This article is an excerpt translated with permission by Ken Reddington, Mae’s son.
The original article (雪山の聖歌 “Yukiyama no Seika” A Hymn in the Snowy Mountains) was written by special correspondent Michiko Yokoyama and published in the February 1951 issue of “Ie no Hikari” (magazine for Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, now known as JA), pp. 24-31.
A Maid from Heaven
“There is a young woman from America living deep in the mountains of Koshu (the ancient name for Yamanashi Prefecture). She lives her life in a ministry of love and evangelism to the village people. She is loved by all in the village as an angel come out of Heaven.” (Source unknown.)
Deeply moved as I read this, I wanted to hear her story. So I rode the train until I could see the majestic form of Mt. Fuji etched against the sky. I got off at Yamura-machi Station, planning to take a taxi or bus to the mountaintop village. But the locals said, “You can’t take a taxi. It’d never get there with these bad roads. The bus takes three hours, but only goes partway. And then it’s a two hour walk to where the American woman lives.”
So instead I got a ride on a truck taking some things into the village. It made its way up the mountain road, bouncing me around with its shaking. Finally, I saw a light in the valley below.
I asked, “Is that it?”
“No, that’s just the bus terminus,” the driver said. The road had become completely dark.
The road flattened. We drove along a river into Doshi Village in Minamitsuru Gun, Yamanashi Prefecture, the longest village in Japan (28 km, or about 17 miles). The truck picked up speed. Suddenly, the truck’s headlights revealed a raised hand as we drove along the snowy road.
“Stop! Please give us a ride.” It was a group of young women. The driver asked, “You have a meeting?”
“Yes, we do.” These girls were going to the American woman’s house. I was glad to have company.
The truck stopped at a little one-story Japanese house. “Welcome!” came a greeting. Then, as we sat on tatami mats, I wondered, “Is this really the American woman who has been in Japan less than a year?” Her hair and eyebrows were black, like a Japanese woman. She was beautiful, with long eyelashes, big eyes, and purposeful lips.
As we gathered around the kotatsu she said, “There are no tables or chairs and no bed either. Everything is Japanese . . .” Her meishi (name card) was in Japanese-style vertical print. It said, Mae Vincent . . . Far Eastern Gospel Crusade. What a formidable title! But I fell in love with this young woman with the soft rosy cheeks.
Her Japanese teacher, Mrs. Toshiko Tanaka, said, “Mae-san studies a lot, so she has improved rapidly.” This innocent girl had a self-reliant American spirit.
“Why did you come to this lonely backwoods mountain village?” I asked.
“My headquarters told me that being in the mountains like this would be difficult. They discouraged me from coming. Others will go a convenient place, but who will come to a place like this—an inconvenient place in the middle of the mountains?”
Her simple Japanese was easy to understand. I saw Mae’s strong personality and her sacrificial spirit. Then she added, “And also, I like Doshi!” I nodded. I felt a radiant joy as I thought of young Mae’s motivation for choosing this place hidden in the mountains to start her evangelism ministry in Japan.
Then I asked, “What do you like about Japan?” Mae thought for a while. Then she broke the silence with a single word, like a jewel being dropped, “The children.”
For a moment, I was awestruck. I thought she would say the scenery, the customs, etc. But this American woman just loved children. This is a great bond between Japan and the US.
“And what don’t you like about Japan?” Mae didn’t answer right away, then said, “I . . . well, I’m not going back to America. Tokyo . . . big! Stores, people, many . . . I don’t like it!” So, Mae is living a life of service to the people of this village in the mountains where they have so little.
It was the young girls who were first touched by seeing Mae walking the long road doing evangelism, even in the middle of a storm with no umbrella, just boots. “When I saw her, I knew that I would never be lonely again,” said a village girl, tears welling up in her eyes, as if Mae’s love had melted her heart.
“Mae is like the village doctor. Whenever a child gets burned or cuts themselves with a sickle, they say, ‘Mae-sensei’ and run to her. To get to the doctor you have to go 12 km (8 miles),” said Mrs. Tanaka, a mother and a schoolteacher. She appeared to trust this young woman like a saint.
A Bird in the Snow
Finishing the meal, I asked them to start the meeting. It would do no good for the meeting to be sacrificed because I had come.
They started by singing a Christmas carol. There were seven young people: four men and three women. The Christmas carols they sang seemed to fill the night air. Their prayers were beautiful, like petals falling from the flowers of love in their pure hearts. I closed my eyes. My heart was full.
Mae got up and began to pray for those sick and in pain. Her words, though foreign to me, overflowed from a pure heart. It sounded like beautiful music, soothing my heart.
Mae came to Japan in November 1949. After studying Japanese for about a month, she had visited the village over the New Year. Deciding to live here, she came back on March 1, bringing a small trailer house to live in those first few months in that mountainous village. Men in the village built the house she was now living in, for this young servant of God from another nation. It was finished in July 1950.
“At first, everything was brand-new. The kids would follow me wherever I went,” she cheerfully reminisced. “Everything was new to me—the irori (fire pit for cooking), firewood, futon (it was hard to sleep well at first), etc.” Now, she’s completely adapted, even walking in geta (wooden clogs) when going down to Yamura town.
When the village children wake, they gather, calling out “Mae-sensei.” Mae enjoys having the children in her home. She has dolls, puzzles, picture storybooks, ping-pong and other games for the children to enjoy.
“The children sometimes give me candy with their dirty hands. It’s really cute!” Since the children have gotten to know Mae-sensei, they have stopped singing crude songs, replacing them with hymns. Even stealing has gone down. They say that when Mae joins them for a school field trip, they are happier than if their own parents come along. Once, when a child became sick, Mae, instead of the teacher, carried the child on her back.
Mae takes time to check on a young man who had tuberculosis. The villagers fear tuberculosis, so they shun him. In his pain and loneliness, he tried to commit suicide, thinking life wasn’t worth living, even if he got better. But Mae comforted him, cheered him up and gave him hope. Her doctor in America sent her streptomycin in good faith that she would use it properly.
Through rain and even snow, Mae is like a beautiful mountain bird echoing her song of love in the mountains, bringing the golden fruit of the tree of love to the hearts of the people.
Seeds from Heaven
“Going to work, I saw Mae-sensei and had to talk to her.” That young man wanted to learn English from Mae. He also might have felt like he had seen an angel in an unexpected place. This wonder led to an awakening of sincerity in the young man’s heart. “I have come to believe that God is most important for mankind,” he said as he went back to his work. He said he works much harder now.
“Whenever Mae-sensei comes to where we work, everybody tries to get her attention. Fifty guys work here, but when she comes, everyone tries to get her to sing a hymn with them, or take a picture with them, etc. Then we really work hard.” It was like an angel from heaven had come down and awakened beauty in their hearts.
Mae holds meetings in four locations and she teaches English . . . besides her ministry with the children. The strength and breadth of what she was accomplishing caused me to think more deeply about the meaning of life.
Though Mae’s work was exciting, weren’t there some times when she was sad? “Well,” she said, “The children are so poor.” She wanted to do something for them.
So Mae wrote her cousin in America. Soon, a package arrived with children’s socks, handkerchiefs and flannel in bright colors to make shirts with. Mae told me about her cousin and her eyes brimmed with tears. Her cousin was just a college student with no income. But she sold her blood to send these things to people she hadn’t even met in a faraway land. Mae said she felt the warmth of the blood of Christ flowing around her. Even in a serious and heartwarming conversation, Mae’s voice seemed to echo with friendliness akin to music. Her heart overflowed into ours.
“Good Night! See you later!” The young men and women made their way home, some going four km (2.5 miles), others 8 km (or 5 miles) or more in the deepening night.
The next morning, the sun shone on the snow. The children began to gather. It was Sunday. With the children crowding around Mae, it seemed like a scene from old Japan, as I saw this lady with the long black hair in a yellow sweater.
It reminded me of the night before when we were sitting around the kotatsu. One of the group had said they didn’t understand God very well yet. Mae said in a loud voice, “God is everywhere. He’s here, right here,” as she pointed around the room. The firmness of her conviction was amazing.
I got on the truck to leave. Mt. Fuji was standing regally over the pure-white mountains, a landmark in this promised land. Going down the mountain, I prayed that the seeds that were sown in the hearts of each child would blossom forth with life as flowers from Heaven. I thought of this new world I had seen. I felt I was floating, and my heart was light.