Sunday, May 30, 2010

The End of a Wonderful Visit

June and I are nearing the end of our last full day in Japan, and I am posting this in the hotel near Tokyo International Airport (Narita) where we are spending the night before boarding the airplane to return to the States tomorrow (Monday) morning.

Today we had an very enjoyable time worshipping and fellowshipping with the pastor and people of the Mejirogaoka Church in Tokyo. That was our first church home in Japan, as we attended there regularly during our years in Tokyo, from the fall of 1966 to early summer in 1968.

We didn’t realize what an historic building we were worshipping in during the time we attended there in the 1960s. (I mostly remember how cold the building was in the winter time.) As I have recently learned, the church was designed by Arata Endo in 1950. Mr. Endo (1889-1951) was a close associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Mejirogaoka Church was his final project. (You can read more about him here, and in addition to the picture on the right you can see more pictures of the church building here.)

When we were members at Mejirogaoka, the pastor was Rev. Kiyoki Yuya (1890-1971), an elderly man who came from a samurai family—although a 75-year old person doesn’t seem nearly as old to me now as it did in 1966 when we first met him.

After the close of the feudal era with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many former samurai became Christians, but Rev. Yuya’s parents were not Christians. He was baptized, though, in 1907, and from 1922-24 he studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

After teaching a few years in the theology division of Seinan Gakuin, in 1932 Rev. Yuya became pastor of the Koishikawa Church in Tokyo; in 1944 the church moved and the name was changed to Mejirogaoka. That was a very difficult time during World War II, and the church met mostly in the pastorium until the new church building was finally constructed.

The current pastor of Mejirogaoka Church is Rev. Koichi Koga (b. 1956), who not only took my Introduction to Theology class in the Department of Theology, Seinan Gakuin University, but who during his student days also attended the Fukuoka International Church, about which I wrote in my previous posting.

It has been wonderful to be back in Japan again for these three weeks, and I was most gratified to see the current condition of Seinan Gakuin, as I wrote in my May 15 posting. And I was quite happy to hear about and to see the vitality of some churches, such as the Hirao Baptist Church about which I wrote in my May 20 posting and the Mejirogaoka Church we were at today.

Unfortunately, though, many churches seem to be in stagnation with an aging and declining membership. As with many churches in the United States, many churches here in Japan also seem to have trouble retaining the children who grow up in the church and reaching youth and young adults.

Some Christian critics say that the problem is partly because of the churches being too involved in social/political issues and too complacent about evangelism. There may be some truth to that criticism. Thus, in my message at the seminary chapel service on May 24, I emphasized the need of seeking what in my forthcoming book I call the “radiant center,” a theological position between the one-sidedness of either the conservative (fundamentalist) right or the liberal left.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Commemorating FIC

FIC is the common designation of Fukuoka International Church, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on this past Sunday. With the assistance of two other couples, in 1980 June and I started FIC as a bilingual church, the first worship service being held on Easter Sunday. It was a joy for us to be back in Japan and present for the special thirtieth anniversary worship service on Pentecost Sunday.

For the first three years, FIC met in the missionary residence where the Seat family lived, and then we rented the facilities of the Fukuoka YMCA and held our Sunday services there for a few years. The church moved to several other places until finally, and somewhat miraculously, we were given an old building which had previously been used as OB-Gyn Clinic.

For going on ten years now, FIC has been meeting in the completely remodeled building, which is near one of the main shopping areas of Fukuoka City. As you can see from the picture on the right (which I took yesterday), it is a narrow, four-storied building. (The picture is of the top three floors and the entrance is on the other side; most of the building can’t be seen.)

For many years, Okamura Naoko-sensei, one of my former students in the Department of Theology, Seinan Gakuin University, was first associate pastor and then my co-pastor of FIC. She resigned at the end of 2003, seven months before June and I returned to the States, and served for five years as a missionary to Singapore. (On Monday of last week we enjoyed so much being able to see her again and to talk at some length.)

It was partly because of my work as co-pastor with Rev. Okamura that June and I could not in good conscience sign that we would work “in accordance with and not contrary to” the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a document that says women should not serve as pastors. Further, it was because of our refusal to sign that the International Mission Board unilaterally placed us on retirement status.

My last Sunday as pastor of FIC was the last Sunday of July 2004, and on August 1 Rev. Koichi Kimura became pastor of the church and continues to serve at FIC. The previous year he became widely known in Japan because of his going to Iraq as a “human shield” in protest of the preemptive war started by the U.S. When he returned he was much in demand as a speaker about his experiences, and he has continued to be an outspoken critic of not only the current war in Iraq/Afghanistan but also of Japanese war activities of the past.

