Shoes of Obedience

Stephen Metcalf 1927-2014

On June 7, 2014, Stephen A. Metcalf, a faithful church planter and evangelist to Japan, passed away. He ministered in Japan for forty years with his wife Evelyn and their five children. However, Stephen did not always want to be a missionary to Japan.

Stephen was born on October 23, 1927, to George and Bessie Metcalf. The Metcalfs were missionary translators in Taku (now Dao-Gu), a mountainous Lisu village one weeks walk from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. At a young age, Stephen learned to fluently speak English, Mandarin, and Lisu. In 1934, when he was seven years old, his parents took Stephen to join his sister Ruth at a boarding school in Yantai. Except for Christmas visits, Stephen grew up in Yantai and rarely saw his parents.

By 1937, World War II was imminent. The Japanese invasion of China did not affect Stephen until 1942 when he and his schoolmates were imprisoned. Sickness continually plagued the filthy, cramped attic where the nineteen young men were initially quartered. Hepatitis A and a raging fever nearly killed Stephen, but God miraculously spared his life. As he lay weak and alone, his conscience convicted him of his sins. Overwhelmed, Stephen confessed His sins and believed that Jesus Christ died and rose again for him. In the following months, Stephen’s faith grew through missionary biographies that fellow inmates lent him. By the time Stephen was moved to the Weixian internment camp, God had taught him perseverance, faithfulness, and thankfulness. However, Stephen struggled to learn forgiveness.

Who could blame Stephen for despising the Japanese? His circumstances appeared to justify his attitude. Over two-thousand men, women, and children were confined within the sixty-acre internment camp. Sanitation was deplorable; water was inadequate; food was rationed; and medical supplies were scarce. Self-preservation was the daily mode of life. Individuals who retained ethical and religious convictions were either admired or scorned. Yet one such man’s godly character influenced others in Weixian.

Eric Liddell, famous Scottish Olympic gold medalist and missionary, chose Christlikeness over self-centeredness. Of all the prisoners, he easily could have demanded his rights and misused his influence. At the pinnacle of his athletic career, he left Scotland to be a missionary teacher in China. Instead of evacuating the country with his family in 1941, Liddell remained. He firmly believed that only faithful obedience honors God, despite any personal cost. Even in Weixian, Liddell continued obeying God as he served his fellow prisoners.

In 1945, just months before World War II ended, Stephen heard the words that impacted the rest of his life. During a Bible study on Matthew 5:43-48, Liddell taught: “When you hate, you are self-centered. When you pray, you are God-centered. Praying changes your attitude. It is hard to hate those you pray for.” Listening, Stephen was deeply convicted. He realized Liddell’s personal obedience to the Truth had changed his attitude toward the Japanese guards. God used Liddell’s testimony to break Stephen’s unforgiving heart. Together, the men began praying for their captors.

Days later, Liddell approached Stephen with a pair of patched running shoes. Stephen’s own shoes were completely worn, useless protection against the winter temperatures. Unconscious of his friend’s personal sacrifice, Stephen gratefully accepted them. Only weeks later did Stephen realize that he was walking in Liddell’s shoes.

One month later, tears stung and blurred Stephen’s eyes as he gazed down at his shoes. He tried to steady himself under the weight of his friend’s coffin. Though a brain tumor silenced Liddell’s earthly voice, his words echoed in Stephen’s memory. As he reflected on Liddell’s life, Stephen’s grief suddenly turned to resolution. At that moment, before God, he vowed to go to Japan as a missionary after the war.

Liddell’s obedience influenced Stephen’s obedience. Years later, in 1952, Stephen recalled Liddell’s words again as he began his life-time ministry in Japan. He no longer wore Liddell’s physical shoes, yet he daily walked in Liddell’s spiritual shoes. Both men’s obedience resulted in countless Japanese salvations!

When we obediently live the Truth, others will believe the Truth. Obedience reveals Absolute Truth which powerfully transforms lives for eternity. Through His own obedience, Christ fulfilled the law and the prophets, demonstrating that the Word of God is Truth. His obedience to the Father’s will changed men’s eternal destinies (John 5:30, 6:38)! Christ set the example for us (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:21). His obedience cost Him everything. Likewise, obedience will cost us everything. Nevertheless, Christ’s obedience commands and compels our own obedience. We have a choice. We know the Truth. Yet Truth without obedience will never save a lost and dying world.

Christ wore the shoes of obedience, and He commanded us to follow Him. Obedience is a personal choice in response to a personal command. Though initially individual, our choice is eternally influential. Will we obey the Truth? Will we walk in Christ’s shoes? Will others walk in our shoes?

Spring/Summer 2023