by Shirley M. Juten, retired United Methodist missionary
Former Professor, Toyo Eiwa Jogakuin Junior College
The training center of Izumi Church, Tokyo, is located in Kita-Karuizawa of Gunma Prefecture, a place famous as a summer resort. Quite a few members of other churches have probably camped there during the summer. Shirley Juten lives in a little house on the site. After almost 60 years since she was sent to Japan from the U.S., she shared about her dedicated life as follows.*
I was born and grew up in Minnesota, U.S.A. —a cold place where the temperature sometimes goes down to 30 degrees below zero in the wintertime. My parents, who served as officers of the Evangelical Church and principal of the church school, seemed to be proud of my becoming a missionary. I say “seemed,” for I, their daughter, was away in a foreign country and did not stay with them for more than a few weeks at a time, and even then, I only went home once every few years. They must have felt lonely. When I told them of my decision to become a missionary, however, they agreed with me, saying, “It is good to work for others.”
It was at a summer camp of the church when I was ten years old that I decided to be a missionary. Every night, we enjoyed a camp fire and ice cream that we bought at the refreshment stand. On the last night, a special meeting took place, but having missed the announcement of the meeting, I and a friend of mine appeared in rough clothes and with ice cream in hand, while everyone else was dressed up. Unable to hide the ice cream in our pockets, we could only embarrassingly swallow it down as quickly as possible.
At that meeting, the missionary asked the audience after the sermon: “Is there anybody who wants to become a missionary?” Looking around, I saw a few older children I respected holding up their hands. Wishing to erase the shameful feelings I had earlier, I too instinctively held up my hand. Consequently, everything started at that moment. I raised my hand just to be a good girl, but the gesture meant a promise to God. From that time, I prayed and prayed, continuing to ask myself if this was the will of God.
Even though I was still unsure while in high school, I entered a college that emphasized social welfare studies and majored in the Bible and Christian education in order to become a missionary. I got a job after graduating from college, but at last I convinced myself that it was God’s will for me to be a missionary. Immediately, I made contact with the mission board, and my mission in Japan was decided upon within three months. After completing graduate study in child education, I was on board a ship for Japan when I was 25 years old.
For 43 years, I taught Christian education and childcare. For the first five years, I gave lectures in English by way of an interpreter, but after that, being told to “do it myself,” I made the effort to lecture in Japanese. It was hard for me, but probably also hard for the students.
Most people never have the opportunity to enter deeply into a different culture and live there. I feel that I have been blessed with this opportunity, so I have enjoyed myself immensely on the job and in an environment closely connected with the Japanese people. Thus, I gradually became not just someone set apart, but their comrade. Even though I experienced difficulties, such as being forced to cancel the graduation worship during the time of student riots [in the 1970s], when I also served as Director of Christian Activities, I have never thought of going back to the U.S., even after I retired in 1996.
Since my retirement, I have lived in this small house in Kita-Karuizawa on the site of the training center of Izumi Church, Tokyo, with which I became associated when asked to hold a Bible class during my first days in Japan.
There is no church around here, and during the summer when people come to their cabins for vacations, we have held services at the training center these past 19 years. On the other hand, although those who live in my neighborhood and the local farmers are not Christians, I am now closely connected with them, for I have held Christmas celebrations with their children every year.
Because I have no car, many of my friends take me in their cars for shopping. I also often take busses and taxis. Although inconvenient—as well as a little expensive—my no-car policy brings me friendship with various people. A few years ago, when I suddenly felt sick and had to be hospitalized, some bus drivers and taxi drivers, wondering why I did not appear as a passenger, anxiously asked the police to check on my condition.
Because of my health, for a recent few years, I spend a couple of months in the summer in Kita-Karuizawa and the rest of the year in a Christian facility in Gunma Prefecture. I am thankful for the protected life in this facility. Being a foreigner, I stand out anyway, and so I think my presence among these people serves as a testimony of God’s love for them. (Tr. AY)
—Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)
*(A summary by the Shinto no Tomo)
日本 に遣わされて60年「幸せです」 Shirley M. Juten