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

【December 2019 No.405】Connecting with the Worldwide Church A Shinto no Tomo (Believer’s Friend) special series


Asking a Missionary to Japan

The editorial staff of Shinto no Tomo asked this missionary, who had been

sent to Japan and ministered for almost 40 years, about how he viewed

the Japanese Church and what issues he sees that need attention.


A Church where Almost Everyone can Feel at Home


by Timothy D. Boyle, retired missionary

United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church USA

During the 1960s, there was a growing recognition in the US of the importance of relationships with Asia, and thus a program was begun at the East-West Center in Hawaii to invite college students entering their third year to study either Japanese or Chinese. I applied and was one of twelve to study Japanese for 15 months. I had no idea how learning Japanese would be useful to my future career, but the attraction of living in Hawaii for a year at government expense was certainly a big part of my motivation. The last three months of the program was a “homestay” in Tokyo, and this was my first time to come to Japan.


I later came back in 1971 as a short-term missionary with the United Methodist Church and was assigned to Sapporo in Hokkaido. I had a great time interacting with other young people in Japan (eventually marrying one of them) and returned to the US in 1974 to study theology and become a pastor. My wife and I returned to Japan in 1982 as regular missionaries with the Kyodan and served until retirement in 2016.


During the first term of service back in Japan, I served as the pastor of Shintoku Church in Hokkaido, and after that, we transferred to the “international city” of Tsukuba as missionaries with the Ibaraki Subdistrict of Kanto District for 21 years. Scientists, researchers, students, and their families come to Tsukuba from many countries for extended periods, and so much of our work centered on meeting the needs of these people. I started Tsukuba International School to serve those with children and aimed to make their stay in Japan a more stable and fulfilling one, irrespective of religious background or lack thereof.


One other area of mission that stands out in my mind is that of helping with the ministry of Bethlehem Church of the Indonesian Minahasa Church in Oarai. As Kanto District was very active in helping to establish this work, I often went to that church to help, including preaching there numerous times. I even went to Indonesia to visit the Minahasa Church headquarters. The Kyodan, including many lay persons, played important roles in establishing and maintaining this ministry to Indonesians living and working in the area, and so it was with great joy that I heard that in November of 2018, the Kyodan and Minahasa Church signed a formal joint mission agreement that will facilitate further development of mutual ministry and fellowship.


Finding it Hard to Fit in

There is one thing I’ve often heard from Japanese students who have studied abroad and came to faith in overseas churches. And that is that when they come back to Japan, they often find it hard to fit in when they try to become part of Japanese churches. Like many foreign students coming to Japan, they find the atmosphere of Japanese churches to be rather dull and somber. I sometimes still help out at Kobe Union Church, which was the second church to be founded in Japan after it opened up to the outside world at the beginning of the Meiji Era. Services are conducted in English but are also translated into Japanese over earphones, and so in addition to people from many countries, there are many Japanese, having either spent time overseas or being interested in becoming more international, who participate in the lively service.


A number of these people have had little exposure to Christianity before, but they are interested in improving their English and experiencing the foreign atmosphere, and so they come. Some people might think that this is not the mission of the church, but having such a place where people can feel comfortable and be welcomed into a fellowship that can be used by God to draw them to himself is surely pleasing to God.


I am, of course, not saying that Japanese churches in general should become like North American churches that are lively, open communities, as Japan has its own culture. Having a certain amount of solemnity in worship is a worthy goal. But it is also important to recognize that many people desire a more casual atmosphere, and so there are things that can be done to try to accommodate this.


This desire certainly isn’t limited to students. While it is not true of all Japanese churches by any means, what I have seen in many of the Japanese churches I have visited is that there is something about them that creates difficulty for outsiders to enter in. It’s not that such people are not welcomed, but it’s difficult to go much beyond that. Churches with few members naturally develop strong ties with each other, which is a good thing. However, I think it is important to be on guard that these don’t become exclusive relationships. For instance, if members subconsciously think that someone should understand something, even if it is not explained, that may make things difficult for newcomers who don’t have the necessary background information.


While I did experience some minor difficulties in adapting to Japanese churches, the “preacher’s wife” had even more. We were both commissioned as missionaries, but Japanese Christians often didn’t really understand that. Likewise, church members often had expectations of the pastor’s wife that were vague and not clearly explained. When this was pointed out, they would say they understood, but we didn’t really see any improvement.


Making the Church a Welcoming Place for Everyone

In the future, Japan will experience more and more people coming from particularly other Asian countries to work in Japan. Whether they like it or not, Japanese churches will need to recognize that they have a mission to reach out to these people. So, how are they to do that? While it may be difficult for Japanese Christians to visit and directly learn from overseas churches, they can visit churches such as Kobe Union Church and see how they can incorporate useful elements of other cultures and traditions, while not denying their own, and through this make their own church into one that can serve all people.



『信徒の友』特集 10月号




















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