My Office Bible Study Group: Encouragement for My Work, Stronghold for My Faith

by Oshikiri Minori, member
Higashi-Nakano Church and
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Study Group
Last November, the “Friends of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office” Bible Study Group published a small booklet. A year earlier, Ichijo Hitoshi, a member of the group who had struggled with illness for four years, passed on to his heavenly reward while clutching his beloved Bible close to his heart. He exuded love, always had a smile, and had been a hard worker on behalf of the Bible study group. His death led other members to reflect on his contribution to the group and to declare clearly God’s grace and salvation by publishing the booklet.
My understanding is that this Bible study group was established right after World War II, in 1947, by a small number of Christians who were working for the Tokyo government. Tokyo had been burned to the ground, and these Christians prayed for the restoration of Tokyo as a place of peace and sought to provide comfort and encouragement to coworkers through the words of the Bible. The first leader was Isomura Eiichi who believed “We are civil servants, and as servants who serve God, we seek to serve the people of Tokyo.” This belief was the starting point for the Bible study members. In the beginning, a pastor by the name of Hirai was sent by the Kyodan to assist the group and following him, Pastor Kitamori Kazo became the group’s spiritual guide. Kitamori had been recommended by Watanabe Zenda, a former pastor of my church when it was Futaba Independent Church. I heard that he valued what the Bible study group was trying to do and felt that God had been at work to bring him there.
Later we were guided by Hayashi Tadayoshi, an elder of Fujimicho Church. As time passed, the group went through a low period, with decreasing numbers, but was somehow held together by Higuchi Toshiaki and other members. They kept “a dimly burning wick” alive and prayed for new workers. It was during this time that Ichijo was “given” as God’s gift to the group. Membership started increasing, and the flame began to burn brightly again. Members studied the Bible, shared meals, planned special study programs in summer, and celebrated Christmas together. To me, this Bible study group is an “ecclesia,” an ecumenical gathering, where each person, as a person of faith, is called to seek who God wants him/her to be in her/his various organizations and workplaces.
My first contact with the group was while I was working at a city-run nursery school. I was invited by my friend Kano Takeshi and started attending a monthly evening meal. Meeting in the Fujimicho Church building, I felt wrapped in history. The meal began with a prayer by Ichijo and then, I recall, people shared how God was working in their various places of employment. People who worked in very different fields shared concretely about their situations. I felt encouraged in my own work, and the group became a stronghold for my faith.
My active church involvement began with this Bible study group, and I was baptized by Kitamura Soji of Higashi Nakano Church. I was busy with work and raising a family, but since retiring four years ago, I have had more time to devote to church activities and find that a source of joy. Thankful for God’s grace, I want to continue to serve God along with my husband and other members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Bible Study Group. (Tr. RW)
From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)
押切 稔

