Jack Graham knows it’s a miracle that he’s lived to see his 83 years. A former ruling elder (Good Shepherd Presbyterian, St. Louis), Graham recounts how his mother had to stuff straw in his mouth when he was a baby to keep him from crying as they hid in rice paddies to escape being captured by the Communists.
Graham’s parents and grandparents were missionaries with China Inland Mission, and for decades they labored to plant churches. Graham’s grandfather was influential in translating the Bible into the native Miao language.
When Graham was 6, his parents sent him to Chefoo School, an English school 2,000 miles away. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded China, captured Chefoo, and sent Graham, his sister, and the 150 other students and teachers to Weihsien Internment Camp, where they joined 1,500 other prisoners, including Olympic runner and missionary Eric Liddell (featured in “Chariots of Fire”). Graham remembers that Liddell worked in one of the prison kitchens and spent much of his time distracting the children with stories and games. He died at age 43 from a brain tumor, just five months before the camp was liberated.
Graham and the others were fed a diet of sweet potatoes, spoiled horse meat, and rotten eggs, and slept on straw mattresses swarming with bedbugs. On one occasion, a prison guard broke Graham’s nose for scratching lines in freshly poured concrete.
At the war’s end, Graham, then 14, and his sister were reunited with their parents. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to the U.S., where Graham’s father died of cancer. They attended a church pastored by the Rev. Robert Rayburn, who would become one of the PCA’s founders.
Graham went on to serve in a long military career, ultimately achieving the rank of colonel. He married and had five children.
In 2000, Graham returned to China. He traveled to the Yunnan province where his parents and grandparents had ministered, reconnecting with old friends — including a man who had been just 6 years old when Graham knew him. “I lost it then,” Graham admitted.
Despite being affected by several strokes in the past few years, Graham’s voice grew excited as he recounted how many of the original church members and their descendants kept coming up to him and saying, “We still believe. We still believe. We still believe.”