Desmond Doss is one of my heroes. He joined the United States Army in April 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He couldn’t stand by while his loved ones went off to war. He was compelled to do something. But he didn’t want to fight, shoot, or kill. In fact, convicted by his religious beliefs, he was a pacifist. So why on earth would a pacifist join the U.S. Army?
To be a medic. To save people.
In the movie Hacksaw Ridge, there is a scene etched into my memory that I can recall flawlessly. In May of 1945, Japanese troops were defending the last barrier preventing a potential allied invasion of their homeland. The United States, at Okinawa, were ferociously attempting to take the Maeda Escarpment, an intimidating rock face that they called “Hacksaw Ridge.” Soldiers would climb up an enormous rope ladder, go to war with the Japanese soldiers, many of them not making it out alive. It was on May 5th that the United States secured the top of the ridge, only to be shocked by a Japanese counterattack. An attack that forced the United States to retreat down the ridge to the bottom.
As less than a third of the soldiers made it down the ridge, there was one soldier that refused to leave: Desmond Doss. Without a weapon, he trudged back across the ridge, looking for fallen soldiers. A soldier with no legs, he carried back to the ridge, lowering him down to the bottom. Another soldier shot in the knee, he dragged to the ridge, lowering him as well. After each rescue he would pray:
“Lord, help me get one more.”
When you walk into church on Sunday, you may not notice, but there are wounded soldiers sitting in every single pew. As Christians of the Church militant, we go to war every single day against the enemy. We find ourselves beaten, bloodied, our helmets falling off our heads as we absorb another blow from the enemy. The typical consequences of war. Often this leads to us limping across the battlefield of sin until we are completely and utterly exhausted with no hope of rescue.
The blood-soaked field is the direct result of man’s sin. We continue to try to right our own wrongs, take matters into our own hands, or fix ourselves with a variety of self-help books or podcasts. The result? We are hopeless, helpless, and left for dead in our own sin. Covered in our own blood and unable to save ourselves, we have no choice but to call out in desperation, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).
This was the call of the soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge: “Help! Please! Doss!” One by one, Desmond Doss rescued 75 men that had been left for dead at the top of Hacksaw Ridge. His relentless courage, his passionate love for his fellow man, and sacrificial perseverance helped the Americans to take Hacksaw Ridge and capture Okinawa. Days later, Doss was severely wounded, ending his time in the United States Army.
My church often feels like Hacksaw Ridge. Our neighborhood is littered with people who have been, by every definition of the phrase, left for dead. My church often feels like Hacksaw Ridge. Our neighborhood is littered with people who have been, by every definition of the phrase, left for dead. It's a different kind of warzone, but a warzone nonetheless.
One of these injured soldiers was a young man named Jesse. About two and a half years ago he came to our doors in tears with the desire to leave his life of addiction. He had been at war with heroin for the majority of his teenage and adult life. It cost him relationships, friendships, and even seeing his children. But that’s what addiction does. It slowly takes everything, causing one to slowly bleed out on the field, with no hope for rescue.
But Jesse had an out; a hope for rescue. His girlfriend had a rehab facility set up for Jesse and we would be able to visit with him. She called him, begging him to “come home.” A better life awaited him.
Unfortunately, his addiction had almost completely consumed every ounce of his being. He chose not to take the out, and he became worse. He would lurk around our church building, looking for any spare change he could find. It seemed like every day he was losing more weight, developing more scabs on his face from picking at them (a habit that drug addiction can cause), and nodding off more at the table where he would routinely sip his coffee. We continued to talk with him, listen to him, clothe him, pray for and with him, and above all, love him. But even then, it was about as hopeless as it could get. Maybe this was one of the soldiers that wouldn’t make it down the ridge.
Jesse stopped coming to church in June of 2020. When people stop coming to our little church, it usually means one of three things: they either moved, became incarcerated, or died. As we continued to pray for him, we weren’t sure where he was and had no way of knowing for sure unless we saw his name on a news report. We assumed his addiction had devoured him and spit up his bones.
Until January 25th, 2021. A young man, holding the hand of a beautiful young woman with a teenager close behind them, walked through our doors. As he walked closer to our head pastor and me, as we looked in his eyes, we finally recognized who this was: it was Jesse. Clean, sober, healthy Jesse.
He proceeded to tell us that he finally took "the out" in June. He reconnected with his girlfriend (now wife), his fifteen-year-old son, and was even getting custody of his little girl that week. He was elated as he told us about Christmas in their new home, showing us pictures of their families around the Christmas tree. He is working a full-time job and to quote Jesse, “Life is finally good, guys.” He got some coffee, gave hugs to a couple of the people that were there and then came back over to us and said, “We aren’t going to stay, I can’t stay here. But I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’”
Over the course of his time at our church, Jesse received the Lord’s Supper routinely. In fact, I rejoiced whenever I saw him approaching the altar. It was this meal, I believe, that sustained him. Even as an addict, his faith in Christ was what kept him alive. These words that willed him to live in the face of dark addiction: “Take, eat and drink, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, Jesse, for the forgiveness of your sins.”
It is at the altar where you and I receive the fruits of grace from the tree of life; the very cross that bore Jesus for you. Where, in death, we find life. It is here where Jesus trudged across the battlefield of evil, covered in blood, with no worldly weapon, to rescue each one of us. It was here that Jesus jumped into the foxhole, put Jesse on his back, and brought him to safety, giving him new life.
That night, I gave Jesse a big hug and told him how proud I was of him. Our head pastor did the same and with a grin delivered his famous line, “We love you, and we never want to see you in this neighborhood again.” Jesse laughed and agreed. Their car started up, the sweet sound of new beginnings, and they pulled away from the church. We smiled, discussed how it was time to get back to work, and then we prayed together:
“Lord, help us get one more.”