The morning dawned on February 23, 1945, and Roxy Lefforge was about to die.
It was an otherwise typical day for Lefforge and thousands of others who had been held for seven months in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines. Their first task would be to find those who had died overnight and burn the bodies. Then they would line up for roll call.
What they didn’t know was the Japanese were planning to execute all the prisoners that morning.
That’s when Roxy Lefforge spotted the parachutes of the American forces who would save her life and change the course of history — not only for her, but for all those whose lives she would touch in the years to come.
Lefforge was born in 1888 in North Manchester. She attended a revival at eight years old and pledged her life to serving God. By the time she was 18, Lefforge was teaching in Wabash County. She was just 24 when she became principal at Monument City School, in Huntington County.
In 1918, Lefforge began missionary work for the Methodist Church, making her way to a war-torn China, where she served as an instructor at a college in Foochow while also bringing Christianity to the population. She would frequently travel between China and the United States. At home, she continued to pursue higher education. She received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana State Teacher’s College in 1924, then earned three degrees from Boston University, culminating with her doctorate in 1933.
As an ordained minister in the Methodist Church, Lefforge served as general secretary of the missions in China and traveled throughout the country as it was in the throes of revolution and threatened by Japanese invasion. Even Though she would have preferred to stay in China, conditions worsened, and Lefforge evacuated to Manila in the Philippines on Easter Sunday, 1941.
The Japanese overran the Philippines in late 1941, driving out the American forces. There was no time for Lefforge to escape, and Japanese troops took Manila on January 5, 1942. Lefforge and 32 other Methodist missionaries were sent to an internment camp.
While they were not allowed to leave the city, Lefforge and the others had some freedom to move about a small area of the city, and were allowed to continue their mission work in a limited way. That changed in August of 1944, when they were sent by train to the prison camp at Los Banos. They remained there until that February day in 1945.
At 7 a.m., with hours or perhaps minutes left to live, Lefforge heard the first planes fly over, and saw the Allied paratroopers in the sky. By 8:30 a.m., Lefforge was on an American tank leaving the prison. The U.S. Army had liberated the camp without the loss of one soldier or one prisoner.
Despite her experience, Lefforge stayed in the Philippines to continue her mission work. She came home to Indiana for a short time in 1946, but returned overseas later that year where she joined with others to found the Philippine Wesleyan University. Lefforge later served as president and executive dean of the Philippine Christian Colleges from 1952-54.
Lefforge returned to the United States, settling in Huntington, where she was a professor at Huntington College for 10 years from 1954-64, and attended Trinity Methodist Church until her death in 1977.
Her memoir, “In All of Life … Christ Made the Difference” was published in 1972, detailing her remarkable life of service.
In the Philippines today there is a Roxy Lefforge United Methodist Church, and the Roxy Lefforge Foundation Colleges. Huntington’s Trinity United Methodist Church has a Roxy Lefforge Group that continues to support mission work.