(From an interview with Yamashita Yoshie,
a member of Mima Church in Shikoku District)
The city of Uwajima, in Ehime Prefecture, retains strong traces of its history as a castle city. From Uwajima, which faces the sea, a narrow road leads east through the mountain passes to the town of Mima. Alongside the Mima River, which runs through the heart of town, stands Mima Church.
Although Christianity was introduced to this area during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), no church was established until after World War II. This came about through the evangelistic efforts of the Nakanocho Church in Uwajima and the rural evangelism of Rev. Kagawa Toyohiko. It is said that Kagawa thought the community needed a nursery school, so he bought a farmhouse to be used both for a nursery school and for worship. That building continues to be used for worship today.
Yamashita Yoshie was baptized by Kagawa in 1951. At that time Kagawa told her, “Until death, remain faithful.” She says those words have continued to pull her along her faith journey. Married into a farming family, she has continued the farm, and since her baptism she and the other church members have maintained the ministry of Mima Church.
Living in a farming community and supporting a rural church is far from an easy task. Of the 63 years of Mima Church’s history, 55 of those years have been without a regular pastor. There were personal struggles for her as well. Her oldest daughter, who was active in their church school, drowned while still a young girl. Her husband, who was a Christian, spent over 20 years in a wheelchair before his death. However, as she shared her story, there was no trace of distress or regret in her voice.
“When we talk about the church, a lot can happen. Sometimes there are strong disagreements, with someone leaving the church saying they won't return. But when Sunday comes, the quarrel is forgotten, and everyone cheerfully goes to church. When I go to church for Sunday worship or Wednesday prayer meeting, I sometimes walk to church along a country road, using a pushcart instead of a cane. People often ask where I’m going, and when I tell them that I’m going to church, they tell me to watch my step. Sometimes they even ask me to wait, and they cut flowers for me to carry. I consider that part of my witness to the community.
“We had our oldest daughter’s funeral at the church. It happened suddenly, but when we went to the church, it was filled with sunflowers. I was so surprised. I wasn’t aware that a funeral could be so bright. From that funeral, it was well understood that I was a Christian.”
In her community, a fee for community activities is collected twice a year. Part of that fee is for the local Shinto shrine, but she does not pay that part of the fee. The senior group of the community cleans the shrine, but she does not participate. It may seem a bit unusual, but the community allows this. After all, at 94 she is one of the oldest members of the community,
About 40 years ago, one of the pillars of the church, Shimazaki Reiko, died. Yamashita feared that the church would not be able to continue. At that time, she was only attending worship. But then, for the first time, she said she felt a strong personal responsibility for the church as well as a strong sense that “it is God’s church, and there is no reason to fear.”
Her home is near the mountains, surrounded by rice paddies and fields. A road from behind her home runs up into the mountains. Seike Ritsue, Yamashita’s younger sister, was an evangelist. After her retirement she returned to Mima, and they lived together for awhile. She pointed to the mountains behind the house and fondly remembered how her sister would often walk along the road into the mountains to pray.
Alone now, she reads the Bible twice daily. When doing so, she always reads facing the Buddhist altar that is in her home.* She wants her ancestors who died as Buddhists to hear the Gospel. Although she may forget what she has read, she never fails to read aloud.
When she was younger, Saturday was a day when she would work extra hard because she would go to church on Sunday. Now when Saturday comes, she takes extra time to rest so she can go to church on Sunday.
*The family Buddhist altar is traditionally kept in the home of a family’s oldest son. However, given various family situations, it might be kept in the homes of family members who are not Buddhists in deference to their ancestors. (Tr. JS)
—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)
January 2014 issue
信徒の一人、山下ヨ シヱさんはその賀川から1951年に洗礼を受けた。そ のときに賀川からもらった「汝死に至るまで忠信なれ」