Called and independent
The journey from wanting to pursue a career in architecture to becoming an independent missionary in Shikoku
Growing up in Japan as a missionary kid with my parents, brother, and sister, most of my early years were spent near Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. We went to CAJ as five-day boarders.
Taken to Kōchi
After a two-year furlough, my family returned to Japan in 1970, this time as independent missionaries. With not much support coming in, my dad taught English at a school in Kōchi city, while my brother and sister and I took correspondence courses and helped dad with teaching and his ministry. Although I enjoyed my friends and teaching lots of English during my three years at Kōchi, I didn’t feel particularly attached to Kōchi or its people. I liked Kōchi, but would tell people I was from Yamanashi when asked. In 1973, I went to America to study with the aim of pursuing a career in architecture.
A summer in Kōchi
Over my university summer vacation in 1976, I returned to Japan. Since my dad was in the US at that time, I helped out by teaching English in his absence. Though I had been apprehensive about coming back to Japan, I felt at home. That summer, I realized how easy it was for me as a missionary kid to be in Japan. I didn’t have to pretend I knew what others were talking about (movies, fashions, etc.). The Japanese accepted me for who I was, whereas people in America were always forcing me into a mold. In Japan, since I didn’t fit the mold in the first place, I was accepted as different. What freedom!
I was also asked to preach at the afternoon service of a new church plant with the pastor of the mother church interpreting for me. I was surprised since, although I had been active in my college group at church in Oregon, I didn’t consider myself a preacher. But God was giving me more of a heart for the people of Kōchi.
God’s call to Kōchi
I had never felt called to world missions. Of course, I was concerned about missions, but I had wanted to be an architect since the age of 12. Over the summer, my thoughts began to change as I saw the need for more churches, pastors, and missionaries in Kōchi. When we moved there in 1970, we were the only missionaries in the city of 200,000; the only other missionaries in Kōchi prefecture (population of one million at the time) were over an hour away.
One day, I climbed a mountain overlooking the city of Kōchi. I was in a contemplative mood and before I knew it, tears began streaming down my face. But I didn’t know why. In my devotions that night, I read the passage where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Then I understood that those tears were not really mine but God’s. That was when God gave me a burden for the people of Kōchi prefecture. But I thought that it was just a burden to pray. So, I began asking God to raise up more pastors, churches, and missionaries in this place.
Crystalizing the call
To meet that need, I began to think of becoming a “rich” architect and supporting someone as a missionary to Kōchi. I had seen first-hand how hard it was to raise support, so I thought that if I could support a missionary, they could come to the field quickly and stay until they had finished what God had called them to do. Gradually, though, I began to realize that someone who knew Kōchi, the language (especially the local dialect), and the culture would be best. They wouldn’t need much language study and would be able to fit in quickly. Thus, it happened that all the fingers began pointing toward me!
So, what began as a vague notion crystalized into a clear call. God wanted me to come back to Kōchi as a missionary. Two scriptures confirmed that call. One was Ezekiel 22:30: “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me in the land” (NASB). I had always wanted to “build up the wall and stand in the gap,” but now God was confirming a location.
The other was Isaiah 49:1–2: “Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me, and He has also made me a select arrow; He has hidden Me in His quiver.”
To me, the “islands” were obviously Japan, especially Shikoku. Also, I had always felt that God had “called me from the womb.” You see, I was born with a brain tumor. At nine weeks of age, I had an operation to remove it. Four hours into the operation, the doctor came and told my parents that he doubted I would live and, even if I did, I would definitely be blind. Dad called his school, Columbia Bible College, and asked them to pray for me. It seems that they stopped classes and everyone prayed for me. Two hours later, the doctor came out of the operating room and said he wasn’t a believer but he had “felt God” in the operating room! That day, I neither died nor became blind. God miraculously kept me alive.
So, as I reflected on God’s work in my life, I began to wonder whether God had really kept me alive “just” to be a rich architect. I concluded that He had done it so I could serve Him in a more direct capacity.
Thus, by the end of that summer, I knew that God wanted me to be a missionary in Kōchi. When I asked Dad what I should do, he recommended going to Bible school after finishing my architecture degree.
Returning to Kōchi
I finished my architecture degree and was accepted into the Master’s program at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah Biblical Seminary) in Portland, Oregon.
But when I began looking for a mission organization to send me back to Japan, I couldn’t find one. I was a bit naïve in that I just told people the facts—God had called me to Kōchi and I was looking for an organization to send me there. I felt it important to have the spiritual and physical support a mission would provide to establish an ongoing work. But each agency I approached asked, “Are there any other missionaries in Kōchi?” (Meaning, “Are there folks who can help you?”) When I said there were no missionaries except my parents (who were not doing church planting), they would invariably respond, “Then we can’t send you there.” From my point of view, one of the main reasons to go to Kōchi was because no other missionaries were there.
(I later heard from missionaries in Japan that a better approach would have been to tell the international headquarters of a mission organization I felt called to Japan. And then when I got here say that I felt called to Kōchi.)
So, since God was calling me to Kōchi, I had to find a way to get there—by myself. By the time I came back to Japan (in December 1978), my dad was looking for work in a college in Tokyo. That was perfect timing for me, as I was able to help him with teaching English at a private school in Kōchi (after studying Japanese for three months in Tokyo). Then, from April 1980, I was on my own.
I worked for two years with a local church to find out how a Japanese church really worked. Then I started a church in my house in Takamatsu with the help of TEAM missionary Ralph Cox. The next year, I started another church in Kōchi. Both churches now have Japanese pastors and are completely independent, with their own land and buildings. We are now in the process of starting another church in Ino, the town west of Kōchi city.
Looking back on God’s call, I have no regrets. I’d have enjoyed being an architect, but I am too much of a people person to last long behind a desk. But I’m glad to be back home. I married a Japanese woman from Fukushima and we have five children.
One of my favorite passages and my continuing prayer is Isaiah 6:8–9: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go.’” I praise Him for leading me back to Kōchi and for His faithfulness in guiding, protecting, and being with me and my family all these years.