The aroma of food ready for their meal mingled with the scent of magnolia blossoms. And there was something else, something disquieting in the peace of this North Manchuria evening in 1949. Japanese Christian businessman, Tsuyoshi Tadenuma, could hear the muffled sound of Communist gunfire in the distant hills. It was the beginning of the end for Japanese businessmen, for China's freedom, and for 8,000 western missionaries.
China born Tadenuma mused, "Lord, I will have to leave this country I love, but I want to be remembered as a sweet scent for You. Please let me come back to this country where I was born, not as a businessman, but as a messenger of your Good News. Surely, Lord, You have a better master plan than to depend only on western missionaries...Lord, how can we evangelize our billion fellow-Asians?"
A peaceful assurance came, "Offer Asian missionaries to the Lord of the Harvest for overseas service. Send missionaries from Japan just as they send out missionaries from England, America, Germany, Canada, Australia, Sweden.... The Great Commission is written in Japanese, too!"
After he was forcibly repatriated almost penniless to southern Japan, Tadenuma attended a Lutheran church and dabbled in various businesses. When the bottom fell out, leaving him with $1.16 in his pocket to feed his wife and three children, he chanced on a tract on the reward of tithing, by a US chaplain. "Lord," he prayed, "Either Malachi 3:8-10 is true or I can't be an honest Christian layman. I'll start right now."
He tithed his first 12¢ to his little church and the Lord proved Himself to Tsuyoshi Tadenuma.
Moving to Tokyo, he helped his old pastor, Rev. Shinpei Nobata, build a TEAM-related church next to his house. He fanned his vision of Japanese missionaries into game by reading biographies of Hudson Taylor, Mary Slessor, C.T. Studd and Timothy Dzao. He prayed, "Do it again, Lord, do it again!"
Meanwhile in a Christian school in Japan four students made it clear to their leaders that God was calling them specifically to missions in India...Nepal... Brazil...and Korea. I shared this with a group of Christians gathered for a Thanksgiving service. They responded with a love offering for the four students of 3,650 yen, equivalent to ten dollars US at the time.
But some demurred. One missionary told the volunteers to forget their visionary idea of going overseas when there were 94 million heathen right here. "Wait about 100 years till we evangelize Japan and then you can think about missions overseas."
One of the volunteers asked, "Pardon me, sir, but where are you from?"
"New York, why?"
"Pardon me again, but is everybody in New York Christian?"
"Oh no, of course not, we have communists, Jews, atheists...."
"I see. Then kind teacher you should follow your own advice and fly back to New York... evangelize there first, then come back to Japan."
They couldn't be talked out of it. But it was a year later before I met a lay man who had a vision of sending out Japanese as foreign missionaries. We put feet to our vision, He gave 1,000 yen and I produced that 3,650 yen from the Thanskgiving offering. A Japanese orphanage sent an offering collected from the orphans. An inaugural constitutional meeting was called and the Mission was formally organized on August 31, 1956 by some Japanese who had been missionaries before the War to China, Manchuria, Formosa, the South Seas, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The name Kaigai Senlyo Kai (Japanese Evangelical Overseas Mission-JEOM) was chosen. (The first overseas missionaries from Japan had gone to Okinawa in 1891, but immediately after the War 'overseas missions' was rarely spoken of.)
Meanwhile, in Indonesia the Lord of the Harvest spoke to Chinese evangelist, Dr. Timothy Dzao. When Dzao and Tadenurna met, Dr. Dzao said solemnly, "I'm convinced one of the reasons our sovereign God closed the door of China to missionaries is because most missionaries didn't teach us to be foreign missionaries. We were taught to be preachers, teachers, doctors, nurses, farmers, evangelists, but seldom foreign missionaries. Please, Brother Tadenuma, do not make that same mistake in Japan."
When JEOM unfurled their banner they felt winds of criticism from some. One man wrote a long letter denouncing the plan as contrary to the New Testament, and ended with his exegesis of Acts 1:8. He compared Christ's commission to a four stage missile, the first stage being Jerusalem, second, Judea, and so on. "Not until the first three stages are evangelized can you possibly think of the fourth."
