Condemned Man Finds Hope in Paradise
NINETEEN hundred years ago, when Jesus was dying on the torture stake, he was flanked by two criminals, one on either side. They were robbers, and were suffering the penalty for their crimes. Could God’s mercy embrace such men? One joined with the crowd and the scribes in reproaching Jesus. However, the other expressed himself in this way: “We are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this man did nothing out of the way.” Then he said: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” Jesus replied: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” Jehovah God, who reads the hearts of men, and who provided a ransom from death through His Son, held out through that same Son, Jesus, the hope of a resurrection at the time Paradise is restored to this earth.—Matt. 27:44; Luke 23:39-43.
Now turn your attention to this twentieth century. It is postwar Japan. After the mass murder of World War II, in which millions of Japanese, as well as other nationals, had been slaughtered, Japan lay crushed in defeat. Violence and confusion were carried over, at least for a time, into the postwar years. It was in this atmosphere that a young man, barely eighteen years of age, was paid by another person to commit a double murder. He was apprehended, and the court sentenced him to death by hanging. That was ten years ago. For eight years he languished in his prison cell, awaiting the execution that might come any day.
During his long confinement in prison his thoughts turned to religion, and he took instruction from a missionary of one of the nominal Christian sects. Though he read and reread and enjoyed the Bible and developed a great love for it, he found that his religious instructor could not explain it to him. One day a friend of the prisoner happened to obtain the Watchtower magazine in the street, and not being interested himself, he sent it to the young man in prison. As soon as he read The Watchtower, understanding flashed into his mind. All that he had been reading in the Bible came alive. He wrote the Tokyo Branch of the Watch Tower Society for further information, and arrangements were made for a pioneer minister of Jehovah’s witnesses to call on him.
Even though visits were limited to fifteen minutes at a time, regular weekly Bible studies were held. The visiting minister found that the prisoner already knew the text of the Bible very well, and that he could locate individual texts with the greatest of ease. After two or three studies he was showing great zeal for the truths he had learned and started preaching the good news by mail to all whom he knew. A few months passed and he expressed the desire to be baptized. The baptism was held, by kind permission of the prison authorities.
As his studies progressed and his appreciation deepened he showed this by preaching to the prison guards and fellow prisoners. Many of these laughed at him, saying, “Fancy you, a murderer, trying to tell us what is right and what is wrong!” These and other taunts did not deter him, and he continued to tell the good news. Moreover, the prison authorities were surprised at his complete change of attitude since becoming one of Jehovah’s witnesses. The change from frequent violent outbursts and moody silences, to an attitude of joy and of tolerance toward other prisoners, plainly showed his Christian progress toward maturity. The warders frequently commented on the complete change in their prisoner.
His preaching began to expand, not only by letter to former associates in Japan, but even to a Japanese person in the United States. He wrote many letters to pioneer ministers throughout Japan, containing warm encouragement, and he also wrote to congregation publishers, encouraging them to progress to maturity. He became one of the most zealous of the Kingdom ministers in the young congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses in Fukuoka, Japan. By mail he told the good news to the family of the persons he had killed, and they expressed some interest. He has witnessed extensively to his own family too. His father attended the Divine Will District Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses and has since become a Kingdom publisher. The condemned man also studied braille. He transcribed the book “Let God Be True,” the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom” and Watchtower and Awake! articles into braille and had them distributed to different parts of Japan, including schools for the blind.
Often he would say to visitors, “When I see the blue sky through my cell window, how I wish I could be out there helping you preach! But on the other hand, had I not been in here, would I have ever heard the truth?” He said that reading experiences concerning faithful brothers who became Christians after committing like deeds helped his own determination to follow a like faithful course until the day for execution of his sentence. These experiences did help him when that day finally came. Percy Iszlaub, missionary in Fukuoka, who had brought the condemned man much comfort through his regular visits at the prison, tells the final chapter of this real-life story:
“One morning, early, a police car stood at the gate of the missionary home. The officer told me that he had come to take me to the prison, at Mr. Nakata’s request. Mr. Nakata was to be executed that morning. I was the only one, outside of government officials and prison authorities, allowed to accompany him to the place of execution. His father was not even notified until after the execution. I arrived at the prison a little after eight o’clock, and at 9:30 I was called to see Brother Nakata. On arriving in the yard, I saw Brother Nakata flanked by four officers on either side. He was handcuffed. There was no private meeting between us, this not being permitted.
“As soon as Brother Nakata saw me, he smiled and said ‘Hullo’ very cheerfully. He went on to say, ‘Today I feel strongly confident in Jehovah, and in the ransom sacrifice and the resurrection hope. Never have I felt stronger in my life than I do today. For a long time I have prepared for this day and I am unafraid.’ I could believe it, and indeed I felt the weaker of the two of us. To see such confidence after ten long years in prison!
“We were then taken to the place of execution, and after the officials had finished questioning Brother Nakata, I was permitted to speak with him again just prior to his execution. It was there that he gave a very good witness to all present. We sang a Kingdom song, and then read scriptures concerning the resurrection hope and restoration of paradise. Then we had a final prayer. There were ten to twelve officials who heard our discussion, and they were astounded at Brother Nakata’s calmness and confidence.
“Brother Nakata then told me that he wanted his warm and heartfelt thanks conveyed to Jehovah’s wonderful organization for bringing him the truth, and also to those who had visited him and written to him, helping him to gain a further knowledge of Jehovah’s purposes. Appreciation was shining in his face. He asked me to keep on encouraging all of Jehovah’s witnesses to continue faithful and to maintain integrity to the end, and his Scriptural expression was magnificent. He spoke of his desire to meet all of Jehovah’s people in the paradise of the new world. His face reflected this wonderful hope that he held. As he was led away through the door to the gallows, he looked over his shoulder, and said, ‘For a little while I will sleep, and if it be Jehovah’s will I shall meet you all in paradise.’
“So it was that, with calm confidence in that hope, on the 10th day of June, 1959, he died.”