From what I hear, Pastor Kimura often talks about anti-war/peace activities and political issues in his sermons, and it seems that some people don’t appreciate that emphasis. Maybe for that reason, there weren’t many Americans in the 30th anniversary service. But I was happy to see there were three African men with their Japanese wives and children there.

There have been various ups and downs since FIC started as a small house church thirty years ago, but I am happy it is still bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please join me in thanking God for the past thirty years of FIC and asking for God’s abundant blessings upon Pastor Kimura and the church as it continues it important ministry in Fukuoka.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What about “Illegal Aliens”?

Asia Sunday is a yearly event sponsored by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). The CCA was founded in 1959, but it was called the East Asia Christian Conference until 1973. One of its main purposes has been, and still is, “the promotion and strengthening of the unity of the church in Asia.” (You can learn more about the CCA here.) I still have good memories of attending the 8th General Assembly of the CCA held in Seoul in 1985.

Last month the 13th General Assembly of the CCA was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The theme of that gathering was “Called to Prophesy, Reconcile, and Heal,” and the key Bible passage was Luke 4:14-30.

For many years now, the CCA has designated the Sunday before Pentecost “Asia Sunday,” so my sermon at the Hirao Baptist Church on May 16 was linked to that event and my message was based on Luke 4, since the same scripture and theme were used for Asia Sunday as for the CCA Assembly.

On May 2 when Dr. Tom Sine preached at Second Baptist Church, he used the first part of the Luke 4 passage about Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. But the climax of that passage is when Jesus began to talk favorably about Gentiles. It was Jesus’ affirmation of God’s preferential treatment of the “foreigners” that ticked off Jesus’ hearers and got him run out of town.

The problem of undocumented immigrants has been much in U.S. news recently, especially because of the new law in Arizona. It some ways, it is hard for me to join the widespread opposition to that law, for it is basically what we lived with in Japan for thirty-eight years. During all those years we had to carry an Alien Registration Certificate or be subject to detention until such was produced.

For many years now “illegal aliens” have been a problem in Japan, with more than half of those being from Korea, China, and the Philippines, although the total number and also the percent of fuho taizaisha is far, far less than in the U.S.

Is there any difference if we look at the “illegals” from the standpoint of Christian faith (with love and compassion) as opposed to seeing them from the viewpoint of an American (or Japanese) citizen? Does God favor keeping desperately poor people out of the United States (or Japan, or other of the wealthier countries) and punishing those who are not able to enter legally?

Or as the liberation theologians like to say, does God have a preferential option for the poor? And if so, what should we think and do in response?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Seinan, Be True to Christ"

Yesterday was Founders Day at Seinan Gakuin, the school complex in Fukuoka City, Japan, where I taught for thirty-six years and also served as an administrator on various levels for many of those years. It was good to be present for the ceremonies in the morning and the luncheon that followed.
Baptist missionary C. K. Dozier was the primary founder of Seinan Gakuin. The school began in 1916 with just over 100 junior high school boys. Five years later the senior high school was started and the first permanent building was completed. The first floor of that building, pictured below in a snapshot taken yesterday, is now a museum of Seinan and Japanese Christian history, but the second floor is much as it was originally, an auditorium where chapel services have been held through the years and where the seminary chapel service are currently held.

Seinan Gakuin now consists of a university with over 8,000 students, including those in the graduate school programs, and a junior-senior high school with around 2,000 students. In addition, Maizuru Kindergarten and Samidori Day Nursery have also been a part of Seinan Gakuin through the years, and last month the Seinan Gakuin Elementary School was opened with 210 pupils in grades one through three.
During the eight years I had the privilege of serving as chancellor of Seinan Gakuin (1996-2004), I endeavored to get an elementary school started at Seinan, and even though the plan was approved by the trustees by the time my term was over, finally this year my dream, and that of many others, has become a reality. Here is a picture of the elementary school building which I took yesterday.

Baptist missionaries were an integral part of Seinan Gakuin from the beginning until 2004, except for a few years during World War II. Actually, the university was not founded until 1949, and Max Garrott served three years as the first university president and Luther Copeland served several months as the second president until the first Japanese president took office in November 1952.
There are three former Baptist missionaries now employed directly by Seinan Gakuin, and all three are serving in highly significant positions. Gary Barkley is now in his fourth year as president of the university, the first non-Japanese to serve in that position since Dr. Copeland in 1952. Lydia Barrow Hankins has served, and served well, for many years now as the chaplain of Seinan Gakuin, and Karen Schaffner, who has been a German teacher in the university for many years, began serving as administrative chaplain last month.
Just before C. K. Dozier passed away in 1933, his last words, spoken to his wife, were, “Tell Seinan to be true to Christ.” In time, “Seinan, Be True to Christ” became the motto for Seinan Gakuin. It was gratifying yesterday to see those words, in Japanese, prominently displayed in the entrance hall of the new elementary school building and to hear Chancellor Terazono, my successor, talking about the meaning and significance of those words.

