Life’s lessons after Pearl Harbor

My brother Jack turned 12 on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and our family celebrated his birthday over dinner with relatives in their home about a dozen blocks from our own. I was 7. Following dinner I was just leaving the upstairs bathroom when I could hear grownups’ voices rising and my mother calling to me to come downstairs immediately; we were going home. Hurrying to join them, I stumbled near the bottom of the stairs and fell into a steam radiator near the door, bonking my forehead on it. The half-inch scar is virtually invisible now, 75 years later. But the memory of that day remains.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II. Our hometown of Baltimore mobilized into a giant war effort machine, manufacturing steel, ships, airplanes, clothing and you name it to equip the U.S. military. Thousands poured into the city to fill new jobs, creating an overnight housing shortage. Families opened their homes to boarders, many of whom worked night shifts in the factories. Nationalistic fervor seemed to infect every aspect of our lives. We feared and hated the Japs and the Germans, our enemies. We knew that God was on our side.

Fifty-two years later, my bride, our eldest daughter and I joined our friends the Revs. Markus and Suzanne Zimmermann for dinner at a bierstube in Cologne, Germany, in the shadow of its immense Gothic cathedral. The Zimmermanns had become our friends a year earlier when they came to the States to serve as pastoral interns both at our church and an African American congregation in a neighboring city.

Over that dinner in Cologne, we forged plans for our congregations to create a partnership to explore our shared faiths and concerns together. This has blossomed into several years of multiple exchanges of choirs, youth groups and congregation members who have traveled across the ocean in each direction to sing, pray, preach and share their love for one another. Each time, the travelers lodge in the homes of their host families, eating at their tables and immersing themselves into their community and church lives. Warm, lasting friendships have developed from these encounters.

Then, in 2004 Saint David entered our lives. Our church’s Chancel Choir was developing plans for a singing tour to Hawaii, including a day at Pearl Harbor. I reached out to two pastors on Maui, who would help us arrange housing and line up concert and worship service singing schedules on that beautiful island. Less than two weeks before our scheduled departure, the two pastors informed us that they could not help us any longer. An important conference requiring their presence conflicted with the dates of our visit, making their further involvement impossible. A member of our planning committee immediately reached out to David Murata, a retired pastor on Maui. David had been organizing one detail of our visit, an evening with Marshall Islanders.

David immediately went to work, arranging transportation, meals, concert dates and housing for all 43 of us. Twenty-four of us lodged in the Muratas’ home and enjoyed wonderful meals lovingly prepared by David’s wife, Grace. My bride and I bunked in the home of the Muratas’ daughter, Ruth, a music teacher. In all our years, we have never known kinder, more generous friends than the Muratas and the Zimmermanns. We call Rev. Murata Saint David for a reason.

David and Grace Murata are Japanese American. Markus and Suzanne Zimmermann are German. Life experiences educate us if we heed their lessons.

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