Assembly Work in Japan (1910-1999)

James B. Currie

A young university student, studying in Oakland, California, was led to Christ while sitting observing the assembly breaking bread somewhat before the year 1910. In due course he returned to his native Japan to begin gospel testimony in his own small village. Quite a number were contacted during the years of his witness including a few who became personal friends of the writer in the immediate post second world war days.

Among these was a highly respected eye doctor who had found salvation in Christ while he was still studying in university. Leaving the mountainous area of central Japan where he had first heard the gospel he set up a private medical practice near the downtown area of Tokyo. A small clinic with an attached residence was where he practiced his profession and also carried on a consistent testimony in the Gospel until the start of the second world war. At that time the authorities halted almost all gospel activity. As the result of his long years of preaching, an assembly was formed using his home as a meeting place and then later, a small building purchased for the gatherings. This assembly continues to this day with an energetic gospel work by which at least three other assemblies of believers have been formed during the past thirty years. The large hall is situated quite close to the center of Tokyo.

In 1931 Mr. Thomas Hay arrived in Japan from England. He and his wife settled in Kobe having as their immediate goal the study of the Japanese language. They intended eventually to go on to Formosa (present day Taiwan) which at that time was part of the Japanese Empire. During their 5 or 6 years in Kobe they saw a few led to the Lord including a dentist in the city where they lived and a shoemaker in Osaka. By the time they moved on to Formosa, two other assemblies had been formed, one in each of the cities named.

About one year after the Hay's arrival, Mr. Robert Wright arrived from N. Ireland. At first employed by a small foreign owned drug store in Kobe he soon found that full time employment left him little time for language study or gospel work. Resigning from his employment he moved to Tokyo, joined himself with the assembly already functioning there and devoted himself wholly to the language and the work of the Lord. In pre-second world war days these three small assemblies were the sum total of what had been accomplished in a land that would prove to these brethren, and in modern times as well, singularly unresponsive to the call of God. Christian's of all colors were so few that Mr. Wright's oft repeated comment was, "I was glad even to meet a Christian's dog!"

The Hays left for Canada just immediately prior to the outbreak of war while Mr. Wright, who had meanwhile been joined by Mr. John Hewitt, also from N. Ireland, left Japan some time later on a Japanese liner crossing the Pacific. This proved ill-fated since it turned and went back to Japan as the Pearl Harbor bombing brought the Pacific Ocean into the sphere of hostilities in a broader way. Both brethren Wright and Hewitt were subsequently placed in a civilian camp or in a prison by the Japanese. Mr. Hewitt died there becoming the only martyr for the cause of Christ to have suffered thus in Japan's mainland during these years. Four of the leading Japanese brethren, including the dentist and shoemaker already mentioned, were also imprisoned where they remained until the war's end.

The years 1946-47 saw the re-commencement of assembly witness. About one year later brother Hay and the Wright family, together with a few younger brethren and sisters, were able to go to Japan to help in laying a broader base for the work throughout the country. That base is that upon which the work of the present day is really based. Indeed the years 1948-1950 saw a group of almost 20 new workers including the writer who was privileged to arrive in the country in 1949 and his wife to be, one year later.

Two years at language school for very serious study was what appeared at the time as a never ending discipline. In due course each of these new workers was able to move out around the countryside. With the help and fellowship of Japanese brethren, new places were opened up for the preaching of the gospel. Japan, at the time, being still in the throes of postwar economic woes was fertile soil for the sowing of the Word. Many professed and the number of assemblies increased. It is reckoned that there are about 170 assemblies throughout the whole country. My own personal experience is related to at least 50 of these. It is a joy, as well as a privilege, to move around the country with complete freedom for the ministry of the Word of God to both believer and unbeliever.

The experience of all who seek to reach the Japanese with the Gospel is that they are won only with much prayer and hard work. It is not a land where large numbers turn to Christ but most assemblies rejoice in the ones and twos who are reached and then added to the number. A further cause for thanksgiving is that a large majority of the assemblies in Japan have been brought into being as the result of the faithful labors of Japanese brethren and sisters. In many cases no missionary has been involved at all.

Since Japan is a land advanced in the technical skills of the modern world, little social work is carried on. Gospel meetings are held in various buildings, including our own halls. Bible classes in schools, prison and hospital visitation and much personal work are also used by brethren and sisters over a wide area in the five main islands of Japan as well as in the extreme southern province of Okinawa. A good number of Japanese brethren have been commended to the work and are supported well by the assemblies.

Strengthening all this is the publishing work which was commenced back in 1948 when brother Wright, responding to a crying need, began to have black and white tracts printed in a nearby prison. The writer joined our brother about the year 1951 in inaugurating a very small magazine for the ministry of the Word for believers. The size of the magazine has grown over the years, as did my participating in the publishing work in general. Other brethren and sisters from various countries have been warm "fellow-workers" in this effort but today the responsibility falls on my shoulders. A good number of helpful books and booklets as well as the monthly magazines are published with the help of two Japanese brethren who are employed for this purpose. Many others extend a helping hand from time to time. In a land of almost 100% literacy, good reading material is a must for the health of the assemblies of God's people.

A land of approximately 126 million people crowded into an area about the size of California, and where rank idolatry reigns alongside the most modern advances in education, science and industry, Japan surely calls for the prayers and exercise of the people of God in every place. The door for preaching God's Word lies wide open in this "Land of the Rising Sun." It is surely to our shame that so few are willing to say "here am I send me" so that the abject darkness which grips the land may be expelled by the power of the gospel.