During World War II more than 1500 foreigners living in China were
rounded up by the invading Japanese army. They were sent to a
concentration camp where they stayed for two and half years. The
group included men, women and children from dozens of countries. Among
the inmates were Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame and Langton
Gilkey, who later wrote a book ‘Shantung Compound’ about his
experience in the camp.
In the camp there was no running water, no maintenance people and no
central heating and the social problems were immense. By the beginning
of the winter of 1944 food from their food parcels had long since
vanished and their supplies from the Japanese authorities were
The winter was extreme on the plains of North China and they were
issued a little coal dust to heat their rooms. Then suddenly in
January through the gates of the camp one donkey cart after the other
entered through the snow laden with Red Cross food parcels.
The parcels were identified as coming from the Red Cross of a certain
country, but there was no cover letter with them indicating to whom
the parcels should be distributed. And more and more parcels kept
arriving until there were more than enough parcels for everybody in
These parcels contained sufficient food to see everybody through until
the spring and for the children in the camp it was like Christmas. The
camp authority decided that if there was enough for all he would give
everybody one parcel and the prisoners from the country who sent the
parcels would get one and a half parcels.
On the day of the distribution though a notice was posted saying that
due to the protests of the prisoners from the country who sent the
parcels there would be no distribution. These prisoners felt that the
parcels should be distributed just among themselves and that it wasn’t
fare that they would be shared with everybody else.
They were happy to each receive seven or eight parcels while everybody
else get nothing. Immediately the atmosphere changed in the camp.
Relationships broke down and even fist fights broke out. The children
were heartbroken and the adults could hardly deal with their
You could probably argue that the inmates from the country that sent
the parcels had the right to claim it for themselves, but what about
the principle of mercy. Shouldn’t they have had mercy upon those who
were as deprived as they were and be willing to share with them
especially as there was more than enough parcels for everyone.
The Bible tells us God is merciful and expect his people to have the
In the Old Testament the Year of Jubilee was celebrated every 50 years
and land that had been sold during hard times was returned to the
original owner. This meant that land was never permanently lost by a
family and each new generation had the chance to work the land and
live from it. It also prevented families from falling into the cycle
of poverty while others became more wealthy. Every fifty years every
family started again with same land the originally owned. At the heart
of God’s law regarding economics was the principle of mercy.
In Leviticus 25 we read: If one of your fellow Israelites becomes
poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to
come and redeem what they have sold. 26 If, however, there is no one
to redeem it for them but later on they prosper and acquire sufficient
means to redeem it themselves, 27 they are to determine the value for
the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom
they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. 28 But if
they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in
the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be
returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.
No wonder that when Jesus laid down the core values of his kingdom
that he included mercy.
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy…