How I got to Japan!
Through the bus window and with misty eyes I viewed the familiar landscape of my small rural hometown of Juda, Wisconsin, as it faded into the distance. I was fast feeling alone on a bus taking me to the Naval Station Great Lakes Boot Camp north of Chicago in 1952.
Just one year earlier, my life was filled with great promise. I had a good job, I married the girl of my dreams, my wife had a job, we had a nice apartment, a car to drive, and we were building our bank account…everything looked rosy.
But after six months of married life, Maxine, my wife came down with lupus erythematosus, then uncurable. It was heart-rending to see this lovely young lady deteriorate into a living skeleton. Within nine months of married life she was taken from me.
Suddenly I was single again, and because of the Korean War I soon got a notice from my draft board to report for an Army physical. It just so happened that I had no desire to be in the Army, so I instead enlisted in the Navy. On January 3, 1952, that bus was taking me farther and farther away from all that was familiar.
After three months of Boot Camp I was off to California where I boarded my assigned ship, the USS Los Angeles, a heavy cruiser.
Experiencing my wife’s death at such a young age was perplexing; many questions flowed through my mind. Why me? Why so young? What is the meaning of life? Who is in control?
I was a nominal Christian, baptized at twelve, and I went to church regularly. But I didn’t really know the Controller of the Universe. One afternoon I left the ship by myself with no destination in mind, but I needed to think through some of the issues that were occupying my heart and mind. As I walked I saw a sign on the sidewalk that said, “Christian Servicemen’s Center, Free Coffee & Donuts, a Home away from Home.”
That looked interesting, so I climbed the stairs to the second floor, and, in this Home Away from Home, I found my Savior, accepting Christ as my Lord (John 1:12-13), and became a child of God. As I read the Bible daily, I began to find answers to the questions that before seemed to have no answers. Truly, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, KJV).
It just so happened that my ship was assigned to the Far East and soon we crossed the Pacific to Yokosuka, Japan, the largest deep-water port in the Far East. Missionaries before me had established a Servicemen’s Center in Yokosuka, and whenever my ship was in port, this became my next “Home Away From Home.” Later I was stationed at the Yokosuka Naval Base and became the Servicemen Center’s Board Chairman. On Friday evenings the Center had special speakers, and missionaries serving in Japan came to present the gospel and challenge servicemen to consider missions as a calling. Here I met Jim & Kay Beasley, Barbara Dean Knoble, Delna Goertzen, and many other missionaries. Delna and I got along well and we became interested in each other.
As a new Christian living in Japan, I became concerned about the paucity of the Christian witness in this great land. In the US there were churches on every corner, the Good News was proclaimed by radio and TV daily. But Japan was just the opposite. The teachings of Buddhism and Shinto were woven so deeply into the Japanese fabric that most Japanese couldn’t move away from them.
My enlistment ended December 1955, I was flown to California to be discharged and entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago the next month.
In March 1956, Delna’s father succumbed to his long battle with Parkinson’s, and Delna rushed home to Mt. Lake, Minnesota, for his funeral.
In May, I traveled to Mt. Lake to see Delna. I proposed to her and we were married July 6, 1956.
Japan was deeply in my heart by then, but I never publicly said, “I am going to be a missionary to Japan.” However, Moody had a Mission Conference and after hearing the challenges to give all for Jesus, I told Jesus that I believed He was calling me to Japan as a missionary. When I got home that day I told Delna and she was overjoyed. From that moment on we made plans to return to Japan.
Delna was already a TEAM missionary and I enjoyed the fellowship with other TEAM missionaries, so it was easy to become a TEAM Candidate. I always felt unqualified to be a missionary for it seemed that they were high up the spiritual ladder and I could never reach their level. However, as I got to know many missionaries I found out that they were just normal people with the abnormal goal of reaching the lost for Christ.
I went to the TEAM Candidate School and, although there are many things I no longer remember, one phrase that the Chairman of our Mission said fifty-eight years ago is still with me. “When you get to the mission field,” he encouraged, “If you can’t do anything good please, please don’t do anything bad.” I thought to myself, I can do that! Somehow this gave me confidence that I too could be a missionary.
One day at my folks’ home, as we were preparing to go to Japan, Delna and my mom were in the kitchen doing dishes. Mom said to Delna, “I am not happy that you and Bruce are going to Japan. We will never get to see you.” Delna with great wisdom said to Mom. “Oh Mom, don’t feel that way. You can come to visit us in Japan.” Mom said, “Fat chance I will ever get to Japan.”
Yet, Mom saved her own money. When they wrote and said that Dad was getting his needed shots we knew they were really on their way to visit us. After this visit and Delna’s weekly letters, Mom and Dad became very happy that we were missionaries to Japan.
In early 1960, after I graduated from Moody, we began our deputation, and on September 11, 1960, fully supported, we thankfully left Seattle aboard a freighter bound for Japan. Following two years in language study we were invited by Bill and Elsie Thornton to work with them in Nagano City. And there we remained for 30 God-blessed years. We helped start three self-supporting churches that are today witnessing for Christ in this city of 400,000 lost souls.
There are as many different stories as there are missionaries. But this is how God led me here. This is how I got to Japan. To God be the Glory!