(The information beneath some of the photos is brief. For more information please see the picture page.)
Some of my friends will be asking. “How did the writing of Ruth’s story ever come about?” Well, it is an interesting and fascinating story. For years and years the mission leaders had suggested and urged me to put pen to paper, but I stubbornly and bluntly refused to even entertain the thought. And for that I now humbly apologise.
But the miracle has happened, and my written story is now a reality. And this is how it happened.
On 19th August 2004, after spending some happy weeks together with my sister, Lucinda left that morning to return to her home and family in Philadelphia. The house now seemed so empty, but not for long. Unexpectedly, my good Chinese friends Ming and Connie knocked on the front door and introduced me to their friend—brother Ad van Eekelen from the Netherlands. Although this was the first time to meet brother Ad, I knew his name well, because he had edited and published ‘A Missionary’s Love-story’—the story of Raymond and Joyce Golsworthy. I was impressed with how expertly and attractively it was done.
As we enjoyed morning tea, brother Ad urged me to write my story, saying that it would be a blessing to the younger generation. Because of brother Ad’s encouragement, I could see the seemingly impossible project becoming possible. And, with the psalmist, I say “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
Many thanks to brother Ad and his wife, sister Joji, for their help in producing this story. May God bless you and your family and may the Lord’s Name be honoured and glorified through it.
Redland Bay, 2006 Ruth White
The sea has played an important part in my life. On 11th June 1920, I was born the last of eight children to Francis and Jane White, in the large family home on School of Arts Road, Redland Bay. The waters of the bay lapped the eastern boundary of our 24-acre property called ‘Mt. Carmel Orchard’. The name ‘Carmel’ primarily means ‘Mountain of God’, but with a second significant meaning, ‘The Zenith of Fruitfulness’. This meaning aptly describes the amazing variety of fruits grown in the orchard’s incredibly fertile red soil – ‘such as custard apples, mangoes, avocados, bananas, pineapples and citrus of many varieties.
The view of the blue waters, surrounded by many islands is spectacular and a constant delight to the eye. From earliest years, we children swam, frolicked and had great fun in the water. Especially in the summer holidays, we would run down to the beach when the tide was full in and enjoy swimming and diving. Later on, sailing in my brother’s 18-foot yacht was great fun. At other times, we would row out into the deep channel in a small dinghy and spend time fishing. I’ll never forget the day when my father and I were out fishing and the little boat capsized and we were thrown out into the deep water. Fortunately, a local fisherman saw our plight and heard our calls for help and came to our rescue. But we were also solemnly warned of the hazards and dangers that abound in the sea. It was on December 30th , l905 that a tragic accident occurred. My mother’s only brother, William aged 18 years, was drowned while trying to save the life of a young lady. After the drowning of his son, Grandfather Fielding donated a corner of his property in Queen Street for the building of a Baptist Church.
“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations” Deuteronomy 7:9.
As I peruse the old, family history, a striking event in 1836 convinces me that I am a beneficiary of that wonderful promise.
My maternal grandmother was a Logan. The Logans had crossed over from Scotland to Ireland ‘to keep the peace’. They had lived in Mt. Shannon area for generations. The area was predominantly Roman Catholic and the outlook for Protestant families was somewhat bleak. In addition, the winters were extremely cold, droughts a recurring feature of life to be reckoned with and hope for improvement in conditions appeared dim. The Logans learned in the early 1820s of the grants of land in New South Wales, Australia awaiting migrant settlers from Britain. Good reports reached them of those who had successfully ventured to far away Australia and had done well for themselves. This was an added incentive and so the momentous decision was made to undertake the long sea voyage to Australia. It was late in 1836 that all preparations were completed and passages arranged for the Logan family to set sail. And now I return to that striking event in 1836 that impressed me. The young Logan couple and family travelled by jaunting car (light 2-wheeled vehicle) as far as Limerick and old Grandfather Dyas went to say farewell to them as they boarded ship for Australia. He took his hat off his bald head, knelt in the mud and the drizzling rain beside the road and committed his family to the mercies, care and protection of a covenant-keeping God. His granddaughter who recorded this incident was embarrassed.
My maternal grandfather, William Fielding was born near Crediton in Devonshire, England in 1852. After serving in the Royal Navy, Pacific Fleet for seven years, he decided to come to Australia. In 1880, as one of the early pioneers, he settled in Redland Bay. He was very enterprising and started the first store known as the Pioneer Store. In 1880, he married Eliza Logan. In 1881, he was instrumental in starting the first Sunday School.
My father, Francis White was born in Petrie (the northern side of Brisbane) in 1879. As a young man he was soundly converted and fellowshipped with other young men of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). His interest in the church as a preacher and singer led him to meet Jane Fielding whom he married in 1909. In 1913, Francis and his family moved from Brisbane to the 24-acre property in Redland Bay which he named ‘Mt. Carmel Orchard’.
Dad was a man of integrity always defending the truth. He had a strong character and was a man of prayer. After a hard day’s work in the sun, and after cleaning up, it was his custom to kneel beside his bed in prayer before the evening meal.
After breakfast, family worship was observed when Dad read a passage of Scripture and then we all knelt down around the table when Dad led in prayer. Here let me state that my father, observing family worship daily, made a tremendous impression upon me. It was also a very stabilizing factor, when as a young adult I entered society.
He was a gifted public speaker and so he was called upon to preach at the local Baptist and Methodist churches when his turn came around. Moreover, he was chairman of the school committee and several fruit growing committees. He had an outstanding bass voice and the quartets in which he sang in the Redland Bay Baptist Church were beautiful and something to remember. Dad was a Sunday School teacher and after Grandfather Fielding was unable to continue, he became Superintendent. There were no medical facilities in the district in the early days and Dad became known as the ‘local doctor’. When people were sick or in trouble they would come to him for help and advice. He contributed much to the welfare of the community and was highly respected.
And what can I say about my dear mother? Read Proverbs 31:10-31 and this will give you a good description of her character. In the obituary, at the time of her death in her 97th year, verses 28-29 were quoted : “Her children arise up, and call her blessed …” verse 29, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” Mother was loving, self-sacrificing, capable, diligent and highly organized.
She would be up first in the morning to light the wood stove and have the room warm on a cold, winter day and a hot bowl of porridge for all. I can still remember her singing, ‘My Jesus I love Thee’, as she sat at the kitchen table making sandwiches for the many lunches required for the family. Her cooking was superb and there was never any lack. She was an excellent needlewoman, and even before marriage, she went to Brisbane for oil painting lessons under Sir Godfrey Rivers. When still a very young child, I was taught to pray at my mother’s knee. At an early age, I attended Christian Endeavour, Sunday School and the church services. Sundays were strictly observed as the ‘Lord’s Day’. No outside work was done even in the busiest of seasons.
I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour and at age 16 was baptized. For years, Grandfather Fielding had us all enter Scripture Examinations set by the Baptist Union of Queensland. One year, I gained the gold medal. In this way, we memorized many passages of Scripture and got to know the Bible well.
Following in my mother’s footsteps, I attended the Redland Bay State School. That meant a two-mile walk to school and a two-mile walk back home. It was a two-teacher school with 70-90 pupils. Today, with all the population explosion and development in the district, the attendance has risen to over 700 pupils.
When I was about 13 years of age, I became the girls’ tennis champion for the district. Having our own clay tennis court, Lucinda and I would get up at five o’clock in the morning and have an hour of practice before school. That improved our skills. Despite the Great Depression, we always had an abundance of fruit, vegetables and dairy products. And in fact, during World War II we had so much butter that it was made into soap. Times were hard during the depression and our parents toiled hard and made big sacrifices to give us children a secondary education. And the fact that we lived far out in the country away from the centre of Brisbane when motor vehicles were few added to the difficulties we faced. The older members of the family boarded in town with relatives. When I passed the Scholarship examination which allowed me to go to the Brisbane State High School, I was able to travel by ‘service car’ on dusty, unsealed roads leaving home at seven o’clock in the morning and returning home by six o’clock in the evening. It was a very long and tiring day. After four years at High School, I received a scholarship to the Teachers’ Training College (TTC).
