In the summer of 1964, I arrived on campus at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to work on a degree that would train me to pastor a church. Among the unexpected delights of that multifaceted experience (which would last three years, with another 2 years in the early 70s) was the chapel services. The seminary brought in various outstanding (and a few average) speakers to address the faculty and student body.
That’s where I first heard H. L. Hunt of the oil fortune. Pastor R. G. Lee. Evangelist Eddie Lieberman. Missionary statesman Baker James Cauthen.
And Mitsuo Fuchida.
For these forty-plus years, that name has held an honored place in my mind, even though I remember absolutely nothing he said that day. It was who he was that carved out a special spot inside this young preacher’s heart.
Mitsuo Fuchida was a bomber pilot for Japan in the Second World War. In fact, he led the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Once the planes were off the aircraft carriers and in the air headed for their destination, Fuchida was in charge.
He became a great hero to his people and was active in practically every phase of that conflict.
Not long ago, while reading about Fuchida online (thank you, Wikipedia), I discovered several books tell his story and are available. I ordered “God’s Samurai” by Gordon Prange (published in 1990, so it can be bought used for a pittance) for one reason: I wanted to see what God did to capture such a prize convert for His glory.
Brother, did I find out. The story of how this warrior and Shinto-worshiper came to Jesus Christ is one for the ages. It may be one of the best testimonies of God at work in a man’s life I have ever read.
The first thing that hits you the reader is the numerous close calls Fuchida had. Clearly God was saving this man for something special.
Consider that he led numerous dangerous raids against the U.S. forces and survived them all. He was at Hiroshima on the eve of the atomic bomb being dropped and left town just in time. A day or two after the bombing, he went back in to Hiroshima with an investigative team and was exposed to deadly radiation. All other members of the team died; Fuchida was pronounced to be in perfect health.
At the Battle of Midway, the ship on which he was recuperating from an appendectomy was hit and sunk. Fuchida received two broken legs and was rescued.
At other times, a raid that would have been suicidal for him was canceled at the last moment.
So, what did God do to reach this man? Bear in mind that at that time Christianity was associated with the hated United States. General Douglas MacArthur, appointed to govern the defeated Japan, urged Christian missionaries to come in large numbers to reach the Japanese.
Fuchida hated MacArthur for his arrogance.
And yet, within two or three years, Mitsuo Fuchida embraced the message of Jesus Christ with such a passion that he ended up traveling the world as an ambassador of the Gospel for the rest of his life. What changed his mind?
The answer is in several parts: 1) Fuchida thought deeply and asked questions. 2) He watched God at work in nature. 3) He heard of an 18-year-old volunteer hospital worker whose story changed him forever. 4) One of the members of the Doolittle Raid had a role in reaching him.
Fuchida thought deeply and asked questions.
At the surrender ceremony on the U.S.S. Missouri, which Fuchida attended, MacArthur talked of “freedom, tolerance, and justice.” Mitsuo thought to himself, “Whose justice? The Japanese thought they had justice on their side, too. Japanese justice collided with American justice and neither of them won–superior power won.” (p. 176)
MacArthur ended his message with, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.”
Fuchida listened skeptically. He had doubted his own emperor when he spoke of everlasting peace, and he didn’t believe the general now. No, he thought, you are wrong, MacArthur. Peace isn’t coming to the world. More trouble is coming.
All Fuchida knew from history was self-serving nations looking out for their own interests. War must always result, he concluded. There was no other way.
Fuchida watched God at work in nature.
After the war, finding no other way to earn a living for his family, Mitsuo Fuchida bought a parcel of land and became a farmer. He studied books and learned how to construct a house. He watched things grow, and he was impressed.
He had never been spiritual, although by no means was he a pugnacious atheist. He simply had accepted the universe of which he was a part without wondering what made it tick. Now as he looked into the bright night sky and saw the North Star, “so steady, so beautiful, so useful,” he began to see the workings of a supreme intelligence. “That night, there on my farm, God began to come into my heart,” Fuchida said reverently.(P. 187)
As he continued reflecting on such things, he thought of how God had protected him during the war. The slow recurrence of the seasons, the plants springing to life, the birth of the baby chicks, all the complex workings of creation wove themselves into the fabric of his consciousness….
As one season passed into another, from “the miracle of spring” to “the patience of winter,” he experienced a revelation: “I began to realize slowly that all things were dependent upon a divine Creator, and that I was living under the grace of God. I could sow the seeds; I could plant the saplings; I could draw water with my hands. but they all came from the benevolence of a kind and far-seeing Creator.”(p. 189)
All these insights worked to make Fuchida ashamed of his old independence and self-reliance. He began to see that just as the plant and animal world, he too owed his very existence to the Creator. “As he worked on the farm, he reflected, ‘Ah, the Creator–He is so wonderful.'” (p. 190)
Fuchida discovered the greatest proof of the reality of Christ: a genuine Christian.
Without any evidence to support his prejudice, Fuchida knew beyond any doubt that the Japanese who had been held prisoner by the Allies had been treated equally as horribly as Japan had treated its prisoners. One by one, as he interviewed returning POWs, he discovered his mistake. Some returning prisoners had even fallen in love with the United States. To his astonishment, many returned with amazing tales of kindnesses done to them while in the custody of the American military. Several spoke of one young woman in particular.
Margaret Covell was her name. She was 18 years old and worked in a POW camp as a volunteer social worker. Her story was passed on to Fuchida by a friend who had been touched by her in a prison camp.
