by Rev. David T. Myers
Partial information and misperceptions about one’s ministry are hard to overcome, especially when it involves an action which has taken place in the past.
Few of our readers are old enough to remember the years of World War Two, but most can instead think back to classroom instruction about this calamitous time in our nation’s history. The Axis powers of Germany and Japan had suddenly captured large areas in foreign lands, or in the case of Japan, delivered devastating blows to the Western world, as in the case of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Many foreigners were caught in what had been friendly territory, but now were enemy countries. These included diplomats and their families, tourists, and missionaries of the cross.
Enter the Geneva Convention. It specified that treatment of non-combatants would be carried out with kindness and care. Further, plans would be made to extradite such individuals back to their home via neutral nations.
In the United States during these War Years, the State Department operated a small number of internment facilities, many of them being resorts and hotels in isolated parts of the country. Some of them were the Homestead Hotel (White Sulphur Springs, Virginia), Greenbriar Hotel (White Sulphur Springs, Virginia), a hotel in Asheville, Virginia, and other Virginia sites in Staunton, Hot Springs, New Market, and Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania.
The sole North Carolina retreat and conference center was at Montreat Assembly Inn. This was a Presbyterian retreat center, run by the Presbyterian Church in the United States. From October 29, 1942 to April 30, 1943, it held 133 Japanese and 131 German diplomats and their families.
It was an interesting opportunity to witness to these Axis diplomats. Into each of the hotel rooms had been placed New Testaments in both the German language and the Japanese languages. Further, church groups visited at Christmas and handed out presents to all the children. Christmas carols were sung at the retreat center, with many joining in the familiar carols. One simply doesn’t know what seeds of the gospel were being planted by the Holy Spirit during this time.
When the time of exchange came with our diplomats, business people, and missionaries, it soon became clear that their experience in German and Japan held internments was not as plush as their counterparts in American areas.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Border Patrol escorted the foreign diplomats and their families to trains which took them to ships from neutral countries. Usually they were marked clearly so enemy submarines would not torpedo them on their way back to their home countries.
Words to Live By: Consider with gratitude the amazing exchange program in the gospel. Our sins were imputed or laid to the account of Christ, and His righteousness is imputed or laid to our account. We who were enemies of God became His friends. Thank God for this great exchange today.