Gratitude, love, faithfulness
and even glee lace Gladys Knowles Finkenbinders words as she
looks back on her 85 years on earth. "God has been very merciful
to me, not just one time but many times," she says.
is one of undeterred service to the Lord. She is a woman who has
quietly persevered through heartaches and made the most out of suffering
and hardship. Setbacks she has endured forged her faith.
She spent more than three
years in a prisoner of war camp, but didnt question or waver
in her Christian faith. She had to flee her chosen mission field
twice, but didnt stop spreading the gospel elsewhere. When
widowed at 83, two years ago, she chose not to retire.
sees Gods hand in all circumstances. If not for interruptions
on the mission field, Finkenbinder never would have met and married
her husband. Together, they spent nearly 50 years ministering to
the blind around the nation.
She remains an Assemblies
of God Intercultural Ministries missionary, involved in church services
for the blind in the Denver area. She also embarked on conducting
Bible studies for the elderly last month in Lafayette, the suburb
where she lives.
Finkenbinder always has
been up for a challenge. After graduating in 1939 from Central Bible
Institute (now College) in Springfield, Mo., she sensed God calling
her to China, even though Japan had invaded the country two years
"The fact that something
might happen to me didnt bother me in the least," Finkenbinder
says matter-of-factly. "There seemed to be a need there."
She went to help in the office of Truth Bible Institute, while also
attending an interdenominational Chinese-language college in Beijing.
However, after nine months,
Japanese soldiers threatened Beijing, so officials moved the language
school to Baguio City, Philippines. They figured it would be safer
for missionaries in the Philippines, then a U.S. territory, especially
in an inland city 5,000 feet above sea level.
A lengthy captivity
Yet in December 1941, Japanese planes simultaneously bombed Pearl
Harbor in Hawaii and Baguio City. Air raids continued the next three
weeks, prompting American soldiers to withdraw.
The 500 foreign civilians
in the city, ranging from missionaries to gold mining executives,
gathered in an American school, figuring their probability of survival
would increase if they stayed together. At 2 a.m. on December 29,
the Japanese overran the school.
crowded us into one room at the school," Finkenbinder remembers.
"We could hardly breathe because we were standing so close
together." The first night the captured Americans had to lie
on the bare floor, so close to each other that they had no room
to turn over. Guards walked by with bayonets poised. A missionary
cried out in her sleep, "Oh, God, make them repent and bring
back the things they have stolen."
"I was afraid the
soldiers were going to stab her, but fortunately they didnt
understand English," Finkenbinder says.
At daybreak the Japanese
soldiers assembled their prisoners, whose passports and Bibles had
been confiscated, in a courtyard. In an effort to instill fear they
pointed machine guns at the 500 internees, proclaiming that Japanese
soldiers had conquered the West Coast and moved as far inland as
A week later, the prisoners
were forced to walk five miles without any of their possessions
to Camp John Hay, which had been abandoned by U.S. troops.
In all, nine Assemblies of God missionaries and their 13 children
were interred. Their incarceration lasted three years and a month.
Finkenbinder is the last living member of the adult group.
Because the water mains
had been bombed, the prisoners at first had no access to water,
not even to wash diapers. Ubiquitous flies didnt improve the
unsanitary conditions. Consequently, a dysentery epidemic erupted.
But in January a record 25-inch rainfall provided
water that saved lives, Finkenbinder believes. "God answered
prayer in many, many ways," she says.
Along with other women,
Finkenbinder spent part of her day sorting through rice that had
She removed gravel, mold and worms, keeping what little edible rice
might be left to stay alive.
"We were always
hungry," Finkenbinder recalls. "We had two small portions
of rice a day. We were so hungry we didnt feel it until we
ate." Several people died of disease and starvation; a few
died of torture, including a young Baptist missionary.
Most of the time Finkenbinder
tended the sick, including those who had been tortured in an effort
to extract confessions of being spies. Finkenbinder says the Lord
protected the women from being molested or beaten.
"I was so thankful
for the Scriptures I had memorized," she says, citing the 23rd
Psalm and 1 Corinthians as examples. "The Lord brought them
to my mind. The Lord was with us." Finkenbinder and others
gathered surreptitiously in groups of three or four for prayer meetings.
Because they lived in one large crowded room, the prayer circles
didnt attract attention. Nevertheless, one person always stood
watch in case a guard approached.
While caring for the
sick, Finkenbinder became deathly ill herself with jaundice. Providentially,
someone provided a cooked potato, which strengthened her faith and
put her on the road to recovery. "It had been months since
Id seen a potato and it was a sign that God cared," she
Transfer and freedom
Three years after captivity began, the Japanese, sensing the Allies
closing in, moved their prisoners south to Manila. The prisoners
rode atop ammunition trucks, which would serve as targets if spotted
by the Allies.
For a little more than
a month, Finkenbinder lived at Old Bilibad Prison, which earlier
had been closed by Filipinos because of its deplorable state. Up
to eight POWs lived in a cell designed for one person. They had
to sleep on mattresses encrusted with blood, lice and bedbugs. The
only mail Finkenbinder was allowed to receive her entire captivity
came nearly three years into her imprisonment. She learned that
her mother had died.
