And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:12, 14-15
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." Thus started President F. D. Roosevelt's speech to the joint session of Congress.
The United States was drawn into World War II. Ten hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces bombed Manila, and the Philippines was drawn into the war that lasted until 1945.
October 12, 1944, when I was almost two, was our family's day of infamy. That was the day my father was taken by Japanese soldiers, along with the president of Philippine Union College (PUC), under pretense of just needing to ask them a few questions. The American missionaries who had been running the school were interned, and so that responsibility was assigned to two Filipinos in their early 30s. My father was the business manager.
The college president, my father, and three students were incarcerated at Fort Santiago in Manila, where they were repeatedly tortured and starved. And for what? For being pro-American, working under Americans at the missionary college. Miraculously, the president was released, but not my father or the students. Japanese soldiers continued to torture and starve them until they died. They were murdered, really.
So, growing up, I hated all Japanese people. I remember when Asian Games II were held in Manila in May 1954, and I attended the basketball game between the Philippines and Japan. The Japanese team and their coaches had to be escorted to and from the court by Filipino soldiers. They were booed and pelted with soda bottles and other debris, causing the game to be stopped briefly a few times for the maintenance crew to clear the floor. No athlete was injured, but I was elated they lost to "my team.” Oh, how I hated them!
I felt I had the right to hate them. Japanese soldiers had viciously robbed me of my right to grow up under the guidance and tutelage of my father. I was too young to remember him when they murdered him. My hatred, surely, was justified.
After the war, my mother, widowed at age 25, with three boys to raise, returned to college. She became a teacher at PUC. We resided in one of the houses in campus. In the 1950s, Adventist Japanese students were sent to study at PUC. She had those Japanese students in her history classes. I noticed how my mother treated them fairly and decently. At times, she would help them with their English. She even had them for Sabbath lunch. I never observed any hint of animosity from her towards them. Her kindness slowly began to mellow my hatred.
Later in that decade, the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary held a summer session at PUC. Pastors and Bible teachers from the Philippines and all over Asia convened in campus. Naturally, Japanese ministers were in the group. Among them was a pastor who had been a student at PUC when the war broke out. He was drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army and was assigned to Fort Santiago. His duties there included English translator. It turns out that he was the one who wrote my mother the letter that confirmed my father's torture, starvation, and death at Fort Santiago. He saw my father's remains.
Until receiving that letter, my mother had hoped that my father had survived, had amnesia, and was somewhere in the Philippines or even Japan as a POW. I can still remember being four or five years old and seeing my mother crying, holding that letter, which confirmed the unthinkable.
Yet here was my mother, inviting him and his fellow Japanese pastors to join us for Sabbath lunch. Again, I never observed any hint of animosity from her towards them.
In 1959, one of the Japanese students who studied at PUC was our tour guide in Tokyo when my older brother and I stopped over en route by ship from Manila to San Francisco.
In 1962, one of my friends at Pacific Union College (the "other" PUC) was Japanese, the son of the very pastor who wrote the letter to my mother.
In 1964, I made friends with a Japanese student when I returned to PUC in the Philippines. We played softball together. He taught me a Japanese phrase: "Watashi wa anata o tomadachi,” I am your friend. Over the last 35 years, every time I go back to the Philippines, I visit Fort Santiago. We visited there last month. There is a cross mounted on a pedestal. Engraved on marble are the words:
THIS CROSS MARKS THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF APPROXIMATELY 600 FILIPINOS AND AMERICANS WHO WERE VICTIMS OF ATROCITIES DURING THE LAST DAYS OF FEBRUARY 1945. THE APPEARANCE OF THEIR BODIES SUGGESTED STARVATION AND POSSIBLE SUFFOCATION. THEY WERE FOUND INSIDE A REAR DUNGEON WHICH HAD INNER DOORS OF MASSIVE IRON BARS AND OUTER DOORS OF IRON PLATE ON WOOD.
And still, I learned forgiveness from my mother. She had more reason than I to hate. But she forgave. I can do no less. I too, forgive those who killed my father. Today, I can go to Fort Santiago with no feeling of animosity towards Japanese people. They, too, are my tomadachis.