The man said, “Something happened at my camp which made it possible for all of us interned there to stop nursing our resentments and to return to Japan with lightened hearts.”
He had Fuchida’s undivided attention.
Peggy Covell, they all called her. She ministered to the POWs with tireless energy and grace. “If you’re uncomfortable or need anything,” she would say, “let me know. I’ll do anything I can to help you.”
Three weeks into her work, finally some of the prisoners could stand it no more. They asked, “Why are you so kind to us?”
They were not prepared for her answer.
“Because Japanese soldiers killed my parents.”
Reverend and Mrs. Covell had been missionaries teaching at a school in Yokohama. Before hostilities broke out, all the workers relocated to Manila. Eventually, the Japanese came there too, and captured them. They discovered in the Covell’s belongings a small portable radio which they were convinced was a secret communications device.
The Covells were tried as spies and beheaded.
Peggy, who had been living in the states, did not learn of their fate until near the end of the war. At first, she was filled with bitter hatred for the Japanese. Then, as she thought of her parents and the sacrificial service they had given to bring the gospel to that nation, she became convinced that they would have forgiven their captors before they were executed.
She would have to do the same.
Fuchida was greatly affected by her story. “This beautiful story overwhelmed me and made me ashamed,” he reflected. He had come to Uraga with hate in his heart. What he found was goodness that he could scarcely comprehend.
He began talking to every POW who had known Margaret “Peggy” Covell. In time, he found the members of the military who had executed her parents. What he wanted to know, Fuchida asked, was what exactly the Covells had said or prayed before they were beheaded.
The Japanese considered revenge a beautiful moral. A man captured and awaiting death never forgave his captors. He prayed to be born again seven times, and to exact revenge in each life. And his sons and daughters to avenge him. The Japanese word for revenge, ‘katakiuchi,’ means literally ‘attack enemy.’ Steeped in Japanese history and culture, Fuchida fervently believed in the principle of ‘katakiuchi.’ Now he heard a story of unjust suffering and death, and a daughter left to continue the bloodline. But the tale featured no vow of vengeance from either the dying or the survivor.
In time, as Fuchida began reading the Bible, he came upon the 23rd chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There he found his answer. Hanging on the cross, as Jesus’ life was ebbing away, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
Surely these words were the source of the love that…Peggy Covell had shown. It came to Fuchida that, as they knelt to die, Peggy’s parents had prayed just such words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Tears sprang to Fuchida’s eyes; he had reached the end of his “long, long, wondering.”
By the time he had finished reading Luke, Mitsuo Fuchida recognized Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. At this time, he had no Christian friends, no one to help him; no one to share his new experience.
God sent Fuchida an angel: one of the Doolittle Raiders.
After the April 18, 1942, bombing of Tokyo, Jacob DeShazer and his crew had to bail out over China due to a malfunctioning plane. There they were captured and sent to Shanghai. Three officers were executed; the others spent the duration of the war in prison camps in China. Beatings and starvations were commonplace.
As DeShazer reflected on his hatred of his captors, it almost drove him crazy. Little by little, he began thinking about the source of so much hatred in the world. That’s when he remembered truths taught by his Christian parents years earlier. One day, he was given the use of a Bible for a short time. In that prison camp, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and promised to return to Japan as a missionary.
Sometime in October 1948, in downtown Tokyo, Mitsuo Fuchida was handed a leaflet by an American man. “I was a prisoner of Japan” was the heading. The four pages, written by Jacob DeShazer, whetted Fuchida’s appetite. Eventually, he located a full-length book DeShazer had written and devoured its contents.
The former Japanese pilot was impressed by the force of DeShazer’s testimony. In time, Fuchida and DeShazer became friends and the former Doolittle Raider helped him learn to stand before crowds and give his story. DeShazer told him that until the day they met, he had concluded that his Japanese ministry had been a failure. In fact, the day the two ex-warriors connected, DeShazer was in the middle of a fasting and prayer vigil during which he was pleading with God to send some evidence that He was using their work. Fuchida was the answer.
Mitsuo Fuchida died in 1976. For the final 25 years of his life, he told crowds all over the world of Jesus Christ who had protected his life and sought him out and saved him. Large numbers of people, especially in Japan, turned to Christ as a result.
Anyone familiar with how these things work will not be surprised to learn that as soon as news of his conversion spread, religious and political groups tried to get a hand-hold on his life and use him for their purposes. Two stories in particular are interesting.
The Catholic Church of Japan tried to get him to join their church. They would help him write his story and he would make much money for their causes. It took this Samurai only a short time to see through this. He was turned off by the wealthy, showy displays of the church’s elaborate and ornate cathedrals at a time when the Japanese people were starving.
The Communists wanted to use him. They recognized that with his great fame in that country, he would be an important spokesman. When the leader of the Japanese communists invited him to investigate Lenin-Marxism to see for himself, Fuchida answered:
I acknowledge your most cordial letter. As you have surmised, this is my first step in searching the Bible. In my forty-seven years of life, I have learned that a dose of hydrocyanic acid, if taken internally, will lead to death, yet I have never seen this poison. Therefore, I have not the faintest idea of its form, color, or odor. But if someone should hand me this deadly poison, it would be ridiculous for me to experiment by taking it just to see if it was poison or not! To me, Lenin-Marxism is like hydrocyanic acid. Thank you.
What a privilege to be serving on the same team as this champion warrior. How I wish I had paid better attention in 1964 when he visited New Orleans. But then, I shall see him again. And the questions I plan to ask him then!