This article first appeared in the summer 2008 issue of Advance magazine.
By Julie Rosenau
If ever an MK has been called upon to make sacrifices, it is Richard Shaw. Now 79, Richard spent his young life weathering a series of tragedies to which “Why?” seems the most natural response. But his is more than just a story of heartache and loss. It is a story of God’s power to take the pieces of a shipwrecked life and fashion those weather-beaten bits into a beautiful reflection of His love.
The story starts in 1937, when Harvey and Vera Shaw joined BMM and arrived in French Equatorial Africa the following year. “My parents were involved in church planting, and my dad was instrumental in starting two new churches out in the bush,” recounts their son, Richard, who often accompanied his father on ministry trips.
Childhood was enjoyable for Richard and likely would have taken a normal course, had it not been for a dramatic, life-altering event in 1942. On an emergency return trip to America, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, along with Richard (then 13) and his sisters Georgia (11) and Carol (7) had to cross the war-torn Atlantic. Their voyage on the S.S. West Lashawayended tragically when their ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.
Mrs. Shaw and Georgia, below deck at the time, were never seen again. The explosion threw Mr. Shaw, Richard, and Carol into the sea. Multiplying the horror, the submarine surfaced and began gunning people in the water. When the sub finally left, 40 survivors remained. As Richard reached the raft Carol was on, he saw the blast had completely removed her clothes, and her arm was badly broken. Mr. Shaw was found later, barely recognizable. In the night, the ship’s captain released the raft holding Mr. Shaw so the children would be spared the sight of their father dying.
After 21 days on that raft, Richard and Carol were eventually rescued and taken to Miami. That night, alone in a hotel room, the two faced their reality: “We lay on that bed hugging each other and crying all night—alone.” [Story paraphrased from Burning Wicks,the history of Baptist Mid-Missions.]
I had grown up knowing only this part of Richard Shaw’s story. But a phone interview filled in the remainder, a remarkable account of God’s working all things for good.
Julie: After living through such a traumatic event, losing your parents and oldest sister, and landing in a strange country, how did you and Carol survive all of that?
Richard: “I’ll tell you. The Scripture says that the Lord takes care of the widows and orphans. Well, He sure is faithful, because He took good care of me and my sister.”
But at first, some things were hard to comprehend. After arriving in Miami, Richard and Carol went to the Westervelt Home for MKs. It was a difficult time for them, still raw with grief, and it was a different time from today. “[At the Home] the boys were not allowed to talk to the girls,” says Richard. “You couldn’t even talk to your sister except on Sunday during ‘brother/sister hour.’ Well, that kinda went against my craw. Then one day my sister was out in the yard, and she hollered over, ‘Hi, Richard,’ and this kid slapped her for talking to me. I ended up beatin’ him up.”
Richard was subsequently expelled from Westervelt Home and sent to Mishawaka, Indiana, where BMM’s Home Office was then located. Richard told of his experiences, and an investigation was made, after which Carol was also moved to Mishawaka.
Not long after, Carol was adopted by Mrs. Hobson, a secretary at BMM, and Carol’s name was changed to Donna Hobson. Richard was placed in foster care and bounced from home to home. “I went to seven different schools in five different states in just two-and-a-half years’ time,” he recounts.
In what ways did all of this affect you spiritually and emotionally?
“It was hard. I was pretty rebellious for quite a while … but I was never bitter at God. Some thought I was bitter at God for taking my family. But that was the only thing I had any peace in, the fact that I knew where my family was. I rebelled against mistreatment from people who didn’t understand me. I was a nervous wreck, and I was very hyper. Nobody knew how to take care of me. Later on, I forgave those people because they didn’t know how to handle me or what to do. And I didn’t know either.”
Most of the family’s considered Richard a lost cause. At one foster home, they said, “That kid’s no good. He ain’t gonna amount to anything. He’s gonna be in a penitentiary and who knows what else.”
Did you get to see your sister during this time? How was her experience?
“There were times I’d go for a couple of years and didn’t see her. We always wrote letters back and forth. I don’t think she had near the problem that I did. She’s always been living for the Lord.”
What happened next?
“I spent eight years in the Navy. I was rebellious …. I just wasn’t living for the Lord. Then, in 1957, I said, ‘Lord, I’ve made a mess out of my life, but if you can do anything with this mess, you’ve got it.’ And I just turned my life completely over to Him. And that’s the way it’s been for 51 years now.”
Richard went on to become a Moody Bible Institute alumnus and was ordained for ministry in 1962.
How has God used your MK experiences?
“I’ve had experience establishing churches in different parts of Illinois. I don’t know if I would have ever known how if I hadn’t had the experiences I did being an MK.”
“And then I was a chaplain for four years at the penitentiary. There were a lot of attitudes and thoughts, … and even some bitterness…, and [from my experiences] I halfway understood how to deal with it.”
So, you ended up in the penitentiary after all?
[laughs heartily] “Yes. I thought of those who said I’d end up in the penitentiary, and on my first day when I walked out of there to go home, I thought ‘Eat yer crow!’ ”[more laughing]
Over the years, Richard has pastored several churches, and he currently serves as chaplain in a nursing home. He and his wife, Evelyn, reside in Burlington, Iowa. They have three children, David, Nancy, and Ruth. Donna (Carol) and her husband, Bill Taylor, live in Detroit, Michigan.
Thank you for sharing your story. You have a powerful testimony, and I know it will touch many hearts as it has mine.
“God has been good. I’ve always been thankful to the Lord and proud I was an MK.”
Editor’s Note: The daughter of BMM President Vernon Rosenau, and an MK herself, Julie grew up in Central African Republic (in the region formerly known as French Equatorial Africa), where Richard spent his childhood. Both were delighted to exchange conversation in Sango, their country’s language, which Richard still remembered. Since the time of this writing, Richard has gone to be with the Lord (2015).
Photos: (Banner) The Shaw family with friends, and the news announcements about the Shaws' tragedy; (Top) Georgia, Carol, and Richard Shaw; (Bottom) Richard and his wife, Evelyn.