Okinawa, 1966 – Part 1 of 2

In October, 1966, I made a second trip to Okinawa for a week of revival with the Central church in Naha, plus a week with The Fishers of Men in the Outer Ryukan Islands. These two weeks were filled with deeply emotional and forever-remembered experiences.

The Naha Church

The membership was mostly composed of United States military families. It was always pastored by a Baptist-appointed foreign missionary.  In 1966, the church was pastored by Dwight and Anne Dudley, who were under the appointment of our Foreign Mission Board.

During our revival, the Sunday School attendance ran around 500. The attendance, from one Sunday to the next, could, and often did, drop from 500 to less than 200 if military-deployment orders suddenly came down from Washington, D. C.

The Revival

The night services were attended by hundreds of the military personnel and scores of native Okinawan, who classified themselves as “members” or “seekers of the Christian way.” The response of the military wives was exceptionally warm, and their eagerness to talk about “home,” and to “have news from home,” never dimmed.

The congregational singing of our basic old hymns extended to twice the time that is normal in a United States revival, and the congregation (both the military members and the Okinawans) were never ready for it to stop. The nightly interest and eagerness of the non-Christian Okinawans to remain after the close of the services and talk about  “the Christian way” was a warm and refreshing experience. And the willingness of the military members (both husbands and wives) rto remain and talk with the “seekers” was also a warm and refreshing experience.

There were rededications, promises of letters, professions of faith, requests for prayers and requests for counseling in and after every service.

The Telegram

Sam Narita had been my interpreter during my first visit to Okinawa, in 1963. Soon after landing in Okinawa, I learned that Sam had moved from the University of the Ryukyus and was teaching in the University of Japan, more than 1000 miles from Naha. In the first Sunday morning service of the revival, Dwight Dudley (the pastor) read a telegram that Sam had sent for me which expressed his regrets at being unable to attend the revival.

The  Okinawan  Christian  School

The school was founded, funded, and operated by a coalition of evangelical churches and the Far East Broadcasting Company. I spoke one day at the school’s chapel (to more than 400 Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Filipino, Negro, Canadian, and American high school students.)

At the close of the service, the superintendent told me how difficult it was to staff the school, invited me to accept a teaching position and offered to pay my moving expenses to Okinawa. It was something that I would have enjoyed doing but, knowing my mental and emotional and scholastic limitations, I declined his invitation.

The Presidential Visit

There were two underlying reasons behind my invitation to the Ryukyuan “White House” for a 15-minute visit with President Sheiho Matsuoaka, whose official title was “Chief Executive Officer of the Ryukyus.”  The first reason was that our Kermit church had invested an unusually-large amount of money in the Ryukyuan Islands; in the ministry of The Fishers of Men, the kindergarten building, and the water well on Tokashika.  The second reason was that the Far East Broadcasting Company (a Christian radio program that covered the Orient) had saturated the islands with repeated announcements about “the tall cowboy from Texas” who would be with the Naha church for one week, and with The Fishers of Men in the outer islands the next week.

Honoring the Oriential gift custom, I presented President Matsuoka with the horn of a Texas longhorn that had been converted into a Texas trumpet, and watched his face turn red and his eyes bulge as he tried to blow it. At the close of our visit, President Matsuoka presented me with a plaque for the Kermit church, and formally spoke the following words:“Please tell the people of your church that the Ryukyuan government is aware of and deeply grateful for what they have done for The Fishers of Men and the kindergarten on Kume Jima.  I am not an enemy of Buddhism, but I have learned that Christianity is better for my people.  Buddhism offers much for my people’s heads, but Christianity changes my people’s hearts.  Please ask your people to pray for me as the Chief Executive of the Ryukyuan Islands and, also, that I may someday become a Christian.”  (The above words of President Matsuoka are not verbatim, but are as I remembered and wrote them in my notebook a few minutes later as we drove back toward the church.”

Two days later, the Ryukan government formally recognized and publicly commended Major E. Nichols, a member of the Central church in Naha, for meritorious service in having taught a Bible class on Friday nights for the past five years.

The  Kadena  Village  Visitors

On Saturday night of the revival, 20 members of the Kadena Village church (where I had preached in 1963) walked seven miles and rode a bus 16 miles into Naha to attend our revival.  After the service, Dwight and Anne Dudley invited them into their home for a visit that lasted until near midnight. Among the Kadena visitors was Yoshiko Kiyuna, who had been my guide and interpreter in 1963, who was then married and had a 6-month-old son, and who again served as our interpreter as we visited. In my greeting to them, I was able to remember and call most of their names and mention something personal about them.

Pastor Tomari gave their response to my greeting, and closed by saying, “Little Akiko wants to pray, in English.” Akiko had been 13 years old when she made her profession of faith in 1963, and had been studying and practicing speaking English for the past three years. Akiko arose and, in limited English, prayed, “Thank you, Kamisami, for our American friend who remembers our names.” After about 15 minutes of wiping my tears, I was able to rejoin the party.

Tomi Chimoze was a 16-year-old believer when, in one of our revival services in 1963, he made his public commitment to become a minister.  The Kermit church paid his four-year tuition through the University of the Ryukyuas.  In later years, Tomi became a leader among Okinawan Baptists and, still later, a missionary in Japan.

The  Christian  Officers’  Club

Through the influence of the military members of the Naha church, I was invited to speak at the weekly breakfast of the Christian Officers’ Club. Up-toward 100 officers, from lieutenants to colonele, were in attendance. After I finished speaking, a mid-30-ish looking captain came and told me that he remembered that I had preached a revival in his home church in Texas, in 1943, when he was a young lad. I remembered the church, the revival, and the family. After returning home, I wrote his parents and included a slight paraphrase of II John 1:4, “I rejoiced greatly when I found your child walking in faith.”

Back to Kume Jima

On Thursday, October 20, 1966, I returned to Kume Jima where, in 1963, dear little Yoshiko Shingaikai gathered her 50-child kindergarten under the Banyan tree. Even after 32 years have passed, I’m halfway afraid to mention that I rode to and from Kume Jima on an Air Force helicopter. My fear emanates out of our present (4-23-98) political climate, to-wit:  Ifd Kenneth Starr hears the rumor that 32 years ago I accepted a free ride on an Air Force helicopter, he will subpoena me to appear before one of his federal grand juries.

Between 1963 and 1966, the Kermit church invested thousands of dollars in a building on Kume Jima that made it possible for little Yoshiko’s “under-the-tree” kindergarten to become an “in-the-building” kinder-garten. On October 20, 1966, there were 65 island children present for that day’s session of our Kume Jima kindergarten. My heart always grows warm and thankful each time I remember and reflect on the fact that “our” kindergarten has been meeting in that building for more than 33 years.

The  Bolo  Missile  Site

On Kume Jima, we were luncheon guests of Major Roy D. Patrick, who was commander of the Bolo missile site. After the luncheon, we were Major Patrick’s guests at the missile site, where United States’ nuclear heads, poised in their congrete tombs, were pointed toward Red China. We witnessed the firing of several hawk missiles and their perfect score of searching out and destroying the “targets.” Major Patrick told us that on several occasions the planes of Red China had invaded the edges of the forbidden Kerama Islands, our planes had gone up to intercept them, and orders had come from Washington, D.C., to open the nuclear silos.
Major Patrick’s closing words were, “That’s how close we are living.” The words I wrote in my notebook were, “How terribly fascinating, and how terribly frightening!”

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