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Japan’s Christian Voice


[by Earl Blacklock] Throughout his life, Toyohiko Kagawa was a respected  voice in Japan, representing Christian truth and witness.

Born to a concubine, Kagawa was raised by his father’s wife and her mother who, in their indignation, took turns beating the boy until he was old enough to be sent away to school. There he met two missionaries who taught him that all men were created by a God of love, and that any person could accomplish good simply by devoting himself to service.

Inspired by their example, he plunged into study for the ministry, only to be struck down by tuberculosis. During his recuperation, he wrote Across the Death Line, a novel that was to play an important role in his life.

Impatient with endless discussions about doctrine, Kabawa moved into the slum area of Kobe, where he was to live for 15 years. There, he lived the teachings of Christ, sharing his meagre resources to buy food for his neighbours. Called a fool, he proudly called himself “Christ’s fool”. When one man demanded his shirt, quoting Scripture, Kagawa gave his coat and pants as well, exchanging them for a woman’s kimono. Beaten, he never struck back. Eventually, his sacrifice and witness bore fruit.

When a publisher saw a copy of Kagawa’s novel, he bought the rights to it, and it became a best-seller. Keeping only enough for frugal living, Kagawa used the income for his work, adding a room to his hut to serve as a medical center. He also continued writing, using his books to expose the plight of the poor. Their continued success helped him champion a network of co-operatives and to establish a number of Christian institutions.

An advocate for the rights of workers, Kugawa organized Japan’s first labor union, for which he was beaten and jailed. On his release, he heard about a communist-inspired march of 35,000 men intent on destroying the largest shipyard in Kobe. Standing alone on the narrow bridge over which the mob had to pass, Kagawa stood silently, praying. The mob turned back.

After the Japanese attack on China, Kagawa was again jailed, this time for apologizing in a Shanghai church for his countrymen. After his release, he spoke out against the tide of war that culminated in Japan`s attack on Pearl Harbor. His voice was not heeded, but it was still respected.

After the war, the Emperor, facing a changed world in which he was no longer considered divine, invited Kagawa to teach him how to rule. Kagawa chose as his focus Matthew 20:26, with the admonition that “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant”.

Many of Kugawa`s beloved institutions were destroyed in the war. He rallied Japan`s Christian community to rebuild them, continuing his life of service until his death in 1960. The Emperor posthumously awarded him Japan`s second highest honor, the Order of the Sacred Treasures, but he had lived the words of Jesus, who said `Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven` (Matthew 6:20).

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