Call to missionary service
It was while at TTC that my brother Frank was farewelled to China with the China Inland Mission. In 1939, I attended that farewell meeting at Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, and through the challenge of one of the speakers from Isaiah 6:8, I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then said I, ‘Here am I; send me’. ” In my heart, I answered that challenge and those words constituted my call to missionary service. Here let me state that our home was always open for visitors, ministers of the gospel and missionaries home on furlough. Mother would say, “Where there is room in the heart, there is room in the home”. And I believe those godly people brought much spiritual blessing with them. One of the regular visitors was Mr. Peter Olesen (Uncle Peter) a friend of my father from his YMCA days. Uncle Peter went to China with the China Inland Mission. So it is not surprising that five of us eight children ended up in full-time service for the Lord. Halley, my oldest sister married Harold Nicholls, a Baptist minister who later became Principal of Queensland Bible Institute. Their daughter Ruth served as a missionary with Interserve in Pakistan for many years. Then there was Frank who served with CIM in China. During World War II he joined the British Military Mission, Gurkha Rifle Regiment and became Captain. Later, in 1947 he was married to Ella Davidson in the Cathedral in Shanghai by Bishop Frank Houghton, General Director of CIM Joyce left for Hebron High School, India in 1938 and married Raymond Golsworthy in 1941. In 1948, Lucinda went to China and in 1952 she married Harold Wik in Singapore. They spent thirty-four years mostly in Malaysia with Overseas Missionary Fellowship (the new name for CIM), Harold doing colportage work and Lucinda doing church work and visitation. They now live in the United States with their four children and families. The long ministry of my sister Lavinia and her husband, Roland Skerman is worth noting. In 1949, they commenced Sunday School work in Thornlands gathering 60-80 children together. This developed into Thornlands Christian Gospel Centre where we now worship.
After graduation from Teachers’ Training College, my first appointment was to Manly State School. I was given one of the third grade classes. The other third grade teacher turned out to be a good friend of the family so I benefited from his advice and tips in my early days of teaching. During World War II, Indooroopilly Salvation Army Boys’ Home evacuated to Captain Weinholt’s station near Kalbar. The boys were sent to a small school at Aratula. With the large influx of pupils, a second teacher was needed and I was sent there. It proved to be a mammoth job. The boys were not angels by any stretch of the imagination as they were from broken homes and some had committed offences. Only a teacher with a strong constitution and good discipline could handle over 60 children in three classes from Grade I to III, all in the one classroom! It is different today with reduced class sizes. One day, there was a commotion in the adjoining classroom. A confrontation had arisen between the little headmaster and a pupil much taller and bigger than himself. I had to race in and rescue the headmaster from being beaten up. It is not surprising that he was pensioned off and a young, sprightly headmaster with army-like discipline was appointed.
Affirmation of missionary call and Bible Institute training
My next appointment was to Redland Bay State School where I taught under my former headmaster. There I taught the children of parents I had grown up with. It was a very happy experience.
But as the years rolled by, I tried to forget the call to missionary service. But the more I tried to forget, the more the Lord reminded me of my former commitment. To solve the dilemma I was in, and for peace of mind, I prayed earnestly that the Lord would show me clearly during my daily quiet time, that very morning, what His will for me was. My reading that morning was in Matthew 4 and verse 19 stood out. To the early disciples, Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea on the shore of Lake Galilee, the Lord said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Scripture Union commentary I was reading stated, “The Lord called and straight away they followed. Their response was personal. Have you decided to follow Him?” That was as clear as a pikestaff. By that word, I knew for certain that the Lord wanted me to be a missionary. So I resigned from the education department and applied to the Melbourne Bible Institute (MBI) where I studied for two years 1947-1948. But before I entered the Bible Institute, at the end of 1946, I decided to attend the Upwey Keswick Convention near Melbourne. My sister, Lucinda, a triple certificated nurse had left Brisbane and had gone to Melbourne for further experience. We met up, and talking together I asked her what she was planning for the future. I challenged her to give herself to the Lord for full-time service. And I invited her to accompany me to Upwey Convention. At the missionary meeting when the challenge for full- time service was given, praise the Lord, Lucinda responded. She entered MBI at the same time as myself but only did a little over a year. Just as Andrew first found his own brother Simon and brought him to Jesus, I rejoiced that I was instrumental in some small way of directing Lucinda into full-time service. In 1948 she with eight others sailed for Shanghai, the Headquarters of China Inland Mission.
Every day, the study at the Bible Institute was like a spiritual feast and I enjoyed immensely the two years spent there in training. At the end of the two years, I applied to the China Inland Mission for missionary service in China and was accepted. However, storm clouds were gathering over China. They were very troublous times. The Communists had already seized Shanghai and the northern part of China. Lucinda’s party was the last to go to Shanghai.
Our ranks in 1949 had now risen to twelve – five young ladies from New Zealand and seven of us from Australia. The mission leaders were in a quandary. What were they to do with twelve young people who felt called of the Lord to go to China? Mr. J.O. Sanders, our Home Director interviewed each one of us. He gave us the option of withdrawing our application of going to China without any adverse implications. But the twelve of us felt led to proceed as planned.
Farewell Meetings were held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I will never forget the farewell address of Mr. Embery, a godly retired CIM missionary in Melbourne. It was a prophetic message from Esther 4:13-14. At the risk of her own life and urged on by uncle Mordecai to go to the king to plead for the safety of the Jewish nation, Mordecai said to Queen Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy Father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
And these words proved to be prophetic as the older and more experienced missionaries had to withdraw from China and we recent recruits were called to enter the new fields of Japan and South East Asia as pioneers of the new work.
Off to Hong Kong and Chungking Language School
Some of the CIM Directors had moved to Chungking (now Chongquing) on the Yangtze River, Southwest China. It was thought that the western part of China, south of the Yangtze River would hold out for a long time but that proved a false assumption. Because the Chungking Hill was the CIM summer holiday resort, there was a number of substantial homes in close proximity dotted over the hills. These holiday houses became the Language School for the large number of young recruits in 1949.
The twelve of us from ‘Down Under’ left Australia in September, l949 sailing on the ‘Taiping’ to Hong Kong. Most of the party had boarded the ship in Sydney. The three of us from Queensland – Leslie Duncan, Betty North and myself boarded the ship in Brisbane. A large number of Christians and family members came to the wharf to bid us farewell. I always remember my Dad standing on the edge of the wharf and stretching out his hand to clutch my hand as I stood on the deck with the others. He said, “Goodbye, daughter. If we don’t meet again down here, we will meet up there.” That too, was a prophetic word. Early in 1951, when I was at Chungking Language School the word came through that Dad had gone to glory.
After a very calm and enjoyable voyage we reached Hong Kong on 10th October 1949, the double tenth which is China’s National Day. Hong Kong was a very enchanting and fascinating place but we had only one day to enjoy it. For the night, we were bedded down like packed sardines on the floor of Ament’s flat. The next day was October 11th. As is my custom, on waking, I opened Daily Light and began to read the Scripture portions. The Scripture portions were all about “trouble” and it gave an ominous warning, but also the promise of His presence. Psalm 22:11, “Be not far from me; for trouble is near…” Psalm 91:15, “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.” Matthew 28:20 “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
As I was reading these verses, I could not resist from sharing them with the others. But all we could do was just to commit ourselves to the care and protection of Almighty God. We had to go on. There was no turning back.
That very day, 11th October, we flew from Hong Kong to Chungking on the Lutheran plane ‘St. Paul’. Later on, we heard that we were so overloaded that we very nearly did not make it.
Our group from ‘Down Under’ was the first to arrive. Next came the group from Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), the continent (Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden) and South Africa. The last to arrive were the North Americans (Canada and the United States). It so happened that there were forty-nine of us and as the year was 1949, in mission history we became known as the ‘Forty-Niners’!
Marvin and Miriam Dunn (from Canada) were in charge. Faith Leeuwenberg (from the USA) helped with the housekeeping by giving orders to the Chinese cook and servants. Max and Joan Orr (from the UK) were in charge of our language studies.
We soon got into the daily routine of time with a private Chinese teacher, time with a Chinese teacher for group conversation and the rest of the time for private study. Each Chinese character has four different tones and as the meaning changes according to the tone, it was very important to master the tones.
We soon were made aware of the illustrious neighbours in the adjoining valley – Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the retreating Nationalist army. The reveille or early morning bugle-call awakened us also. But that did not last for long. With the advancing Communist Army, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan.
In early December 1949, the trouble about which we had been warned through Daily Light began. The sound of gunfire was heard in the distance. We knew that at sometime we would be liberated or more realistically put under house arrest by Communist soldiers. We were warned to stay inside. Soon the shooting began and Communist soldiers were swarming around our houses and over the hills chasing the retreating Nationalists. I will never forget this incident. The toilet was a small room on the western side of the house. My room-mate, May Roy (New Zealand) had gone there but it was not long before I saw her running back like streak lightning to our room, turning the corner and slamming shut the door behind her. The reason for that extraordinary behaviour was because she was being followed by a Communist soldier with a fixed bayonet at her back. Max Orr, a senior missionary and fluent in Chinese was able to explain that we were students learning the language. So no harm came our way. But that night, cannon gunfire from the opposite hill hit our house. The window was shattered and the glass fell on the bed where one of the girls was sleeping. Another of our girls had a fortunate escape when a bullet hit the bedroom wall where she had just been before. Wounded Nationalist soldiers were treated by some of our nurses. But for the others it was too late. Despite the two-day war fought on the hills around us, the city of Chungking had a peaceful turnover. After the turnover, accusation meetings became the order of the day. A great land reform programme was introduced by the Communists. Landlords had their land confiscated. This was divided up and given to the peasants.
