Serving as a Kyodan Missionary in the U.S.A.

  by Nishinosono Michiko, associate pastor
Wesley United Methodist Church
San Jose, California, U.S.A.
I have served as a Kyodan missionary at Wesley United Methodist Church (UMC) in San Jose, California, U.S.A. since May 2009. The UMC organization is different from that of the Kyodan.* Here, I sometimes feel the need for intercultural communication between the nichigo-bu (Japanese speaking section) members and myself. It is more difficult for me to understand the nichigo-bu than to understand the English-speaking section. I recognize that the Japanese people in the U.S. have had to struggle and be strong in order to live in a foreign country. They are direct and are strongly opinionated. And they have endurance. I need more time to understand them, and I try not to be hasty.
Wesley UMC is in Japantown, one of three remaining Japantowns in the United States. There is a monument on the main street that is written in both English and Japanese listing words that the issei (first generation of Japanese-Americans) used to say: kansha (gratitude); gaman (perseverance); mottainai koto shinaino (Don’t do things that are wasteful); enryo (reserve, modesty); shikata ga nai (It can’t be helped); kodomo no tame ni (for the children’s sake). Many issei and nisei (second generation) worked hard as farmers without vacations. Some of them were incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. The issei’s life of hardship is evident in the words on the monument.
Wesley UMC was built by these issei in 1895. The nichigo-bu was for them and their children, the nisei. Now, the English-speaking section has become bigger than the nichigo-bu. Of the 740 members at Wesley UMC, only about 40 are nichigo members. The English-speaking members formerly supported the nichigo-bu because it was for their parents and their grandparents (the nisei or issei), who had worked hard for them as their children, and they still support it. But many Japanese American churches have no nichigo-bu now. Almost all the issei have passed away, and the nisei are in their late eighties, nineties, or even older.
Among the nichigo-bu are the kibei-nisei, who were born in the U.S., grew up in Japan, then came back to the U.S. There are also the “new” issei who moved to the U.S. after World War II, and some of them have come to live in the U.S. during the past ten years. Most nichigo members have American citizenship. Now, 80 percent of Wesley UMC members (English-speaking and Japanese-speaking) are Japanese-Americans, but there are also Chinese and other Asian people, Caucasians, African-Americans, and bi- or multi-cultural people, too. The relationship between the English section and the nichigo-bu is changing. Supporting the nichigo-bu is becoming harder for the English-speaking members year by year. If the nichigo-bu exists only for the issei or nisei whose first language is Japanese, the role of the nichigo-bu will perhaps come to an end in the future.
The nichigo ministry has some difficult problems now, but it has potential. There are many Japanese-speaking people outside the church in San Jose. What is the mission of the nichigo ministry in regards to them? How can we find a new direction? We are asking these questions and need to find answers.
My duties at Wesley UMC are:
1) To serve as the nichigo pastor (Japanese worship, Bible study, visitation etc.);
2) To serve and help other Japanese-speaking church members in the San Francisco Bay Area who have no Japanese pastor at their church; and
3) To serve at Wesley UMC as an associate pastor (participate in English and Japanese bilingual worship services and support English-speaking committees, attending their meetings and participating in their activities).
Working here is very hard for me, and the nichigo ministry situation is very difficult, but I trust in God’s help. Prayers for myself and Wesley UMC, both from Japan and here, are my support, my power, and my comfort. I appreciate all the support of God and the people of Christ.
*Note:In the UMC, a church with 70 attendees at worship is called a small church. A church with less than about 45 attendees at worship might have to be discontinued.