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Generations of Seventh-day Adventists in North America have grown up with stories of the exploits of Private First Class, Desmond Doss. His heroic actions on the island of Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War II were shared with Adventist youth at summer camps and in Pathfinder meetings for decades. Doss himself would teach groups of boys and girls the bowline knot that he used to lower 75 injured soldiers to safety, an act that awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the United States.
More than 70 years ago an unlikely hero saved the lives of dozens of American soldiers during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Now his story is about to explode onto movie screens all over the world (U.S. release scheduled for Nov. 4); and the international press are already hailing "Hacksaw Ridge" as a potential Oscar winner.
The film tells the story of Corporal Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist combat medic who single-handedly rescued 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa, in the midst of a hail of enemy gunfire. As a result of his bravery, Desmond Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military honor.
While Doss' story has been told many times, "Hacksaw Ridge" is the first feature film to recount his remarkable heroism. The movie is directed by Hollywood heavyweight Mel Gibson, who having fallen foul of Hollywood and the media on numerous occasions, may finally have found redemption, according to critics. David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter has called the film a "forceful comeback." "Hacksaw Ridge" received a 10-minute standing ovation following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
It looks like "Hacksaw Ridge" is going to be huge. And that matters for Christians.
It's likely that millions of people are going to watch the powerfully-told story of a Seventh-day Adventist war hero. And they'll learn about — and talk about — not only his deeply-held beliefs and faith, but also about the remarkable God who enabled Doss to carry himself with such outstanding grace, commitment, and bravery.
"Hacksaw Ridge" neither downplays Desmond Doss' Christian faith nor minimizes his beliefs. Instead, the movie respectfully and accurately portrays Doss' steadfast faith in God. Corporal Doss, a Private First Class at the time of the Battle of Okinawa, is presented as a balanced, Sabbath-keeping, vegetarian, Bible-believing Christian who was moved by faith in God to adhere to his beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition. Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge" is an inspirational story of a Christian's unwavering faith in God.
In one of the later scenes of the movie, Doss — played by Hollywood leading actor Andrew Garfield — is doing all he can to save American servicemen. After lowering a soldier to safety, Doss prays, "Lord, give me one more!" Each time he lowers another soldier to safety the prayer is repeated: "Lord, give me one more!"
Doss' prayer is the prayer that should be prayed by Christians everywhere. "Lord, give me one more. Help me get one more!" While time is running out for Planet Earth, precious opportunities are being presented to reach this world for Christ. Disciples of Christ recognize that witnessing opportunities present themselves in countless ways. Even through Hollywood blockbusters.
"Hacksaw Ridge" was not made by Seventh-day Adventists. Nor was it made for Adventists. But it presents Adventists with an unprecedented opportunity to speak up for Christ. Doss' story thrusts the church into a global conversation. Hollywood is presenting Christians everywhere with a multimillion dollar opportunity to come along behind this headline-grabbing movie and speak in favor of the God — and the faith — of Desmond Doss.
Churches and members will need to be ready to engage in conversations with those who watch "Hacksaw Ridge," and be prepared to answer questions about what drove Doss to be steadfast in his faith in God.
It's hard to imagine God has not allowed the production of "Hacksaw Ridge" specifically for such a time as this. Not to glorify Hollywood or war or Doss, but to call attention to the theme of faith and grace.
Desmond Doss now rests beneath a simple grave marker in the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee. Ten years after his death Hollywood is telling the story of his battlefield heroism.
It's up to those of us still living to tell the story of his Savior, the power of grace and the promise of Jesus' return.
— Pastor John Bradshaw is speaker/director for It Is Written, a broadcast ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
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