日本基督教団 The United Church of Christ in Japan

【February 2019 No.401】From the General Secretary's Desk: The Life of Takami Toshihiro, Founder of Asian Rural Institute Rural Leaders Training Center


As we enter the new year of 2019, we hear many joyful reports from Kyodan churches of people who have been baptized at Christmas, joining together with those already experiencing resurrection life in Christ. At this time, when the aging of church members leads to an increasingly reduced ability to engage in evangelism and when Japanese society is increasingly apathetic toward or skeptical of religion, it is a great encouragement to hear these reports of new life in Christ from these churches. We pray that God will use these newly reborn lives as his instruments to be ambassadors of reconciliation in this world.


With this feeling in mind I think of Rev. Takami Toshihiro, who passed away in September 2018 at the age of 91, and the diligent work he did in training agricultural leaders from Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, South America, and elsewhere at Asian Rural Institute (ARI), which he founded. On Dec. 16, graduates and supporters from all over the world gathered together at ARI with people from around Japan who are connected to the institute to commemorate his life and thank God for raising up this servant to do his work.


Takami was born in Bujun, Manchuria (Japanese puppet state, now in China), and after World War II, was repatriated to Japan. Due to poverty, he ended up living and training at a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto while attending middle school. After graduation, he did manual labor in businesses, including working as a longshoreman and in a salt factory. Later, he had the opportunity to work as a cook in the home of a missionary family, and it was there that he encountered Christ. Thus, he had quite a varied life as a young person, culminating in his conversion and baptism as a Christian. As he dedicated his life to Christ, he felt the call into full-time ministry and was able to go to the United States to study, first at Doane University in Nebraska, then at the University of Connecticut, and finally at Yale Divinity School.


After returning to Japan, he found his calling was in rural evangelism and the nurturing of agricultural leaders, so he began teaching at the newly established Rural Evangelical Seminary. In 1959, he participated in the East Asian Christian Council meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where it was unanimously decided that the pressing need of the time was for the development of rural leaders to help rebuild war-ravaged Asian countries and that churches in Japan should help with this. In recognition of this, the Kyodan established the "Southeast Asian Course" at Rural Evangelical Seminary, with Takami taking a leading role. In 1973, the seminary moved to Nishi Nasuno in Tochigi Prefecture to establish an independent entity known as Asian Rural Institute.  Takami laid its foundations as its first president and served as its spiritual leader until his retirement in 1993. Following retirement he continued to serve as honorary president, working to further develop ARI.


In the background of this decision by the church in Japan to take on this task, under Takami’s leadership, was the issue of war responsibility for what Japan had done under its military government in the first half of the 20th century, as it invaded the Asian countries of that time: China, Taiwan, Korea, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands. This dragged all of these countries into World War II, resulting in the loss of many lives and the destruction of their economies. This goal of a world government under the Japanese emperor resulted in the usurping of these peoples’ freedom and sovereignty, and the church in Japan succumbed to the pressure of the state to participate in the pacification of these lands under Japan’s harsh occupation. Thus, the church in Japan felt compelled to repent of its wartime actions and take responsibility through concrete actions of atonement, not withdrawing in fear of denunciation, but pursuing the gospel of reconciliation shown by Christ through his atonement on the cross for the forgiveness of all sin.


Every year, about 30 trainees from around the world come to ARI for a nine-month period of study, which includes Christians as well as rural leaders who are Buddhists and Muslims. Their purpose is not only to learn advanced Japanese agricultural techniques but also to learn traditional farming methods that have been developed in these countries in order to develop sustainable agriculture that maximizes the power of nature. Through the communal living of eating and studying together while working as a team to grow food and raise animals, these people from different backgrounds—with different languages, religions, and customs and often with strong personalities—overcome their initial hesitation and learn how to live together as they listen to and dialog with each other and work towards the common goal of maximizing sustainable agriculture. This process develops within them the spirit of servant leadership that they can take back to their own societies to become a force towards developing their own active communities. Already some 1,200 graduates have returned to countries around the world and testify to how their experiences at ARI have served them well.


Takami Toshihiro dedicated his life to developing a community based on love and peace, where each individual's gifts were utilized to release the inherent power of the world God has created, as opposed to a society focused on wealth and power that is based on the love of power and things. In his faith and wisdom, we can see the life of one who tried to live as an ambassador of reconciliation faithful to the word of God. (Tr. TB)


—Akiyama Toru, general secretary










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