Determined to Have Church

Some time ago while we were ministering in Jackson, Mississippi, Katrina and I visited the home of Bob Pittman who gave me a copy of a book he had written about the experience of a friend of his, Colonel George R. Hall. Colonel Hall was a Mississippi native who had flown Reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam. One day during the war, as Hall was flying at 600 miles per hour, his plane was struck by enemy ground fire. He ejected and was captured by the North Vietnamese. He was taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton, and for two years his family didn’t know whether he was dead or alive.

In his account of his years at the POW camp, Colonel Hall tells of a particular Sunday when the prisoners had gathered for a church service complete with scripture, prayers, hymns, and a sermon. The Vietnamese objected to the church services and ordered the prisoners not to congregate, but they did so anyway.

As the men worshipped, the doors of the cell flew open and in came a full squad of guards with bayonets pointed at them. The prisoners were told to line up alongside each other, and an North Vietnamese officer called the Bug entered the cell. He told them that the camp commander had ordered them to cease and desist from having a church service.

The most senior American officer present in that cell stepped forward and said that the Geneva Accords on POWs allowed them to have worship services and they intended to continue. The Bug ordered him arrested and two guards escorted him out of the cell. The Bug told the men to obey the camp commander and he asked if they understood.

That’s when the next most senior American officer stepped forward and said they were going to continue the worship service and, by the way, “Can we please have a Bible?”

He was arrested and escorted from the cell. The third most senior American officer stepped forward. The same thing happened. Then the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth.

This scene was repeated seven times on that Sunday morning in 1970. After the seventh man was arrested, the Bug was furious. He stormed out and the guards followed him, slamming closed the door of the cell.

Then the eighth most senior America stood up and said, in effect, “Now where were we?” They continued their church service, expecting any moment to be interrupted, dragged away, and tortured. But nothing happened, the subject was never mentioned again, and the men continued to have church services every Sunday without hindrance until they were all released. (Colonel George R. Hall and Pat Hall with Bob Pittman, Commitment with Honor (Jackson, MS: Franklin Printers, Inc., 2005), 108).

Let’s have the same determination. In this New Year, let’s say with the Psalmist: I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord.

–Rob Morgan, from the sermon “Useful Connections” found here.