John Willfinger (d. 1942)

Mark Fackler

READ : Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Be strong . . . for you are the one. (v. 7)

Borneo was John Willfinger’s mission field, but the Empire of Japan was coming his way, extending its perimeter from the home islands south toward Australia.

Willfinger was a Bible translator working on the Murut New Testament. In July 1942, his team learned that the Imperial Army had captured missionaries to the south, accusing them of spying. Willfinger and his partners moved north into dense jungle.

Japanese agents persisted. In September, a Murut believer arrived in the village with bad news: Willfinger and his team were on the “most wanted” list. Anyone who harbored them would suffer severely.

Murut Christians were confident they could hide the missionaries from Japanese soldiers, but Willfinger would not expose them to such risk. His missionary partners headed for the nearest army camp and surrendered. Willfinger chose first to visit tribal churches in eastern Borneo. No one knows how far he traveled before his capture. Willfinger was executed three days after Christmas, 1942.

After the Pacific War ended, Willfinger’s body and Bible were recovered. Inside the Bible’s cover John had written:

Day by day his love enfolds me, Day by day his power upholds me

When death and I stand face to face, Then all that God can ever be

The unseen Christ will be to me.


Show me the Christ, the Savior, my Lord.