One day, I happened to be in the city of Chungking. There was a great clanging and rattling noise. It turned out to be a large number of landlords taken prisoner, chained together by hands and feet and being hustled down the street to the glee of crowds of onlookers. Sometimes there would be great agitation among our Chinese servants. The reason was because gunfire could be heard and they knew that some of their fellow citizens were losing their lives. Some of our men folk returned from the city and said that on our side of the river many bodies were lying on the ground where they had been shot. Despite all these things happening around us our language study continued daily for us. In the afternoons, volleyball proved to be a very relaxing sport.
The house I lived in with May Roy, my roommate and others was called ‘King’. It was the furthest house from the center of the compound and the nearest to the village and Chinese villagers. I loved fresh air and so would leave the outside door wide open when I went to bed. My alarm clock set for six o’clock in the morning was on the floor near my head. My trunk was under the bed. One morning, I wondered why the alarm clock did not ring. I felt for it and it was not there. I hopped out of bed only to find that robbers had been in during the dead of night and had made a clean sweep. The trunk, my Chinese wadded gown, other clothes, clock, camera etcetera. were all gone. What a predicament! And I had not heard a sound. But praise the Lord, some weeks later, there was a rumour going around that a foreigner’s things had been discovered in a cave some distance away. Mr. Dunn and a Chinese servant went to investigate and found some of the things and were able to retrieve them and bring them back. Praise the Lord! II Chron. 16:9 tells us that “… the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him.” This was a reality. In our restricted way of life, we did have wonderful fellowship. It is said that in the first six months we came to know one another. In the next six months we came to hate one another. And in the last six months we came to love one another. By this, you will realize that for eighteen long months we were under house arrest, not free to move far from the compound, but we did have wonderful fellowship.
Withdrawal from China to Hong Kong
In 1951, the Mission leaders decided that because we foreigners were becoming an embarrassment to the Chinese church, we would need to evacuate ‘lock, stock and barrel’ from China. Exit visas were applied for. We were divided into small groups. Visas for those with health problems were applied for first. The last group consisted of single men and stronger ladies – ‘David’s mighty men’ as Faith Leeuwenberg called us. I was in this last group. But the irony of it all was that the China Foreign Bureau made the final decision and our group was one of the first to leave in April 1951.
Before leaving China we all had to have guarantors who would promise to take responsibility for any legal matters, debts, or any other problem that might arise after we had left the country. We thanked the Lord for those courageous Chinese Christians who took over this big responsibility so that we could proceed. We had to travel by river steamer down the Yangtze River. The steamer was overcrowded and dirty and our only place for sitting or resting at night was on top of our trunks packed on the upper deck out in the open. It was really spectacular sailing down the gorges. We could see little houses perched high on the tops of sheer cliffs 200-300 feet high. After a few days’ journey we reached Hankow. From Hankow, we boarded the train to Canton and finally reached the border with Hong Kong. What a relief it was to see the Union Jack fluttering in the breeze and to realize now we were in friendly territory.
There were many missionaries in Hong Kong at the time as gradually everyone had to withdraw from China. Many missionaries returned to their homelands. One thing that I learned to do in Hong Kong was to bargain the price of an article I was buying and I found that great fun.
Off to Japan
I felt led to go to Japan and after waiting four months for a visa, sailed for Yokohama on a Swedish freighter. It was a very rough sea voyage as we encountered typhoon ‘Ruth’, which was in September 1951.
The seas were mountainous, so in order to escape the worst of the weather, the captain headed for the Philippines. Trying to dodge the worst of the weather greatly delayed our arrival at Yokohama. But praise the Lord we did eventually arrive safely. So here I was in ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’ or ‘The Land of Cherry Blossom’.
Great changes were taking place within the Mission. With the withdrawal of missionaries from China, the name China Inland Mission became inappropriate. So a new name – Overseas Missionary Fellowship – was given. The headquarters would be in Singapore and the missionaries would be deployed to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines, where there were large populations of Chinese people. And last but not least, Japan was also included. Since their defeat in World War II, Japan had been occupied by American forces under the leadership of General Douglas McArthur. Japan had never before lost a war and believed they were invincible. After all, the descent of their present emperor, Hirohito, could be traced back to the first emperor, Jimmu, who according to early Shinto legend was directly descended from the Sun goddess, Amaterasu. So Hirohito was divine and no one was permitted to look on his face. When he drove through the streets in his carriage, everyone stopped and bowed their heads so as not to see him. When the imperial couple came by train to our town, I happened to be on the second floor of a hotel next to the station. I thought this would be a good vantage point to view the Imperial couple. But I was soon ordered to come down to the street and bow.
McArthur had called for 2,000 missionaries to go to Japan to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I counted it a great privilege to be one of the 2,000. Now Japan was a totally new field. None of our missionaries had ever worked there before, so we were the pioneers learning by trial and error. We reflected on Mr. Embery’s farewell speech and thought how true his words were.
The customs were so different. Walter Searle (Australia) met me with the mission car at Yokohama and drove me to the headquarters of Tokyo Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM). The first custom that I was introduced to was that one had to take off one’s shoes at the front door. The next day we drove by mission car to Karuizawa – a very steep climb high up the mountain range. Karuizawa is the summer holiday resort for the rich and famous. The then Crown prince Akihito played tennis on the courts there. This place was chosen as the place for our Language School ( LS), as TEAM already had their LS there and we needed their guidance.
It was the autumn season when I arrived and I was enthralled to see for the first time all the beautiful autumn colours of the trees, shrubs and hedges. Then, soon after, the snow began to fall. The heavily snow- clad pine trees and bushes bowed down with their weight of snow looked like a veritable fairyland and so exciting. After a six-inch fall of snow, Dorothy Cornelius (Australia) and I with Mr. Fisher, an experienced Canadian, had great fun snowballing one another. With the winter snow came the cold weather, which was a big shock to my system. I just could not conceive of how cold it could get with the result that for nine months, I suffered a bad cold and was not at all well. Living in the snowbound island of Hokkaido, where there was snow on the ground for four months of the year was a new experience for one coming from sunny Queensland. I do not have false teeth, but those who did would sometimes find them frozen stiff in the water they placed them in at night. To prevent eggs from freezing, we put them in the small refrigerator to keep them warm.
In Kutchan, a rural town among the mountains where I worked with Eva Glass (Northern Ireland) for a time, it snowed day and night for weeks, with the result that the snow-packed road running beside our house soon built up and reached the level of the second storey. It was easy then to climb out of the window on the second floor to the road on the same level. Snow shovelling was a new job to learn and a dire necessity. To avoid a total collapse of the house, the roof had to be cleared of snow constantly.
Heating was also a dire necessity. At first, small stoves burning wood would be used for heating the rooms, and braziers burning charcoal would be used for cooking. Sometimes coal was used for heating. Gas and electricity were used later for cooking. I have had the gas pipes leading into the house from outside freezing. Towards the end of my time in Japan, kerosene was used for heating. We found this clean, odourless and warm so it was a big improvement on earlier days.
In China, we had no facility for taking a bath in a bath-tub. We would just use a basin of water. But now in Japan things were very different. Taking a bath in Japan was a totally new experience; it was certainly ideal for thawing out and heating bodies frozen stiff with the cold. Bath-tubs were made of wood, either oval or square, with high sides. They were just large enough to accommodate one person in a sitting position with the knees drawn up close to the chin. The bath water was heated by means of a fire underneath or alongside the bath. A certain routine had to be followed. As the whole family used the same water, it was necessary to scrub down with soap and water outside the bath and after rinsing off one was allowed to get into the bath and just soak.
Japanese spend a lot of time soaking. They can bear much hotter water than Westerners. Even in the comparatively cooler water, we Westerners would get out of the bath looking more like cooked red lobsters. For those who could not afford a private bath, there were public bath houses, with separate compartments for either sex. In Japan, there are many hot springs and many people like to bathe in their waters as these contain medicinal properties.
Tatami mats (thick straw) covered the floors. This too was a new experience. Only bare or stocking-covered feet were allowed on the tatami. At night, cotton-filled mattresses (usually two) were spread on the tatami for sleeping. A thick wadded quilt spread over one for sleeping gave one warmth and a pleasant night’s rest.
During a meeting, cushions on the tatami were provided for each person. Ladies sat on these with their legs tucked under them and this was a very painful experience. Men could sit cross-legged. People would sit at a very low table for meals, etc. But we used desks and chairs for our meals and for study.
