In April I traveled to the steamy, tropical island of Leyte in the Philippines to participate in a Holy Given Mission School where I became involved in a mission I never could have anticipated.
On the third day the worship leaders WanHsi (Singapore) and Juliana (Brazil) led us in several hours of worshipping. They longed to see the group of young Filipino leaders step into greater freedom and authentic expression in their worship and prophetic voice. It was during this intense, prolonged worship that I had a vision as I looked out the window at the lush tropical hill towards the Pacific Ocean.
I saw hundreds of Japanese soldiers standing in the lush grass under the coconut trees outside the classroom, looking intently in at us through the windows. I’m not sure how I knew they were Japanese, but they looked more like prisoners of war from another time than active soldiers. On the opposite side of the room, facing the street I saw crowds of Filipino people looking in at our group. What might contemporary Filipinos and the enemy combatant dead be looking for from worshiping Christians?
I met with pastor Ferd and shared what I saw with him. He told me that a number of Bible school students had had visions of headless Japanese soldiers marching around the land. “Many of the local people are afraid to come here because they believe there are spirits of the dead Japanese here on this land,” he said.
I asked pastor Ferd about the Hill 120 World War II memorial several kilometers down the road. In 1944 US General Douglas MacArthur had led the Allied troop invasion of the Philippines. In the naval battle just offshore in the Gulf of Leyte the Allied forced destroyed many Japanese ships, causing locals to name it “the red sea” because of all the blood. After pounding the Japanese stronghold Hill 120 from sea, MacArthur came ashore and took the hill after killing many Japanese soldiers, planting the American flag at its top (See the film “Letters from Iwojima” for some valuable perspective on a similar invasion of a Japanese island).
Pastor Ferd explained that the tourist Hill 120 down the road was not the actual site. I was actually looking out the window at Hill 120 from our classroom as we worshipped—the very site where many Japanese, but also Allied and Filipino soldiers had died. Why had God shown me these Japanese prisoners of war? What was I to do with this vision and what did it have to do with the mission school?
Internet research turned up MacArthur’s victory speech on Filipino radio from Leyte, and I read words that I found deeply disturbing. “I have returned… By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil-soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people. The hour of your redemption is here. Rally to me.”
I thought about the 20-foot-tall bronze statues of MacArthur and his men down the road, and was struck by his messianic pretention and over confidence. MacArthur seemed to see himself as the Filipino’s Savior-liberator. Filipino soil certainly was not consecrated in the blood of two peoples—Americans and Filipinos. America blood consecration certainly did not give the USA the right to keep Filipinos in a debtor state after the war.
Allied “liberation” was followed by the US’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and MacArthur went on to govern Japan in the aftermath of the war. US victory in the Philippines did become the basis for a new imperial domination as the US followed suite after Spain and the Japanese to establish a beachhead into SE Asia that would later serve them in the Vietnam War and other interventions. One of my big concerns is that Japanese and SE Asian’s would have a confusing understanding of Jesus, his Kingdom and missionary activities through their identifying the US as a Christian nation.
As I kept investigating I learned that the Bible college was founded in the 90’s by American missionaries as a beachhead for mission, with the name “World Evangelism Bible College.” But locals referred the college as the “White House”—another clue that the land was still associated with imperial domination.
In fact the Spanish had “discovered” this island and others when Magellan came through. They’d also established a fort there because of its strategic location facing the Leyte Gulf and the Pacific Ocean shipping lanes. For Filipino Christians to step into their authority God’s sons and daughters, heirs of this land and a missionary people with a prophetic voice it seemed clear that lies had to be exposed and perceived debts cancelled.
But why had God shown me this vision of Japanese prisoners of war? The Japanese were hated by the Filipino people because of their ruthless occupation. They had raped, stolen livestock, killed people and committed other acts of brutality. Yet these soldiers had been forcibly recruited and had probably not had the opportunity to hear about God’s love for them in Jesus—especially not from the American soldiers who killed them. So is it absolutely too late for these poor souls? Why had I seen them as still living on this blood-soaked land?
1 Peter’s description of Jesus’ preaching to the spirits in prison who died during the time of Noah kept coming to mind, but I had never heard of anyone enacting 1 Peter 4:6: “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” What does this mean for our practices here and now?
Pastor Ferd and I wrote up prayers of confession and declarations (below), and planned a worship service atop Hill 120 for that Friday. That morning with guitars, drums and communion elements in hand we hiked with all the students up into an overgrown bomb crater above the stone fortifications of the stronghold, worshipped, spoke the confessions, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together.
