During the helter-skelter days of guerilla civil fighting in China, our Quaker unit found it hard to carry on the desperately needed medical work unobstructed. Appreciated by both sides, it still fell victim to the uncertainties of the tide of battle. For example, a Quaker hospital changed hands six times in ten days but carried on its medical work throughout! The necessity of identification by both armies made necessary occasional trips across no man’s land. In such cases, if it was somewhat ticklish leaving one side, it was more difficult to make contact with the army of the other side. I remember one such trip to negotiate with Communist authorities regarding the medical needs of this fought-over area. We were well into disputed territory when a Chinese member of the unit and I were captured by a lone Communist sentry. He was only a youngster of perhaps fourteen and was dangerous primarily because he was badly frightened. I was acutely conscious of the barriers which divided us. In addition to the normal ones of nationality, race, and language were the unnatural ones of fear, suspicion, and hatred produced by propaganda. I was a representative of the nation he had been told was the enemy of his people. Though unarmed, I was suspected of trickery and deceit.
After considerable palaver, the young Communist soldier agreed to permit my Chinese colleague to return for the other members of our negotiating party while I would be held hostage. For over twenty minutes as I faced this intense Chinese lad, covering me with his rifle, I tried to win his confidence through the persuasion of open-heartedness. I hoped to penetrate to his better nature through the power of friendship. As I talked haltingly with him in Chinese about everyday things, reassuring him of my good will and desire to help his people, I fell upon a device to reach through the artificial barriers and touch his human and normal side. I showed him a picture of my young daughter and then asked him about his own family. He told me of a baby sister at home and an older brother also in the army. Unconsciously, it seemed, he put down his gun. In my halting Chinese I told him about the work of the Quaker unit, why we were there, and how we hoped to bring friendship and goodwill with our technical assistance.
No matter how encrusted had become his suspicion and hatred, long built up by propaganda, it was possible to reach through to his common humanity and to elicit a friendly response from his deeper spirit. When the rest of the Quaker party had arrived, the young soldier agreed to pilot us back to his headquarters, where we could carry out our vital negotiations.
I cite this personal incident to illustrate my faith in the possibility, under God, of that vital deeper communication among all members of our common humanity, which is necessary for peace and understanding.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.