Sunday, July 3, 2011

A POW's Sabbath

Last week I was asked by our Gospel Essentials teacher if I could sub for her class today. I love that class - it's always got great discussion, and we always have some new members and investigators, which makes it really special. I never feel nervous to raise my hand and share an insight or an experience. I prepared all week to teach my lesson on The Sabbath Day. I learned a lot throughout the week. This morning I felt anxious but confident to teach, and was ready to go.

When I walked into class following our sacrament meeting, I and saw a brother in our ward sitting in the front, looking very prepared to teach! Now, I could have said something like, "Hey, that's funny! I was asked to teach too," and he probably would have kindly stepped aside, but I didn't. I took my canvas tote bag, which was filled with my scriptures, manual and notes, and I sat down in my seat. It's okay. The exercise of preparing so much for a lesson that I could teach a class on the subject, is something I should do more often. It was great! But, I can't help feeling bad because I was really excited to discuss this lesson! I learned a lot, and was excited to learn some more from the class.

No, I'm not going to subject you to my lesson here on the blog. Read on friends, read on! But, with this being the 4th of July weekend, and today singing the wonderful patriotic hymns, I wanted to share an experience of my favorite patriot and war veteran, my Pop.

After his B-17 was shot down over the Baltic Sea during WWII, my Grandpa was imprisoned for 23 months in a permanent air war POW camp called Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, about 100 miles southeast of Berlin (now Poland). The following experience is in Pop's own words:

"After a few months in camp I learned the names of three or four Kriegies (POW's) who, because of their home towns and personal behavior, I suspected were LDS. None of them lived in my combine, but were i nearby barracks in the same compound. After getting acquainted we discussed the possibility of organizing a small LDS meeting group and began to search for others to join us. At the time we did not have LDS scriptures or a Book of Mormon, but there were a few well-used Bibles.

We talked about the possibility of having the sacrament. I remember worrying about what we would use for bread and how to bless the sacrament without error. Some had more experience or better memories than I, so we soon solved that problem to everyone's satisfaction. We used small scraps from the black German "goon" bread or pieces of very had Canadian biscuits that we would save. We dug up tree stumps within the camp for fuel to warm up our meeting room.

Since many of our small group held the Priesthood we did not have to wait for a chaplain to conduct or sanction our services. We had several Elders, Priests, and Teachers among us. All or most were favorable to giving lessons or leading discussions. Our first president, Wm. McKell of Payson, Utah, was chosen by unanimous vote, and he chose two counselors. He was able to get some Books of Mormon through mission headquarters or other contacts in Switzerland, so at first we studies from the Book of Mormon. Our LDS group grew gradually to about 26 members. We often had some interested nonmember visitors." (The Ensign published an article about this experience, written by another LDS prisoner)

Talk about keeping the Sabbath Day! Imagine what great lengths they went to to renew their baptismal covenants while prisoners. It sure makes me reevaluate the way I spend my Sabbath Day, and the importance I should place on being able to partake of the sacrament each week.

In 1995, Pop was interviewed by his ward newsletter and said the following:

"I think about all those who lost their the the concentration the Stalags...the civilians in the cities...all that tremendous, horrible number of deaths. I think about what it took to win the war, for our freedoms to survive, an how close we came to Hitler's Nazi domination of the earth. I think of the delicate balance between tyranny and a healthy democracy.

And I think about or belief in a compassionate Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the roles they play in all of this.

The Lord allows all of these things to happen because somehow there are important lessons we need to lean in such moving events of history.

And I think about what lies ahead and can see history repeating itself.

I for one feel awfully lucky and blessed to have survived. I often ask myself, 'Why me? Why not someone else in that 10-man crew?'* There were many others I knew, just as good men, who simply didn't make it. And then I count my blessings. Was it all worth it? You bet it was. Freedom is worth the sacrifice. And that's probably more important than anything else in this world."

*You can read a beautiful poem my Dad wrote for Pop here.


Holly said...

Wow, what a story to pass on to your children. Thank you for passing it on to me too! I'm sorry you didn't get to teach your lesson this week, but I'm sure there will be another time you could share that. You could use it for a sunday lesson in young women's or even plan a class activity to share that. I bet the girls would like to hear your dad's story too.

melanie said...

Amy, I always love what you write - very uplifting and insightful. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Sarah said...

I just read a book about another American shot down over the shark-infested open water and kept as POW under the Japanese ("Unbroken" by Hillenbrand). Graphic details of constant beating he had to remain resilant under...

Anyways, it is amazing what your grandfather and the others were willing to set up especially when not on their own terf. Gathering the details to share about that was certainly worth preparing to teach (glad you didn't have to).

Chad said...

Amy, I can not write anymore. Your blog trumps all other writings. This Sunday in our sacrament meeting a former POW bore his testimony about his WW2 days. He was in the navy and his ship was sunk, but he swam to the enemy shore and was captured, tortured, and later released, maybe rescued. I feel so insignificant when stories like these are told. Something about our WW2 vets just gets me every time.

Dianna said...

Very touching. Thanks for sharing.