James E. Ray of College Station, Texas relates the hope he received while imprisoned in North Vietnam. May 8th, 1966 his 105 Thunderchief was shot down as they bombed a railroad bridge on the Hanoi-China line. Initially, he was isolated, feeling the desolation of aloneness and the guilt of having written a confession under torture. A man in the next cell, whispered to him (fearing discovery by their jailers) and they began an exchange of what little scripture they knew.
“Do you know any scripture?” Bob asked.
“Well, I know the Lord’s Prayer,” Ray answered.
“Everyone knows that. How about the 23rd Psalm?“
“Only a little.” I began whispering it. He repeated each line after me. A little later he whispered back the entire Psalm.
Other prisoners joined in, sharing verses they knew. Through these contacts, a fellowship grew among us. The other said I shouldn’t feel bad about confessing under torture. “We’ve all done it,” they assured me. I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Often racked with dysentery, weakened by the diet of rice, thin cabbage and pumpkin soup, our physical lives had shrunk within the prison walls. We spent 20 hours a day locked in our cells. And those Bible verses became rays of light, constant assurances of God’s love and care.
We made ink from brick dust and water or precious drops of medicine. We wrote verses on bits of toilet paper and slipped them to others, dropping them behind a loose brick at the toilet.
It was dangerous to do that. Communication was forbidden and a man unlucky enough to be caught passing a note would be forced to stand with his arms up against a wall for several days, without sleep.
But the urge to share developed inventiveness. One night I lay with my ear pressed against the rough wooden wall of my cell to hear thump, thump, …thumpity thump as somewhere, cells away, a fellow POW tapped out in Morse Code: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Psalm 121:1).
By the early 1970’s, almost all of the American POWs had been moved to Hoa Lo, the main prison in downtown Hanoi. Newspapers later called this Hanoi Hilton… Some 50 of us lived, ate and lived in one large room. Thanksgiving came shortly after we moved in, and we held a brief service. We were surprised to find how many of the men knew Scripture, learned from those verses passed along in whispers, on toilet paper and through the wall thumpings.