God’s Gracious and Mighty Hand in the Pre-History of DCC
One of the central tenets of biblical faith is that God is sovereign over history, and he works out his purposes within events of time. Although we may readily see God’s purposes as they come to fruition, it is often only in hindsight that we see and appreciate the means and the details by which he has worked his plan. This phenomenon is captured in the saying, “God is always working upstream!”
A biblical example of this is the deliverance of the Israelites in the days of Deborah and Barak. Through the prophetess Deborah, Yahweh had announced that deliverance from Jabin, the king of Hazor, and his general Sisera would come by the hands of a woman (Judges 4:9). Indeed, Sisera was delivered into the hand of a woman, but not into the hand of Deborah or another Israelite woman. Instead, he was killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who drove a tent peg into his head while he lie sleeping in her tent (Judges 4:17-24). But how did Jael become a party to an Israelite-Canaanite battle. Judges 4:11 indicates that her family had migrated away from the major Kenite settlement and had set up camp near the eventual battle site of Kadesh. The Lord was working upstream!
As we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of Dallas Christian College, the DCC family can point to a similar story of God working upstream in history in ways imperceptible to those living at the time. You see, much of the story of DCC begins in another large city and on another college campus.
Most readers of this article are somewhat familiar with the broad contours of the story of DCC’s founding and the story of the key figure in its founding, Vernon Newland, DCC’s first president. Before the Second World War, Newland served as a missionary in China / Tibet and then in the Philippines. With the outbreak of World War II and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942, Vernon Newland, his wife, and three of his four children were captured by the Japanese and interred in the grounds of the Santo Tomas University, along with over 3,000 American and European citizens gathered from across the Philippines. They were held there until the camp’s liberation by a special rescue mission of U.S. Army troops in late February, 1945.
Yet, months before their liberation, on July 26, 1944, our God was orchestrating history and a crucial part of DCC’s story. On that day, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a difficult and momentous military decision that essentially determined whether 3,200 held in Santo Tomas would live or die.
American forces had recently been victorious over the Japanese in the Mariana Islands and the Joint Chiefs were debating where next to strike in their advance toward Japan. Two major options were considered. The first option was to invade the island of Formosa (modern day Taiwan). The second was to seek to retake the Philippines. The Formosa plan was supported by Navy Admiral Ernest J. King and seemed to the majority the obvious first choice. It was closer to Japan. Allied forces could count on assistance from the Chinese nationals, and the Japanese defenses in Formosa were weaker. General Douglas MacArthur, however, stubbornly contended that the Philippines would offer superior air and naval bases. More importantly, he argued that thousands of American soldiers and thousands of American, Filipino, and European civilians were imprisoned there by Japanese imperial forces, and they were at the point of death. FDR, over the objections of most of the Joint Chiefs, sided with MacArthur. MacArthur would have the opportunity to keep the promise he had made in 1942 as he and U.S. retreated from the Philippines, “I shall return” — and those imprisoned would be given a chance to live.
When the American tanks crashed through the gates of Santo Tomas University and U.S. soldiers liberated those inside, the residents were near starvation. As the noose had been tightening around Japan in the Pacific, available food was being confiscated for the Japanese military. U.S. military intelligence had gathered information indicating that the Japanese planned to slaughter the residents before any abandoning of Manila. Had the residents of Santo Tomas been forced to wait until an Allied victory in Formosa, they would have surely died. But Vernon Newland and his family were spared.
Through the remainder of his life, Vernon Newland never would tire to tell the story of how he walked through the camp shouting in celebration, but as he turned a corner of an out-of-the way building, there he saw laying on the ground the bodies of several American soldiers who had died in the fighting. Overcome by grief and gratitude, he said, “These men died for me.” He came away from that experience with a far deeper knowledge of what it means to say, “Christ died for me.”
Upon his return to the United States, he acted upon that profound sense of gratitude. He became a champion of the power of biblical faith in people’s lives, in churches, and in higher education. He would go on to found multiple Bible colleges. One was Dallas Christian College.
Our God always works upstream! As we celebrate the 65 years of influence Dallas Christian College has had, we believe the same Yahweh, the God of Israel, who parted the Red Sea, who brought the Israelites into Canaan in fulfillment of his promises to the patriarchs, who preserved his people through the exile, and who sent his Son Jesus Christ to live, to die, and to rise within history, has acted in our story. We believe he orchestrated the decision made on July 26, 1944 in Washington, DC that changed the course of a war in the Pacific and that changed our lives and the lives of thousands (maybe millions) who after 1950 would be touched by the work of Dallas Christian College.
Dr. Mark Hahlen is Bible department chair and professor of Old Testament at Dallas Christian College.