Walter’s Korean War service hat was covered with pins marking battles: Chosin Reservoir, Heartbreak Ridge, Bloody Ridge, the Punch Bowl. I introduced myself and said, “Thank you for your service.” He warmly returned my greeting. I continued, “I have two kids from South Korea who would not be ours if you guys had not done what you did to save their nation.” He smiled, “Well, thanks.” As our eyes met, I felt burdened for him. We talked briefly and exchanged phone numbers.
A few weeks later I called him. “Can I bring you anything from the craft store? I’m there now …” When I delivered his leather, we stood and talked in his driveway.
“I’m curious.” I said, “After what you’ve been through, have you marveled at how God preserved your life through all that?” His reply stunned me: “Oh, they’ll never take me in heaven. I was a forward observer; I called in 105 Howitzers on the enemy. You have no idea how many people I killed, no idea.” He looked away, a man whose guilt and nightmares had plagued him for 70 years.
“Well, you’ve heard of David. The Bible says he was ‘a man after God’s own heart,’ and it also says that he killed thousands. Serving your country and obeying the government God has established won’t keep you from heaven.” He considered these hopeful words. I sensed an opening and said, “Would you like to study the Bible with me and see what it says about how you can be made right with God?”
In the weeks that followed, we sat during the evenings at his table and worked through the book of John, noting time and again how a person could find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Hope began to build in his eyes. He heard Jesus teach Nicodemus about salvation—a priceless gift from God. He marveled at Jesus’s compassion for the woman at the well as Jesus looked through her sin and touched her soul’s need, this Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world by dying in our place.
In his mind, it now seemed possible that even his sins could be forgiven. Soon, Walter became interested in attending church. We arranged rides. I introduced him to a whole new family of friends who had been praying for his salvation. He could sense their genuine love. He also felt the convicting work of the Spirit as he heard biblical preaching, commenting, “I felt like he was preaching to me!” As he drew near to other believers, he found more answers to his questions.
Earlier this year we spoke in his driveway as the winter sun was setting. I remarked that he was a different person than when we first met months ago in the store. Walter agreed, commenting on the work of the gospel in his life: “When Jesus took my sins, he did a lot of work.”
Through connections with coworkers, Steve Brennecke learned about Tabernacle Baptist Church in Hazel Park, Michigan. They were hosting a concert by a Korean pianist who performs for Korean War veterans to thank them for their service in her country. Steve drove Walter to the church to hear her and to meet other veterans.
One of them was Hal Barber, a Christian Korean War veteran. Hal and Walter discovered they had served in some of the same battles, including one in which Hal provided cover fire to protect Walter’s unit.
Steve Brennecke and his wife, Kim, formerly served in a Creative Access Nation before Steve joined BMM’s Global Ministry Center team where he is Administrator of Stewardship Ministries. The Brenneckes marvel at God’s ongoing work in Walter’s heart and how He used Steve’s impulse to say “Thank you.” That simple act brought Christ to a 92-year-old veteran who never believed God could save a man like him.
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