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.”

3 Responses to Elder Survived Japanese Prison Camp

  1. Lewis Codington says:

    Very interesting account. John and Isobel Kuhn were also serving in Yunnan, China at this same time. Their daughter, Kathryn, was also at the Chefoo School and interned by the Japanese. Isobel is known for her work among the Lisu minority people and wrote a number of books about her experiences. She and her husband worked with J.O. Fraser, who is still revered among the believers in that part of China.

  2. Clifford Brewton says:

    Dear Col. Graham:
    Your recent story in By Faith was the most heart-touching and compelling Rachael, my wife, and I have ever read together. The name of Robert Rayburn was a touch of Heaven. In God’s providence, I became the Chaplain’s Assistant to Chaplain, Captain Robert Rayburn, when he was assigned to the 187th Airborne Regimental Team in the Korean War. He had no paratroop training, but through prayer , he accepted the challenge. His training was about one-hour I gave, showing him how to put on a parachute, and a quick look at my example of a “parachute landing fall”. The next day, he followed me out of the plane into combat at Munsan Korea. God led me to follow, him in the
    ministry. Clifford Brewton 404-219-1120

  3. Beth Weaver says:

    My mother Marjorie Harrison Jackson was in the same camp and would have been the same age. Her book “God’s Prisoner of War” has been reprinted three times. She would be 83 now but went to be with Jesus May 17th, 2012. God used this character building experience to prepare her for her missionary career in the jungles of Suriname, SA among the Wayana Indians who have now taken the gospel to 16 other tribes in the Amazon basin of N. Brazil.

    Her legacy lives on in her family with two children that have served in Macedonia and Eastern Europe. She has two great granddaughters who are starting their missions careers making them the 4th generation since great grandparents David and Kathryn (Kuhn) Harrison CIM 1926 went to China.