A PLACE CALLED HOPEVALE
By DANNY MINTON
- Noun: a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
“saints, martyrs, and witnesses to the faith.”
Nestled amid the Philippine Archipelago is the island of Panay. As you travel through the region of Capiz near Tapaz, you come to the mountains of Barrio Katipunan. It is in those mountains you find the site that at one time for twenty months was called “Hopevale.” You won’t find it on any maps since it was never an incorporated town and was settled by less than twenty people.
In April of 1942, the Philippine Islands were invaded by Japan, forcing Gen. Douglas MacArthur to withdraw his troops to fight elsewhere. As a result, scores of military guerillas were left to try and defend the islands. In addition to the guerillas were families from the United States who were working with the gold mines. Then there were the missionaries: men, women, and children who had left their homes in the United States to serve the Lord in the jungles of islands far away from home. After MacArthur withdrew from the islands, the families moved inward to try and find safety from the enemies. Within the mountains and jungles of Panay on Saturday, April 18, 1942, the small group of 12 missionaries along with a few miners set up camp. They named the little community Hopevale. Setting up homes were a nurse named Jennie Adams, James and Charma Covell, whose daughter would indirectly make an impact for the Lord after the war, Dorothy Dowell, Signe Erickson, Dr. Frederick Meyer and his wife Ruth, Dr. Francis Rose and his wife Gertrude, Earle and Louise Rounds and their son, Douglass.
The people survived with the help of Filipinos who lived in and around the small town of Katipunan. Dr. Rose built a small “cathedral” on the outskirts of Hopevale. Among the overhanging trees, he gorged a semi-circular bench seat with a towering tree at the end. He called it Cathedral Glen. It is where, amid war and the fear of capture, at any moment they would take time to worship. The missionaries were Northern Baptists who were conservative in their thinking, not believing in dancing or drinking. When the miners among them would celebrate good news about the war with a little dancing and drinking of homemade fermented wine, the missionaries said nothing. These things didn’t seem to matter, considering the circumstances they all found themselves in. Prayer and caring for each other was what mattered, not the issues they had been taught to follow.
Eventually, all the miners moved to other areas, except for Mark and Fern Clardy and their two sons, Johnny and Terry, and a miner, Mr. King. Those who remained struggled, plagued with concerns wondering, if captured, whether they be treated as civilians and sent to camps or as guerillas and executed. It was a constant fear that, though ever-present, was pushed aside in favor of their faith in the Lord.
On Sunday, December 19, 1943, Captain Watanabe and his troops entered the camp and rounded up the missionaries and remaining miners. That evening Captain Watanabe came to the missionaries and told them they would face execution the next day. Though no one knows exactly how the rest of the story took place, reports say that James Covell tried to convince the Japanese otherwise. However, it was eventually turned down. The missionaries’ last act was to sing a hymn and pray. We don’t know what hymn they sang, but we do know that they put themselves in God’s hands as each one was taken into a nearby hut and decapitated.
To this day, the group is known by locals as “the Hopevale Martyrs.” Their faith and courage in the Lord made an impact on those who knew them as well as some of those who had been a part of their capture. Years later, one of the Japanese soldiers was on a train with a Baptist minister who was with the Japanese Baptist Union. He asked the minister if he had known a missionary named James Covell. The minister acknowledged he had and that James Covell had been one of his teachers. The man then proceeded to tell the story of what took place in the jungle. He told how appalled some of the soldiers were of what Captain Watanabe had done. He also shared how touched he was by the faith and courage of the missionaries as they prepared to die, so touched in fact that he later became a Christian.
Sometimes, I wonder in our modern world if we have forgotten what it truly means to be followers of Christ. Have we got caught up in issues and how we do things? Do some of the things we fret over really matter in the long run when it comes to being a true follower? Does God really have great concerns over some of the things we spend so much time debating? Over the years, I have seen so many churches spend hours arguing about buildings and programs. I’ve seen churches split over trivial matters. Have we forgotten what it’s all about?
The little group in Hopevale figured dancing for joy wasn’t that big of a deal considering the circumstances that surrounded them. Drinking fermented wine was not an issue when your very life was in danger. The important thing to them was to keep their faith and trust in God in the middle of a catastrophic world. Issues like these didn’t seem to matter in the scheme of being faithful in their trust of God.
The focus of the church is to be reaching out to bring others to Christ. The focus of the church is to share the Gospel with the world. The focus of the church is to care for each other. We need to stop occasionally and ask ourselves if the things that bother us are things over which we should be concerned. Maybe ask ourselves, do I think God cares about the things that tend to wear me down?
Someday we should each take time to go to the Cathedral in the Glen. We should walk out of the walls of the building, go to the woods or hills away from the hustle and bustle of the town and city and ask God to give us the eyes in our hearts to see the world and church the way he wants it to be. Let’s get back to what is really important, sharing Jesus with a lost world.
Note: Facts about Hopevale are based on the story presented in “The Edge of Terror” by Scott Walker, Thomas Dunne Books Publisher.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. Matthew 13:15-17
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ.