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Third in a series on war veterans
Bernie Holritz, 99, loves to tell how God directed every aspect of his life, though never in a straight line. As America battled Japan during World War II, the Navy recruit didn’t expect he’d one day evangelize the Japanese.
Growing up in North Dakota, Holritz felt God was urging him to become a medical missionary to China. But in mid-1941, while in school, Holritz ran out of funds to finish pre-med coursework. With some anxiety over leaving the familiarity of home, he boarded a bus to Burbank, Calif., and took a job with the Lockheed aircraft factory to earn tuition money.
It was one of several times Holritz found himself adjusting his plans to God’s.
In Burbank, he found living quarters with Christians who belonged to a solid church where Holritz grew spiritually. He also learned to share the gospel with people living in Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
But that December, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Before long, Holritz volunteered for the Navy, hoping for overseas assignments. After he took rigorous classes in electrical engineering, radio, and electronics, superiors chose him to stay stateside teaching sailors to service equipment at sea. Holritz was disappointed: He wouldn’t get to serve abroad.
Even today, Holritz feels some guilt when he thinks of other veterans: “All those folks jeopardized their lives. All I did was face cockroaches in Texas.”
He soon realized, though, he was right where God wanted him. While stationed in Corpus Christi, he started Bible studies that became evangelistic outreaches as more men joined. He met his future wife, Jeanette, through a local church. And his desires morphed from pursuing medical missions to focusing on evangelism.
He and Jeanette agreed they wanted to serve in China as missionaries. In the years after the war, the Communist regime started expelling Christian ministries from the country. Because of Holritz’s wartime radio expertise, The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) asked him instead to help start a radio ministry in post-war Japan, where they would “loan” Bernie and Jeanette to Pacific Broadcast Association (PBA).
It would be a life-altering change in direction. Holritz felt prompted in his heart to say yes, and Jeanette concurred with, “Well, honey, let’s go!”
Holritz says he and Jeanette never felt animosity toward the Japanese—or from them—despite the recent war. They did feel other pressures: Securing radio permits from the Japanese government took interpreters and numerous meetings. The constant need to raise funds kept them stressed but praying. Holritz jokes: “We operated with the waterline just below our nose.”
They also struggled to break through the embedded mindset of a pagan culture steeped in centuries of the Shinto and Buddhist religions. And it took years to overcome reticence of Japanese Christian pastors to accept radio because, during the war, radio stations—all government-controlled—had broadcast a stream of propaganda.
God provided Japanese to go on air so the Japanese audience could hear the gospel directly from their own people.
Yet God provided, bringing individuals to help train Japanese to go on air so the Japanese audience could hear the gospel directly from their own people, not foreigners.
PBA’s very first radio programs involved a Christian station in Manila broadcasting into Japan. Several years later, the Japanese government finally OK’d the ministry to buy time on newly commercialized stations. During this same period, the Holritzes started a church: After services they offered yūshoku dendō, or dinner evangelism, in their home. Both the radio ministry and the church still thrive today.
Holritz remembers when a Japanese man came to believe in Christ after one of these meals, having seen his wife’s many profound, lasting changes after her conversion. In front of everyone, the man hugged his wife with joy. “That absolutely never happened in Japanese culture,” remarks Holritz, pointing to the power of the gospel.
Jeanette died in 2011. Holritz still loves technology and Japan. He recently started biweekly Zoom meetings with friends to pray for the country.