Missionary Rufus Gray Killed in WWII Internment Camp

Originally published in 1955

Twelve (now thirteen)-year-old Billy Gray whispered with intense earnestness: “I’m going to be a medical missionary. You see my father was killed by the Japanese and I want to do his unfinished work as well as my own.” …

Billy went on telling me his plans for the financing of his education; but my mind was back in the Philippines where two weeks before I had visited the places significantly important in the last days of Rufus F. Gray—the house where he lived, the place where he was interned, and probably the place where he died. …

I felt an obligation to share what is known of the details of Rufus Gray’s death with Southern Baptists. Unintentionally and unavoidably, proper recognition has never been given to this man who was as much a martyr to his faith as were the early Christians. …

Rufus and Marian Gray were among the missionary appointees who were set apart at the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, in 1940. Already the war had been going on in the East for three years and some of the missionaries were coming home.

Everyone knew that these young people, especially those going to the Orient, were facing difficulties and dangers. …

Mr. and Mrs. Gray sailed from San Francisco in September, 1940. Along with other new missionaries they enrolled in the College of Chinese Studies in Peiping, China. Day after day the war clouds thickened and conditions grew more unsettled. …

The group of language students left China for the Philippines … and soon were settled in Baguio, a mountain resort 175 miles north of Manila. … Here they continued their study of the Chinese language. And here on September 8, 1941, a son, William Gilman, was born to the Grays. …

Then on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war. Soon the Philippines were attacked and rapidly the invading armies took possession of all the islands. On December 29 the Baguio group of missionaries were interned at Camp John Hay in Baguio.

About a month later they were taken to Camp Holmes, five miles north of the city of Baguio. Circumstantial evidence indicates that it was on a clear, cool day, the first Sunday in February, 1942, that Rufus Gray died. However, in July of that year Mrs. Gray was given a prepared statement saying that he had died in March. There has never been a word as to what happened to the body.

When last seen by the other missionaries on that February day, Rufus Gray was cheerful as usual. Mr. Hinderlie [a Lutheran minister who was questioned right before Rufus] said Rufus, always hospitable and warm in nature, made friends with the guards during the five hours’ wait at the police station.

“Neither of us, of course, knew this was our last time together,” Mr. Hinderlie wrote. “We did not take time for prayer, though certainly both of us were in the spirit of prayer even as we were talking to the guards or when we were musing in our own thoughts. We knew almost anything could happen.”

Later, as he was being questioned, Mr. Hinderlie heard in an adjoining room what he thought to be artificial respiration. He said: “My own opinion is they did not expect Rufus to die. . . . I was abused, not for my American citizenship but because I was a Christian and for my Christian faith. It was for this also that Rufus died. I think we should not obscure that fact. . . . I am sure he gave a full confession for his faith.”

Mr. Lee, being tortured in one of the rooms, recognized the voice of Rufus in another. The last word he heard from the lips of the missionary was “God.”

Rufus Gray had a way of dating Scripture verses as he read his Bible. After his death was confirmed by the Japanese, Marian found a passage dated February, 1942: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Between the date when Rufus Gray was last seen and the date in July when his death was announced, Mrs. Gray sat for hours out on the rocks of the prison compound, holding little Billy, watching trucks as they came along the road below, faintly hoping that Rufus might be one of the forced drivers of the Japanese trucks. (Many of the truck drivers were Americans.)

I stood where she sat and tried to imagine what it could have been like. As I lifted my eyes from the road below to the horizons above … I knew I could never record the details of what I was learning of the torture and death of Rufus Gray. I am quite sure that he would ask us to remember from the past only that which we can use to prevent the human race from slaying its youth and that with which we can honor and serve the Lord. I think he would ask us to lift our spiritual horizons until we can cleanse history with Christian forgiveness just as his son Billy corrects the past by preparing to give the equivalent of two lives to the unfinished task of making the world Christian.

Excerpted from “’To the Death We Follow Thee’” by Ione Gray, The Commission, January 1955, p. 12-13, 21.

Rufus Gray from IMB on Vimeo.