God's perfect timing
It was the latter part of World War II. The Admiral W. L. Capps was ploughing the impatient waves of the Pacific Ocean, heading toward Japan. Although I was only one of the five thousand soldiers aboard, I was easily identified by a recently acquired Mohawk haircut. I seemed to be the very epitome of someone looking for a fight. I talked tough and walked tough and did not in the least project an image of a conscientious objector.
On board one evening, I was accosted on the starboard side of the ship by a very aggressive religious soldier in our outfit. Gingrich was a short little fellow who certainly possessed a big determination. He was what the men labeled a “Holy Joe.” His abrasive high-pitched voice made me recoil, especially when he asked, “Are you saved?” I was so revolted I wanted to leave his presence as soon as possible. When orders came over the loud speaker for all troops to head for their quarters, I was exceedingly glad. I could not accept Gingrich’s false theology of “once saved-always saved,” but I suddenly felt a profound need of the Saviour. Just being church-oriented was not enough. So right then and there I knelt on that steel deck and gave my life to Jesus. It was as though an electric shock passed clear through my body, and when I arose, I was a new man. From that moment on the whole direction of my life was marvelously altered.
Conversion to Christ obviously is only the start. Growth continues throughout life, but the Lord certainly sent me down the Christian pathway in a fast forward mode. Without even consciously thinking about it, my whole demeanor suddenly changed. The most noticeable transformation was my language. The Holy Spirit had remarkably taken charge of that former tough-talking tongue of mine!
And what about that Mohawk haircut? The first sergeant had previously ordered me to cut it off, but belligerently I stated that it was neat and clean, and no article of war said I had to comply. He turned around in disgust and walked away. I crowed to the men of how I had stood my ground. Then one night not long after my conversion experience, I joined a little prayer band on deck. While my head was bowed, my right hand inadvertently reached up, and I felt those Mohawk bristles. Flashing through my mind was the thought, “That must look awfully stupid from above!” The next thing on my agenda was a shave! What could not be accomplished by orders was easily taken care of by conviction.
One of the main attractions for me now was to join the little singing band that met by a stack of life rafts every evening about sundown. Without any hymnals or songbooks, these soldiers would lustily sing from the depths of their hearts.
Before my conversion experience, I was too embarrassed to join the singing band, but now I was eager to participate. One evening someone suggested we sing, “Revive Us Again.” I had never heard the song before, but it didn’t take me long to pick up the chorus:
“Hallelujah, Thine the glory,
Hallelujah, Thine the glory,
Just as we started to sing the chorus for the last time, another voice, stronger than any of the others, joined in with booming enthusiasm. I turned toward the strong voice to see a tall, raw-boned soldier with a blond, half-grown-out crew cut, holding a Bible in his hand, smiling as he sang.
That evening, after most of the men had dispersed to their quarters, a few remained to discuss the Bible. Someone brought out a G.I. blanket to sit on, but I leaned against the life rafts eager to listen. Although I had been reared in a Sunday School environment, I was never exposed to much of the Bible. Except for a few stories like baby Moses in the bulrushes, and the annual Christmas and Easter stories, I knew very little of God’s Word.
What started out as a discussion soon developed into a full-fledged debate with Gingrich right in the midst. While tapping the pages of his Bible with his index finger, he grew increasingly more agitated and his voice more penetrating. Obviously he was on the attack against the big blond fellow who never once responded in kind but kept smiling.
At first I didn’t have a clue what the argument was all about, but it soon became apparent that Gingrich believed in an ever-burning hell and the big blond fellow did not. As I listened intently, I soon learned that the tall soldier’s first name was Floyd. His stature made Gingrich look even smaller than usual, but as the exchange went on Gingrich’s angry reaction and twisted biblical concepts seemed to match his diminutive size.