Rooms were divided by doors called ‘shooji’. The shooji is a sliding door with thin Japanese white paper pasted on its framework. They kept the rooms reasonably warm but were a great fire hazard.
Japan is the most shaken country in the world. Fiery volcanoes, tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes add their fury to the forces of nature that constantly and remorselessly threaten the land of Japan. People still speak about the great earthquake of 1923 in Tokyo that killed or wounded over 96,000 people and destroyed or damaged 694,000 buildings. When Mt. Koma-ga-Take erupted, the inhabitants of the nearby town of Mori had to flee with buckets on their heads to protect them from the flying large boulders and rocks.
We have had many frightening experiences when our houses shook violently and the tall building in which we were gathered for conference swayed dangerously. We would usually run out of our houses on to the street when there was an earthquake. Then having escaped from out of the house it was less than reassuring to feel under one’s feet the earth moving like a rolling ocean wave.
The 1954 typhoon was one I will never forget. The driving rain and strong winds buffeted us for days. Then there was an eerie calm. Just at that point, the ‘Doya Maru’, the inter-island vehicular ferry set out for the four-hour trip from Hakodate for Aomori. Below decks, a railway goods train was fastened down. But before long, the violent weather with the driving rain and strong winds blew again. Unfortunately, the train became unhitched and began rolling around below deck, with the result that the ship capsized and over 1,000 passengers lost their lives. The beach was strewn with bodies. As a result of that, it was decided to build a railway line under the Tsugaru Strait. It is the longest underwater railway line in the world. In 1997, when I revisited Japan I had the new experience of travelling on the line. It was most interesting. Being deep down in the bowels of the earth, it was quite cold and clammy.
After a severe earthquake in 1985, there was a sudden tsunami. A progression of photos in the newspaper told the sad story. The first photo showed about a dozen people way out in the sea, fishing a distance from the shore. They saw the tsunami approaching and decided to run for the shore. The next photo showed about six people left in the water. The next photo showed about four left and then there were none. The tidal wave had enveloped them all in a matter of minutes. Here again we see something of the brevity of life, and the dangers facing the people.
The two religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto teaches that the emperor is sacred and inviolable and gave divine sanction to the imperial system. It was commonly believed that since the Japanese as a nation had a divine and special origin, they were of a different and superior order to all other people in the world. The great truth of Genesis that all men are descended from the common fallen stock of Adam is revolutionary, and to the mind of a Shintoist absolute heresy. I had firsthand knowledge of this reaction in Mori at the beginning of my missionary career, soon after the war. I was asked to give a gospel message in the town. It was well advertised and a good number of people came. Naturally, Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, was clearly explained. At the end of the message, there was a hostile reaction: “No, we are not sinners, we are children of the gods.”
Shinto was identical with the nationalism of the country and soon became an instrument of imperialistic aggression. The Emperor of Japan, by divine right, was entitled to rule all lands and peoples. But when Japan was defeated in war, Emperor Hirohito repudiated any claim to divinity over the radio.
Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is the place where the spirits of the dead soldiers are believed to be enshrined. Soldiers and airmen willingly went into battle to die for their emperor, believing that their spirits would be enshrined at Yasukuni and that they would become divine. They often called to each other when going into battle, “See you at Yasukuni.”
Shintoism embraces nature and promotes nationalism. The adherents maintain there are eight million gods and goddesses of the sea, river, wind, mountains, trees, rocks, celebrated warriors, loyal servants or even ordinary people – animism in the true sense of the word. So whenever I spoke of God in my teaching ministry, I always specified that it was the one, true, living God that I was speaking about.
Religion’s real stronghold is the home. Most homes have two altars: the Shinto god shelf called ‘kamidana’ – high up on the wall in honor of the Sun Goddess – and the Buddhist altar called ‘butsu dan’ where the spirits of the family ancestors are worshipped. This is like an enclosed cupboard set into the wall. The Buddhist family altar is dedicated to the departed members of the family. The photos of the deceased are placed in the altar along with bowls of rice, flowers and fruit. It is illuminated by a candle or an electric light. “The dead are present and the dead are friendly”, mothers assure their little ones, driving from them the warning fear of death that God implanted in every human heart. This family altar and the worship of the ancestors usually becomes the final issue in considering the gospel. It would be easier to turn to the loving God if He were not also a jealous God, demanding that there be also a turning from idols. A schoolteacher in the town of Mori, my first mission station, asked for an interview. His main question was: “Can I still worship my ancestors if I become a Christian?” When it was explained that the one, true, living God is a jealous God and demands absolute and sole obedience, and ancestor worship is forbidden, that, unfortunately, was the last I saw of him.
Numerous heathen festivals are held throughout the year. The New Year Festival is ushered in on January 1. As the clock ticks a minute past midnight, it seems as though the whole nation is on the move, wending their way to the nearest shrine to pray for good luck in the ensuing year. As I lived near a shrine in Yokohama, I can still hear the tramp, tramp, tramp of thousands of feet of people passing my house, making their way to the shrine despite the freezing temperature. The New Year Festival is the greatest holiday time of the nation. New clothes are worn, debts are paid, special food is eaten and friendliness is the keynote of the season. New Year cards are sent to friends and acquaintances.
The Girls’ Festival, or Doll Festival, is observed on the third day of the third month. The dolls are ceremonial dolls representing the Emperor and Empress in resplendent court costumes. They are attended by their ministers, court ladies and musicians. A set consists of at least fifteen dolls. All are displayed on a tier of steps, usually five, and covered with a bright red cloth. The dolls are an heritage of the household and are handed down from generation to generation.
The Boys’ Festival is observed on the fifth day of the fifth month. On a long pole set in the garden or attached to the roof of the house, are hoisted balloon paper carp, according to the number of sons in the family. The carp has the power to fight its way up swift streams. And because of its determination to overcome obstacles is said to be a fitting example for growing boys, typifying, as it does, ambition, strength and the will to overcome difficulties.
Then there is O-Bon, or Festival of Lanterns, or Festival of the Dead. This festival is observed on July 13th, 14th, 15th. It is a three-day reunion of the living with the spirits of the dead. Its purpose is to stimulate ancestor worship. The graveyards teem with people burning incense and placing rice, flowers and fruit on the graves of the deceased. Then as darkness falls, with a lighted lantern they escort the spirits back to the ancestral home. In the best room, in front of the family altar on the table for the dead, are placed the favourite dishes of the departed. The family usually calls in a Buddhist priest to chant Sutras for the dead.
The Seven-Five-Three Festival is held on November 15th. It is a pretty festival. Parents with children of these ages take them to the Shinto shrine to be dedicated. They are dressed in their most colourful kimonos. In most cases, they are required no more than to wash their hands, ring a bell and clap their hands to announce their presence to the ‘gods’ and then return home.
There are more festivals but the ones I have mentioned indicate how firmly the whole fabric of Japanese society is bound up in ancestor worship, idolatry, superstition and the worship of evil spirits. People claiming to be ‘gods’, fortune-tellers and spirit mediums can be found on almost every corner. Temples and shrines abound. One remarkable feature of the Japanese religion is that though both the Shinto and Buddhist altars are found in the same family, there is no religious conflict between them in Japan; for there is a clear distinction between Shintoism and Buddhism in their sphere of influence or function. While Shintoism is identical with nationalism, Buddhism deals with ancestor worship. Each member of a family can worship at both altars without any compunction whatever.
Weddings and funerals are performed by Buddhist priests. However, today in order to avoid the exorbitant cost of Buddhist weddings, young people choose Christian weddings. This is a wonderful opportunity to explain the truths of the gospel to the young couple. Dr. Kurt Koch, a German theologian and an authority on revival and enemy activity, wrote about Japan that there is a heaviness felt in the country because of the worship of evil spirits. It is so difficult to penetrate the hearts of Japanese. The nation of Japan deals with spiritism and spiritism dulls the spiritual senses. But when the Spirit of God moves, ancestral worship goes. He maintains that there is more need in Japan for a tremendous moving of the Holy Spirit than in any other country, and it is when we pray that the Holy Spirit moves.
Experienced leaders in missionary work have said that Japan has the highest missionary casualty rate of any country in the world. The difficulties of mastering an exceeding complex language, the strain of needing to understand apparently trivial, yet important customs and the tense emotions of the people among whom one lives can rob the soul of its proper rest in God and make the body more vulnerable to prevalent disease.
