Enemy. Captive. Missionary.
Jacob DeShazer's life was defined by his relationship with the Japanese people. But it was his relationship with Jesus Christ, born in a prisoner of war camp, that turned him from hating the Japanese to loving them.
DeShazer, 95, died on March 15, 2008 at his home in Salem, Oregon. The Methodist missionary spent 30 years preaching the Gospel to the people he once swore to destroy for attacking the United States. His ministry left a lasting impact, including the conversion of the Japanese pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A young man in 1942, DeShazer burned to take revenge on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew America in World War II.
He got his chance in April 1942, becoming a member of the famed "Doolittle Raiders" that carried out a daring daylight bombing raid on Tokyo and other cities. It was the first strike of the war against the Japanese homeland, designed to boost morale among a U.S. populace still angry over the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was a desperate bid: the sixteen B-25 bombers had to be launched from aircraft carriers so far from the Japanese coast that they didn't have enough fuel to return. The plan was for the crews to continue to China, crash-land and make their way to safety. But DeShazer's plane ran out of fuel over Japanese-held territory and he became a prisoner of war.
For 40 months his captors starved, beat, and tortured him. DeShazer, the son of a minister, had never given his life to God, but while in prison he made only one request of his captors: a Bible.
"I begged my captors to get a Bible for me," he wrote in a religious tract he authored, titled: "I Was a Prisoner of Japan."
"At last, in the month of May 1944, a guard brought me the book, but told me I could have it only for three weeks. I eagerly began to read its pages. I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. I realized that these people did not know anything about my Savior and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel."
DeShazer returned home after the war, but only long enough to gain the training he needed to spend his life serving the Japanese people. He went back to Japan in 1948 and spent the next 30 years as a missionary and church planter with the Free Methodist Church, helping start 23 new congregations.
Among the people who came to God through DeShazer's ministry was Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese navy pilot charged with leading the attack against Pearl Harbor. Fuchida found the tract written by DeShazer.
"It was then that I met Jesus, and accepted him as my personal savior," Fuchida said at a memorial service on the 25th anniversary of the attack in Hawaii, according to The New York Times. Fuchida and DeShazer met several times before Fuchida died in 1976.
Sources: Associated Press; The New York Times; Assist News Service.
*Orginal broadcast April 1, 2008.