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One of the most horrific stories that comes from World War II, is the story of how the Japanese built the Burma-Siam railroad using allied prisoners of war as forced laborers. For every mile of track, 393 men are said to have died. Wearing nothing but loincloths, they worked for hours in scorching temperatures, chopping their way through tangled jungles. Those who paused out of exhaustion were beaten to death by guards. Treated like animals, the prisoners became themselves like beasts trying to survive.
Each night the Japanese guards would count the work tools before anyone was permitted to return to camp. One evening, when a shovel was found to be missing, a guard shouted relentlessly that the guilty man must present himself. When no one responded, he ordered callously, “All die! All die!” At this, a young man stepped forward, confessing to the theft, and was immediately killed before them.
Upon returning to the camp, one of the guards discovered a mistake in their counting. There had never been a missing shovel. The young man that stepped forward was innocent; he had sacrificed his life to preserve the lives of his fellow inmates. After this incident, attitudes among the camp began to change dramatically. The men began to look out for each other.
The transformation in the men of the prison was so thoroughly unlike the world they were forced to live in that one could only point to God as the reason for the transformation. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” The sacrifice of one innocent man can reverse the flow of history. Perhaps the kingdom of God is indeed among us, a spring of living water in a dry and weary land.