In my time I have had the joy and privilege of studying a good number of foreign languages. But I must declare that the Japanese language takes the prize for being the most difficult and most complicated. Francis Xavier went so far as to say that it must have been invented by the devil himself specially to prevent the spread of the gospel. Japanese is unique in its written form and in its variety of spoken styles. In the written form, one word can be written in at least four different ways, using 1)Chinese character, 2)Katakana, 3)Hiragana, 4)Romaji. Chinese characters are said differently in Japan, but having spent eighteen months in Chungking memorizing Chinese characters, it definitely was a language advantage when we came to study Japanese. The difficulty of using Chinese characters to write Japanese words was finally overcome by joining Japanese endings, written in Japanese script, to Chinese characters written in Chinese style. Japanese nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs have many modifications. The verb is always at the end of the sentence. The spoken language presents a different problem. Japanese is a ‘respect language’. The style of speaking varies according to the circumstances. There is the language a man would use in speaking to a close male friend; the language of women to each other; the language for preaching; the language of children; the language used by a superior to an inferior and vice versa. The language used is thus indicative of age, status and sex. When we first landed in Japan, the only Bible being used was written in the old classical style and this was totally incomprehensible to us newcomers. Fortunately, evangelical Japanese scholars who had studied Hebrew and Greek in the States returned home and began translating the Bible into the everyday language of the Japanese. The New Japanese Bible (Shinkaiyaku Seisho) is an easy to understand translation based on faith in the infallible Word of God, revealed in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. Japan is reading the Bible! Immediately after the war, the Pocket Testament League distributed ten million copies of the Gospel of John throughout the country. In 1998 approximately 478,000 Bibles and Testaments were sold. As in other parts of the world, the Gideons are also active in Japan. They distribute Bibles to schools, hotels and prisons, etc. In 1998 they distributed 850,000 Bibles and New Testaments. And for years, the Bible has been the best-seller of any book in Japan.
Karuizawa Language School
At first, OMF purchased a couple of houses close to the town for the first nine or ten missionaries. Walter Searle (Australia) was the Secretary. But when numbers of missionaries increased, a large building, Mikasa House, was purchased for Language School. It had a large octagonal hall at the centre which was used as the dining-room and for meetings. Two wings extended on either side, with many small rooms which were used as bedrooms and a language room. The kitchen was downstairs; Eileen Singleton (Canada) was the housekeeper. Leonard and Laura Street – veteran China missionaries – were in charge.
Language study began in earnest. We studied six hours a day. Our teachers, three ladies, came in the morning and we each had one hour with them. The youngest one was the best teacher. Unfortunately, the two older ladies were untrained and were really only informants – reading the Japanese sentence to us and then we would repeat. After school, we would wander down to the town to practice the Japanese we had learnt during the day. In this way, good progress was made. In fact, in six months of learning Japanese I could communicate better than after eighteen months of learning Chinese, simply because in China we had had no contact with the Chinese people. The Chinese language we learned was all in our heads and not on the tip of our tongues.
On Sunday mornings some of us would attend the little Japanese church, where we were warmly welcomed. I remember the young pastor had been commissioned in the Japanese navy, and seemed to know quite a bit about Australia. One interesting thing was that some of our desks and chairs sent from Tokyo were wrapped in maps of the Queensland coast.
Knowledge of national customs usually comes with knowledge of the language. The two are mutually explanatory. In Japan customs are as important and as complicated as the language. All behaviour is governed by intricate rules. The elderly lady teacher taught me about accepting things that had been offered, for example a biscuit, a cushion to sit on, etc. We Westerners accept things offered to us at face value the first time it is offered. But that is not acceptable in Japan. One must not appear too eager to accept at the first invitation. It is good manners ‘to hold back’ until invited two or three times. In Japan there is also the custom of bowing. But it is necessary to know when to bow and how much to bow. In some cases it is essential to kneel, place the hands on the tatami and lower the forehead to the tatami. In other cases a mere inclination of the head is sufficient. Not enough bow could be an insult; too much could be ridiculous. And so as we gradually learned the language, we were learning the customs as well.
The directors of the Mission had decided in principle that we would not set up churches in competition with existing churches, but that we would initiate new work only where there was none. This led to the first missionaries leaving Language School to travel north to Hokkaido and later Aomori to commence work in small towns where the gospel had never been preached before. In a couple of centres, we cooperated with the Presbyterian Church and they gave us a warm welcome.
Off to Mori-Hokkaido – first mission station
Today young missionaries receive two years of language study in Sapporo taught by professional teachers. But things were different in our day. After only nine months of language study at Karuizawa, in October 1952, three of us – Eva Glass (Northern Ireland), Margaret Maas (USA) and I (Australia) received marching orders. We were designated to the fishing village of Mori, an hour by fast train from Hakodate, the southern seaport of Hokkaido. Mr. Street, our leader heard that through receiving the Gospel of John, distributed country-wide by the Pocket Testament League, Miss Lily Homma had accepted Christ as Saviour. She was a very sick tuberculosis patient and we were sent there to nurture her faith.
Beginnings are usually difficult. Mori was no exception. The first problem was housing. Mission policy was to rent and not to buy houses. Soon after the war, especially, was a difficult time to find any kind of empty house. Miss Homma’s sister, Mrs. Sugano and her husband were wonderful to us. They located an empty fish laboratory, an half an hour’s walk from the centre of town and they helped to make it habitable. This meant making a filter of sand to purify the water which was pumped from underground and was impure. We also had to order wood and have it sawn and stacked against the house for our stoves which were used for heating our rooms in the freezing weather.
Having been called to be a ‘fisher of men’ being in this place near the sea – where we could hear the rhythmic chants of the fishermen as they hauled in their nets, and where we had rows and rows of cuttle fish drying on lines around our house – really warmed my heart and confirmed my call to missionary service.
Mr. and Mrs. Sugano were very, very generous and treated us like members of the family. They taught us many things: language, customs and culture, etc. Every week we were invited to take a bath at their place, about ten minutes away. They were very kind and gave us special food from time to time. The Suganos introduced us to Japanese delicacies namely sukiyaki, tempura, sushi, seaweed, squid, octopus, soya bean curd and pasta, etc. A strong friendship developed until their deaths.
When well enough, Miss Homma went with us as we distributed tracts from door to door. She taught us the correct method and the correct language to use. A film ‘Miracle of Mori’ featuring the life of Miss Lily Homma was made.
Approximately 98% of the people in Japan are literate, and any kind of literature is well received and eagerly read. We still needed to spend much time studying the language and the Suganos were wonderful as go-betweens in arranging teachers for us and a house helper to do the shopping, cleaning and cooking. They also helped us to rent an old house in the neighbourhood which was used for Sunday School and for Sunday morning service.
Miss Kimie Wakamatsu, a graduate from the Girls’ Mission School in Hakodate and an earnest believer helped us in preparing messages for the Sunday service. The three of us would take turns in preaching each week. Occasionally, the Presbyterian minister from Hakodate would pay us a visit. Margaret trained Sunday School teachers and we had an average of sixty children each week.
We foreigners were a novelty in the town and we had lots of visitors. A number of young people came to faith and were baptized. One of the first ‘big fish’ was a keen young man called Mr. Yoshio Shinada. He felt led to go to Seminary in Tokyo and later became the Principal of Hokkaido Bible Institute in Sapporo. He married Miss Kimie Wakamatsu and their only son, a school teacher, became a missionary with OMF serving in the Philippines for a number of years. So here from the very outset, the Lord was fulfilling the promise made in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
When Eva Glass returned for Home Assignment, Mary Weller (UK) came to be with me for one year. I cannot recall the full history of the work at Mori, but today there is a thriving work of about 30 people run by a Japanese pastor who has built a new church. His wife, who was a member of our Hakodate Church, runs a kindergarten, so there is a good number of children.
Second term: more fishing villages
On returning to Japan for the second term, I had about a year with Eva Glass (Northern Ireland) in Kutchan, Hokkaido, among the snowy mountains – a famous ski-resort. Then for about two years, I served in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, working with Mary Milner (New Zealand). At that time, many University students were being converted and it was a very fruitful time. From 1958-1960 my next designation took me to Samani/Urakawa, small fishing villages on the Hidaka Coast at the end of the railway line.
There was a turnover of young single ladies who worked with me – Dorothy Highwood (UK), Judy Chisholm (Australia) and Ethel Howard (Australia). Two other sets of missionaries had worked in this place prior to my going there. A small council house was rented – one of many on that land near a large canal. For days torrential rain fell overflowing the canal and flooding the whole area. Anxiously, we watched the rising flood and the water actually entered our house. But praise the Lord, the rain ceased and the flood water receded doing no real damage.
From our window we could see down towards the seashore. Every June a very thick fog would settle over the shore but it did not last long. This reminded me of the word in James 4:14. “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” So when giving a message, this gave me a good illustration of the brevity of life and the necessity to be prepared to meet one’s Maker.
