Sunday, July 17, 2016

Watched Over By My Heavenly Father by Joachim (Joe) Stephan

In an earlier account I spoke of my yearning to “hear” the voice of God. That experience caused me to search for other people who shared my desire to come into a more intimate contact with our Creator. It was only a few months after my experience that I learned of a Christian group living in Montgomery, Alabama who believed that God speaks today and who believed in an open canon of scriptures.  That church is known today as the Community of Christ. I was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base at that time. That church really appealed to me and I started to associate myself with them. I loved listening to what they called “testimonies” of their encounter with our Heavenly Father.  But that association did not last long. Being a member of the United States Air Force, I found myself within two months on a troop ship on my way to Japan. I served initially in Japan and during that time I soon made contact with members of the church group there under the leadership of Carl Crum, a High Priest in the church. The group met in Tokyo every two weeks to worship and fellowship. We met in a Quonset hut in downtown Tokyo that the military had converted into a house of worship. Different faiths were assigned their turn in using it for their worship. In his professional life Brother Carl Crum was assigned to the US Embassy in Tokyo.  After I became a new member of the mission I spent many hours being taught by Brother Crum and his wife in their home.
In December 1954 I was baptized by him in a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Tokyo. The church had been kind to allow us the use of their baptismal font. He told me that I was the first member of the church to be baptized in Japan. After becoming a church member I took every opportunity to meet with the church members and also to study on my own. I loved hearing their stories. I enjoyed their warm friendship. Being so far from home we were a close knit family. I was present when one of my Air Force friends - Les Cunningham - married a beautiful Japanese bride – Etseko.  We never know how our brothers and sisters in the faith can influence our lives. In Les’s case – he became responsible years later for a major change in my scientific studies at The Ohio State University.
But in 1955 while still serving in Japan I was unexpectedly transferred to Taiwan or “Formosa” as it was called then – some 1,376 miles away. Our mission was secret then and our transfer from Japan occurred within hours – overnight in fact.
When our church group met the following Sunday, I was found missing. When at subsequent Sunday meetings I continued to be absent the group begun to place inquires with my squadron at Tachikawa AFB.  When that failed to bring any results, Brother Crum made inquiries at church headquarters in Independence, Mo. The church finally placed an inquiry in the Herald - all to no avail. A young man had come to Japan, was baptized there, worshipped and fellowshipped with the members of the mission but then mysteriously disappeared without a trace. That disturbed and saddened my church family in Japan.
But Joachim or “Joe” as he is commonly called knew where he was but he could not tell his church friends about it... He spent his time assisting the National Chinese Army in the field of Radio Electronics that he had been trained for: He often traveled to different locations of the beautiful, some 245 miles long tropical island to advise the Chinese in the construction, maintenance and use of their latest radio equipment sites. He had been assigned to a unit called MAAG which stood for “Military Assistance Advisory Group” which operated out of Taipei and consisted of members of all military services. Taiwan is a stunningly beautiful island. It was a pleasure to serve there and to work with the wonderful national and Taiwanese peoples.
My final assignment was in the Pescadores Island located between Taiwan and the mainland China. But I had periodic opportunity to return to Taipei and to Japan for personal and military purposes.
During one of my visits to the MAAG compound I intended to send a package with my belongings to the United States where my wife to be was waiting for my eventual return. It involved a package of about 20 x 20 x 25 inches that I carried to the military post office there. When I arrived there was a long line already waiting. I grumbled inside because I loathed standing in line. I have often remarked that living in Germany during the war I had spent half of my life standing in line. So I put the package on the ground and asked the soldier who had lined up behind me to “kick” my package forward as the line moved to the post office window. He promised that he would. I left to buy film at the PX and other items.
When I returned my package had made considerable progress thanks to my friend in line. But I also saw another person – a civilian in a white rain coat – standing beside it. When I arrived he looked at me with seemingly great interest. He finally asked me: “Is this your package, airman? Is this your name on the package?”
I nodded, wondering what he was driving at. His immediate answer was: “I am Gordon Stewart Wight and live with my family here in Taiwan as a technical employee for the US government.  I think you need to come with me because there is more going on here than you and I can comprehend right now.
I did not understand what he was driving at but politely followed him to his car chauffeured by a Chinese national.  We drove to his home in Taipei just a few miles away and on the way he told me an astonishing story:
He told me that he had been sitting in his living room that day when he felt driven to go to the post office. He asked his wife Maxine if there was a need to mail or to pick something up there. She did not think that there was any reason for him to go to the post office. However her husband insisted that he had to go to the post office and to do so now. She responded by reminding him that it normally required a two hour wait to obtain a chauffeur and a car. He insisted nevertheless that she call for a vehicle. They were both astounded when a car arrived ten minutes later. Stewart found himself let off at the MAAG compound, wandering aimlessly in front of the post office. He saw the long line in front of the building and tried to cross it to get to the other side. In the process he tripped over an object on the ground.  With increasing amazement he read my name on the return address of the package. He recognized that name. He had seen it in a church publication – the Saints Herald. He could not believe when I returned a short time later that the package belonged to me and that that was my name on it.
I soon learned that Stewart was a very spiritual man, a High Priest in the church and it became obvious to me that the Lord had used him to answer the prayers of all the Saints who wanted to know what had happened to me. He talked to me about his urging to come to the post office that day with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Stewart and Maxine influenced my spiritual life in profound ways. They had four handsome children to whom I became a “big brother” every time I had the opportunity to visit their home. Maxine taught at the Chinese/American High School and participated in diplomatic/social functions to which she had been routinely invited. She involved me in those activities too. The Wight family became my role model of what a good, Christian family should be. I was raised by good God fearing parents but as long as I lived with them they fought bitterly and often. I witnessed one of those unfortunate events when I was only five years old and I resolved then and there that my family life would not be like that. I want to reassure the reader that my parents cared for me and ensured my safety in extremely difficult and dangerous times. But to this day I am aware that God sent me to the Wight family so that I could learn to model my future family after theirs. They helped lay the foundation for a family centered upon our Heavenly Father and the loving teachings of His son Jesus Christ.
I may have been out of sight for my new found brothers and sisters in the vast oriental geography, but my Heavenly Father knew exactly where I was. More important – He knew exactly what I needed at this stage of my life.