Emmaus Connection - Articles
Reflections from the Past — Vision for the Future
Jim Yorgey is an ECS Associate Instructor. Like many servicemen of that era, he has an interesting history to tell. Please enjoy this short account of experiences in World War 2.
The Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944–January 16, 1945) was the largest battle ever fought by the US Army. I was a medic in the 99th Infantry Division. We arrived in Le Havre, France in November 1944 and proceeded to Belgium to prepare for the front lines. Although cut up and surrounded in part, the 99th was one of the only divisions that did not yield to the German attack and held their positions until reinforcements arrived.
Frankly, as hard as I try, I cannot remember much about the battle, maybe by God’s grace! I know we had to dig fox holes, big enough to house four men, since I was a medic on a litter (stretcher) squad. We all carried our medical aid kit with our canteen & cup as well as a gas mask. Inside the gas mask I put a small red devotional book The Continual Burnt Offering by Harry Ironside that I had received from my sister just before we left for Europe.
At one point our medic company took shelter in the basement of a home somewhere in the northern area of the bulge. How well I recall our corporal, a brute of a man, who bragged of his fearlessness. In the dead of night we heard his cries of terror as we listened to the battle around us. When dawn came, the engineers had plowed a path through the heavy forest for us to get out. By the time we were on our way, the Germans had discovered the road and were shelling it as we ran between the explosions. There was at least 3 feet of snow on the ground and we simply ran through the forest with the clothes we were wearing, leaving everything including our equipment. Several of our men were killed on the way out. Months later, the company commander showed me a small red book and asked if I recognized it. My sister had put my name inside the cover and I claimed it with joy, “Yes, it’s mine!” I still have it some seventy years later.
A day or so later, our company officer led us to a neighboring farming village where the request was made at several homes to give the GIs a room for the night. About twenty of us sacked out on the tile floor for a few days of rest and relaxation. We had no bed rolls, but were so grateful for the warmth of a home—so much better than sleeping in a fox hole! The farming family who took us in had two teen-aged sons. I tried my best to communicate with the family through my 2 years of high school French.When we arrived safely somewhere in Belgium, the Red Cross met us with hot coffee and donuts. That evening we were housed in a cattle barn and we crawled up to the loft to sleep in the hay. It was so bitterly cold that we almost froze to death. The following evening, we took no chances and slept with the cows! We were cozy and warm in spite of the smell.
About one month later, our company was sent back to the same area, about a mile away from the farm where we had stayed. Another GI who spoke some French and I made our way back to the farming family who had so warmly welcomed us. To our delight, Madame served us a slice of rice pie. To us it tasted like a specialty from the Waldorf Astoria!
* * * * *
In 1955, I returned to France where I taught English in several schools. I had a very real desire to go back to that small village and try to find the family who had so generously housed a group GIs.
I knew the general area of the village but had completely forgotten the name as well as the family with whom we had stayed. I took a room in Verviers overnight and
in the morning I looked at a local map and located the name of the village—Jalhay. I soon was on my way, hitch-hiking in a big truck. When I arrived, I immediately recognized the local store where I had bought 2 pairs of wooden shoes—which I still have. I knew I was in the right place.
There were only about 4 houses in the center of town, while the other farm houses were scattered over the countryside. I asked everyone I met if they knew a family that had housed a group of American GIs during the war. After at least a half hour, I finally met a gentleman who said, “I think I know who the family is.” After getting directions to their farm, I picked up my two bags and started running toward their direction. I would find the farm past the center of town on a diagonal road off to the right. No sooner had I found the road and gone over a hill when I saw the farm and recognized it.
As I arrived at the house, Madame came out of the door. I called, “Bonjour Madame!” She just stood and stared at me. I waited for what seemed to be minutes until I saw tears running down her cheeks. “Après si longtemps, vous revenez nous voir” — “After so long you come back to see us!” was her reply. I was thrilled. She quickly invited me into the kitchen and called the family to greet this stranger from far away. They “killed the fatted calf” and made me feel welcomed.
Both of the parents and the younger brother are now gone, but I continue to correspond with the older son, Georges Moureau. The Moureau family were good Catholics to whom I witnessed many times of the love of Christ. Only the Lord knows where they stand before a holy God, but I praise Him for the opportunity I had to tell them about the Savior!
* * * * * * * * * *
My outreach and responsibilities in prison ministry have changed considerably since I began in 1977 when I replaced a federal prison chaplain in Montreal. Then I was free to circulate everywhere in the prison.
Today I am involved in a local jail which operates more like a super-max prison. Here only the chaplain can visit freely in the facility. Before they built this jail, I had weekly Bible studies for the men who came, and I offered them the ECS courses. Follow up was easy by seeing 5 to 10 men in a day. In the new jail, I have had to adapt to the present circumstances by having a weekly study on Saturday mornings in Work Release, and a monthly Bible study for the male half of the population. My wife, Roma, leads a study with the women. Because of the limited access in the jail, I am allowed to visit inmates one-on-one during mornings only. It is at these face-to-face meetings that I also offer the ECS study courses to these contacts. The chaplain collects the finished answer sheets and delivers them to me for correction.
At a recent visit, I met Matthew, 31 years-of-age and father of five. Because of his incarceration, he is separated from his wife and family. As we talked and I explained the gospel, I was very aware that he was under conviction. After a simple prayer, I remained silent for some time while the Holy Spirit was working in Matthew’s heart. He finally looked up and smiled and said, “My burden is gone!” What a joy it is to share the Good News with these men!
When I am not in jail, I keep contact with many inmates who have gone to a state prison and I receive encouraging letters from them, seeing God at work in their lives, the work He began while they were in our local jail. Regardless of the facility or the limitations, God is at work in the hearts of these inmates. I am so blessed to be a part of this ministry.