Mr. Tadenuma's answer was humble but clear. "I don't know my Bible as well as you do. But I can find no 'missiles' there. I do find two-wheeled chariots. One wheel is home missions and the other is foreign missions. Your trouble is you only have one wheel on your chariot-that's why you've been going around in circles and talk of your seven believers in ten years. Hitch on the other wheel, challenge your believers for foreign missions and drive down the perfect will of God."
When finances loomed as an insurmountable problem, the answer was, "You've given nothing. That's why Japan is like the Dead Sea no outlet, no revival, no blessing. You can't out give God. If you have no money, you can still give something...give used postage stamps." Thus began an amazing SOS, (Save Old Stamps), campaign for missions. Japanese began to give their stamps, their prayers, then their yen, and finally their sons and daughters to the Lord of the Harvest.
JEOM sent Rev. Saburo Omori as their first post-war missionary to Taiwan. His survey trip there showed an open door for a humble missionary to do "works meet for repentance."
On his return to Japan Omori shared, "As I apologized for the atrocities of my fellow-soldiers, deep hatred finally turned to love. In Taiwan, I had preached in Chinese fluently, but there was absolutely no response. Finally the Chinese pastor spoke, 'I know why no one comes forward, because I hate you, Mr. Omori, and all the Japanese. You killed my wife and only son. But God just told me to forgive you.' He broke into tears as he hugged me. As a result of his willingness to forgive an enemy, 23 of his congregation came forward."
A similar miracle of the Holy Spirit happened in the Philippines to JEOM missionary, Reiji Oyama. He had contracted TB upon graduation from seminary and while Iying in bed reading the biography of Mary Slessor, he prayed, "Lord, of the Harvest, I solemnly vow that if You heal me, I'll be Your missionary to South east Asia."
The Lord healed him and led him to start a church in Tokyo that grew to 110 members. Remembering his vow, he answered JEOM's call to mission work in the Philippines. Though no formal diplomatic relations existed to give a Japanese more than a two-week tourist visa, he miraculously received a four month visa.
He trusted for a one-way boat ticket. Up to six hundred believers met to pray for him at 6:30 in the mornings. Small gifts began to come, 88¢ from a leper colony, $1.27 from a TB hospital prayer group. He got a round-trip airplane ticket.
At his commissioning service at the Ochanomizu Student Center, he said, "For 100 years now we've been receiving books, Bibles, missionaries and money with our right hand but we've given nothing with our left. In the next century, let us give...and be blessed."
Filipino evangelist, Greg Tingson, personally introduced Oyama to his people where he was given opportunity to speak to thousands. As in Taiwan, smoldering hatred turned to love, souls were saved as another Japanese humbled himself and washed his fellow-Asians' feet with the "water of the Word."
At a pastors' conference where Pastor Oyama was the invited speaker, 125 Filipino pastors drafted a manifesto "officially forgiving the Japanese nation for wartime brutalities" and inviting Oyama to return with his wife and three children to be resident missionaries at Leyte the Philippines' "Pearl Harbor."
One by one Japanese went out as foreign missionaries. The plan, as Tadenuma explained, was to "send out our number one men as trailblazers. They must first prove successful in home missionary work by pioneering in virgin soil to plant a truly indigenous church which from the beginning will be a mission-minded church. Eventually that church will be the sending, supporting church for the missionary.
"Then before we send a missionary out we insist on a postgraduate, practical internship program at (projected at the time) Asian Institute of Missions (AIM). This is a strictly oriental concept of discipline known as the father-son, teacher-disciple principle. Not until they pass these two processes will they be sent out. We want to make haste slowly, for our proverb says, 'Isogaba maware' 'In haste one goeth about in a circle."'
So Japanese missionaries began entering open doors in Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Formosa, Hong Kong, New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaya, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. And they still are.
ed. note: This is only a part of Japan 's missions' history. There is much to be celebrated from the past and in the present.