Support for Families Grieving Deaths by Suicide

Ever since 1998, the number of suicide deaths in Japan has continued at the high level of over 30,000 annually. To meet this critical situation, the Japanese government promulgated the “Basic Law against Suicide” in 2006 and took measures to implement it, but to this day the high level has not been reduced. The above number also means that annually more than double or triple that number of bereaved family members in need of care are created.
“Attending to my daily clinical work, I have realized the depth of the suffering of these bereaved families.” “One such person said, ‘Daily I seem to be sitting on a mat of needles.’” (Support Families of those who commit Suicide, published by M. C. Muse)
Dr. Hirayama Masami* has established Grief Care/Support Plaza to help lessen the suffering of such families. Also, he makes visits throughout Japan as a representative of the Nation-wide Network for the Support of Suicide Survivors’ Groups. He explains the situation as follows.
“Most suicides are unexpected. When facing the sudden and shocking death of a family member, the families are left asking, ‘Why?’ Among all, there is a strong feeling of guilt. They torment themselves thinking, ‘We wished we had noticed the problem earlier,’ or ‘If only we could have done something about it beforehand’.” “If the person who committed suicide was sick, the family may direct anger against the medical care person involved, or at times may even feel somewhat relieved if the care for the person who committed suicide had been felt to be a great burden. The feelings of the bereaved family members are never simple.
“The critical eyes of society intensify the burden of the bereaved family. In Japan, worried about their reputation, the family hesitates to the make suicide public. There are cases when some do not even notify their relatives or hold a funeral service. Moreover, often someone’s thoughtless words add to their grief. As a result, the bereaved family loses the chance to receive comfort, the door to healing is closed, or they close themselves to the outside with feelings of guilt. The purpose of Grief Care/Support Plaza is to become a care-giver to such family members so that they can experience healing and have a chance to recover.
“What is healing? Does grief disappear by healing? No, grief may even deepen at times. However, through such grief people may grow spiritually. Still, it is necessary for them to be freed from their feelings of guilt. The root of the suicide problem in Japan is related to Japanese culture. Unfortunately, in traditional Japanese culture, there is no concept or belief in forgiveness of sin. Thus, there is a need for the Christian faith, which shows the way of confession of sin through repentance and the message of forgiveness and sanctification by God in Jesus Christ.”
As a youth, Dr. Hirayama himself lost a close friend by suicide. This death of a friend left “a question” in his heart and paved the way for his own life work. He says, “Because of his death, I am what I am now. As the resurrected Christ lives in the hearts of all believers, my friend still lives in my heart.” (Tr. RK)
*Hirayama Masami is a neuro-psychiatrist and serves as the director of Grief-care/Support Plaza. Born in 1938 in Tokyo.At present, he is a professor at Seigakuin College Graduate School in the Institute of Human Welfare, president of Kitasenju Asahi Clinic, chair of the Board of Directors of Grief Care/Support Plaza (, and representative of the Nation-wide Network for the Support of Suicide Survivors’ Groups.
–From Kokoro no Tomo (Hearts’ Friend)
  「私は、日頃、臨床に携わっていて、自死遺族の苦しみがどんなに深いものであるかということを知った」「『毎日が、針のむしろに座っているようだ』と語ら れた遺族もあった」(『自死遺族を支える』エム・シー・ミューズ刊)。平山さんは、この遺族の苦しみを和らげるために「グリーフケア・サポートプラザ」を 設立した。また、「自死遺族ケア団体全国ネット」の代表として全国を飛び回る。
  「自死の多くは予期できません。家族の突然の衝撃的な死に、『なぜ』『どうして』という思いが遺族に残ります。なかでも、罪責感の問題が大きいのです。 『気づいてあげることができれば』『もっと早く手を打っていれば』と自分を責め続けるのです」「自死者が病気であった場合は医療者に対する怒りがあります し、介護がたいへんだった場合には、ある種の解放感もあります。遺族の感情は単純ではありません」
  このような自死遺族が背負う重荷をさらに過酷にするのが周囲の目だ。日本では外聞をはばかり、自死をなかなかオープンにできない。場合によっては親族にも 言わず、葬式さえ出さないケースもあるという。さらに、心ない人の言葉による二次的被害を受けることも多い。その結果、遺族は慰めを受ける機会を喪(うしな)い、癒(いや)しへの道が閉ざされるばかりでなく、罪責感を抱えたまま内に引きこもってしまうのだ。その遺族に癒しの場を与え、立ち直る機会を与える「寄り添い人」になるのが「グリーフケア・サポートプラザ」の目的である。
  「癒しとは何か、という問題があります。癒されると悲しみは消えるのか。そんなことはありません。むしろ悲しみは時と共に深くさえなります。しかし、その 悲しみによって人間的に深められていくという面があります」「他方、自分を責め続ける罪責感からは解放が必要なのです。残念ながら日本の文化には罪責の赦(ゆる)しという考えがありません。自殺問題の根幹には、日本の文化に触れる問題があるのです。ここに、罪責の告白と悔い改め、神による赦しと解放を説くキリスト教信仰の必要があると思います」

"Death and Funerals" Theme of West Tokyo District Pastors' Seminar

A one-day Seminar for Pastors was held at Asagaya Church in Tokyo on Sept. 15, 2009, with 33 people from 30 churches and Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, including 2 lay persons, in attendance. The theme of the seminar was “Death and Funerals Today,” and the featured speaker was Kaku Shuichi, director of the Christian Counseling Center. Having served several churches as a pastor of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, as well as having had much experience working with many persons in the medical field, Pastor Kaku lectured with deep insight and a wealth of suggestions.

Recently, the need for providing spiritual care while ministering to a dying patient is beginning to be emphasized. Patients suffering from a serious illness and facing death may question the reason and purpose for their being and ask, “Why me?” Modern society only recognizes the value of a “useful” being. Therefore, the quest for the value of their existence by those now “just existing” is serious. How are we to understand their question in depth? The mistake believers often make is to say simply, “Let’s read the Bible and pray,” as if ignoring their question. Our Lord Jesus Christ cried out on the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ lived in this world of irrationality, which cannot give us fully satisfying answers.

Even though we cannot give a satisfying verbal answer, the sharing of this irrationality in “withness” (togetherness) is important. “What is the purpose of our life?” There is no human answer to such a question. But there is Christ who died on the Cross and was resurrected for us. Here is an answer only the church can give. Therefore, when facing death, which is beyond mere expression in human words, the sacraments of baptism and communion at the death bed are quite meaningful. Also, music, painting, beautiful scenery, human beings, their activity, living space, and lifestyle: all these can provide inspiration.

The speech was rich in content, and the above is only a small part of the lecture given by Kaku. What he said concerning a Christian funeral impressed me deeply. “It is the final summarization of ministering to a church member who has died, showing the answer the church does have for death, and which also serves as a witness to society. (Tr. RK)

―Shichijo Masaaki, pastor
Takaido Church, Nishi Tokyo District
Member, Nishi Tokyo District Pastors’ Committee
(From Nishi Tokyo District News)

The General Secretary's Diary:Reflections on the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan

