|"God`s Ambassadors in Japan Part II"
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Kenny and Lila Joseph are still there and now have a combined 113 years of collective service to the people of Japan
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
TOKYO, JAPAN (ANS) -- In 1951 a 23-year old Chicago native named Kenny Joseph traveled to Tokyo, Japan after reading about a call in a Youth For Christ magazine by General Douglas MacArthur for 10,000 missionaries and 10 million Gospels of John to go into Japan, to assist with a spiritual rebirth of the Japanese people.
Kenny and Lila Joseph with Dan Wooding in Tokyo
The article asked, "Who will come and help these poor Japanese just after the war? They have no food and there is a spiritual vacuum." He read that the Emperor had devastated his people by saying, "I am not divine/ I am not God."
Three years later Lila Finsaas, of Norwegian stock, followed a similar path and, after meeting in Japan, the two were married. They have 113 years of collective service, the pair were honored on Sunday, May 31, 2009, at a birthday party in Tokyo which also served as a book release party for a new book on their lives and work in Japan which I had the privilege of writing. It is called "God`s Ambassadors in Japan" (Ripe Publishing).
During my time in Tokyo, I sat down with this extraordinary couple, both now 80 years old, to talk about their life in ministry in Japan.
Kenny Joseph began by explaining that he was challenged again about the need for missionaries to Japan at a Youth For Christ rally in Winona Lake, Indiana, at the conference center there.
"I was there with a friend called Eddie Reece from Moody Bible Institute, and Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and later Samaritan`s Purse, showed a movie about Korea, and then he cried out for people to come over to Asia," he said. "He then went on to say that that Japanfs door eis not only open; the hinges are off the door."
"Bob Pierce cited Macarthur`s call for 10,000 missionaries to come to Japan and the need for 10 million Gospels of John, adding, "Who will come?"
Kenny said he turned to Eddie and said, "Let`s go forward, and letfs just say to God that we`re willing to be missionaries, but "don`t you dare send us." Kenny`s rationale was that if God saw they were willing, he would say, "Okay, you don`t have to go."
But it wasn`t long before both of them realized that God`s call on their lives to go to Japan was for real and they both made the decision that they would go!
"Then at Christmas, when Eddie and I were both 22, instead of going to snowy Chicago, I went to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to pray. I asked the Lord to show us if He wanted Eddie and me to go to Japan as a Gospel team. I said I was willing to go "if we got meetings between where we were and Japan."
Two days later a telegram came from Montana Youth for Christ director Franklin Robbie saying, "Can book you 22 straight nights at YFC rallies. Reply by wire."
Kenny said he called Eddie in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and told him about this and Eddie said, "Let's go!"
Eddie and Kenny pooled their funds and bought an old Chevy car and headed through snowstorms and buffaloes for their first meeting in Conrad, Montana. When they arrived they had 18 cents left for one gallon of gas.
"The first night after we sang and preached and testified, many came forward for salvation and consecration for missions," Kenny recalled. "The offering plate had 33 silver dollars and we ran to the bank next day and changed those for "real" money."
It eventually became time for the long sea journey to Japan and a new life in a country that had been devastated by the war. They left from Oakland, California, on a l2-passenger freighter on April 14, 1951 and they arrived in Yokohama on May 1, 1951.
Kenny Joseph preaching in Japan
"Japan was so devastated at that time that people were living in holes carved out of the grass," he recalled. "Bomb craters became homes for the poor people. The people were down. They had been told for years a lie; that the emperor was divine. And now, he had gone on the radio and said, eI am a man.f So they people were saying, "who can we believe in if our own Shinto divine son of god says he's just a "man". So we went into that vacuum with the Gospel."
Now it was Lilafs turn to tell her story.
"I was in school when I felt like the Lord was calling me to be a missionary, which was one thing that I was never going to be," she said with a smile. "But I heard someone say, "If there's something that you can't do, tell God that you can't do it and let him take over." So I did. All of a sudden, in place of my stubbornness and rebellion, was the desire to be a missionary and Japan was in the focus, the forefront, of everything that was happening in those days and so I felt like the Lord was calling me to Japan and as I moved ahead that was confirmed in time."
Kenny was already under the auspices of TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) in Chicago, she also set sail in 1953 as a TEAM missionary on a cargo vessel from the West Coast of America, for Yokohama.
Lila said that when she first arrived in Japan, she expected everything to be "really primitive."
"Someone in our group said, eHey, look, there's a sink." Nobody wants to take responsibility for that statement, but I guess to see running hot and cold water and everything so modern was a surprise. After all, Tokyo had been severely bombed, so we really didn't know what to expect.
"Then we three missionaries boarded a train and headed for the mountains of Nagano Ken to a little village called Karuizawa. That was the place TEAM sent new missionaries for language study, so it was all set up for us. Here were spent many special days and lifelong friendships were established. Besides Anna and Bessie, Lorraine Reece and Pat Junker joined our ranks. Japanese teachers came to our rooms and taught us individually. We studied from a course that was taught the American GIs. Right off we learned sentences like "Tabaji wa, doko desu ka" or "where can you buy cigarettes?" It got you speaking the language pretty early, but not the polite kind. (Later when I had moved to Tokyo and gathered some ladies together for a meeting, I was shocked that I could hardly understand them... their language was so polite and different from what I had studied!"
So I wondered how she had first met Kenny.
