I was in our beautiful church on the morning that we escaped for our lives. It was my privilege to play the organ for the last time. Little did I realize that that was the last hymn that organ would ever play. A few days later the Japanese soldiers used our church as a barracks and broke the organ up and used it for firewood. I was there when E. M. Meleen read from the dear old Book and closed the Bible on the pulpit for the last, last time. It fell to my lot to turn the key in the door when the pews were all eptied of me. I was there; I saw it. I know what happens then. And I am going to tell you what happens, and can speak with a note of confidence, for in what happened in Rangoon God gave me a preview of the end of the world and the day of judgment.
In the little ditty, in which there may be more truth than poetry, I found a line or two that describes the situation well:
“Mr. Meant-to has a comrade,
And his name is Didn't Do;
Have you ever chanced to meet them?
Did they ever call on you?
These two fellows live together
In a house of Never-Win,
And I'm told that it is haunted
By the ghost of Might-Have-Been.”
Yes, that's what happens at the end of the road; that's what happens when you come to the day that has no morrow-you are “haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been.”
Just two days before we escaped, I was packing away some of our most valuable articles in the closet under the staircase, when a well-to-do woman came into the mission headquarters and asked for the superintendent. I pointed to his office and assured her that he was in. She knocked on the door. Mr. Meleen came out, and though I didn't mean to eavesdrop, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation. The woman said, “O Mr. Meleen, I have to go, and I can't take anything with me except a little suitcase and a rug for the journey. You may not know me, but I know you. I live in that grand home just a few blocks away where the coconut palms and the big mango trees are, and now I have to go and leave my lovely home behind. I hate to think of the thieves breaking in to steal and loot and plunder; won't you mission people go over and take all my lovely furniture. Take my beds and my tables and my chairs and my beautiful rugs. I will feel so much happier if I know you mission people can use them.”
And I heard Mr. Meleen say, “Oh Mrs.---, it is too late now. We are all packing up. We will be leaving any moment ourselves. We have been waiting to evacuate our church members, and when they are out we will be going too, with only a suitcase each. If we could have had some of those things three months ago when were outfitting our clinic, we could have used every bed and chair and table. But now it is too late-too late!”
I saw the tears come to that poor woman's eyes. “Too late?” she groaned, as if she couldn't believe it. “You are going too?” And as she turned to leave she threw her shawl over her face to hide her grief, and from her lips came the heartbreaking cry, “Oh, how I wish--” Then emotion choked her words, and she left us to fill in the blanks, but I knew what she wished. Yes, I knew. That's what I call being “haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been.” As we talked over this sad experience we tried to remember if that well-to-do woman, just two blocks away, had ever helped out in the clinic program or the Ingathering program, but we couldn't think of a single occasion on which that poor rich woman had done anything for humanity. And now that it was too late, she had to leave everything behind, and oh, how she wished! And the only picture that will burn itself into her memory is a picture of thieves breaking into her lovely house to burn, break, loot, and steal. I have seen these, and I have seen others “Haunted by the Ghost of Might-Have-Been.”
Some days later as we were leaving the little town of Pakokku, just after crossing the Irrawaddy River, in our escape into India, W. W. Christensen waved us to stop at the side of the road. We pulled up behind him, got out of our cars, and walked up to see what was the matter. We found him in conversation with a well-to-do Indian woman. She was saying, “O Pastor Christensen, this is just like the end of the world. Oh, I wish I could get baptized now. Isn't there time to come back to the river and baptize me? No one can tell what is going to happen tomorrow, and if I were only baptized, I would feel it was all right with my soul.”
And I heard Pastor Christensen say: “It is too late now, Mrs.--. Can't you remember six weeks ago I was kneeling in your home with you and your children, pleading that the Spirit of God would help you to make a decision then? We are fleeing for our lives now, and we must be on our way. We pray that God will bring you safely to into India, so that we can study together and get ready for baptism then.” And I saw the well-to-do, well-dressed Indian woman sink to the ground and cover her face with her sari as she sobbed, “Too late! Too late! Oh, why didn't I get baptized six weeks ago? There was time then. I could have done it then, but now it is too late. It is too late.” It is impossible to forget things like that. But I was there, I saw people “haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been,” and I have to tell you what I saw.
