Hiroo Onoda died in January, 2014. He was the Japanese Army Lieutenant who was stationed on the Island of Lubang in the Philippines. You will remember that Japan formally surrendered to the allied powers on September 2, 1945; World War II was over, but not for Hiroo.
A few months earlier he had been given clear orders to stay and fight. He continued to obey those orders – for another 29 years. He hid in the jungles. He raided villages for rice and meat. He would try to kill anyone whom he assumed was the enemy. It wasn’t until 1974 that he was finally persuaded to give up his guerilla campaign.
He became the last World War II combatant to surrender to allied forces. When he was carried back to Japan, reporters asked him what he had been thinking about during the last 30 years. His reply was, “Carrying out my orders.” He was a good soldier who was “carrying out his orders.” When he joined the army in 1942, he was trained in special guerilla warfare. When the Island of Lubang was captured by U.S. Forces in 1948, Hiroo was among a tiny group that vowed to keep fighting. He believed “that the war was still on” and he was compelled to obey his orders. The last of his comrades died in a gun battle in 1972.
The Japanese government tried to persuade him to come out of hiding. They even dropped leaflets. He dismissed them as allied propaganda. When he was finally contacted by a young Japanese student in 1974, he insisted that “he was still waiting for orders.” He would not come out of hiding until finally they brought in his former commander who formally relieved him of his duty.
Wow – what obedience. What if we Christians today were as compelled to obey as was Hiroo Onoda?
We are under orders to “go into the world and make disciples.” (Matthew 18:19) That was not a suggestion – that was a command. It was not something that we might choose to do among other alternatives – it is our mission as Christians. Are we obeying that command?
We are under orders to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40) How well are we doing with that command? How many things do we put in front of our relationship to God? How often do we choose which people we want to love and which people we refuse to love?
There is an old gospel song which talks about obeying. The chorus says
“Trust and obey
For there is no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.”
Hiroo continued to “carry out his orders” until his former commander formally relieved him of duty. Until our Commander, Jesus Christ, formally relieves us of our duty – we are under orders. We are not called to be successful – but to be obedient.
Our orders are clear – how well are we carrying them out?