Hans Bouwman, Japan - 11 - Revisiting Japan

Revisiting Japan

After a lapse of seven years we were able to revisit Japan. It started with a long distance telephone call from a Japanese brother who asked me whether we had any plans to visit our former mission field. I answered, “Yes, we have been thinking about it and it is our heart’s desire to meet the dear Japanese Christians again. We are praying about it and wait for the Lord’s guidance”. With this telephone call we were warmly invited by a number of Japanese assemblies. It was a moment of deep emotion. Again we have seen prayers clearly answered by our faithful God! At that time the words of the great Apostle were firmly laid upon our heart: “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do” (Acts 15:36).

In the beginning of January 1993 we left Holland for a longer stay in Japan. It was quite an experience to be back in the country where we had lived and worked more than 30 years for the Lord. Since we were married in Japan, and all our children were born and raised there, this country has a special place in our lives.

Japanese Assemblies

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Assemblies in Japan: some small, some big as testimonies for the Lord's Name.

A Japanese brother had prepared a schedule of meetings to cover at least 35 assemblies, spread out over the four main islands. In discussing the proposed meetings he excused himself repeatedly for the heavy schedule with a meeting each night, house meetings during daytime and usually two meetings on Saturdays and three on Sundays. With Tokyo as my base, I started out to be at the annual Tokyo Conference. Mr. Jack Hay from Scotland was invited as special speaker and with an interpreter he gave excellent ministry. I was wondering how the fluency of my Japanese would be after a lapse of 7 years. When the meeting was finished and Gerda and I were together, she said she was amazed that my Japanese sounded as if I had never left the country. This was quite a compliment for which I was thankful. As I felt that the Lord was giving much help, I started out with the schedule of arranged meetings in local assemblies.

The first journey brought me to snow-covered areas as far north as Hokkajdo. The first stop was in a place on the west coast of Honshu. It was my joy to be there in 198.5 for a series of Gospel meetings during the early stages of a new work. Today there is a small assembly of about 15 believers. It was a thrill to preach the Gospel, which resulted in the conversion of a 45 year old man. His daughter had been saved some time earlier and she had used every opportunity to witness to her father, who as the mayor s secretary is a man of great influence.

While in Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido, I remembered my previous stay in 1959. At that time there was no assembly, and a missionary from New Zealand, Mr. Stuart CaIdwell, had just started a weekly Gospel meeting in that city. He had to take a four hour ferry across from the mainland. I remember sitting with him on the tatami (straw mats) in a rented room of a Japanese inn where we preached the Gospel to only two strangers, who had accepted the invitation to attend the meeting. Today Hakodate has a nice assembly with an outreach activity in other areas as well. I went further north and visited the assembly at Takigawa, where a Japanese evangelist is actively involved. It was the first time for me to be in this assembly and I enjoyed the fellowship very much.

From Hokkaido I travelled along the east coast back to Tokyo. On this stretch I enjoyed fellowship in assemblies where Mr. and Mrs. James McAllister worked for the Lord in years past. The assembly at Morioka was doing especially well as a bright testimony in that big city. In Yamagata the sight of snow-covered mountains was unforgettable. Although the assembly there is still small it is doing well in its testimony for the Lord. In addition to the meetings held in the city of Sendai, I particularly enjoyed the fellowship with the elders there. It is such a great encouragement to be able to give them advice in some of their current problems and to be of some help for the strengthening of the testimony! At Fukushima I was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lawrence, missionaries from England, where I enjoyed fellowship in their nice Japanese home.

I concluded that first trip with meetings in the area where we had started a testimony for the Lord back in 19.59. It was a great joy to be again in these places for meetings and personal visits, as we had toiled in this area for quite a number of years, often under difficult circumstances. It was rewarding to see the Christians faithfully continue in their testimony for the Lord. The visit to Shimodate brought back sweet memories of the past, where Mrs. Ichimura was saved in 1960 as the first fruits of the work there. At the time of our visit she was 37 years old. The balm of her lovely hospitality over many years in the past has caused me to regard her as ‘my mother’, in the same manner as the apostle Paul saw Rufus’ mother: “Greet Rufus... and his mother and mine” (Rom.16:13). Since we moved to Holland she has kept up a correspondence with us, and has repeatedly expressed her thankfulness for our efforts in bringing the Gospel to her house. I remember the day when she got saved and how many others followed her example through her testimony In her life the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31), were fulfilled. Those were times of special blessing. What a reunion it was to be with these dear Christians!
On the second journey I travelled along the west coast of Honshu. In one area there are seven assemblies, established by the efforts of Japanese brethren. I was very impressed by the activity of these assemblies especially in their outreach in the different areas. There was great joy when a girl of 13 professed to be saved after a Gospel meeting. As I had opportunity to minister God’s Word, and to have personal talks in the homes of Christians, it filled my heart with great satisfaction to be used as a help in the Lord’s work.