Without responding in kind, Floyd calmly boxed Gingrich in with scriptural proof that the unrepentant wicked will ultimately be destroyed. This immediately activated a fierce response from Gingrich, who assumed a half-crouched position and began bouncing up and down while pounding his knees. By the time Floyd finished his brief exegesis, Gingrich was screaming, “SDA! SDA! You believe in doctrines of devils!” Picking up his Bible that he had dropped on the blanket, he stomped off while still screaming, “SDA! SDA!”
Although I had no idea what “SDA” meant, I did know I wanted to talk with Floyd. His cheerful demeanor under pressure and obvious Bible-based theology drew me like a magnet. After I introduced myself, his giant hand reached out and engulfed mine. He grinned as he squeezed my hand and told me his full name was Floyd Cromwell.
I was eager to know more about the Bible and asked if he would be willing to study with me. We met the next day on the mess deck and stood under one of the big fans. Except for the cooks, the place was empty, which made it far better than the crowded upper deck. Before our study began, Floyd laid his large Bible open on one of the chest-high tables and prayed.
Before we began studying, I reminded Floyd that I preferred the New Testament. This was based on the fact that my mother had given me a pocket-size New Testament before leaving Seattle, and also I had repeatedly heard that the church to which I belonged was a “New Testament Church.”
“OK, Jan, what do you have in mind?”
Since I had always been taught that Revelation was a “closed book” and could not be understood, this seemed like a good place to start. As Floyd began turning the pages of his Bible, he reminded me that it seemed strange to have Revelation not be understood when the very name means to reveal.
It was there on that mess deck, under the big fan, that the truths of God’s Word were opened to my understanding. That first day passed all too quickly for me. I was so eager to learn more and was so filled with questions, I could hardly wait for the next study. Ultimately, Floyd was able to show me how the Old and New Testaments harmonize, especially the interlocking books of Daniel and Revelation. Day after day, hour after hour, we studied together as the troop ship zigzagged across the Pacific.
By the time we landed on Okinawa during the very last part of the battle for that island, I was determined to be baptized and join God’s remnant church. It took a little while to make arrangements for baptism, but on July 15, 1945, I was baptized at Ishikawa Beach by a Baptist chaplain. He had refused to baptize me unless I signed a statement that I was transferring my membership from his denomination to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was the shortest membership they ever had!
It had been my fond hope that my friends and relatives back in the United States would be delighted to hear the truths that had stirred me. Consistently I wrote about what I was learning, hoping for happy replies. I was wrong! Prior to my baptism, the most shocking words came from my mother: “I’d rather have you a thief than a Seventh-day Adventist!” But in spite of the negative homeland reaction and penetrating pain of rejection, I was buoyed by the Holy Spirit’s guidance to remain faithful to God’s calling.
During the stay on Okinawa, the Adventist military personnel met for worship each Sabbath and Floyd usually preached. In spite of the oppressive heat, I sat spellbound. Never in my 19 years had I ever heard such powerful sermons. But it was not to last.
Shortly after the war, I was sent to Japan as part of the Army of Occupation while Floyd later shipped out to Korea. In Japan I met my first civilian Seventh-day Adventists, and their solid faithfulness, in spite of enduring a time of trouble in their own homeland, greatly encouraged me.
In retrospect, it was all part of a pattern. God’s perfect timing had placed me on board the right ship at the right time. Here I met my Saviour and later a 23-year-old ex-prize fighter who was willing to share with me the grand truths of God’s Word. Although Floyd Cromwell had only a high school education, he most certainly was a Bible student.
Although money and women caused Floyd to leave the church, he came back to the Lord before his early death from cancer. As I stood by his bedside, he said to me, “I loved you like a brother.” And I replied, “I’ll see you in the morning, buddy!” My debt to him is priceless and eternal.
Jan S. Doward, now retired, has been a teacher, youth director, pastor, documentary film producer, free lance writer, and photographer. This article was adapted from his book, When All Alone I Stand. His address is: 714 Poole Road; Ferndale, CA 95536; U.S.A.