I want to change the picture, for I want to assure you that everybody is not “haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been.” Some people come to the end of the road conscious that they have served God with all their heart, and soul, and strength; and though they are not perfect, they have given the Lord the best they had, and when they come into tight places and difficult circumstances, there is a smile of triumph on their countenances. After escaping from Rangoon we hoped to establish our headquarters at Maymyo in north Burma. One day as F. A. Wyman and I were walking along the road to town we saw a stranger approaching. We stepped to one side to let him pass, but he stepped to the same side. We stepped back again, and so did he. We thought how strange it was, and so we stepped back again. Then as he did likewise for the third time, he extended his hand. We did not mind shaking hands, but we did not recognize him till he spoke. It was Brother Johns, one of our deacons in the Rangoon church. He had on dark spectacles and was dressed in clothes we had never seen him wear before. He was thinner than usual, but there was a smile on his face.
“O brethren,” he said, “I've been praying that I could meet some of the workers. You know, I was one of the E-men, and I couldn't leave the city until the demolition squads had done their work. I had to walk along the railway line by night and hide in the bushes by day. It took me five days to reach the Irrawaddy River, and the steamer was so crowded that there was not a bite to eat for five more days, and every time I wanted a drink I had to pay sixteen cents for a glass of water, but I am so glad to see you.”
He pulled out his pocketbook, opened it, and said, “I was paid my last money two days before I escaped from Rangoon. It may be the last money I will have on this earth, but I folded away my tithe, because I want the Lord to have His share, and I was afraid I might never see another worker to pay my tithe to. Now here you are, and I want to pay my tithe.”
He handed his tithe to me, but I did not feel worthy to take the last money a man might ever have. So I said, “No! No! Brother Wyman is the elder of the church; give it to him.”
But Brother Wyman did not feel worthy, and he said, “No! No! Brother Hare is the union mission department secretary; give it to him.”
But I insisted, “No, no! Give it to Brother Wyman.”
Then Deacon Johns took Brother Wyman's hand and put his tithe in it, and while his face shone with a halo of triumph and joy he said, “Brethren, don't worry about me: I have known the Lord too long to fear that He will forget me now.” And with that he took another folded bill from his pocket and pressed it into my hands. “This is my Sabbath school offering,” he said; “I want the Lord to have part of my last money.” Then he said, “O brethren, I don't know where my wife and my children are. The Government promised to fly them out three weeks ago. Have you heard anything about my family?”
We had heard, and we were able to tell him that his wife and little ones were at Lashio, just seventy miles away, expecting to be flown out any time. We told him that if he caught the next train, he might get there in time to fly out with them. He ran to the depot, caught the train, arrived in Lashio half an hour before the plane came in, and flew out with his wife and family. His God did not forget him.
When we got into India we met Deacon Johns again in Calcutta, his face still beaming in triumph, and I will never forget it as long as I live. When we live up to all the light we have, and serve God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, we can approach the end of the road in confidence and joy. When at last I come to the end of the way, I want my face to light up with confidence and joy as did Deacon Johns' did that day, don't you?
But I saw more than that when I came to the end of the road. I saw the division between those at the right hand and those at the left. All the way from Rangoon we traveled with every kind of person imaginable-the rich, and the poor, the great and the small, the bond and the free, and the colored and the white. I saw the rich with their servants, their folded beds, their folded chairs, and their folded tables, and they camped at the side of the road in luxury. I saw the poor in their poverty sitting in the dust eating a handful of rice they had half-boiled, half-roasted in a joint bamboo. I saw men with hundred-dollar uniforms walking by in their greatness and little men with fifty-cent loincloths around their waists walking along in their humility. I saw every kind of person imaginable, until we got to the end of the road, and then something happened. I twas just as if a magic general had waved a magic wand, and all the camouflage of life was taken away. The rich had to leave their automobiles and servants behind, and they had to walk out of the country on foot, with no more than sixty pounds of luggage. The poor also walked out on foot with a similar load of luggage, if they had that much. The great and the small walked out on foo, but none was allowed more than sixty pounds of luggage.
