Ernest Gordon was a Christian, author, and former dean of Princeton Seminary who died a couple of decades ago. Gordon was the inspiration behind the movies Bridge Over the River Kwai and, just before he died, To End All Wars with Keifer Sutherland.
He survived three years in one of the most wicked prisoner of war camps in Southeast Asia during WWII where an estimated 80,000 prisoners died of starvation, dysentery, malaria, and torture while building a railroad…several hundred men per mile of track.
Gordon recalled a time at the end of a workday when a shovel was missing from the prison camp tool shed.
The brutal officer in charge was furious and announced they would begin shooting each prisoner, one at a time until the man who took it came forward. As guns were pointed at the first man in line, one of the soldiers stepped out and said, “I did it. I took it.”
They brutally beat him to death in front of everyone.
The next day the guards discovered that they had miscounted—all the shovels were there.
One of the prisoners remembered the Bible verse, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That word spread like wildfire throughout the camp…and the atmosphere changed. Men began looking out for each other, treating each other like brothers instead of the grasping, clawing self-centered animals they had degenerated into.
Gordon initiated a Bible study. They started what they called the “church without walls”.
“Death was still with us — no doubt about that. But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity, and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God.”
Isn’t it amazing how an extravagant act of servanthood can charge the atmosphere and change a culture, even one on the ragged edge of death?
Let me lay my cards out here: the primary job of church leaders is to disciple people into servanthood…into the radical mindset of Jesus. And when servanthood catches fire in a group of people, it becomes “the church without walls”.