One night in April 1982, seventeen-year-old Bill Harboure gave his life to Christ--a commitment that, just a few hours later, would put him in danger of being murdered by his own father.
The third child of parents who emigrated from Japan in 1956, Bill grew up with his two older sisters in a nominally Buddhist family in Upland, California. Like most first-generation Japanese, his parents maintained a Butsudan in their home, a Buddhist altar made of black lacquer and featuring a gold Buddha figure. In front of the altar they placed bowls of rice and other food as offerings to the ancestral spirits. They trained their young children to pray at the Butsudan two or three times a day, although as the years passed the rituals got left behind. Once a year on Memorial Day the family attended temple services together.
Bill knew little about Christianity until he got involved in a Bible study on his high school campus and was befriended by David Emerson, the youth pastor of a local church. Over the weeks, as Bill left for fellowship meetings, he watched his fathers mood grow darker.
"I'm warning you, son," he said. "If you become a Christian, the ancestral spirits will come after you. They'll try to kill you."
Bill recognized the reality of these spirits and did not discount the threat. Still, he continued to meet with his new Christian friends. In fact, it was at the Emerson home that April night when Bill spent five hours in tear-filled prayer, confessing his sins and crying out to God for salvation.
At last, with joy and assurance of his newfound faith, Bill returned home at three in the morning. Tiptoeing through the dark house, Bill peeked into his parents bedroom where his father, Bill Senior, and mother, Hiroko, lay sleeping.
“Lord Jesus,” he whispered, "I pray for my mom and dad right now. Please touch their hearts and make them know You as Savior."
Before turning in, Bill also paused in front of the Butsudan. He could almost sense his grandmothers spirit lurking in displeasure nearby.
In a low voice the teenager declared, "In the name of Jesus, if there are any evil spirits here, I say to you that I am a Christian now. I don't want you to have control over my family."
After Bill went to bed, he sensed a dark presence hovering over him intent on his destruction. Evidently something had gotten stirred up. In silent prayer the new believer asked God for protection by the power of the blood of Christ.
Rising unusually early, he came downstairs at 6 a.m. and found his parents already up and sitting at the kitchen table next to the TV room. Before they exchanged a word, Bill Senior turned to his son with a steady gaze.
"You became a Christian last night." It was clearly an accusation.
Bills insides jumped. How does he know?
Aloud he answered, "That's right, Dad," and began to explain. But his parents were angry.
They've never been much more than nominal Buddhists, he thought, puzzled. What's going on here?
For 45 minutes the confrontation escalated until Bills father, out of control, sprang from his chair, grabbed a long sushi knife and waved it in front of his son.
"Renounce your faith or die!" he roared.
Terrified, Bill managed to find his voice. "Well, before you kill me, at least let me tell you about Jesus Christ."
The elder Harboure froze for an instant, as though some unseen force were preventing him from harming his son. Suddenly he threw the knife to the floor. In frustrated rage, he stomped over to the TV area, broke a coffee table with an explosive karate chop and growled, "Leave. You leave this home now."
With trembling hands Bill phoned David Emerson, the youth pastor, asked him to pick him up and feverishly packed three bags of clothes.
Bill stayed with David and his wife, Linda, for about a week. Then Bills mother cooled down enough to call and allow him to come back and live in a small house at the back of their property. But for many months Bills father never spoke to him except in occasional curt exchanges.
Bill finished his senior year of high school and in September 1982 moved into a dorm at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Cut off from his family financially, he made his way with the help of grants and loans.
His parents, meanwhile, moved closer to downtown Los Angeles to open a store in Little Tokyo.
One morning early in his sophomore year, his mother phoned. "Bill, your father is dying of cancer."
Touched with new compassion, Bill began reestablishing a relationship with his father, visiting him at home, in the hospital, at his store. His dad started a regimen of chemotherapy for stomach cancer, and Bill sometimes accompanied him on visits to his doctor.