And when we all got down on our own feet, there was no longer any difference between the rich and the poor, or between the great and the small. Everybody slept on the bamboo floor or on the ground. There was not enough water to bathe, and no one shaved, and in just a day or two you could scarcely tell the difference between the white and the colored any more. They were all only people. It didn't matter any more what kind of car you used to drive, or what kind of house you used to live in. Nothing mattered then but what you were. And in every camp I saw two distinct groups of people. It was just as though someone had built a fence in every camp in no man's land. It was just as though someone had built a wall, and an unseen general had stood at the entrance of each camp and said, “You to the right, and you to the left. You stay over here, and you stay over there.” But they were not the rich and the poor; they were the good and the bad. They were not the great and the small; they were the kind and the unkind. They were not the bond and free; they were the selfless and the selfish. They were not the white and the colored; they were those that sang praise to the name of Christ and those who cursed and blasphemed that holy name. I was there. I saw it.
When I was a boy I thought when I read the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew that Christ would cause the nations to march toward Him, and like a majestic drillmaster He would pint, “You to the right,” and “You to the left,” but I have changed my ideas. I know now how the division is made. I saw no one dividing them, and heard no one say, “You to the right, and you to the left.” I saw that the good ones went over to the right because they were good, and that was where they belonged. They had been singing long, long before they had come to the end of the road. They went where people were speaking kindly, because that was the way they had been speaking long, long before. They did not wait until they came to the end of the road to determine whether they would be among the ones who cursed or those who sang. Those who blasphemed went among the blasphemers, because they had been doing that all the way. The unkind and the selfish went with the unkind and selfish, because they had always been selfish. Thus when we came to the end of the road, just as naturally as water and oil separate after they have been shaken together, the good went to one place in the camp, and the bad went to the other. Even boys and girls know that if oil and water are shaken together, we don't have to say, “Water go to the bottom; and, oil, you go to the top,” to separate them again. Oil always goes to the top, because it is oil. It always was oil. And as soon as it comes to rest it just naturally goes to the place where it belongs. The water had always been water, so the water just naturally went where water belongs. That is the way the good and bad are going to be separated in that great day when Christ comes. If you and I want to be at the right hand of God then, we had better get to the right of God now, and we had better stay there today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and every day till Jesus comes. That's the only way we can be sure of being at His right hand.
I discovered something else in that wartime experience too. I discovered that those who belonged over on one side were most unhappy if they happened to get over on the other side, and those in one group couldn't be hired to eat or associate with other group. It was just as different as that. One evening they said to me, “O Mr. Hare, won't you play your trumpet for us?”
I asked, “What shall I play?”
They said, “Take the name of Jesus with you, child of sorrow and of woe.” I pulled out my old trumpet, for I still had it with me. I had left my motion pictures and everything else behind, and I had brought just enough clothes to wear. But the old trumpet-I had to bring it with me. I threw away the case the the extra mouthpiece, but I brought the trumpet. I wrapped it in my blanket, and was so happy to play it every night of that march into India. So I began to play the hymn they requested. Having just finished our supper, one man who belonged to the other side was still sitting on a rock below me. When he heard me he listened for a moment to see whether I would be playing “Roll Out the Barrel” or something like that; but when he recognized that I was playing hymns he clapped his hands over his ears and ran to the other side of the camp, saying, “I don't belong here. I don't belong here. Let me get out of here quick,” and you couldn't stop him. He belonged with those who cursed and swore, and it was punishment to him to be over where people sang, “Take the name of Jesus with you, child of sorrow and of woe.”
My dear young people, if you want to make certain that you will be among those who are singing and praising God at His right hand when He comes, you had better go where people sing praise to Him now. Go to Sabbath school and to prayer meeting, where people become familiar with their heavenly Father now. Then when you come to the end of the road, you will naturally be among the good ones at the right hand of God.
A Chapter from the book "Fullness of Joy" by Eric B. Hare