This year’s trip to Japan began August 7, 2018, when we arrived at Haneda Airport in southeast Tokyo. Our first goal was to set up the office and bedroom. Since we have done this so many times, we were able to do this in a few hours.
The main lessons for the Japan School of Evangelism [JSE] Summer Special Series were on Last Things. The first objective was to get these lessons translated into Japanese along with a couple of sermons and a lecture for camp. The first three or four weeks were primarily working on these lessons and working up vocabulary. The Japanese word of the topic Last Things is Shumatsuron [終末論].
In the midst of doing this, we worshiped with the Tachikawa, Omika, and Numazu churches our first three Sundays. Dwight preached by request from Lamentations at Tachikawa and preached the lesson again the following Sunday at Omika. On our return from Omika, we stopped in Tomobe to see Marlin and Jeanne Ray. They were going to leave that week for India for medical treatment. An extra surprise was the opportunity to see brother and sister Ataka who happened to stop in for a visit. Marlin later died in India October 10 waiting for a lung transplant.
JSE classes for the semester were held on Wednesdays at Tachikawa so we were able to fellowship with the students at lunch. They were finishing a semester of study on the Prison Epistles taught by Masa Nonogaki. For three Wednesday evenings, we worshiped with the Yokota military congregation. Dwight shared two lessons with them. The congregation has two families with ten children. Masa Nonogaki continues to work with them in addition to the Japanese congregation which meets in the same building.
The Ochanomizu church camp at Hakone was again a time of refreshing and fellowship. Tokyo was especially hot and the camp gave us the opportunity to get away to a cooler spot. We were unable to see Mt. Fuji the whole time due to clouds. Dwight spoke on what he saw as the future for the Ochanomizu church. They will celebrate 70 years as a congregation in 2019.
We worshiped with the Mito congregation in Ibaraki our fourth Sunday. This is the second largest congregation in our fellowship in Japan. A number of Assistant English Teachers [AETs] are part of the congregation. They are employed to teach English in a number of schools in the area. That Sunday about seventy were in attendance split about half and half, Japanese and foreigners, mainly from the U.S.
Frank Bolling, a new pulpit minister for the Park Avenue congregation since 2015, came for ten days (September 7-17) to see the work the congregation has done in Japan through us. We had worked so we could set aside time just for his visit. Sunday we worshiped with the Tomobe church. Marlin and Jeanne Ray were in India, but Yasuki Nishimura, their new minister, and others are doing a good job in their absence. Following Marlin’s death, Jeanne returned to Tomobe October 15.
In the afternoon, we took Frank to Omika to see the Ibaraki Christian University and the meeting place of the church in Omika. Jim Batten, long-time missionary and former professor and chancellor for the university, showed us around. Makoto Tateno, minister for the Omika church, is a former Park Avenue member while he studied at HST.
While Frank was with us, we tried to get him out of Tokyo and help him see some historical sites. We overnighted in Hakone which was a customs checkpoint during the 250 years of Tokugawa rule. We did not see Mt. Fuji on that trip either.
Since Dwight had an appointment to meet in Uenohara where we had worked for six years, Frank took Dwight’s place on Wednesday night and spoke to the Bible class at the Yokota congregation. Dwight and Naoyoshi Fukushima attended a special dinner meeting in Uenohara. One of the sisters of the congregation has organized these community reach out meetings.
Following the third and fourth lessons for JSE on Last Things at Tachikawa, we headed into downtown Tokyo with Frank to visit the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and Sky Tree (a new communications tower with a new commercial community at its base). Rather than return to Tachikawa for the night and then go back to Tokyo, we decided to try out a “capsule hotel” in the area. That was a nice experience.
The next morning, we toured the Tokyo-Edo Museum which gives a good history of Tokyo during the Edo Period and on into the modern era. It is always a good place for people to get an overview of the history of the city and of Japan. In the afternoon, we met Tadayoshi Aikawa, an Ochanomizu minister and historian, at the Zoshigaya Missionary Museum. J. M. McCaleb moved to this area in 1907. He built a dorm for students, his house, and a church building. The house is all that remains, but the local government has preserved it for displaying the history of the area including McCaleb’s work.
On Frank’s second Sunday in Japan, we worshiped with the Ochanomizu church. This is the largest congregation in our fellowship with about 120 on Sunday morning. They have four elders who oversee and pastor the church. Dwight spoke bi-lingually to a combined worship assembly. Following that, we had a time of table fellowship.
