The Davidson family
MKs having some fun
John & Dwight comparing notes
Adam & Lee Ann leading worship
A new school year has begun here in Japan— the temperature’s finally rising, the cherry trees have dropped their blossoms, and change is in the air.
The pictures this month are from a recent retreat we were able to take in Nagoya with our IM missionary colleagues serving here. What a great time of refreshment and planning for the future!
We wanted to take a few moments this season to let all of you know about an important change that’s underway in our own lives. If you would, I’d ask you to take a bit of time to read a longer than usual update this month.
Most of you know that Kari and I are finishing out our second term of service in Japan. Our family (only four of us at that time!) arrived in Yokohama in 2001, without a word of Japanese and with only a scant understanding of Japanese culture. But over the last nine years, we’ve grown in many ways. We’ve also seen many things change.
One of the dramatic changes has been in Kanto Gakuin itself. Last year, Kanto Gakuin celebrated its 125th Anniversary in style—setting out on a capital campaign aimed at raising over 10 million dollars in memorial gifts, and hosting nearly 100 commemorative events ranging from community service projects, to concerts, to public lectures (two Nobel prize winners and the former Prime Minister of Japan came to campus last fall). Students of the Sigma Society—a group I co-advise with Yoshihiro Kanda—used some of those memorial funds recently during our annual service-learning trip to Thailand.
Kanto Gakuin is not only advancing its mission publicly, it’s also growing inwardly. Though started many years ago by American Baptist missionaries, Christian witness at Kanto Gakuin has not always been steady. Truth be told, ever since the time of the “funso”—a period in the late 1960s in which violent student riots broke out on a number of university campuses in Japan (including KGU’s)—the University has had an uneasy relationship with Christianity. During the “funso,” for many complex reasons, a large number of KGU’s Christian faculty were forced out of the University, leaving behind a spiritual and leadership vacuum. From that time, some in administration began to take an antagonistic stance towards Christianity, and until very recently, we at KGU were still suffering the lingering effects of those 40 year-old events.
But my point is change. Last year, for the first time in two decades, we at Kanto Gakuin were able to appoint a well-known Christian educator as chairman of the board. This appointment has already significantly transformed the flavor of the school. For one thing, we’re seeing a fresh, forward-looking spirit developing among faculty, administration and staff. This April, we were able to post a full-time Japanese chaplain in every one of the five colleges of KGU. Because of some curricular changes, for the first time since the “funso”—every one of KGU’s 12,000 students will have access to introductory level courses in Christianity as part of their general education program. This is very good news.
But those aren’t the only changes. As Kari and I have looked back over our time in Japan, we’ve seen a student ministry called “The Fellowship” started by fellow ABC/USA missionaries Chuck and Judy DeRolf become a group capable of surviving without missionary leadership. From this month, The Fellowship will be advised by Rev. Toru Amano, the assistant pastor of Kanto Gakuin Church. “Amano sensei” has a special connection to the Fellowship ministry. His own son had been a Fellowship member when he was a KGU student (this is a long, moving story—too long to retell here, but that connection is what eventually led Amano sensei to become a Christian and then to become a pastor).
During our two terms in Japan, we were blessed to have been able to play a part in the rebuilding of the second oldest Protestant church in Japan—the Yokohama Union Church; we’ve seen the KGU Sigma Society flourish, and we’ve seen countless individuals meet Jesus in a life-changing way. We’ve watched them become members of local churches and in turn, become witnesses to others.
But the “mission landscape” here in Japan has changed, as well. When Kari and I came to serve as cooperative missionaries to the Gakuin in 2001, a number of other mission agencies still employed full-time missionaries serving in educational/administrative roles at Christian universities in Japan. But over the last number of years, those mission agencies have determined that the schools at which their missionaries were serving were capable of functioning independently, so those agencies have allowed their missionaries to leave through attrition. The last full-time missionary serving at SBC-related Seinan Gakuin in southern Japan retired in 2004. The last missionary couple serving at UMC-related Aoyama Gakuin in Tokyo retired in 2005. At the last annual meeting of the Japan Christian Education Society, I glanced around at the crowd of 250 attendees (representing some 80 different mission schools in Japan), to notice that I was the only foreigner left in the room! Truly change is in the air…
As Kari and I have watched the positive transformations at Kanto Gakuin over the past few years, we’ve naturally come to feel more and more convinced that our role as administrators (as board & advisory council members) has become progressively less crucial to the school. Of course, that’s not to say that missionaries couldn’t fill other positive roles at Kanto Gakuin. As partners, there’s much we can do (and are doing) to equip the church in Japan for its mission. But we believe that the sense of urgency has changed. That previous stage of mission—when missionaries were needed for the basic functioning and administration of the school system—has clearly come to an end.
So over this past year, taking these as well as a number of other things into consideration, we’ve been praying for clarity about our long-term vision for ministry here in Japan.
The important announcement we wanted to share is that we’ve become convinced that God is leading us to stay in the US after this upcoming home assignment, beginning in June.
This has been quite a difficult decision for us. Kari and I have spent nearly a quarter of our lives here in Japan. We’ve invested many hours in learning Japanese and our kids have come to think of Japan as their home. We’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and colleagues. But at the same time, we feel that God has blessed our work, and the work of all of our American Baptist Churches missionaries at Kanto Gakuin over these many years, and that now is the time for us to move on.
But I want to close this note with a word of thanks and a request. We have a lot more work to do before we return to the US in June. We’ll be busy in the next few months transitioning out of our current roles at Kanto Gakuin, wrapping up our work with local churches and the Japan Baptist Union, saying goodbye to friends here in Japan, and getting ready to move back home. Please pray that this transition would be a growing time for us and our friends & partner institutions here in Japan.
Many of you have supported us and our work in Japan generously—some of you for many years. We want to thank you again for the part you’re playing in our work. We would request that you’d continue to support this ministry not only while we finish up our tasks here in Japan, but also as we spend our last months of home assignment back in the US. This is a time of great uncertainty for Kari and I, but we know that God has always provided a way for us. We’re also genuinely looking forward to being back in the States and sharing with all of you some of the things we’ve seen happen here during these two terms of service in Yokohama. We’ll also want to share with you at that time some ways you can continue to support American Baptist ministry in Japan and around the world.
This has turned into a long note, but we felt like we needed to share with you these very important changes. Thanks so much for your care for your brothers and sisters around the world! Continue to keep them (and us) in your prayers, and may God strengthen you through the Spirit as you continue to serve in your own mission field.
Grace & Peace,
Dwight & Kari Davidson