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Missionary POW during World War II dies at 91

SAN ANGELO, Texas (BP)–Fern Harrington Miles, a Southern Baptist missionary who was a prisoner of war during World War II, died March 31 in San Angelo, Texas. She was 91.

In 1940, the then-Fern Herrington was appointed as a missionary to China by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board).

Her ability to speak Chinese quickly earned her the respect of Chinese, but her work was cut short by World War II. After just one year on the field, she was evacuated from China. She relocated to the Philippines but later was captured there by the Japanese military and held as a prisoner of war. She was freed by American forces in 1945.

Harrington was able to return to China in 1947, only to be forced out a year later by the communist revolution. She again turned her efforts to ministering to Chinese refugees in the Philippines, helping plant three churches.

She spent the remaining time of her missionary career teaching at a Baptist seminary in Taiwan, retiring from the mission board in 1975 after 35 years of service and returning to the United States.

Born in Atlanta, Mo., Harrington accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior at the age of 13 but did not feel God’s call to missions until her senior year in college. After graduation, she attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, earning her master’s degree in religious education.

Single until 1976, Fern married retired Carson-Newman College professor Herbert J. Miles. Together, the couple authored four books including “Captive Community,” detailing Fern’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. Herbert Miles died of cancer in 1994.

The eldest of five siblings, Fern Harrington Miles is survived by three brothers and one sister.
— Excerpt from a letter written by Fern Harrington (Miles) during her internment at a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines, dated Aug. 21, 1943:

“After 20 months without writing I find it rather difficult to know what to say and how to say it in one short page….”

“I keep busy so time passes quickly. My camp duty consists of three hours daily in preparation of special food for the babies –- now toddling youngsters from 1 year to 18 months. I cook the vegetables and puree them as well as fruit, sterilize dishes and bottles and pasteurize the milk, etc.

“Even though out of contact all these months, through prayer we have not been far apart. Those of us here have been conscious of many remembering us and prayed in turn that you might have the assurance in your hearts of our well being.”
— Excerpt from a letter Harrington sent to Foreign Mission Board Executive Secretary M.T. Rankin shortly after she was freed in the Philippines by American forces, dated March 22, 1945:

“Let me say first of all that I have never held you responsible for what happened as a result of our coming to the Philippines, nor have I ever even in moments of deepest despair once doubted the fact that God led me to China when I came…. What little inconvenience or suffering we have had to endure seems so trivial when compared with the suffering of the rest of the world that I feel embarrassed even to mention it. I find that the unpleasantness of our experience is fast fading from our memory as we become more and more aware of how every need was adequately met through God’s loving care. Miracles no longer seem a mystery to me….

“We have learned much which I hope will make us more useful on the mission field … to make use of every opportunity for Christian witnessing even though your life doesn’t seem to be following the course you’d planned.”

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