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Young brethren eager to study the bible.

The third trip took me from Tokyo to Osaka and all the way down to Kyushu, the southern main island. Again on this occasion there was the joy of witnessing the Lord’s work in saving a soul. A woman of about 40 accepted the Lord Jesus as her Saviour. This happened at Hamamatsu where Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery Browne from the U.S.A. started the work in 1953, together with Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hay. There is a thriving assembly work and I was happy to be there for Gospel and ministry meetings. Also my visit to Koo, a small town near Nagoya, was an unforgettable time of fellowship. This assembly was established in 1951, mainly through the outstanding testimony of a Japanese doctor. Dr. Ogawa got saved in Tokyo,
but opened his doctor’s practice at Koo. His patients did not only get to know what was wrong physically, but also spiritually. Many experienced their salvation and in this small community the assembly has a good reputation. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lower, who lived in Nagoya, have given much of their time and effort to give help in the Lord’s work at Koo.

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Sitting on the 'tatami' (straw mats) with Mrs. Ichimura, a 'mother in Israel' and her daughter-in-law.

My stay in Japan’s second biggest city Osaka started with a Gospel meeting in a rented hall in a shopping mall. I was amazed to see the hall completely filled, including a good number of strangers. While I was the guest in three assemblies, I took up subjects concerning the local assembly and practical Christian living. The discussions which followed these meetings were lively and a proof that the ministry was a help to the believers in their zeal for the Lord. On that occasion Mrs. Doris Budd was at one of the meetings, and later in a brother’s home we had a good time of fellowship. Mr. Howard Budd went to be with the Lord in 1980, and his wife in the beginning of 1994 while visiting Canada. For many years they had given themselves completely to the Lord’s work in Osaka, where they found a blessed ministry in radio work.
In the southern island of Kyushu I had meetings in six assemblies. The late Mr. Harry J. Steele, who went to be with the Lord in 1935, had worked in this area for many years together with his wife Ellen. The assembly at Kita-Kyushu, formerly called Kokura, was started in 1947 through the efforts of Dr. Ishihama. This dentist later practised his dentistry in Kobe with the purpose to be of a help in the assembly there.

At a conference with three sessions of meetings, I was quite surprised to be the only speaker. Afterwards a young man came up to me and said, “Mr. Bouwman, you will not recognize me, but you are my spiritual father”. I asked his name and where he was from and learned that he was one of those who got saved during my last special effort in the Gospel, held in the assembly at Kita-Kyushu, before moving to Holland. I was invited into the home of this brother for a meal. He was 30 years old then, married to a dear sister, and they had two little girls. I was impressed by his spiritual growth during the seven years; he has a great zeal to study the Bible and has a sound spiritual knowledge of Scripture. I would not be surprised if this promising young man would be called to full-time service for the Lord. We do pray for young brethren like him with anticipation.

The last stop on this trip was the city of Fukuoka where Mr. Johannes Rusckow from Germany started the work in 1957. He was the missionary with whom I travelled to Japan. In the early stages Johannes concentrated his efforts mainly on students and not without result. A great number of these promising young men got saved and in due time an assembly was established. With these men, now pillars in the assembly, we remembered those early days of blessing. But even now, the Lord’s work is continuing quite well, and I remain thankful for the opportunity to minister the Word of God in this happy assembly.

In the Tokyo area where we know most of the Christians, six assemblies invited me for meetings. It was a thrill to see young brethren taking part in the assemblies whom we knew from childhood, and it is a credit to the parents who did the work to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ (Prov.22:6). The assembly at Fuchu had grown considerably since we were last there. Here Mr. and Mrs. James Currie work for the Lord and since Jim bears the responsibility for the work of the Evangelical Publishing Depot, we found it profitable to share our mutual interest in this aspect of the work. I also met Miss Kathleen Riddles (N. Ireland), Miss Gloria Speechley (Australia) and Miss Hilda Wielenga (U.S.A.), who have shown their consistency and faithfulness in the Lord’s work. Miss Speechley has been responsible for the EPD-bookshop and for editing work. This time I was not able to be in the assembly at Kyoto. For many years Miss Esther Curtin and Miss Bessie Trotter, both from England, have faithfully worked there as ‘servants of the church’ (Rom.16:1).
It was with a sense of deep satisfaction that I finished the scheduled meetings. In the past when we lived in Japan we were ‘one of them’, but in this most recent visit we became their guests, and as such, oriental hospitality dictates the royal treatment. They went out of their way to make us feel special, and their display of sacrificial hospitality followed us no matter where we went.

We were warmly thanked for spending more than 30 years of our life for the Lord’s work in Japan. I was also asked to pass on the Japanese believers’ sincere appreciation to those who by their prayers and support have made it possible for us to live and work in Japan to bring the Gospel to them as a manifestation of abundant grace.