When World War II ended in 1945, Japan had about three million troops overseas, about a third of them dug in on islands throughout the Pacific. These men were thoroughly trained in the Bushido code, which held that it was better to die than to surrender. Many Japanese soldiers had been cut off from the main army during the Allies’ island-hopping campaign and continued to resist. Sporadic fighting continued for months and in some cases years after the formal surrender.
Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda had been stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines when it was overrun by U.S. forces in February 1945. Most of the Japanese troops were slain or captured, but Onoda and several other men holed up in the mountainous jungle. The others were eventually killed, but Onoda held out for 29 years, dismissing every attempt to coax him out as a ruse.
In 1974, a college dropout by the name of Norio Suzuki was traveling the world, looking for, as he told his friends, “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.” He found Lieutenant Onoda and became friends with him. (While he may have since seen a panda, reports suggest that he is still looking for the Abominable Snowman.) Despite Suzuki’s encouragement, Onoda refused to come out of the mountains unless ordered by a superior officer.
Suzuki returned with photographs of him and Onoda and convinced the Japanese government to go after Onoda (they had declared him officially dead years before). Finally, the government officials located his commanding officer, who went to Lubang in 1974 to order Onoda to give up. The lieutenant stepped out of the jungle to accept the order of surrender in his dress uniform and sword, with his rifle still in operating condition. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the last Japanese soldier to surrender. Teruo Nakamura was discovered in December of the same year on Morotai Island in Indonesia.
Sometimes we become so invested in fighting our battles that we fail to recognize that everyone around us has moved on to other goals. They knew (long before we ever recognized it) that the battle was lost, that it was no longer worth fighting. Leaders need to know when to cut their losses and move on – sometimes even from a good cause.
As Christian leaders, we have a Superior Officer who will tell us which battles are worth fighting, but we have to evaluate, and we have to ask. When our activities stop producing fruit, we should consult God before we redouble our efforts. It may be that He has moved on to other priorities, and there is no sense wasting time on our pet projects when there won’t be an impact at their completion. In addition, it is also good to ask God to order our priorities when we are in the process of transition or when we’ve reached a natural stopping point.
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)