Jacob Daniel DeShazer was born in West Stayton, Oregon on November 15 in 1912, not long before World War One. He was to become a famous name in the next World War.
The son of a Free Methodist preacher, Jacob was raised in church but strayed from the faith in his high school years. In 1940 he enlisted in the US air force and trained as a bombardier.
April 18, 1942 DeShazer flew as a bombardier on a B-25 bomber with Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s “Doolittle Raiders”, in the first air attack on Japan in World War II.
On the way back from that raid the B-25, on which he was bombardier, ran out of fuel and was one of two planes that did not make it home. The crew bailed out over enemy occupied territory, and were taken prisoners.
As DeShazer was parachuting from his plane his mother woke with a sense of falling and prayed earnestly, not knowing anything of the raid, or of her son’s danger. When she felt at peace, she went back to sleep. Meanwhile, as the young airman plunged toward the ground, DeShazer thought it would be “dishonest” to pray. So he didn’t. He had not kept up a walk with God and didn’t think he had the right to call on God’s help.
Regarded as “war criminals”, rather than POW’s, the men were harshly treated and beaten. Three of DeShazer’s buddies were shot before a firing squad. Of DeShazer’s 40 months as a prisoner, he spent 36 in solitary confinement. Another member of crew starved to death, but not before witnessing to DeShazer.
In May, 1944, after two years’ imprisonment, some small concessions were given to the men and so DeShazer asked a guard for a Bible. He devoured the Bible, reading it through multiple times and searching out the fulfilment of every prophecy that he found. He was determined to find out it the Bible was what it was claimed to be.
He not only found the Bible to be all he hoped it could be, but he also found salvation through Christ, reading Romans 10:9 on 8 June, 1944. Then, as he made his solitary journey into faith, based only on the Word of God, he was challenged to live out Christ’s teachings, starting with the command to “love your enemies”. He began being friendly to the cruellest guard. Within days the man’s attitude toward him changed.
Tutored only by the Word and the Spirit, harvesting the godly training of his childhood, DeShazer grew in faith and accepted God’s call to reach out to the Japanese. He recalls, “When I was a prisoner, I was afraid I was going to die and I told God ‘I don’t want to go up there with empty hands; I want to do something for Jesus.”
On 20 August, 1945, the war ended. Before long, DeShazer was re-united with his family and then, at the age of 34, he entered Seattle Pacific (Bible) College to train for missionary service. And the field? Japan.
DeShazer married Florence, a fellow Bible College student, and headed to Japan for 30 years of effective ministry. Before arriving in Japan DeShazer wrote a tract titled “I Was a Prisoner of Japan”, which told his story. It was translated into Japanese and widely distributed.
General MacArthur had told the Japanese that they ought to be Christians. This opened the door for Christian preaching. When the Japanese Emperor told the Japanese that he was not divine, in 1946, this lead to tremendous instability in many Japanese lives (and suicide as well), which, compounded by their defeat, gave great opportunity for the gospel. It is estimated there were 30,000 conversions during DeShazer’s first year in Japan.
The most notary convert to come from DeShazer’s testimony was Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941. After reading “I Was a Prisoner of Japan” Fuchida studied the Bible, became a Christian and spent the rest of his life as a missionary.
The 1972 edition of DeShazer’s biography contains a photo of DeShazer and his wife, just before their third furlough. “I love these beautiful Japanese people so much” he is quoted as saying. “They all look beautiful to me. They need Jesus.”
DeShazer passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 15, 2008, at the age of 95.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.