As they left the hospital one day, Bills father told him, "You know, I'm going to see you graduate."
Don't I wish! Bill thought. Graduation was almost three years away, and the doctors said his dad had just three months to live.
Nevertheless Bill was interceding for his father, even cautiously sharing the Gospel.
Three months came and went. Then one day the elder Harboure allowed his son to pray for him. After Bill laid hands on his fathers head, Bill Senior told him he felt a sensation of warm oil pouring over his head and down his neck onto his shoulders.
"When I pray to Buddha," confessed Bill Senior, "I get no answers. But when you pray to your God, I can tell He's alive."
Months passed. Bills father fought for survival as his cancer spread. Often when Bill prayed for him, his father experienced the same remarkable manifestation of the presence of God.
During the summer of 1985, between Bills junior and senior years of college, he joined an outreach program in Japan led by LIFE Ministries. While in Japan he wrote his father a heartfelt letter, asking him to accept Christ as Savior. A few weeks later a response arrived.
"I have come to faith in Jesus," his father wrote.
On Saturday, June 14, 1986, Bill Harboure, Sr., attended his sons commencement exercises at the Eagle Rock campus of Occidental College. The next Monday he entered the presence of his Lord.
Hiroko Harboure had witnessed the transformation of her husband. Yet she remained gripped by fear that if she abandoned Buddhism, the ancestral spirits would destroy her. Then in late June 1990 she checked into the hospital, weak and racked with pain. Tests showed leukemia--cancer of the bone marrow.
Bill and Julie, his bride of a year, rounded up a few friends, including Doug Gregg, chaplain of Occidental College, and went out to Northridge Hospital. The cancer had spread so much, especially around the bottom of her rib cage, that Bills mother could not sit up without excruciating pain.
Bills friends gathered around the bedside where Hiroko lay back nearly prone.
"You know, Bill," she said to her son, "I remember when you prayed for your dad. He used to get sensations of warm oil on his head and his pain would leave. Can your God do the same thing for me?"
“Of course,” Bill replied. "Would you like us to pray for you, Mom?"
She nodded and closed her eyes.
Bills older sisters, Judy and Anny, staunch Buddhists, stood out in the hall talking with the doctor. The time was right. The team began to pray.
Bill laid a hand on the area above his mothers lower rib cage. In a moment he could feel tremendous heat flowing from his hand into her body. Her eyelids fluttered and she began to glow with perspiration.
As the group finished their prayers, Hiroko Harboure opened her eyes.
"The pain--the pain is gone," she murmured, her voice filled with wonder.
Then she sat fully upright in her own strength. "Why, the pain is completely gone!" In joyful disbelief she began to laugh and cry at the same time.
Doug Gregg, the chaplain, seized the moment.
"This is the power of God," he explained. "Bill and the rest of us prayed for you in Jesus name. We don't know what's happened to the cancer, but Jesus has taken away your pain. Would you like to give your life to Him?"
"Yes, I would," she answered. "But--" She hesitated a moment. "Id like to talk to my daughters first."
Bill called in his sisters from the hallway.
"Judy, Anny," their mother began, "I want you to know I love you very much. I'm going to become a Christian today. Judy, will you take care of the Butsudan?"
The young women were too speechless to argue. Judy, as the oldest child, agreed to inherit the home altar for the ancestral spirits.
Then Hiroko Harboure was ready for Bill and Doug to lead her in a prayer confessing her sins and asking the Lord Jesus into her heart.
Her doctors had no explanation for the disappearance of Hirokos pain. A month or two later, after intensive chemotherapy, her cancer went into remission for about a year and a half. Over these months Hiroko learned more about living a life of devotion to Christ. Then in March 1992 she passed from time into eternity.
Although neither of Bills parents found permanent healing from cancer, their experience of partial remission and a dramatic release from pain convinced them that their sons faith was real and that Jesus is alive.
Author: Jane Rumph. Used with permission from Stories from the Front Lines, Xulon Press