Evangelism in Wartime Tokyo

A report from Japan.

By ANDREW N. NELSON, Religious Research Analyst, Tokyo, Japan

The sudden and simultaneous arrests which occurred at six o'clock on the morning of Sep­tember 20, 1943, brought an abrupt end to organ­ized Seventh-day Adventist work in Japan, forty-seven years after Elders Grainger and Okohira arrived at Yokohama to begin it. Police took up their positions at the publishing house on that fateful morning, and sent the startled workers home. The two schools were ordered to close at the end of the term in December, and the sani­tarium was permitted to continue its humanitarian work until the liquidation committee appointed to sell the Adventist properties got around to find a buyer for our headquarters.

The industrious police visited the homes of many of our laity and, made them sign a promise that they would not go to church any more. The sending in of tithes and offerings was also pro­hibited. Our church had fallen on evil days, as the police decided that the doctrine of the second advent of Christ and the doctrine of the sover­eignty of God as superior to that of the emperor, were incompatible with the Japan spirit. Further­more, the zealous police ransacked the homes of the believers, as well as the workers' and church officers' homes, and carried away Bibles, song­books, Spirit of prophecy books, and all other religious works. It was, of course, impossible for the police to prevent the quiet communion of the believers with the God of heaven and their Sav­iour, but according to the tenets of the thought-control police, this, too, was out of order.

Some of our people saved their Bibles and song­books by hiding them or throwing them out into the bushes as the police approached, but there has since been a veritable famine in the land for the Word of God, not only from the standpoint of our members, but by many inquirers as well. And these inquirers have greatly increased since the disastrous defeat of Japan proved conclusively that the gods of Shinto were powerless creatures. As a result, the number of worshipers at the many shrines has dropped to ten per cent of the war level!

Public meetings were out of the picture. All participants would have been clapped into jail, and that would have been the end of it. But I will give you an example of the Sabbath services ac­companied by soul-winning activities, which were kept up in a more or less secluded spot. One blind sister, our sole evangelist for years in Kagoshima, down at the southern tip of Japan, kept her little flock together all during the war and never passed a Sabbath without holding some kind of meeting. Air raids destroyed the church building in Kago­shima, but the people met in the quiet of one an-other's homes.

An interesting story of wartime lay evangelism came to light shortly after we arrived in Japan, when seven persons came to us requesting baptism. Furthermore, on examining them, we found that they were ready for baptism ! Inquiry brought the following story. Brother Shuji and his wife, a graduate of the sanitarium nurses' course, and a few of the Adventist neighbors decided that they would keep up the church services in their homes in spite of the police ban and in spite of the ever-increasing fury of the air raids. The home in which they met was somewhat secluded and sheltered by a larger building, but not too far from a well-traveled street. They sang their hymns lustily, and went right ahead with their services—prayer meetings and all.

From time to time the Lord sent interested peo­ple to them in various ways. But they did not wait for the Lord to do all the work. Brother Shuji, at times, would travel out boldly in broad daylight with a large Bible under his arm to attract attention. This he -succeeded in doing on several occasions, and one of those attracted by this bait is an Adventist today. Others were found in different ways by the various brethren and sisters-who joined this informal church. Some of the brethren meeting together there were new in the truth, and others had been baptized by B. P. Hoffman in Kobe decades ago.

Since all Adventist books had been confiscated by the police, a simple mimeograph publishing work was begun. The members printed Sabbath school lessons and portions of the Spirit of proph­ecy, including Early Writings and Steps to Christ. Furthermore, they went out as colporteurs and sold these mimeographed publications, and thus sowed the precious seed. Often while they met, a rattle at the entrance would bring a sudden end to the study of the Sabbath school lesson, as Bibles and simple mimeographed lesson pamphlets would be slipped under the quilts spread over their feet and legs to keep them warm in the absence of heat. The Lord graciously permitted them to continue without being arrested, and the experi­ence of all was rooted deeper as the war weeks went by and the terrible air raids came nearer and nearer, and grew more and more destructive.

And so it was that after these quiet months of stirring Bible studies, seven young men and women came to our reopened headquarters church and asked for baptism. They were found ready after careful examination, and the long-unused baptistry of the old headquarters church was prepared for the service. Two or three Sabbaths before that a young American soldier, who had been led into the truth by our servicemen, had been baptized, but this was the first baptism of Japanese since the arrest of our ministers on that fateful 20th of September, 1943. Before they were arrested, baptismal services had been held from time to time throughout the land, but the confiscation of all church lists and data makes it difficult to know how many were baptized.

The service was very impressive. Elder Mil­lard, newly elected superintendent of the Japan Union Mission, led out with a brief but pointed sermon on the meaning of the Christian rite of baptism. After that it was my privilege to inter­pret the testimony of each one of the seven candi­dates as they stood before a large congregation of Japanese brethren and servicemen, and told their stories and stated their resolves. Two of them were young men in the city universities, and five were young women. One of the latter was a blind masseuse, but she gave one of the cheeriest testimonies of all. Her closed eyes fairly shone with enthusiasm. After the attentive audi­ence had listened to these testimonies of faith, we proceeded with the baptismal service itself, sing­ing the good old verses of "Just as I Am" between the baptisms.

A few nights later Elder Millard and I were invited to the home of one of the brethren where those secret meetings were held during the war. We met in the very room where many of the quiet preparatory studies had been held. When we arrived we found the room full of brethren and sisters, including those who had just been baptized. Presently the white paper coverlets were lifted, and there before our eyes lay a big Japanese supper. We could hardly believe our eyes, for such food is scarce in this war-torn land. We had already eaten our supper, but we had to eat again. After the meal we spent the evening in a pleasant social meeting, and had a happy time with these faithful followers of the Lord Jesus.

One of the two young men baptized is now off on his own to the island of Oshima, south of Japan proper, following a most interesting prov­idence by which he was invited there to preach the gospel with all his expenses paid. We are now awaiting his return, expecting to hear an­other interesting story of lay evangelism in Japan.

We are gradually getting the work organized again, but it is slow work when all our head­quarters property has been taken from us, and the school is in such a run-down condition. It was used by the army for a long time during the war; and the headquarters is now a newspaper plant. We will get it all back and into shape, but it takes a great deal of time when we have only our evenings and Sabbaths to devote to the Lord's work.

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By ANDREW N. NELSON, Religious Research Analyst, Tokyo, Japan

July 1946

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