Following in the Footsteps of My Father, Lee In Ha (Learning from My Father's Life)

by Lee Sung Jeon, member
Kawasaki Korean Christian Church in Japan
Professor, Keisen University
When he was 16 years old my father, Lee In Ha, (born in1925) came to Kyoto from Korea, a colony of Japan at that time, because the school he was attending in Korea had been forced to close. He began studying at a Buddhist-related school. Pastor Wada Tadashi, an English teacher there, led my father to Christ and he met my mother, Sakai Sachiko, at the Kyodan’s Kyoto Nishidamachi Church. Living alone in a foreign country while he was young, my father developed a pioneer spirit. As a young boy, I remember my father’s “back.” Whenever our family went out together, he always walked fast ahead of us, and I have vivid memories of my mother and us children trying hard to keep up with Father.
During the years when my father had an official position in the Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ), he often went abroad. As children, we were used to him being away from home, since we knew he had many responsibilities. Also at our home, a parsonage, there were many visitors, such as members of the church and young people who shared my father’s time, so we children were brought up in a rather open and free atmosphere. Contrary to the Confucian culture of the Koreans in Japan, my father seemed to respect the personality and freedom of children. This must have been closely related to his experience of studying abroad at Knox College in Canada.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a parent church of KCCJ. Our family had very rich experiences of fellowship with many missionary families, such as the Talbots and Hyndmans. At times we spent our summer vacation at Lake Nojiri and had family fellowship with missionary families there. This no doubt inspired me to start studying the work of missionaries. I clearly remember hearing my father reminisce once that he owed much to the mission work of the Presbyterian Church in Canada for his self-formation. In other words, my father was to be “a leader of the local people” as well as “an honor student” of the mission.
There came a turning point in the life of my father. Even though he had never missed sending money to his parents, he still felt an unfilled obligation to his home country, which he had left even though he was a firstborn son. Returning from Canada, he accepted a position as an assistant pastor of Tokyo Church. Then suddenly, he received an invitation to serve a church in Seoul. I imagine that he was happy about the possibility of returning to Korea. However, when the family was ready to leave, I, then in pre-school, contracted an eye disease and was told that I might lose my sight. I heard that the doctor had warned my father, who wanted to go back to Korea, of the difference in the level of medical treatment between the two countries at that time. Because my father heeded the doctor’s advice, I retained my eyesight, but he lost his chance to return to Korea. Later, at the strong request of the members of Kawasaki Church, he took the position of pastor there.
On the first night in Kawasaki, all the family members were surprised to see the night sky tinted crimson. We thought it was a fire but soon learned that it was only the reflection of blast furnaces in the night sky. Serving in Kawasaki, “the city of pollution,” seemed like just another coincidence in life and, in a way, a failure. However, it seems that later in his life, my father made this seeming coincidence into the inevitable.
After that, my father used his pioneer spirit well, serving the KCCJ diligently, being blessed with many encounters, and while facing the various problems that Koreans in Japan have, being encouraged by such encounters. My father fulfilled the role of weaving a new relationship between Japanese and Koreans in Japan, enabling them to share joy and sadness together as they experienced trying conflicts and encounters while working together in social incidents, such as the Hitachi Employment Discrimination Court Case and the Movement Against the Fingerprinting of Foreigners as well as in the construction of the Sakuramoto Day-care Facility and the Fureai-kan. At my father’s memorial service, I greatly appreciated the farewell sermon given by my father’s friend, Pastor Sekita Hiroo, entitled “Disciples of Reconciliation.” It was also a valuable testimony.
During the 49 years of his work, my father never moved from Kawasaki and ended his life there. He lived in a parsonage. When he retired, he became an honorary pastor of the church but moved into a special living zone for newly arrived Koreans, which was an even more difficult living environment. These living conditions might have heightened his susceptibility to the type of pneumonia he contracted (interstitial inflammation), which is considered incurable. I told my father, who was bedridden at the time, that “it was a decoration, a medal, given to you for your life.” For an instant, he looked surprised, but his face soon became calm and he faintly nodded. I can still see him.
Last year, during the night of June 30, a moment before he was called to heaven, our family members were able to express words of gratitude to him. He was supported by the encounters of many, and I think I can say that he was able to change so-called coincidences into inevitabilities in his own way. As his son, I want to testify that this was also due to the rich blessings and faithful leading of the Lord. (Tr. RK)
–From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)

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