I have just finished reading the book ‘The Edge of Terror, The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-occupied Philippines’ by Scott Walker
Much of the narrative of this book is centred on the Philippine Island of Panay, where of Pastor Jonan grew up, and the story of the Hopevale Martyrs.
Scott Walker weaves together a compelling narrative of life during that time – the fear, the brutality, the shocking awfulness of war, but also the faith, hope, love and kindness shown during that time.
Scott concludes the book by reflecting on faith, hope, love and war. I have summarised below the points that Scott makes at the conclusion of the book.
Faith and Hope
The root of the word ‘martyr’ is not primarily ‘one who suffers’, rather it is ‘one who bears witness’. So what witness was displayed by the Hopevale Martyrs:
- First – they had a common commitment to make the world a better place through education, medicine, agriculture, social work and spiritual healing. The overriding purpose of their lives was to live so that ‘God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven’. They bore witness that life has an overarching purpose of seeking to love others and meet human need
- Second – they bore vivid witness that those who seek to do good are not protected from the dangers, the terrors, and the tragedies of life. Their testimony is that God does not place a protective barrier around those who live loving and charitable lives – there is no promise of reward, special treatment, or safety when you seek to do good. You are not shielded from sun or storm. Goodness is done for no other sake than goodness. It takes faith to believe in goodness in the midst of a tragic world. And such faith produces a seasoned, tempered, and mature existential hope
- Third, the Hopevale Martyrs bore witness to that the human spirit combined with the strength of God can overcome the worst that life can offer. They bore witness that the human spirit has the incredible ability to rise to the most daunting occasion and overcome.
- Fourth, the surviving children of the Hopevale Martyrs have displayed an incredible sense of forgiveness toward those who executed their parents. Such forgiveness did not come easy. It took years for grief and forgiveness to come full term. Such forgiveness has brought tears to their eyes but peace to their souls. Forgiveness, too, is built on a faith in ultimate hope and goodness
Finally, the most profound witness of the Hopevale Martyrs is an unyielding belief in the existence and the goodness of God – a faith and hope that sustained them beyond human understanding
Throughout the story Scott recounts time and again messages of great love shown – across cultures, and between friends. In the times of severest trouble love shines forth. Love that risked all to assist, support, and show compassion in times of great fear, and in times of great need.
As Scott wrote the story he came to agree with the Apostle Paul that the greatest of human gifts are faith, hope and love. And that the greatest of these is love.
War is hell – as the story of the Philippines during World War 2 attests, and as the many war memorials dotted around South Canterbury also bear witness too.
In the middle of war dreadful atrocities happen, and these are never the preserve of one side or the other.
Scott concludes on war that he firmly believes that those who died at Hopevale would want their deaths to be a violent symbol – a witness – to the perverse lunacy of warfare, and a prophetic warning for the days in which we now live.
Scott’s conclusion is thus – What can we learn from this story?
Perhaps we can better understand the truth of the age-old proposition that faith, hope and love are the only forces that conquer all.
So, why have I shared this brief review of ‘The Edge of Terror’?
The bodies of the Hopevale Martyrs now rest, and are memorialised at the Central Philippines University, where Pastor Jonan and Jewel Castillon graduated.
The Hopevale Martyrs’ sacrifice and love continue to inspire new generations of graduates to serve their Lord in the Philippines and around the world.
Here in New Zealand, in South Canterbury, nearly 70 years later, we too can be inspired by the sacrifice of the Hopevale Martyrs to live our lives in faith, hope and love – and sharing the love of our Lord to those who arrive in our community from the Philippines, China, Korea, Japan, India and many other countries.
The witness of the Hopevale Martyrs still speaks to us down through the years – that faith, hope and love are the only forces that conquer all, and that the greatest human gift is love.
To God be the Glory!