by Ando Akiyoshi, pastor
Shunan Church, Ou District
Martin Mosser Smyser (1875-1955), who came from Pennsylvania and had been invited by Yokote Middle School to be an English teacher, began the evangelistic work of Shunan Church, starting with an English Bible class for neighborhood children in his home. Smyser, who believed that “evangelism in Japan should be done by Japanese,” chose two baptized youth from that class and sent them to Meiji Gakuin High School, then on to the seminary there. Following graduation, these two men, Seya Shigeji and Suzuki Kozo became as Smyser’s right and left hands. They moved ahead to promote the evangelization of southern Akita Prefecture. The unique characteristic of Smyser’s evangelistic work was his non-affiliation with any denominational body. Smyser’s support of the two young men covered not only their educational expenses but all their living expenses as well. To do that, he continued his work as a missionary, receiving financial support from his friends in his homeland.
As a band of believers was born in one region, they extended their work to another region. Spreading the gospel through the southern area of the prefecture was their priority. When there was no pastor present, the believers maintained the meetings with testimonies. The meetings did not have any particular building but continued their existence as “house churches.” This method of evangelism also appeared among those that were called the ”Fukuin Kyodan” (Gospel Band). Before the band became a “church,” they identified themselves by saying, “We are a brotherhood led by the Reverend Smyser.” I think this style was a breakthrough for rural evangelism in Japan, which had been frustrated so many other attempts by various churches.
However, in this brotherhood, the waves of history beat upon the shore. Under the “Religious Organizations Law”(enacted in 1940), the Smyser band, as a religious association, changed its name to “Shunan Christ Church,” and in the midst of these difficulties, it became a part of the Kyodan. Concurrently, the church itself was also making decisions that were greatly changing its character, namely, Smyser’s retirement. He had initially resisted returning to his country, but the thought-control police made that a precondition. Seya Shigeji was ordained and became the head pastor. At the same time, Suzuki Kozo left Shunan Church.
Seya was sent to Indonesia during World War II. When he returned to Japan, the meetings in the region were reopened and new churches in the bands formed after the war were also added, but the “house church” base did not change. The Reverend Murakami Eiji was invited as Seya's successor, and the gatherings planned to build meeting halls in each area respectively. All the believers gave offerings, and in turn six meeting halls were dedicated. Formerly, there were more home meetings but only six remain that were able to construct meeting halls and one place where a house meeting is still being continued. This is Shunan Church at present.
Missionary Choi Jang-Soo and I are partnering and serving in rotation. Worship services at Yokote sanctuary and Asamai sanctuary are on Sunday from 10:30 a.m.; Uenodai sanctuary and Obonai sanctuary worship services are on Sunday afternoon from 2:00 p.m. Worship at Kakumagawa sanctuary is from 7:30 p.m. on Monday, and Omonogawa sanctuary worship is held twice a month at 7:00 in the evening. The house meeting is held in the home of a believer in Kakunodate on the third Friday afternoon of every month at 1:30. The board of trustees meeting is held each month on the second Sunday from 2:00 p.m. at Yokote sanctuary. Yokote was Smyser’s beginning base of evangelism and continues presently as the center. Naturally, in order for the minister and the missionary to be present at the board of trustees meeting, the afternoon worship services are held with the support of neighboring area pastors.
As a matter of principle, both Choi Jang-Soo and I attend worship services together on days other than Sunday. The meeting halls are shelters for the protection of the believers’ faith, but as believers age, maintenance of the meeting halls is presently becoming a burden for Shunan Church. But even so, believing that our active evangelism will contribute to a revitalization of the evangelization of our nation, we continue to move forward. (Tr. RT)
日本基 督教団 秋南教会牧師
安 藤 昭 良