thought for many years. Until, after speaking to a men’s group at a local Methodist Church, a gentleman came up to me and said, “You know, in truth, you can never really know the impact of your words about faith and hope on that guard.” Reflecting on that comment over the years, I am convinced he may be right. The Lord works in mysterious ways, with perhaps none of us truly knowing the impact of our words, our testimony, our actions, on others.