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.


  1. I applaud your message and your continued mission to Japan. It is a tragedy that you were asked to retire for issues related to fundamentalist fear when you have so much that you could continue to offer to the people of Japan. Have a safe trip back. I thought of you as I was in Tokyo today (now back in Niigata).

  2. I appreciate the kind words from an esteemed "Thinking Friend" in south Missouri:

    "Thank you for sharing this wonderful return visit to Japan. You have been a significant part of God's working in that world, and I praise Him for leading you to what many consider an unimportant assignment. In visiting with a greatly respected fellow pilgrim a week ago, he reminded me that we often miss what God has for us because we are always looking for the "big" task we are to complete ... not understanding that there are so many 'small' tasks that are necessary to making a difference. You have both served God in a way I admire, and the summation of the 'big' and the 'small' is a wonderful unfolding of God's purposes through the Seats. Praise God!"

  3. The following comments were received by a local TF, and I do plan to get together with him for a chat soon. And I will be telling him how in my new book I make reference to "fundamentalist" liberals.

    "It has been fun reading your blogs from your trip to Japan, thanks for sharing your stories and your passion.

    "In today's bog you mentioned 'conservative (fundamentalist)' in your final line; if by 'fundamentalist' you mean an attitude of 'my way or the highway,' I would like to suggest there are just as many 'fundamentalist' liberals.

    "Let's get together and explore this idea when you get back."

  4. I made the following response to part of an e-mail received from a TF who is a former SB missionary to Japan.

    TF: "I had heard that the Renmei (Japan Baptist Convention, JBC] was in pretty bad shape financially. Is that true? I was glad to see you report on some churches that are alive and well."

    LKS: I did not hear a lot of specifics about the JBC, but it is probably true that there are serious financial problems. My former co-pastor, Okamura Naoko-sensei, was a JBC missionary to Singapore, and she wanted to continue working there but the JBC said they did not have the funds to continue to support her, so she had to come back to work in Japan (after five years)--and she was just installed yesterday as the new pastor of the Takarazuka BC. While I was in Fukuoka, I had a brief talk with Kato Makoto-sensei and Noguchi Tetsuya-sensei [a relatively young pastor who has just begun to work as the head of the missions department of the JBC), and they seemed quite "upbeat" and forward-looking. And I was encouraged to see churches like Hirao and Mejirogaoka, and I am sure there are others like them, as well as many others that are not doing so well.

  5. Enjoyed reading the blog..... I have always found myself in the middle and feel strongly there is such a thing as "fundamentalist liberals". Looking forward to your forth coming book...Thanks... Leslie Taylor Tomichek

  6. I was intrigued to see that the church was designed by an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright. Baptists often downplay the importance of architecture, but it does still have an effect on us. This was illustrated recently at Second Liberty during Tom Sine's visit when a point was raised that Second seemed to have become a more warm and welcoming church over the last couple of years. Did we stop to think that this coincided with the remodeling of our church, and the opening of the new Welcome Center? My wife and I took our turn being greeters there this past Sunday, and it was a glorious experience!

    In ancient Israel, the exiles lamented, "How can we sing the Lord's song, in a foreign land?" As they found out, place and circumstance can be overcome, but not without difficulty. I rejoice that the people of the Mejirogaoka Church have had the opportunity to worship in such an inspiring setting.