During World War II, a young Scotsman named Murdo Macdonald was an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland and pastored a little church on the Isle of Skye. Murdo was quick to answer the call to duty when the war broke out: he enlisted in the British Army and served as a chaplain in the First Parachute Brigade.

In 1944, however, Murdo was wounded and captured during combat in North Africa. The Germans took him to the infamous German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III. For nineteen days, he was kept in solitary confinement and maltreated. He was threatened with being shot, subjected to extremes of hot and cold temperatures, and questioned day and night endlessly. Eventually, though, Murdo was released into the general camp population.

Stalag Luft III was divided into an American side and a British side, with a high barbed wire fence separating the two. Murdo volunteered to serve as chaplain for the American side. It was living among and ministering to these young American soldiers that Murdo received the affectionate nickname he became known, “Padre Mac.

As it happened, there was another Scotsman imprisoned on the British side. So, each day, the two Scots would meet to talk at the fence. They met in the presence of guards, of course, but while there were guards who knew French and English, they did not know Gaelic, the native tongue of Scotland. Another thing the guards did not know was that the British had smuggled a shortwave radio into the camp. So, every day, the Scotsman on the British side would bring news about the war to the fence and share it with Padre Mac in Gaelic, who would then report it back to the American side of the camp. It was a great system they had worked out.

Then, one morning at 6 am, Padre Mac was shaken awake by one of the Americans. The soldier told him that the Scotsman from the British side was at the fence and wanted to talk. So, he got dressed in a hurry and ran to the fence, where his Scottish compadre whispered just two words of Gaelic: Thainig iad. “They’ve come.”

Thus, Padre Mac learned of the Allied invasion of Normandy. He immediately ran back to share the news with his side of the camp. He reports that, upon hearing the news, men leaped into the air and, shouting and crying, rolled in wild abandon on the ground. They knew that victory was in sight and deliverance was around the corner.

But here’s the catch: their ordeal as prisoners of war was not yet over. They were still very much imprisoned. They were still at the mercy of the Nazi soldiers. And although they did not know it, they would soon be on a forced march to Stalag VII-A, another POW camp. Even so, here’s how Padre Mac described what that time was like:

We were still prisoners in a sense. But boy, we walked around as though we were at a party. We didn’t complain about the food anymore. We didn’t hate the guards anymore. We smiled at them. Even though they pointed their guns at us, we were still their prisoners; we felt sorry for them. But the truth is: we were set free by the news before even we were set free by the allied forces.”

The good news of the Gospel is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. In spite of how where we are. Regardless of what we are. Despite our circumstances. In spite of how disappointed we are in the course our lives have taken. Irrespective of how mind-numbing our dead-end job may be. No matter how adept we’ve gotten at fracturing our relationships. It doesn’t matter how addicted we are to drugs or alcohol or other people’s attention. And even though we are bone-weary about being in lockdown, if we receive the good news that God sent His Son to save us, we can believe what the Gospel tells us about our status of becoming God’s beloved children. If we just give that love the final word in defining who we are and how we act. Then, like Padre Mac, we too can be set free no matter our external circumstances. As our great Deliverer told the world, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”[1]

[1] John 8:36

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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