He was not a tall man, but he was a big man in God. I first met him when I had been invited by Dr. Yonghi Cho to minister in Cho’s church in Seoul, Korea in the summer of 1979. His name was John Hurston and he was my host while I was there. He has one of the most remarkable stories of personal forgiveness that I have personally known. Let me share his story from a booklet entitled ‘Journey to Forgiveness.’
John and his wife Maxine were missionaries in Liberia back in the 1950’s, where he had pastored the Assembly of God church in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. On one occasion, he had received a frantic message concerning a leper colony and so he quickly flew there on a small private mission plane, leaving his wife Maxine and their little daughter Karen alone at home.
While he was away, it happened! It concerned a man by the name of Amin who was one of their closest friends. They had met him eight years earlier. He was formally an alcoholic Muslim with a Lebanese father, who had become a Christian. John had baptized him in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and given him a Bible. Amin had often gone with John when he was ministering and he even went to scattered villages in the jungle to share his personal testimony.
While John was away, Maxine had brought Karen into her room. While they were sleeping, she heard a loud knock on the door. Then she heard Amin’s voice, ‘Maxine, I just want to talk with you.’ She quickly put on her robe, opened the door and stepped into the hallway. As she told John later, ‘John, he was different from the Amin you and I know. It seemed like a demon from hell had invaded his personality.’ He grabbed Maxine by the shoulders and shoved her into the guest room and threw her on the bed. ‘At that point,’ Maxine said, ‘My fear was so strong. I could hardly even think, much less pray. I wanted to scream and yell for help, but I knew no one would hear me.’ What followed was incredible. Amin raped her, but it didn’t stop there. He virtually kept her and her daughter as prisoners in their own home. He violated her whenever he wanted to. He threatened to burn the house down. She thought he would kill her if she kept resisting or if she ever tried to leave. This went on for three nights. It was a terrible nightmare. When Amin realized that John was returning he begged Maxine, ‘Don’t tell John what I have done.’
When John found out what Amin had done, a confrontation took place at their home. Amin was in a drunken stupor and never once in the interchange did Amin apologize. John and Maxine could only understand a few words that Amin said, ‘Well, I can’t believe you haven’t killed me . . . I used to think I was a good man, better than anyone else. . . I just can’t believe you haven’t killed me.’
In the days that followed the confrontation, John and Maxine learned about forgiveness. As terrible as Amin’s treacherous betrayal had been, they knew they were to forgive him. In the months following, Amin visited them and they learned that ‘forgiveness was not an emotion, but a choice, an act of our conscious will’ as they sought to minister to him.
In the midst of Amin’s intoxicated ramblings they told him, ‘Amin, what you did was wrong but we forgive you. Now you must repent and turn back to God.’
‘Through the weeks they discovered that although the path of forgiveness begins with a decision, there is often a journey to walk in forgiving kindness.’ That’s what they chose to do. They tried to help Amin, but his spiritual state continued to deteriorate and when he was urged to give his heart back to God, he would reply, ‘Later. I will later.’
John and Maxine left Liberia in 1957 and after a furlough in America, John eventually became a missionary to Korea and was involved with Dr. Yonghi Cho and the great church in Seoul and was asked to establish Church Growth International. As John state, ‘The years since our journey to forgiveness have been filled with God’s blessing.’
THE JOURNEY TO FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is a journey. It begins with a choice, but it involves a journey with many steps. We must recognize that unforgiveness robs us of God’s blessing. Bitterness becomes a cancer in our soul.
Bob Gass, in one of this daily devotions writes, ‘Satan is a thief. Unwillingness to forgive is one of the doors through which he enters, and you are the only one who can close it. When you wake up and realize how much he’s already stolen from you, you’ll be angry with yourself. Harness that anger. Let it motivate you to live by the three R’s: Repent (i.e. of your our unforgiveness and bitterness) Rectify the situation if possible. Take Responsibility for your life. Once you’ve done that, close the book on it – enjoy the benefits of God’s grace and move on. Recognize when something is dead – because no amount of effort can resuscitate a corpse, so sign the death certificate, bury the past, and get going. That doesn’t mean you’re quitting, it means you’re conserving your strength for things that count, for things you can do something about.’
I believe one of the main reasons that God blessed John Hurston so much in his later ministry in Korea, Vietnam, and America was because he and his wife chose to walk in forgiveness and not bitterness and unforgiveness.
Is there someone you need to forgive today? When have you been mistreated, the victim of gossip and hurt, at work, amongst your friends or maybe even at church.
A CHURCH FORGIVES
One of the most memorable events of 2015 was the tragedy in Charleston, North Carolina. One the evening of June 17th, Dylann Roof, a twenty-one year old white supremacist, came to historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and joined in a midweek bible study. He opened fire on those present and killed nine of the people who were in attendance. It was remarkable, and in many people’s eyes incredible, the way the church responded to this unspeakable crime. They did what Jesus did on the cross. They reached out to the hater with love and forgiveness. The result was that instead of Charleston erupting in racial violence, as seen in other cities at this time, it exploded with grace.
EASTER AND FORGIVENESS
Easter is a time of forgiveness. God forgiving the sinner, the backslider, the religious hypocrite, the ones who turned to him in repentance and faith to receive His gracious forgiveness. In turn we are called to forgive others. Maybe it was not the traumatic situation that John and Maxine faced, but for all of us there is the call to forgive others, for all of us have been wronged.
Think for a moment of Jesus’ words from the cross ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Jesus showed us the way of forgiveness and we must forgive others.
‘And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ has forgiven you.’ Ephesians 4:32