I recently represented the Kyodan at the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan’s 55th Annual General Assembly, which was held at Chang-June Girls High School in Tainan, Taiwan under the theme “Let cultures flourish; Let God’s justice take root.” The more than 500 delegates in attendance engaged in a lively discussion of the various agenda items, and I sensed their deep commitment to engage actively in evangelism. I was greatly encouraged by their demeanor and would like to give my impressions.
1. In the opening worship, I was very thankful that all of the foreign guests were included in the Holy Communion service. While that may seem obvious, it was an opportunity for me personally to directly experience our oneness as fellow believers in Christ and the lordship of Christ not only in the church but also in the whole world.
2. During the morning worship service and at other times when there were pauses in the deliberations, such as when votes for the officers were being counted, several PCT missionaries to other countries gave moving reports of their work. They described their deep involvement in the issues that face the people they serve. I was particularly impressed by a woman missionary to Ethiopia. She described the situation of Ethiopian women, with their low status and grinding poverty, and how she was working with them to overcome the discrimination and prejudice they face. It was a powerful witness of following Christ in service to all the poor and oppressed.
The PCT has approximately the same numerical strength as the Kyodan, and so it was a great encouragement for me to see how the church is involved not only in outreach to Taiwanese living overseas but also in sending PCT missionaries to other lands. In fact, several missionaries have been sent to work in Japan to found churches for Taiwanese living in Japan. Some of these churches are affiliated with the Kyodan. The prospects are good that the number of these churches will continue to increase.
3. Among the various agenda items were such topics as elimination of the death penalty, the homosexual issue, and gender discrimination issues–all of which are likewise being debated within the Kyodan. I was very impressed by the level of awareness of human rights and the value of human life. However, the topic that stimulated me most was the “New ‘Doubling’ Church Growth Plan,” which is firmly grounded in the evangelical heritage the PCT received from its reformed Presbyterian roots. As the PCT stands on the doctrinal foundations of the Presbyterian Church, it has a clear picture of the roles each level of the church structure has in carrying out its evangelistic mandate.
Structurally, the denomination consists of a general assembly, which is analogous to the Kyodan as a whole, districts, and local churches (in terms that translate literally as “large assembly,” “medium assembly,” and “small assembly”). Each level works in close cooperation with the others in both evangelistic outreach and social outreach through educational institutions and social welfare institutions, such as hospitals and homes for elderly persons. I think PCT has a well designed plan that encompasses “human salvation” in every aspect. The New “Doubling” Church Growth Plan” is a continuation of the first “Doubling” Church Growth Plan that was instituted 20 years ago, and so I salute them for this vision. I also dream of the time when the Kyodan will be able to discuss a similar plan in its general assembly and initiate its own “Doubling” Church Growth Plan. (Tr. TB)
–Naito Tomeyuki, general secretary
台湾長老教会PCT(Presbyterian Church in Taiwan)総会に出席して
 このたびPCT 55th Annual General Assembly 6-9 April 2010第55回通常総会に、教団を代表して出席しました。500名以上が出席した活気あふれる雰囲気の中で、上程された議案が審議されていました。全体として積極的に伝道していこうとの強い意欲が感じられ、とても励まされた。その時の感想を少し語ってみたいと思います。
 1, 開会礼拝において総会議員と共に私たち海外来賓(overseas guest)も一緒に聖餐にあずかることができたのは深い感謝でした。それは当然のことながら、私たちが信じる救い主イエス・キリストは教会の主であると共に全世界の主でもあられることを身をもって味わった恵みの時でした。
 2, 朝拝の時とか、会議の進み具合をみながら(例えば三役選挙の開票作業中とか)、PCTから外国に派遣された宣教師達がした報告には感動的なものが多かった。宣教師たちが派遣された地域の人々の課題と真剣に取り組んだ様子がじかに伝わってきました。そのうちとくに、エチオピアに派遣された女性宣教師の報告は迫力があった。エチオピアの女性は地位が低く、貧困さも加わって惨めな生活を強いられている実情を見て、女性の地位向上と取り組み、職業指導などにも手を貸し、着実に女性蔑視や女性偏見を克服していく姿は、報告者も語っていたように、全ての貧しい人や虐げられた人たちに仕えられた主イエス・キリストに倣う行為(隣人愛)そのものの証しでした。
 3, 上程された議案の中で「死刑廃止問題」「同性愛問題」「性差別問題」などは、教団内の議論と共通しているところがあり、人権意識の高さ、人の命の尊さの主張などが印象深かった。そして最も刺激を受けたのは「新教勢倍加運動案」でした。この案は福音主義改革長老教会の伝統を受け継いだ教会形成を中核に据えたしっかりしたものでした。PCTは長老教会として教理的土台が一致しているため、福音宣教にもぐらつきがなく、大会(教団にあたる)、中会(教区にあたる)、小会(各個教会にあたる)が担うべき役割が明確にされていて、しかもそれらがよき協力をしながら、人々に伝道していく、しかも、教育の分野(学校)や社会福祉の分野(病院や老人施設)にも広がりをもった「人間の救い」を目指しているのは堅実にして素晴らしい内容をもった計画に思えました。20年ほど前に実施した教勢倍加運動の成功をふまえて、今回「新倍加運動実施」に踏み切ったことに敬意を払いたく思いました。そして、いつの日か教団もはっきり「教勢倍加運動実施」と銘打った議案をめぐって総会で審議するようになりたいと痛切に思ったことでした。