In February 1945, U.S.
troops and Filipino guerrillas rescued the 447 civilians and 828
servicemen prisoners behind enemy lines. After a brief skirmish
at the prisons entrance, the Japanese captors fled before
the Allied troops arrived in tanks and jeeps. Gen. Douglas MacArthur,
fulfilling his "I shall return" vow of three years earlier,
shook hands with the liberated American prisoners, who hoisted a
concealed U.S. flag on a makeshift flagpole. Every woman in the
camp had sewn a few stitches cobbled from red, white and blue clothing
The freed Americans returned
to Los Angeles on a monthlong voyage aboard a U.S. troop transport
ship. Upon arrival Finkenbinder had to be hospitalized for four
months for malnutrition and emotional stress. "Everyone was
very thin," she says. "We were in need of great physical
and mental help. A lot of men who stood over 6 feet tall weighed
less than 90 pounds."
The ordeal didnt
dampen Finkenbinders enthusiasm for missions. In 1947, after
attending Yale University to study Chinese, she became an Assemblies
of God missionary appointed to a mission station in Hangzhou in
central China. There she played a pump organ at 21 packed worship
services a week.
"We had to tell
people to only come to one meeting a day to allow others to attend,"
she says. Finkenbinder also taught afternoon classes for women,
many of whom never had the opportunity to attend school. Under an
"each one teach one" plan, she focused on how to read
and write one word a day, such as "Jesus." Students memorized
the word and after class taught their neighbors the same lesson.
But Finkenbinder left
China in 1949 as the nation turned communist so that nationals who
knew her wouldnt be endangered. "I was always very glad
that the Lord allowed me to go back," Finkenbinder says. "Many
came to the Lord in Hangzhou."
Upon returning to the
United States, Finkenbinder sought more education. She attended
Southwestern Assemblies of God University as well as Latin American
Bible Institute in Texas, where she married her husband, Frank H.
Finkenbinder, in 1951.
Blind ministry beginnings
Franks parents, Frank O. and Aura Finkenbinder, had been Assemblies
of God missionaries to Puerto Rico and Argentina. Frank H. was born
en route to the mission field, premature and blind due to malnutrition.
But he made it to adulthood and felt called to minister to other
blind people. Finkenbinder and his brother George became the first
sightless people to receive Christian literature in braille from
Assemblies of God Blind Ministries when it formed in 1952. Back
then, no other Christian denomination had started such a specialized
ministry. Few braille Bibles and hymnals existed.
Frank Finkenbinder, who
earned a living tuning pianos, went on to become the first appointed
Assemblies of God missionary to the blind.
"He approached Home
Missions with a need and a willingness to fulfill that need, so
he was appointed," says Paul Weingartner, director of the National
Center for the Blind. "Gladys was his faithful partner in all
of it. She was his eyes and wheels."
Soon after Finkenbinder
started Christian meetings for the blind in Denver and three other
Colorado cities, other disabled people began to attend. "People
in wheelchairs came because they felt recognized as a person, not
a handicapped person," Gladys says. "For many people,
the greatest need is to be recognized as a person that Jesus loves."
Frank died in 2000 of
congestive heart failure and a rare form of leukemia.
Carrying on in ministry
"Im glad the Lord didnt forsake me when my husband
passed away," Gladys says. "I appreciate so much the goodness
of the Lord."
Three decades ago Frank
became president of the Inter-Church Fellowship of the Blind in
Denver, which continues to meet every six weeks. Around 50 people,
including Gladys, still gather for singing, prayer, fellowship,
a sermon, special music and refreshments. Although she no longer
plans the meetings, Finkenbinder passes out braille hymnals, guides
attendees to seats and helps serve refreshments. She also is part
of a volunteer group that makes quilts for nursing home residents
and she helps watch babies in her church nursery.
Marvella Fresquez, who
is blind, has known Finkenbinder since she started attending meetings
in Denver in 1980. "Ive never heard Gladys say an unkind
word about anybody," says Fresquez, 49. "Shes always
there when you need her." Fresquez, who works as a switchboard
operator for an insurance company, says Finkenbinder never mentions
her trouble as a POW.
Vicki Ireland, a visually
impaired Denver resident who is secretary of the Inter-Church Fellowship
of the Blind, has known Finkenbinder for 30 years, "She does
a lot of behind-the-scenes work," Ireland says. "She teaches
by word and example."
In October, Finkenbinder
started a daytime Bible study for the elderly in her Lafayette,
Colo., home. Sighted helpers drive the sightless to the meetings
and make phone calls to arrange transportation. Five regular attendees
are both blind and deaf.
admirable that she chose to continue Franks mission after
he is gone," Weingartner says. "Most women of her age
and situation would be ready to retire and enjoy family and friends."
But Finkenbinder says
the gatherings are mutually beneficial. Her friends are the blind.
"Its so important
that the blind know that God loves them," she says. "Some
people fail to see that a blind person is a person. Its true
that they have a problem with their eyes, but they have other problems
like being a diabetic or having a non-Christian spouse."
ministry is vastly different from the missions work she began more
than 60 years ago. But that doesnt mean she got sidetracked.
"Receiving the Lords call doesnt necessarily mean
we have to be in one place for the rest of our lives," Finkenbinder
says. "We need to be where He wants us at the time that He
wants us to be there."