Today’s Gospel words of Jesus “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
took on life for some Americans who traveled across our country and set sail to arrive in Japan back in the late 1800’s.
“Do not be afraid” – to set sail into an uncharted future, beckoned by an invitation from Rev. Oshikawa, a disinherited samurai, who was one of the first ten Japanese Protestants.
His story deserves to be told first.
Though having fought in the 1866 uprising to expel foreigners, his studies of the English language took him to a school run by Dr. Samuel R. Brown, one the first missionaries to arrive in 1859. When becoming a Christian at that time was punishable by
death, in 1872 he and 8 other students were baptized into the Christian faith by another pioneer missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church, and he went on to study theology.
In 1878 he was reconciled with his father who welcomed him, his wife and infant son.
The next year he and Rev. Yoshida Kametaro made extensive
evangelistic trips into the Tohoku region, and were impressed with Sendai’s openness to the Gospel;
so they relocated there.
Sendai already had Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Baptist
Churches; soon Yoshida and Oshikawa had 45 converts and in May 1881 the Sendai Church was organized.
Yoshida stayed to serve as pastor while Oshikawa went on to
gather more and more small groups of converts,
and he saw the need for schools for boys and girls
that would nurture them in the Christian faith, but he
also met prominent non-Christians who were eager for western learning and asked for a general education
and welcomed missionaries as teachers.
Yoshida and Oshikawa knew they needed outside help.
Rev. Ambrose Gring and his wife, Hattie had arrived in 1879
as the first missionaries sent by the Mission Board of the
the German Reformed Church, now the United Church Christ.
Jesus’ “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” strengthened them to
begin plans for a school for girls 1.
with two young women in Pennsylvania answering their call to join them as pioneer missionaries:
Lizzie Poorbaugh, from Berlin, PA and Mary Belle Ault, a pastor’s daughter from Mechanicsburg.
With the Grings, the Miyagi Girls’ School began, growing to what is now Miyagi University; another story for another time.
Along with them the call for missionaries was answered by a third person: William Edwin Hoy, a farm boy from Mifflinburg, in central Pennsylvania.
Although the family had worked the land from the time of our American Revolution,
he from boyhood on wanted to be a preacher and,
in a reverse of the Story of the Prodigal Son, he persuaded his father to give him money for his
education in lieu of his share of the inheritance.
His father covered the cost of his attending Mercersburg Academy, Franklin and Marshall College, and Lancaster Seminary,
but he and the two women had to wait for the Mission Board
to have the money to send them six months later.
Rev. Hoy went first and the Seminary gave him a festive send as the first graduate to enter the foreign mission work.
Dr. Thomas Apple, his Professor of Church History who was
committed to foreign mission spoke,
“Well, Brother Hoy, I suppose that after you get out there you will start a college and a seminary.”
Those send-off words stayed with him and a stained glass window in the back of Lancaster Seminary’s Santee Chapel
commemorates that “first” in the school’s history.
When arriving in Tokyo and meeting Oshikawa, the newly organized Japan Mission of the Reformed Church decided to station him in Sendai.
When he arrived on January 14, 1886 there were only five
foreigners, 200 Christians, and three German Reformed Churches.
He immediately settled in a small rented house and began teaching English to seven young men Oshikawa had gathered and felt the call to the Christian ministry.
A poor widow named Kami Chika who had saved twelve
of gold for her funeral, gave them to Oshikawa. 2.
It was the inspiration for him and Hoy to move forward,
with Hoy covering the cost from his own pocket
for what was named North Japan College.
That small rented cottage was replaced with a dormitory in 1889,
and in 1891 with a brick building and reorganized into preparatory, college, and theological schools,
and an Industrial Home in which poor students could earn
part of their expenses.
In 1892 the name changed to Tohoku Gakuin.
But there were ongoing challenges – financially – and the home
mission board decided it didn’t have funds to send,
the school had to generate its money and be self-sustaining,
another time to hear “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
There was also the flare-up of reactions to foreigners, along with the Japanese rule that the schools were governed by the students and not the board which threatened an orderly school life,
and almost severed the relationship between Oshikawa and
Hoy; then they listened for “Take heart, it is I; do not be
By the fortieth anniversary in 1926 there was a Middle School of
561 students, the College with 316 students both housed in fire and
earthquake –proof buildings, and the Seminary with 25 students
in its brick building, 901 total students, 1,578 graduates and a teaching staff of 73.
Rev. Hoy looked on from China where he had to move with
his family in 1901 because of asthma, and in 1927 on his way back to the States, he died at sea
where the waves carried the Gospel words of Jesus,
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
From 7 in a small cottage in 1886, to 901 in three impressive buildings in 1924, to thousands on three sprawling campuses in 2017 –
described for us by a TGU student: Shingo Konno…who reported chael is he;d daily, atandnce is not requited but may stodents choose to attend
Resources: “A Dream Incarnate – The Beginnings of Miyagi Gakuin College for Women,” by . William
“Fifty Years of Foreign Missions – Commemorating the Service of Allen R. Bartholomew,
The Board of Foreign Missions, Philadelphia, 1927