Report from Tokyo
Phil Hausknecht, Rev., Ph.D.
(ELCA, Retired; Maywood/LSTC, 1963; firstname.lastname@example.org)
This month I will conclude a three-month interim ministry at St. Paul International Lutheran Church Tokyo, Japan.
After living and serving in Japan for several years some time ago as a teacher and UCLA/LCA missionary, I also served as interim at this Tokyo congregation for about three years from '07 - '09. This August, I was again asked to serve a short interim while they completed a call process for a pastor.
St. Paul International Lutheran Church is a self-supporting Lutheran congregation which serves people from all over the world who come to Japan to work, to study, to visit, even to get married. While the majority of the ministry, including worship, is conducted in English, I also perform some ministry in Japanese.
Greater Tokyo includes some 33 million people. More than four dozen subway and elevated train companies serve the area as part of the public transportation grid. Aftershocks of the huge March 11, 20011 earthquake in northeast Japan still continue. Over 20,000 people lost their lives in the triple disasters of earthquake, enormous tsunami, and radiation exposure due to the damage sustained by the six nuclear reactor electric generators in the area.
A few people from the congregation have gone to the disaster area to volunteer and help the cleanup. Many more who are non-Christian volunteer their weekends in traveling to and from the area for cleanup and in support. In a visit to our Japan Lutheran Seminary in Tokyo, for their annual "One Day of Seminary," I sat in on the report of faculty and students who had volunteered in the disaster area. One male student who had gone just a couple of months after the disaster reported that the stench from the decaying fish and bodies was so great that he could do nothing but stand and retch. Still, the local people welcomed him and thanked him for being supportive and caring.
Another poignant story was by a petite female student. She was afraid to volunteer as she thought she would be unable to do any heavy work, such as digging through the mud or lifting and moving objects. But she volunteered and went. The work they gave her was to clean the mud off photographs that had been found and to dry them so that families, both missing and found, could be located. And they asked her to help them plant flowers. It was important and significant volunteer work.
Just a few weeks ago, in the midst of the annual fall typhoon season, Japan again suffered more than a hundred deaths from the wind and flooding. A mother from the congregation, who was holding her small child, was blown against a building and knocked down. Fortunately, she was able to protect her child and she sustained only minor injuries.
Culturally, Japan has a certain sense of acceptance of, or the forgiveness of nature, due to the attitude of Shinto, rather than a stance of conflict that we in the U.S. developed in our view of "manifest destiny."
In short, ministry in an international setting is exciting as well as challenging.