A Martyrs Grace: Signe Amelia Erickson
“Have you grace to be a martyr,” D.L. Moody was once asked. “No,” he replied, “I have not. But if God wanted me to be one, he would give me a martyr’s grace.”
Sensing God leading her to missionary service, Signe entered Moody Bible Institute for a year’s training in 1923. Following Moody, Signe taught at a country school that was notorious for its undisciplined students that three teachers in succession had resigned the previous year. Single-handedly she so mastered the unruly boys throughout the winter months that by spring their hearts were softened by her caring Christian example. After attending Gordon College and earning a Bachelor of Theology degree she applied to and was accepted to be a missionary in the Philippines preparing young women for church ministries and missionary work on Panay Island. On a furlough she obtained a master’s degree at Columbia University, New York. She returned to the field in May 1941 with her new degree in hand and worked as a professor of religion at Central Philippine College in the School of Theology.
As war became more likely, Signe was under no illusion as to what the prospect of war could mean to them and their work. They frequently discussed what measures they would take if the Japanese were to invade the islands. Signe said ”that she wanted to stay with the Filipinos unless her continued presence endangered the lives of the people she had come to serve.”
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and overran Manila in January 1942. By April they reached Panay Island. Soon the entire coastal area of the island was in their grasp. Signe had no place of escape except for the interior of the island. She joined the other American missionaries in the mountain hideout they named Hopevale. Here she and the others waited out the war. As her seclusion passed from months to a year and then to a year and a half, the rigors of isolated living took their toll on her. Signe patiently hoped for either the end of the war or for rescue by American forces. As it turned out, neither happened in time to save either her or the others hiding from the Japanese.
The end of all hope came to Hopevale on a fateful December morning just days before Christmas in 1943. A battalion of Japanese soldiers crept through the mountains and made a surprise assault on the little hamlet. It took the soldiers less than an hour to round up all eleven unsuspecting missionaries who had been caught completely off guard. The Japanese waited a day to make sure they had caught everyone.
That was the last communication anyone would receive from Signe. The Japanese granted them an hour to prepare to die. Then systematically, one by one they were blindfolded and taken into a hut where they were ruthlessly beheaded. Signe’s life ended in the midst of that heartless slaughter.
The story is taken from A Martyrs Grace: 21 Moody Bible Institute Alumni who gave their lives for Christ by Marvin J. Newell; Moody Publishers, Chicago.