Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

John, an Irish Brethren missionary to Japan during World War II, was arrested for his Christian witness along with another Irish missionary, R G Wright, in October 1941. Japanese opinion of Christians and foreigners was very low, and the pair were subjected to five days of interrogation. They were grilled on Ise Jingu (a Japanese god), the “deity” of the Emperor, the Bible and the refusal of Christians to bow before Japanese shrines, before being released.

John was arrested again on 8 December 1941 and sent to Sugamo prison in eastern Tokyo. When he was first sent to the prison his health was very good, but he soon became seriously ill. He was then transferred to a mental asylum in Tokyo in mid-January 1942, where it is suspected that he was given experimental drugs.

Christians who asked about Hewitt’s whereabouts were not given an answer. But some months later the authorities asked his Buddhist neighbour to make funeral arrangements for him. When two women missionaries heard about this, they went in search of John and found him in a pauper ward, lying on the floor and very malnourished, but calling out “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” They stayed with him, but were helpless to save him from death. The women gained police permission for Hewitt to be given a Christian burial. John was one of many missionaries to be imprisoned by the Japanese during the war.

Father, make us more like Jesus. Help us to bear difficulty, pain, disappointment and sorrow, knowing that in your perfect working and design you can use such bitter experiences to shape our characters and make us more like our Lord. We look with hope for that day when we shall be wholly like Christ, because we shall see him as he is. Amen.

Ignatius of Antioch, before his martyrdom in 107

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.