The big brown bear is the symbol of Hokkaido. There were many in the mountainous forests high above the coastline. One day, I went walking up the mountain road. It was not long before a young policeman on a motor bike caught up with me and advised me not to go further because of the danger of the bears. I was thankful for his advice and did a right-about turn.
are regarded as the aborigines of Japan. It is thought they came to Japan in some great wave of migration from Siberia. The Ainu are the hairiest men of the world. The most striking characteristic of the men is the abundance of their black hair and their luxuriant moustaches and beards, the latter sometimes a foot or more long. The women have moustaches tattooed on their upper lip. These people are of sturdy build and have good features, brown eyes, black wavy hair and cordial manners. In dress, both men and women favour gay colours. Their formal clothes are profusely decorated with striking geo- metrical designs. Fishing is their principal occupation. Their huts are very similar to those used by many African tribes. The greatest events in Ainu life are the bear festivals. The highest compliment they can pay a man is to compare him to a bear. Mrs. Kobayashi, a Christian friend in Urakawa arranged to take me to an Ainu village to meet the people firsthand. It was an interesting experience.
Despite the reserve of the fishing village people, the Lord gave us a good Sunday School, and a large student group. You should have seen our small tatami room on Saturday afternoons. It was ‘chock-a-block’, crammed tightly with students coming to the foreigners’ house to learn English and some Bible at the end. Praise the Lord, God was true to His promise and there were some conversions, fish from the adult work, the student work and the Sunday School work. In fact, even today, I am still in touch at Christmas time with some of them. From here, I returned to Australia for Home Assignment from 1960-1961.
Third term: another fishing village and a large seaport, Hakodate
Ajigasawa, a fishing village on the western coast of Aomori Ken, was the next appointment from July l961 to June 1964. Other missionaries had worked there before me, but adults were difficult to contact. I remember a believer telling me that she walked up and down outside the front door about six times before she had the courage to come in. Despite that, Anne Friesen (Canada) had a thriving Sunday School of over 60 children. When she left Ann Solly (UK) gave good support, but adults were few and far between.
It was while there that my sister and her husband, Raymond and Joyce Golsworthy, visited me and that was very special and a great joy. There were apple orchards high up above the coastline. This inspired Raymond on Sunday to give the message from Song of Solomon, Chapter 2 verses 3-4: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” We were just a handful of people sitting on the tatami, and having to act as interpreter was not the easiest thing I have been asked to do.
One of the believers, Miss Kimura was a Tea Ceremony expert, so it gave her great pleasure to perform this ceremony for her foreign guests.
The Tea Ceremony portrays the artistic and aesthetic taste of the Japanese. It is a very formal ceremony and has been regarded as a promoter of mental composure. In the mere handling of the utensils employed there must be the utmost exactness, and not a single error must occur in the performance of the function itself. It is declared by its devotees that the accurate and delicate performance of each act teaches precision, poise and tranquillity, courtesy, sincerity, unselfishness and daintiness and produces harmony in every sense. The tea itself is made of powdered green tea leaves and when made has the consistency of thick pea soup.
The Tea Ceremony with its long formalities cannot be fully appreciated by the casual Westerner, but when he witnesses it, he cannot fail to be impressed by the sincere enjoyment evidenced by the Japanese participants in the function.
Missionary work ceased in Ajigasawa in 1964, but missionaries returned there in 1985 and are still resident. Today the work is still small with only 4-5 Christians. For years my prayer burden is to see at least ten people saved and going on with the Lord. But the answer to that prayer is still in the future.
The Annual Field Conference was held at Hakodate and the Golsworthys were able to attend that. Eva Glass (my best friend in Japan) and I would always take our annual holidays together at Lake Doya, a beautiful, scenic spot. In the very early days, we would book in at a Japanese hotel, but that proved to be unsatisfactory as it was not very private or restful. The Suganos of Mori learned of our plight and as generous as ever came to the rescue. They bought a small block of land close to the shore of Lake Doya and had a simple two-storied holiday home built for us missionaries. So while the Golsworthys were in Hokkaido, after the Conference, Eva and I decided to take them to the holiday home for a week or so. We would make sandwiches in the morning and walk to places of interest during the day and have our lunch and cup of tea outside. I will always remember the day when we huddled together in a quiet spot on the shore of Lake Doya and Joyce graphically related their experiences of being captured by a German warship, between Fremantle and Colombo. That took place on May 12th 1942. They were then taken up to Japan, to be held there for nearly three and a half years in the POW Camp at Fukushima. [Their own story.]
Eva was enthralled with what she was hearing. Those idyllic days at Lake Doya could not last forever and the day came all too soon when we had to start moving again.
The logical thing for the Golsworthys to do on their return to Yokohama to catch the ship back to Manila was to call into Fukushima. I was privileged to accompany them.
As the express train sped south, Joyce and I were sitting together and as we were talking, I had to admit that I was very disappointed with the lack of fruit in my ministry, especially in Ajigasawa. But I remember quoting Habakkuk 3:17-19 and telling Joyce that this was my experience; “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
The train pulled into Fukushima station and we hired a taxi to the Roman Catholic convent that once served as a POW-camp. The front door was firmly locked, but we knocked and soon eyes were peering through a little grated window in the door. A nun opened the door and we explained who we were and why we were there. She kindly led us inside and we were shown over the place which had so many memories for the Golsworthys. We saw the smallish windows in each section, which made it possible for Raymond and Joyce to get some brief glimpses (only head and shoulders) of each other on carefully guarded occasions. We saw the cubicle which Joyce occupied and we sat in the chapel. Then we were shown something of the new College where the girls were taught Home Science and Dressmaking. The morning hours were taken up with a thorough inspection of the convent and the grounds. Joyce told of her very fortunate escape when a giant ‘Super- Fortress’ of the American Air Force parachuted food supplies into the grounds at the end of the war. She had been watching with a fellow inmate, Caroline, but was led to go inside. Unfortunately, one large parcel of food ricocheted and pinned Caroline to the wall, killing her instantly.
It was nearing midday and we thought of returning when the nun invited us to a hot, roast dinner. I remember the lovely white starched table cloth and napkins and shining silver. The nun waited on us hand and foot and we did enjoy that substantial meal. When we were about to leave the Mother Superior ordered a taxi and took us to the cemetery where Caroline had been buried. We had to climb up a rough, mountain path. In order to help the Mother Superior, I took her by the arm to give her support. Never did I imagine that in all the world that I would ever be so close to a Roman Catholic nun. After finding the grave site, we were taken to the station in the taxi to resume our journey.
What wonderful kindness was shown to us! What reminiscences filled Raymond’s and Joyce’s minds. And what a cause for rejoicing that they had been spared up to that moment.
We spent a few days in Tokyo at the Mission Home and then I took them to Yokohama to board their ship back to Manila. As you can imagine, I felt very bereft as I wended my way back north.
Hakodate: 1964-1966; 1967-1972
When I did arrive back, a new situation awaited me. After discussions with Mr. Street, our leader, it was decided to close down Ajigasawa. The Lord had placed on my heart a burden for the port city of Hakodate and so I was appointed there in
1964 to do church planting work. Hakodate being one of the first ports in Japan to open to foreign traders around 1854 had a long history. Over the next few years, ten countries including Britain, Russia and the USA established consulates in Hakodate, and foreigners built fancy wooden homes and elaborate churches on the steep hillsides. The most striking is the white Russian Orthodox Church and
then there is the Episcopal Church. The Trappistine Convent for women is famous for the butter and cheese that they make for sale.
When I first went to Hakodate, the shipbuilding industry was thriving, employing many men. But gradually because of the economic down-turn, the docks closed down putting many men out of work. Mt. Hakodate in the middle of the hammer-head tip of the peninsula gives one a ‘million dollar’ night view of the city. One can reach it by cable car or by driving. It is said to be one of the most impressive panoramic views in the world rivalling that of Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro.
The local specialty is squid. The city prides itself on its love of squid. The Hakodate Port Festival, held in August features 20,000 people in kimonos and straw hats performing the ‘squid dance’, an entertaining jig where hands are flapped and clapped in time to rhythmic drumming.
A missionary couple had done church planting in Hakodate for a few years before me, but there was only one contact from that when I went there. Another couple were managing the Light of the World book store. In order to do church planting it was now necessary for me to find a house. The morning I had planned to go with a Japanese friend to look for a place, in my personal time with the Lord that morning He gave me a wonderful promise from Exodus 23:20, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.”
We were walking along a street, when we heard the ‘put-a-put, put-a-put’ sound of a small motor bike. It passed us and the man looked back to see who the tall foreigner was. He turned his bike around and came back and stopped and asked, “Are you Teacher Weller?” Mary Weller (from the UK) worked with me in Mori for a few months after Eva Glass had returned to Northern Ireland on furlough. The man on the motor bike was none other than a policeman who used to visit our house in Mori.