"I guess opposites attract and that's for sure," she laughed. "But God had a ministry for us and I think our children have gotten interesting qualities and traits from both sides.
"I first met Kenny one Sunday morning when I was singing in the choir of a church. I saw a handsome young man wearing dark glasses come in and stand in the back. I immediately recognized him as Kenny Joseph. We had been in contact with the TEAM missionaries at the office in Chicago and prayed for each one by name during our morning sessions. I was intrigued, but I had decided that I would leave men behind and concentrate on being a missionary.
"Having just said a firm good-bye to a young man before leaving the States, I was not fair game now. Or so I thought. Still, I couldn't get this young man out of my mind. So one day I told the Lord that if he was, or could possibly be, the one He had in mind for me, to have him come to an evangelistic meeting that night where I was playing the organ. What a shock it was to me when he walked in the back! He didn't stay long, but he had walked in!"
Lila kept her "signal grace" from God to herself and made the young man work hard to win her heart saying, "I never told a soul, and actually when he did begin to pay attention to me, he thought I was very hard to get! There were a lot of singles around at this time and some busybodies were trying to be matchmakers. Some of us ended up in a car en route to a meeting one day, and I was having my first prayer letter done at a printer. I got out of the car to work on this and suddenly Kenny was beside me to ehelpf me. I ignored him feeling that I didn't need his help. He went back to the car. I later discovered that he had been pushed by the other missionaries to "help" this new missionary."
Soon, the two were dating and an gitemh in the missionary community, but Kenny recalled that their first date got off to a rather bad start.
He said, "We had our first date and in a little country town walking down this little dirt road. It had rained and there was a great big puddle covering the entire road, so I thought, "Here's my chance. I'm gonna be able to hold her hand." But she wouldnft follow me and was hanging on to the bushes on the side of the road and suddenly she fell smack face down into the puddle. She said, "Take my Bible. I'll get up by myself." She walked home with sloppy boots full of water."
Despite that setback, after several months of dating, in November of 1954, Kenny took Lila by car to a famous spot in Karuizawa called gthe four corners,h where he got down on his knees and proposed marriage.
"I accepted and he left on a short furlough for the States," Lila remembered matter-of-factly. "During that year we girls studied hard since two of us had upcoming weddings. Actually, it was a two-year language course, but we finished it in one year. Every six lessons we had an exam, and finally after finishing this course, we had an oral exam before a committee. One on the committee was at Prairie Bible Institute in Canada, when I had studied. Of course then our Girlsf House members scattered, but were still in Japan. Lorraine and Buz went to Niigata, Pat and Cal to Matsumoto and we came to Tokyo. The doctor had ordered Kenny not to travel in evangelism like he had been doing, but to have a quieter job, so he taught at the Japan Christian College and pioneered the Evangelism Department for five years."
The couple was married at the 100-year old Karuizawa Union Church.
"It's a good-sized building--still standing and in use--and it was full," recalled Kenny. "Lila was a typical bride in a beautiful white wedding dress that was made for her. Her aunt Alma, en-route to teach at the Morrison Academy in Taiwan, came by to be her maid of honor. I wore a black suit just bought in America for the occasion. Don Hoke presided."
The couple now has four grownup sons: Kimbo, or Ken Joseph Jr. He was born in 1957 and then Robert, later nicknamed Bobby, then Bobb, joined their family two years later. Their third son James, later nicknamed Jimmy, then came along and the final son, Mark made up the four.
As Kenny began launching out with evangelistic meetings throughout Japan, Lila settled in with a ministry to women and children.
Lila said that some of the ministry was quite terrifying, especially with one particular woman.
"Yes, we dealt with a lady that was demon possessed which we were not trained to handle at all and that was quite a scary," she recalled.
"My boys were teaching her boys English and she was from a wealthy family. One day she asked me if I believed in evil spirits. Then she later told me that she was epossessedf and she said she'd been given efive godsf so that she could have children and she even knew their names and told me what they were. She said they would come at night and try to choke her. So she was looking for deliverance. It was quite a story and there was an older missionary that helped deal with her, but it opened our family's eyes to a world we had never dreamed existed before."
Kenny Joseph eventually started R.E.A.P. Mission Inc. (Reinforcing Evangelists and Aiding Pastors) which he still runs today.
"We hold up to 30 soul-winning campaigns a year, giving invitations to repent and receive Christ,h he said. gIn 54 years we've seen over 46,000 adult Asians make public decisions to receive Christ.
"We've also helped build 41 churches after holding a soul-winning campaign with them. Now we're half way toward our goal of the $95,000 needed for our R.E.A.P. Gospel Center and parsonage in Tokyo.
"We've printed and distributed over 111 million pages of Gospel literature in the last 48 years. We've seen over 22,000 souls seeking Christ through Gospel ad-tracts we print as full-page advertisements in Japanese magazines.
"We've helped send some of the 301 Japanese who have gone to 24 countries as bona fide foreign missionaries.h
I concluded by asking Kenny, that he thought General Mac-Arthur would say if he was still alive and had found about their ministry work in Japan after all these years.
Kenny paused and then said, "I think he would say," "Well done, thou good and faithful servants."
Then he issued a call for others to join him in Lila as missionaries in Japan.
"Come on over," he said.
You can get more information at: www.kennyjoseph.com
If you want to get the full story of their work, you can order a copy of "God`s Ambassadors in Japan" soon via www.amazon.com.
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
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