That afternoon Josephine shared the lesson she had for the ladies – Hannah’s Face Changed. A written transcript of the lesson was provided for each person and then there was a time for discussion. It is always a lively time for the ladies. There were twenty-five present.
While Josephine was in class, Frank and Dwight made a quick visit to the Meiji Shrine where Emperor Meiji is worshiped. He was the emperor who opened Japan to the west about the time of the U.S. Civil War.
We put Frank on a bus Monday morning, September 17, for him to return to Memphis. We returned to the church building and awaited the JSE Founding Day’s Lectureship. The school will celebrate thirty years next year. This year a former dean and former minister for the Ochanomizu congregation, Shiro Obata, spoke in the morning and then again in the afternoon. A special treat this year was the attendance of the Young Adult Retreat group. It was very encouraging to see these faithful young men and women who are followers of Christ.
Following the lectureship, several of the teachers met to discuss the thirtieth anniversary of the school next year as well as class schedules and topics. Josephine and I find this encouraging. It is always good to see the interaction and dedication of these brothers.
Dwight shared lessons on three Wednesday nights with the Ochanomizu congregation. About eighteen to twenty met for each class. He used lessons on the Last Things for these classes.
September 21-22 we were invited by brother Obata to visit the Minami Sanriku area. This is the area which was struck by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Much work was being done to roads, bridges, barriers, and buildings. But there is still so much to do. Japan has had several disasters while we have been here. Several typhoons passed through parts of the country. One flooded the Kansai International Airport shutting it down for almost a week. Hokkaido, the northernmost big island, had a massive earthquake which triggered landslides in the area killing several. It has been a tough year for Japan in respect to these natural disasters.
Our seventh Sunday was spent with the Tachikawa church. Dwight spoke in Japanese for the morning assembly and then used the same sermon in English translated to Chinese for the afternoon assembly. The Tachikawa and Yokota congregations have a few Chinese who regularly attend. They have friends who are new to Japan and wanted a service in Chinese. Once a month one of the Tachikawa members translates the sermon into Chinese and arranges things. This seems to be a great encouragement to the Chinese who come.
One thing we learned from the service is how far we have come in the Japanese language. That may seem strange, but we did not understand anything during the Chinese service except what little was done in English. That was the way it was when we were first in Japan in 1969 and when arrived as a family in 1977.
During the luncheon fellowship at the JSE lectureship, Dwight met a brother who had worked with the missionary in charge of the language school he attended. That was a wonderful remembrance of those who provided that school and how language brings people together. We have many friends because we know the language, however poorly we speak and understand it.
Our eighth weekend, Saturday and Sunday, was spent with the Hachinohe congregation in the northernmost prefecture on the main island. This is a small congregation which meets each Sunday to gather around the Lord’s Table and to praise the Lord. They are a close-knit group who loves to be together.
Dwight spoke in chapel for the Ibaraki Christian University. There were seventy in attendance. Yoshiya Noguchi, a former Park Avenue member, serves as chaplain for the various schools in the ICU system. The Omika church provides curry rice for lunch following chapel. During the week various ministers and missionaries are on campus at the religious center to speak with students. It is a good outreach.
Our ninth Sunday was spent with the Haruna congregation. This group was started by brother and sister Obata following his retirement from the Ochanomizu church fifteen years ago.
The last few days on our Japan Railways Pass were spent traveling to visit former members and students around Japan. These are times to connect with people and encourage them.
We were able to participate in a bus tour organized by the Ochanomizu church of works associated with O. D. Bixler and pre-WWII evangelism in the Ibaraki Prefecture. It was an encouragement to see the work done in this area. We were able to meet several friends.
On our last Sunday, we worshiped with the Shirosato congregation. This is a small congregation in Ibaraki. Following the sermon, they open things up for questions and comments concerning the sermon.
This was our twenty-second consecutive year to work in Japan. Since returning to the U.S. in 1986, we have made twenty-seven trips to continue our ministry to Japan. This is possible because of the support and encouragement of the Park Avenue church who has been involved in the Japan work since sending us in 1977. Countless times we hear words of thanks from the Japanese Christians for the congregations and individuals in the U.S. who continue to support and encourage our Japanese brothers and sisters. We thank you for your continued support and encouragement. We would not be able to do this without it.