So this was a different kind of an angel from what one would expect. However, it was a sure sign that the Lord had answered prayer because that very day we were able to arrange to rent a house in that area. It was rather dilapidated but we had it renovated. The beauty of it was that it was in a very strategic area close to the Teachers’ Training College, where later I was able to teach English. It was also close to Primary, Middle and High Schools. A few single ladies worked with me. Ethel Howard (Australia) served with me for the longest time.
Soon after beginning ministry in Hakodate I attended a revival prayer conference led by Joe Carroll (from Australia). Here let me share a brief personal testimony. At that time, I was feeling very discouraged and dissatisfied with the lack of fruit in my ministry. But at the conference I was truly revived and blessed, and returned to Hakodate in faith, and rejoicing with the following principles firmly embedded in my heart and mind:
a) Japan is no problem to the Lord.
b) The answer to Japan’s need is a moving of the Spirit of God.
c) The Spirit of God moves when we pray.
d) Japan’s great need is for intercessors.
I determined by God’s grace to become an intercessor for Japan. It was suggested when praying to get someone on the same wavelength. My fellow worker, Ethel Howard was just that person. We set aside extra time for prayer, giving it first priority. We didn’t just ‘say prayers’; daily we waged a spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Many other precious promises were continually on our lips, like Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” And also Zechariah 4:10: “For who hath despised the day of small things?”
We certainly didn’t because we knew God was with us and He would answer our prayers. We prayed earnestly and worked hard. In order to make ourselves known, we busily engaged in tract distribution at the gates of schools and universities. This meant getting out early to catch the students as they entered the school yard. Soon we had a thriving Sunday School, morning and evening Sunday services, a prayer meeting on Thursday night, an adult English Bible class on Tuesday night and separate Senior and Junior High School English and Bible classes on Saturday afternoon. The newspaper publicity of the Junior High School class boosted the attendance. Our place was one of great activity.
During the week, we would go from door to door with tracts. Sometimes we would sell Christian books. Miura Ayako’s books were readily swept up. She was a well-known Christian novelist and prize winner and her books made a big impact on the reader.
There was also hospital evangelism. Then in the spring, together with the Light of the World Bookshop, there would be Cherry Blossom evangelism and the selling of Christian books in the park. This would attract many people.
Summertime, with warmer and longer days, gave us great opportunities to get out and about spreading the gospel. Tent campaigns were held and at other times, special home evangelism with visiting Japanese ministers, as well as film evangelism. Besides, sometimes on Sunday evening, we would have open-air preaching on the street corner at Hon Cho.
During summer and winter school holidays, camps were held by TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) missionaries in Aomori Ken just across the Tsugaru Strait. The main instigator was Mr. Anton Netland, a Norwegian American. I was one of the team helping out with the catering, etc. I accompanied young people from Hakodate to the camps and they did enjoy the ferry crossing and fellowship with others of their own age. As a result of all this activity, many ‘fish were caught’ as you can imagine. It was thrilling to watch the increase. It was a privilege to have a second term in Hakodate from 1967-1972.
One Saturday morning, as I was going over the message for Sunday, I heard the shout ‘kaji’ or ‘fire’ from the kitchen. I rushed out to find a flame of fire leaping up the wall. Our house helper had done a foolish thing. She had taken live coals from the stove and had placed them too near the wall. She was petrified and couldn’t do a thing. I quickly got a container of water and dashed it against the wall extinguishing the fire. How we thanked the Lord for protecting us. House fires are very prevalent in Japan.
I remember the words of Scripture in Psa.66:12: “… we went through fire (Hakodate) and through water (Samani): but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.” And that is exactly what Hakodate turned out to be for us – a wealthy place spiritually. The time came in July 1972 when I was able to hand over responsibility of the work to Mr. Yahiro, a recently graduated student from Hokkaido Bible Institute. It is one thing to have a part in the birth of a soul but it is a more glorious experience to witness the birth of a church. How we proved again that God is faithful (Heb. 10:23). To God be the glory.
The home front: July 1972-May 1981
When I returned home, I found that my sister Lavinia who had been looking after Mother was not well and needed a break. This brought me to the decision to take ‘leave of absence’ from the mission.
While sitting on the sofa together, my dear mother would often say to me, “Ruth, I do hope that you will be able to return to Japan sometime.” After serving her for eight full years, the door back to Japan opened once again in May 1981.
Back to Japan: 1981-1984
After a few months in Sapporo, at the Language School brushing up on my very rusty Japanese, I served the Lord in the south in the Yokohama area for two years and then the last two years in the North – Kuroishi Aomori Ken.
I am now quoting from a circular letter written in 1982 about the Annual Conference that I attended in Hokkaido.
“What an opportunity of a lifetime it was on the last day of the Conference to go to Sapporo to attend the Thanksgiving Dinner at the Royal Hotel! This dinner was sponsored by the Association of Evangelical churches (Japanese pastors who are now in charge of OMF churches that have come of age) in order to commemorate thirty years of OMF missionary endeavour in Japan and particularly in Hokkaido. My good friend, Eva Glass, and myself are the only two remaining pioneers. A feature of the programme was a testimony by Lily Homma, the film ‘Lily of Mori’, telling how Eva and I entered her town of Mori, her home and her heart. Then there was a word from Rev. Shinada, former principal of Hokkaido Bible Institute and one of our first converts in Mori who had come from Tokyo to be present.
“Just as I was about to leave the hotel, a strange thing happened. A Japanese pastor came up to me and said, “You worked in Samani about twenty-four years ago, didn’t you? There is a young Mrs. Konno in my church who remembers your name, the Sunday School at Samani and the biscuits you used to give the neighborhood children. She would like to meet you again.” By a God-given set of circumstances, a few days later, it was possible to visit in her home along with Eva Glass and Lily Homma. I recognized her and remembered her so well even though she was just a little mite of five years of age, sitting there on the ‘tatami’ floor listening to the Bible story. She is now preparing for baptism. Her husband attended a Billy Graham meeting in Tokyo some years before, and evidently cannot forget the impact it made on his life. However, he is not yet saved. Please remember this little family (with two small boys) in prayer.”
A seemingly very wonderful thing backfires into a stunning and almost unbelievable event
I am now quoting from a circular letter to my praying friends written from Nishishiba, Yokohama on 7th November 1982.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:3
“The phone rang on the morning of 19th October – a dull, wet day. A distraught voice said, “I’m not a Christian, but I’ve read the Bible. May I come and talk with the missionary – I have a problem.” Naturally, we invited him and set a time. On putting down the receiver, I said to Margaret, “He seems just like another of those mental patients that often come along.” Well ahead of schedule, in the early afternoon the doorbell rang and we welcomed into our lounge a man aged forty-three years, neatly dressed but obviously in great mental distress. Without beating about the bush, and without the usual Japanese reticence, in no time at all we knew his whole story. On receiving a promotion in his company, he had been transferred to Yokohama as manager. But one day, a very busy day, he speeded and had an accident. A woman was knocked down, and she died in hospital two days later. This meant that not only was he apprehended and put behind bars for six months, but he also lost his job. While serving his time, he had access to a Gideon Bible, which he read and reread. He liked reading Matthew’s Gospel very much. He memorized verses like Matt. 6:33-34 and Matt. 7:13-14. After release, although the wife and her parents had shown great sympathy, he was too ashamed to return home and somehow found himself at a ‘snack bar’ (actually a drinking, gambling den of ill fame) not too far away. In exchange for help in the bar till two thirty in the morning everyday, he was given board and lodging. He was virtually enslaved by an overpowering, domineering female patron. She too had a problem and wanted to run off with him to live elsewhere. He wanted to escape from her but how?
“Every morning when he awoke he felt so convicted and so condemned. He knew he was walking the broad way, but come what may he wanted to get on to the narrow way. But how? Although he felt a bit nervous visiting foreigners, and missionaries at that, he plucked up enough courage to cross our threshold. We talked to him, showed him passages of Scripture and finally had him read the parable of the prodigal son. We suggested to him that right now he should decide to return to his wife’s parents’ home in the country and apologize and ask forgiveness. But more than that, right now he should pray and ask God for forgiveness. “How do you do that?” he asked. “Many times in my heart, I have said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ But when you pray, how do you start and how do you finish?” “Let’s kneel on the floor. I’ll pray a model prayer for you and then you pray,” I said. We all knelt down and he prayed a prayer full of meaning like a veteran. When he stood up, he said, “Now I feel at ease. The burden has lifted. I have peace.”
