Since the fall of 2007, the Kyodan's Commission on Ecumenical Ministries has
been planning a "Thank-you Tour" to visit retired U.S. missionaries who had
served in Japan, as a prelude to the 2009 celebration of the 150th
anniversary of the beginning of (Protestant) evangelism in Japan. It was
thought that this milestone should not be approached without expressing
gratitude to the missionaries who labored to bring salvation to the Japanese
people as well as to the churches that sent and supported them. Also, with
JNAC (Japan-North American Commission on Cooperative Mission) having been
dissolved a few years ago and the Council of Cooperative Mission having been
dissolved last year, the Kyodan is searching for new ways to continue its
relationships with the churches in North America.
At first commission members groped in the dark for some sense of direction,
knowing both the time limit for organizing a tour and the numbers and
geographical distribution of the missionaries to be visited. It seemed like
a nearly impossible task. However, with the patient and persistent
negotiations Commission on Ecumenical Ministries staff members and the
loving and passionate support of the retired missionaries in each location,
each obstacle was overcome. When the April 14-23 schedule was set the plan
became a reality, and everyone was deeply grateful.
In spite of the rather sudden invitation and the inconvenient timing at the
start of the new church year, 17 people agreed to join the tour. This was
the first such tour ever organized by the Kyodan, but participation was not
limited to representatives of the Kyodan. Representatives of the Japan
Christian Social Work League and of the Christian School Council on
Cooperative Mission also participated because the work of missionaries
extended to these areas as well.
After leaving Japan the group went first to Claremont, California to visit
Pilgrim Place, a resident community for retired church workers, and held a
reunion with 40 retired missionaries to Japan. This was a truly rich time of
fellowship. During the discussion, many penetrating questions about the
Japanese church and the world of the church were raised. Those of us from
Japan were encouraged and stimulated by the continuing deep concern and
prayers of the missionaries.
We also expressed our gratitude and deep appreciation that during the over
60 years since the end of World War II, the churches of North America sent
1,700 missionaries and several hundred million dollars to support Christian
work in Japan. Especially we remember that 700 missionaries came to Japan
soon after the war to bear the burden of helping us in our hour of need.
Now, however, only 60 missionaries are scattered and isolated throughout the
country, and we face the urgent task of adapting to this changed situation.
From Claremont we divided into two subgroups. Group A went to Holland,
Michigan. Group B traveled to Pleasantville, Tennessee and to Asheville and
Black Mountain in North Carolina. As deep fellowship with the retired
missionaries continued, their heart felt gratitude and detailed concern was
more and more evident.
Through this journey I became not only more grateful for the 30 or 40 years
of service and the evangelistic spirit with which these missionaries faced
many difficulties and overcame many obstacles but also came to see that the
true way to show gratitude to the missionaries is to commit ourselves again
to evangelizing our nation. Through witnessing how the missionaries, even
now, are continuing in service I was taught that there really is no
retirement from mission. I will never forget the image of these
missionaries, with tears in their eyes, saying their parting words:
"Greetings to the people of the church in Japan!"? (Tr. GM)
?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Yamakita Nobuhisa, moderator
?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Kyodan General Assembly
?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Shinto no Tomo (Believers' Friend)