While most of the students worshipped in the crater, pastor Ferd, a few other Filipino students and I climbed to the top where we symbolically took down the American flag, replacing it with a pole and banana flag for the Kingdom of God. We spoke words of forgiveness and the Good News of Jesus’ death to reconcile us to God “while helpless” and “enemies” (Rom 5:6,10) over the Japanese soldiers and others who had died there. We prayed prayers of cleansing and blessing over the hill, the Gulf of Leyte, and the Bible college—for a fresh wave of God’s Presence to empower the church to announce the Gospel of Jesus’ Kingdom.
While it is hard to know the impact of such confessions and declarations, my dear friends from the Holy Given school reported that there was a breakthrough for the students in their worship and prophetic ministry—and no more complaints of nightmares involving the Japanese dead. Some of the students said they perceived deep cries released from the land as we declared forgiveness and others have said the hill feels “different” and “much better” now. My hope is that all of us, our ministries, and lands can become cleaner carriers of God’s Holy Presence to our communities and to the nations—remembering always that Jesus works through us as we are, in spite of all our personal and social failings. My hope is that those who are watching us will see less of us and our agendas and more of Jesus and his kingdom.
I am now in Maylasia with my family speaking at a global missions conference, and we will be in Cambodia, Thailand) this coming weekend and next week. Please pray for us, for spiritual discernment, direction and God’s Holy Presence as we travel, meet the people and minister.
Confession of sin on behalf of the American people (led by Bob)
I confess the sin of the United States of America before the Filipino people and the people of Japan of taking credit for Filipinos being liberated from the Japanese as stated by General MacArthur. I confess and repent of the sin of messianic pretention, self-aggrandizement (visible in statements like of MacArthur’s on Filipino radio: “I have returned” and “rally to me”.
I renounce the lie that the USA and Allied forces (soldiers and/or commanding officers) liberated, redeemed or in any way saved the Filipino people, and declare the truth that Jesus is the only Messiah/Christ and Savior of the Filipino people and world.
I renounce the lie that Americans/Allied troupes are capable of “destroying every vestige of enemy control” and “restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your [the Filipino] people. I declare the truth that Jesus Christ has conquered the Ruler of this world and all demonic powers through his life, death and resurrection, and through his reign through the Church, his body “who not even the gates of Hades can withstand.”
I ask the Filipino people for forgiveness…
I confess and repent of the sin of the USA of imperial domination and control in the aftermath of WWII, and of using it’s favor with the Filipino people for it’s own interests—establishing military bases, intervening to establish pro-American national leaders. I confess and repent of American use and abuse of Filipino political leaders and other citizens in violation of the best interests of the Filipino people, especially the poor, and of the sin of abusing women as prostitutes around the military base.
I confess the sin of General MacArthur, who representing the USA called on the spirits to save. I renounce the call: "Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on." We declare that only Jesus saves.
I cancel MacArthur's call to "rise up and strike", and pray the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name (Jesus), thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...." We counter MacArthur's call with the invitation "rise up and worship!"
I ask the Filipino people for forgiveness…
I confess and repent of American missionary ignorance of and/or agreement with US imperial interests, and of American Christians benefitting from favor according to the flesh for the purpose of expansion of their missions.
I confess and repent of the sin of labeling Japanese human beings made in God’s image as “the Enemy,” of taking their lives rather than loving them, praying for them, and evangelizing them. On behalf of American Christians I ask forgiveness from the Japanese dead and their relatives and people for any confusion they have about Jesus due to Christian agreement with violence and war.
Confession of sin on behalf of Filipino people (led by pastor Ferd)
On behalf of the Filipino people I confess the sin of believing the lie that General MacArthur and the Allied forces liberated the Philippines, eradicated the enemy and restored liberty. I declare the truth that only Jesus liberates, saves and restores freedom through his death on the cross, where he took upon himself the sins of the world, forgiving humans and defeated the Ruler of this World, the Enemy, Satan.
I confess and renounce the sin of rallying to a human savior, and embracing General MacArthur and the USA as liberators—of putting confidence in man/humans rather than in God.
I confess and renounce the sin of subservience, of letting ourselves be dominated and controlled.
I confess and repent of benefits our people have received from subservience and accommodation of empires (Spanish, USA, Japanese). (security, dependency, not taking responsibility, passivity, corruption).
I confess and repent of the sin of hatred of Japanese enemies and the Japanese people, and the sin of harboring resentment, bitterness and the sin of discrimination.
I choose to turn away from any perceived benefits from this Bible College’s association with USA, the “White House” and the action of the Allied Forces (status, financial benefits). I turn towards Jesus and choose to turn over this land to him as Prince of Peace, Savior and Lord.
Time for others to confess....