“Getting down to practicalities, we asked if he had money for his train fare. He only had some pin-money so both of us together soon rectified that. Then we asked about his belongings. “I have an overcoat, a three-piece suit and a watch down there, but I’ll leave them behind. My three little girls mean more to me than that.” Then he said, “Will you walk with me to the station?” So after setting him up with his own New Testament, some more literature, fruit and biscuits, the three of us with raised umbrellas walked the twenty minutes to the station in the rain. There we watched him putting his coins into the computer to buy his ticket and with the exhortation, “Now, goodbye, and see that every day you live like a Christian,” we saw him pass through the wicket-gate. We were so full of rejoicing and praise to God as we walked home
“Some days later, I was able to find out the address of the pastor who lived near to his wife’s parents’ home. (Strangely enough, he left with me the name, address and telephone number of his in-laws). Without delay, I wrote a letter in Japanese to the pastor asking him to follow up this poor lost sheep that had just been found. Another week elapsed, and then came a reply from the pastor. And what a bombshell that was! The pastor thanked me for my letter. He immediately rang the phone number just to find out that it was all a hoax. It was not the wife’s parents’ home at all. Moreover, the pastor was able to tell me that formerly another missionary in Chiba Ken had been fooled in the same way. “Teacher White,” he said, “I want to apologize. Because I too am Japanese, and as a Japanese, I feel the responsibility of it and I feel so ashamed. However, I believe Christ is able to save the vilest of sinners. I feel so sorry that I have to reply like this. Teacher, I believe the love you showed that man is recorded in heaven. And I pray that you will not have a feeling of distrust towards all Japanese people in the future as a result of this. To have trusted the man and to be deceived is much more wonderful than to have doubted the man and not to have been deceived, I think. May God bless your work.
Off to Kuroishi
I am now quoting from a circular written in May 1983 from Kuroishi, Aomori Ken.
“And He led them forth by the right way.” Psalm 107:7
“Winging one’s way north on a free air ticket was just one of the bonuses and marks of appreciation from a dear friend in Yokohama, who is one of the directors of a domestic airline. Yes, things are very different here.
“There was still snow lying around and on alighting from the plane, the cold wind from it hit one with a bang. This is the country. One breathes the fresh unpolluted air. Travelling through rice fields and apple orchards, especially when the latter were in full bloom, is a delight to the eyes. Kuroishi is famous throughout Japan for its apples and rice. But this is where the people need to work long and late to make both ends meet, and where the recession is felt.
“In the goodness of the Lord, the church has its own building, a renovated lodging house, very conveniently situated near the railway station. High School students by the hundreds pass our place every day. Kuroishi, with a population of 40,000 boasts a Uniting Church, a Roman Catholic Church and numerous Buddhist temples and graveyards. The latter two are on either side of us almost squeezing us out of existence as it would seem, but praise the Lord, the gospel light is shining and diffusing into the dense darkness all around us. Part of a hymn and a Bible verse with an invitation to church is broadcast by our PA system every morning at 8:32 a.m. as the High School students pass our house on their way to school. Pray for fruit from this.
“One rejoices in fellowship with older, mature folk (fruit of former missionaries’ labours) who have been believing for some years, but the vast majority in the church are young folk. Young people attract other young people, so on Saturday afternoon after school is finished for the week, young lads from the Agricultural College and young lasses from the High School converge on this place to relax and enjoy a happy time of games, hymn singing and a short gospel message. Some nurses and a few of the 16 to 18 people who attend on Saturday are believing, but we long to see many more apprehended by the Lord to become His true disciples. Please pray for this.
I am now quoting from a circular written in May 1984 from Kuroishi, Aomori Ken.
“Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:3
“The end of the school year in March and the commencement of the new one in April brings many changes. Young people graduate from College and High School and move off to further studies and employment. For Kuroishi young people, the movement is mostly one way – towards the big cities. Praise the Lord that before the movement away began, four young people – two lads and two lasses – were baptized.
“Let me tell you about one lad just graduated from Agricultural College, Mr. Oda, 20 years, who was so keen and happy to help me in Sunday School. At first, it seemed as though he would be working nearby and could continue helping in the church. But at the last moment an order came from the firm he was working with to go to Shizuoka (south of Tokyo) for a year’s training. On his last morning at church, he brought along the text Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” written in beautiful brush character. As he pinned it to the wall he said, “Teacher, the message you gave from this text really spoke deeply to my heart.”
“Young lad Oda is just one of about thirteen others of varying interest who have left us and gone off into the big, wide world. Incidentally, within the last two years, eight baptized believers have moved off to other places to make their contribution. So even though the monthly average church attendance has dropped from around 19 to 13, we are happy that the Kingdom of God in the wider sense is being extended.
“What do these lambs face as they leave their sheltered fold? Although the above text is Jesus’ word to His apostles, it seems so applicable to our young people, too. Recently I read a newspaper article entitled, ‘Icy Baptism for New Recruits which gives an example of some of the strange customs young Christians may come across’. I’ll quote a portion:
“One cold night recently, 200 young men and women in white robes marched chest deep into icy water, flickering candles held aloft. They were preparing themselves to join a Japanese company. “Our new employees are all cleansed mentally and physically before God according to an ancient Japanese purification rite”, explains the manager of the company. “From this experience, the new employees emerge with strengthened solidarity and loyalty to our firm.” Not all underwent such a chilly baptism. Tens of thousands of new employees are instead shipped off to camp with the Japanese army. Others get a taste of “communal living” at their company’s own training grounds. Whatever the form of the initiation, the purpose is the same. First, new employees must be disinfected from the contagion of the left wing teachers’ union, if they have just left High School; and if they enter university the individual attitudes they may have picked up there must be eradicated. “The purpose of our purification ceremony is to wash off the dirt of the past”, explains the manager.
“We are in touch with all of the young people by a church newsletter, with a personal word or two of encouragement from a number of us. Here is part of Mr. Oda’s reply: “The newsletter is such a good idea. I wonder whose idea it was. I’m so happy to hear of the increase at Sunday School. Give greetings to the children and tell them not to forget me. Tell them not to fight and to listen well to the lesson from teachers Kelly and White (I’m working with Daphne Kelly, from Australia). I’m hanging on with every ounce of energy down here, and I’ll return to Kuroishi as soon as possible.”
In September, Daphne Kelly returned to Sydney for furlough and I was joined by Helen Lyttle (from Northern Ireland).
Last circular letter
My last circular was written from Redland Bay, my own home on 26th November, l985.
“Some of you may remember the young Christian lad, Oda, about whom I wrote in a letter dated May, 1984, ‘Icy Baptism for New recruits.’ The other day, I received his written testimony in a letter from Kuroishi and I’d like to share some of it with you. He’s now a three and a half years old Christian. He mentioned the three things he experienced on his first entrance into the church. 1)There were Westerners there. 2)Despite being his first visit, he was shown great kindness. 3)Everything was bright there, meaning not the room, but that the church people were bright and cheerful.
“Then he finished up his testimony by making four points about the first verse he ever learnt namely John 3:16. 1)God loves us all. 2)The person who ignores God goes to destruction. 3)God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world and died on the cross as our substitute. 4)The person who accepts Jesus Christ as Saviour is saved from judgment and destruction and inherits eternal life. As you see, he certainly has grasped and (praise God) experienced the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Incidentally, on my last Sunday, he testified that one day he believes the Lord will lead him into Bible School. Pray for him.”
The very latest news – January 2005
Young Mr. Oda did go to Bible School and for a number of years now has been pastor of Kuroishi Church. He is married and his young daughter has been baptized.
Mr. Yahiro who assumed responsibility for the Hakodate Church in 1972, served there and in a Sapporo church for many years and has just been elected as Principal of Hokkaido Bible Institute.
Mr. Yoshio Shinada after being Principal of Hokkaido Bible Institute for many years, pastored a church in Tokyo, but is now back in Hakodate pastoring the church which I know so well. He should be retiring soon.
What a privilege to have been connected with and to have had some spirutual impact on these three keymen, who are making such a tremendous contribution to the church in Japan today.
It has been a great privilege to have attended four special anniversaries.
– One was the 30th Anniversary celebrating OMF Missionary work in Hokkaido, in May 1982.
– Another was the 25th Anniversary of the Hakodate Church in 1983.
– In November 1997, Hakodate Church invited Ethel Howard and me back to Japan to celebrate the opening of the new grand church building plus pipe-organ. It was great renewing contact with them all.
– Another special Anniversary was in October 1999 at the OMF Annual Prayer Conference held at Mount Tamborine, Queensland. The OMF general director Mr. David Pickard and his wife, Dr. Sue, attended. This conference coincided with our 50th Anniversary of our leaving for China. There were four of us – Leslie and Elizabeth Duncan, Betty North and myself. The Pickards were in Japan in 1985 for the Field Conference which happened to be my farewell on retirement.
And so at the close of my missionary career, my testimony is the same as it has always been – God is so good and so very, very faithful, for not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord has promised. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And if anything of worth has been accomplished, the people at home who have held the ropes by prayer must also share in the reward. I thank all for their fellowship in the gospel, and for the inestimable privilege of being their substitute in Japan.