While Japan was occupied by the Allied forces following its World War II defeat in 1945, an effort was made to change Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture from a site of military prominence to a city of cultural prominence. This effort was led by Yokosuka Naval Base’s new commander, Captain Benton Weaver Decker. After being assigned to Yokosuka in 1946, Captain Decker, who was a Christian, called together the Christian leadership of Yokosuka and encouraged them to use the various buildings and property previously occupied by the former Imperial Japanese Navy within the city as places for schools, hospitals, and social services. This enterprise can be called an “unforeseen (yet welcomed) consequence” of the Allied Occupation Forces’ policies.
At that time, the Kyodan took responsibility for the development of what is now Yokosuka Gakuin, Kinugasa Hospital, and Yokosuka Christian Community Center under the leadership of the Kyodan moderator, Kyodan pastors, and church laity. Yokosuka Christian Community Center was built in the community of Taura in the northern area of Yokosuka. The Community Center’s ministry began under the leadership of Sugiura Yoshito, a minister assigned to that position by the Kyodan. In response to requests from local youth, a Bible study was started that resulted in the birth of today’s Taura Church.
In February 1948, Rev. Everett William Thompson became the first director of Yokosuka Christian Community Center. Thompson had been sent by the Methodist Church to serve in Japan before World War II but had returned to the US due to the war. Foreseeing Japan’s loss in the war and the need it would have for social services, Rev. Thompson went to graduate school and studied social work in order to be equipped for service in Japan following the war.
As planned, Thompson returned to Japan shortly after the war ended. He began his work there, serving “the least of these” by responding to the challenges of poverty and by opening a nursery school and a dormitory for mothers and children. His emphasis was on enabling the community to identify its own needs. He encouraged local residents to set educational goals and opened a library. He also encouraged cultural development. Noteworthy is the fact that he organized the first “senior club” for Japanese older people.
In 1957, Abe Shiro became the second director of the Community Center. He worked hard to develop professional social welfare services as well as new creative projects. With the development of groups like “Taura Mutual Aid” and “Taura Bazaar,” Abe was able to establish community programs and projects in Taura that had been envisioned by Thompson. Through these various programs and experiences, a community that was once foreign to Christianity opened itself to the Gospel.
As a Christian and director, Abe now faced two problems. One was bridging the differences of perspective of the social welfare agency and the local church toward a theological understanding of evangelism. The other problem was gaining financial independence from the church.
At that time, the chaplain of the base chapel at the US Naval Base in Yokosuka encouraged the rebuilding of the Community Center and offered to pay the full cost. However, because of differences in missional priorities—and in spite of the financial difficulties that would result— the offer was respectfully declined. The Gospel is for the entire community, and Christian social welfare services in the community are not delivered according to the faith of those in need. This comes from the belief that the heart of Christian social welfare is shown in the faith that enables us to administer services to whomever is in need.
In 2007, Kishikawa Yoji became the third director of the Community Center. As the Center adjusts to the increase of older people and the decrease of young people, changes are being made in policy, organization, and in the facilities themselves in order to enable proper service for a changing clientele. Continued conversations among the staff, as well as new learning/training opportunities, are being used to accomplish this.
Furthermore, through social welfare service in the community, the heart and spirit of social welfare has deepened, and we are committed to further developing our mission. We hope to have theological dialogue, not only within our facilities, but also with the local church, in an effort to increase our missional cooperation together.
Christian social welfare services are taking place at the front lines of mission. As we look at the history of social welfare, we see stories of faith in the footprints of the various social welfare agencies and service. This is an inheritance we want to honor, and a story we want to continue to tell through our services. (Tr. JS)
—Sato Senro, Board of Trustees member
Yokosuka Christian Community Center
From Kyodan Shinpo (The Kyodan Times), No. 4916