Monday, May 10, 2010

On the Way to Japan

I am making this posting in the Kansas City airport, where June and I arrived a few minutes ago for the first leg of our trip to Japan. Our flight to Chicago is scheduled to leave at 7:40, and then the 13-hour flight to Tokyo is supposed to leave at 10:50.

This is my third, and June’s second, trip back to Japan since we left there on July 31, 2004. Japan had been our home since September 1966, so it was hard to leave and our trips back have been joyful for the most part. (There have been some pastoral type activities with former Japanese church members that have been rather difficult, and this time will be no different.)

On Friday, we will attend the Founders Day activities of Seinan Gakuin, the educational institution I was affiliated with for thirty-six years. C. K. Dozier, a Baptist missionary from Georgia, was the primary founder of Seinan Gakuin in 1916, so this year marks completion of ninety-four years for the school.

This coming Sunday, I will be preaching at the Hirao Baptist Church, where June and I were members from 1968-1980. That church was started by Baptist missionaries Bob and Kay Culpepper in the early 1950s. The first meeting place was the upstairs of the mission residence where the Culpeppers lived—and where the Seat family lived from 1968 to 1992.

On May 23, the Fukuoka International Church will be having a special worship service commemorating its founding in April 1980. June and I, with the help of two other couples, started that church, and I was the part-time pastor of it from the beginning until July 2004. I am looking forward to preaching (in English and Japanese, as usual) there again on the 23rd.

On May 30 I will be preaching at the Mejirogaoka Baptist Church in Tokyo. Our first two years in Japan were spent in Tokyo, where we were full time students in the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language (also known as the Naganuma School). During that time we attended the Meijirogaoka church every Sunday morning and have many good memories of that time.

Please pray for us as we make this trip: pray that we will have the physical stamina we need, for travel to Japan is quite tiring; pray that we will have the language ability we need to communicate successfully with the Japanese people we will be in contact with; and pray that my sermons will not only be understood but will be taken to heart by those who hear them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Being Disciples and Making Disciples

Tom Sine was not a disappointment. In my previous posting I wrote about looking forward to meeting him and hearing him speak at the Re-Imagine 2010-2020 event at Second Baptist Church, and I found him to be a warm, genuine, energetic, and engaging person.

Dr. Sine led the 130-140 persons who gathered last Friday evening in “an open conversation about our past,” and then the topics for the Saturday discussions, attended by fewer but still a substantial number of people, were “anticipating new opportunities” and “visioning for the future.” It was a good and helpful time for our church.

Part of Dr. Sine’s emphasis was on “whole-life discipleship,” and he also talked some about the related idea of “following Jesus by making God’s purposes our purposes.” Those are very good and significant emphases.

In The New Conspirators (2008), Dr. Sine stresses that “one of the first steps toward whole-life discipleship is in radically reimagining how we steward our time and money” (p. 242), and he goes on to assert that “Jesus Christ calls his disciples to incarnate a radical form of whole-life discipleship and stewardship that reflects God’s intentions to create a more just society” (p. 248).

I certainly agree with the statements I have just cited. And the emphasis this past weekend at our church on “mission” activities such as the new Harvest Hill Garden, which was dedicated last Sunday afternoon, is good and important.

[Here is a picture of me talking with  Dr. Sine on May 1.] 

Yet, I feel some concern that Dr. Sine didn’t place more emphasis on making disciples. I have been concerned for quite some time that our church, among many other “moderate” churches, puts so little emphasis on making new disciples. There are rarely any new members who join our church who have not been church members somewhere previously or who are not children of our church members.

Without a doubt, we who are Christians are expected by Christ to live as disciples, showing love to others through deeds of service. I have no doubt whatsoever that we Christians should be constantly doing loving acts of service and ministry in our community and in the wider world. But is that enough?

Unfortunately, evangelism, the attempt to make disciples, has often been done in coercive, manipulative, or other un-Christian ways. Of course we reject that sort of evangelism. But are we justified in shying away from evangelism altogether?

We must not forget that Jesus’ “great commission” was not just “go and make friends” but “go and make disciples.” I pray that our local church and the church at large can find the proper balance between being disciples and making disciples.