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It was autumn 1931 in the dangerous northern districts of North Jiangsu, China. American missionary Reverend John W Vinson, known as Uncle Jack, had just undergone an operation. His desire was to go back and continue witnessing to the Chinese. Despite his friends insisting that he rest, Uncle Jack said, “I must witness for the Lord while I can.”

Uncle Jack made it to a little town called Yan-Chia-Chi. He was warmly greeted by a group of Chinese Christians, many of whom he had previously baptised.

That night, over 600 bandits swooped down on the small town, looting, burning, killing and wounding the people all that night and the next day.

They finally left the village, taking with them 150 Chinese men, women and children to hold for ransom, including what they considered their prize captive, Uncle Jack.

Not long afterwards, an army of government soldiers pursued the bandits and surrounded them.

The bandits asked Uncle Jack, “Do you want to go free?”

“Certainly”, he replied.

“All right, you write a letter to the commanding officer of these soldiers to withdraw his troops and we will let you go.”

“Will you also free all these Chinese prisoners?” he asked.

“Certainly not,” said the bandit chief.

“Then I, too, refuse to go free,” replied Uncle Jack.

That night the bandits tried to escape. Many were killed, but some were able to run free, taking Uncle Jack with them. Because of Uncle Jack’s recent operation, he was unable to run fast. One of the captives who escaped, a daughter of a Chinese pastor, recounts what happened next.

“The bandit was threatening Uncle Jack with a pistol and trying to frighten him.

“‘I’m going to kill you’, he said as he pointed the gun at the missionary’s head, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’

“’No, I am not afraid,’ came the calm reply, ‘if you kill me I will go right to God.’

“Uncle Jack was killed, shot and beheaded.”

The news of Uncle Jack’s martyrdom spread and reached the writer E H Hamilton. It is believed that once Hamilton heard the tragic story, he went to his study and in 15 minutes had written this poem.

Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace,

The strife and strain of life to cease?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Saviour’s face

To hear His welcome, and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid of What?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!

A wound of His a counterpart!

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

To do by death what life could not –

Baptise with blood a stony plot,

Till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid – of that?

Hamilton recognised something in Uncle Jack that I suspect was the reason he was inspired to write this remarkable poem. Uncle Jack showed determination to be a missionary despite his health condition. He also showed that freedom on earth was not worth sacrificing his faith for. He was fearless because he understood that he was saved by Jesus. The saving grace he had experienced was the reason he was a missionary and the reason why he didn’t sign a letter for his own gain.

Uncle Jack had experienced a freedom that was not limited to this world. Uncle Jack’s response shows that he had lived a life focused on the saving grace of Jesus. This was his motivation and his desire was to live for eternity with his Saviour. A pistol could not take that desire away.

Be inspired to live more like Uncle Jack, who understood the Gospel. He was determined to live out his faith and to be fearless of the difficulties that arose around him, even to death.

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” Romans 1:16.

Hamilton’s poem is found in Jesus Freaks, a book about martyred Christians specifically for young people.