The lesson on trench warfare in the First World War seemed to resonate with my Grade 7 class of girls this week. It was a beautiful afternoon and the regular teacher wanted me to take them outdoors, so out we went and sat on the steps going up to the playground overlooking the school.
While some of them were worried about ticks, nevertheless they put aside that worry and concentrated on the article that they were asked to read and then answer questions. Why the soldiers would put themselves through these battles anyway was obviously on their young minds.
In early 1915 the first Canadian soldiers arrived in France as part of the British Army. They found themselves digging and living in the trenches. This line of trenches eventually stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss Alps and was called the Western Front. Life in the trenches of the Western ront was miserable and dangerous. Depending on the season, soldiers lived through bone-chilling cold, unbearable heat or constant rain and mud. Their uniforms were filthy and infested with lice. Rats were everywhere.
Diseases such as trench foot and pneumonia were common. Trench foot, which rotted the flesh off the feet, was caused by standing in the mud and water. If this infection spread, a soldier’s foot and leg might have to be cut off. The question asked at the end of this information was, “Why do you think men continued to stay and fight on?”
Life in the trenches was hell and fear was constant. Soldiers never knew when the enemy might stage a surprise raid, an all- out attack or deploy deadly, poisonous gas that could kill within minutes. Then there were the snipers and the lobbing of shells and grenades. Yet they soldiered on with pride in the cause of freedom which we here in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth enjoy today.
While I can only guess why this article stirred up so much class discussion that afternoon on the hilltop, for me it was the call to remain faithful to the mission that God called upon me to serve, to soldier on despite the attacks of the enemy of our souls for the cause of Christ. God’s day is marching on and we are called upon to be prepared for battle. Though the enemy be strong, God is so much stronger in our struggles and He will lead us in the journey
God calls upon each of us to speed the victories of love, to preach the gospel of redemption, to make the future in the present, strong of heart while we toil on in our own trenches in spite of the storms. You may know several people who need your help and encouragement right now and all you have to do is to pick up that cellphone and reach out to them. Tell them of Jesus who is mighty to save and remind them they are not alone in their struggles because God is with them every step of the way.
Last night in Men’s Fellowship in our church, we all reached out to one another. One man was fighting cancer and his testimony inspired us all for there were several battles of the cancer racing through him, yet prayers for healing were being answered. Another man had fallen outside last winter in his back yard and had broken his leg. He could not cry out for help because his wife, who was in failing health, could not hear him. What was he to do? He was in the country and there was no one around to assist him. My friend prayed to the Lord and before long, the VON nurse rounded the corner of the house on her way to care for his ailing wife and saw him, helpless in snow and freezing temperatures. That VON nurse’s timing no doubt saved his life.
Another man spoke of his financial burdens facing retirement and what should have been a happy time for him was a struggle to meet the demands of trying to pay the workers preparing his home. Yet he was encouraged by the stories of the men who shared their own faith despite their hard struggles and remained faithful to the Lord. Another shared about the young boys in his village growing up and being abused by their spiritual leader while his community was being blind to the abuse happening to these youth.
During prayer that followed the several stories of faith in the trenches, my blind friend sensing my own struggles, stood up and put his hands on my shoulders and whispered to me that God was in my own struggles and that I was going to make it through.
He told me to remember how God blessed me in the past and that He had not given up, that it was okay to question God but He was holding on to each one of us just the same. It was an encouragement that I needed at that moment.
That great hymn of Walter John Mathams came to my thoughts: “God is with us, Christ our Lord shall reign as King.”
Fred Jeffery is a retired principal and a member of the Salvation Army, still soldiering on.