The Outer Islands
During the second week, we spent five days and nights in the outer islands of Ahari, Aka, Keruma, Tokashiko, and Zamami. The masses of the outer-island people are born without the assistance of a doctor (other than the witch doctor), exist without modern conveniences, live without medical aid, and die without ever having left their island.
The Year of the Red Horse
The islanders celebrate birthdays in cycles of twelve years. That year, 1966, was “The Year of the Red Horse.” Girls born in the red-horse year are believed to have a curse on them that will make them devil possessed and evil tempered. Men don’t want them for wives, and parents don’t want to be stuck with them at home. The birth rate in the 73 islands is always lowest in “The Year of the Red Horse.”
The Tattooed Women
On different island we saw elderly women who had reportedly roamed the island by day and night whose hands and necks were totally covered with hideous tattoos, and were told the following story:
In the ancient Okinawan culture, the backs of the hands and the back of the neck were regarded as the supreme beauty spots of women. A beautiful girl was in love with a devoted boy when, in 1609, a Japanese warlord invaded the island and chose the girl to be carried to Kagoshima to be one of his many brides. The girl begged her family to postpone the wedding and, during the postponement, had her hands and neck covered with repulsive tattoos. When the warlord returned he rejected her as a bride, and she married the faithful boy.
Since 1609, this has been the mark of special love and fidelity in the Ryukyuan Islands.
The Semi-Demented Woman
On the island of Ahari, we saw a woman who was old and gray and bent and obviously semi-demented, and were told the following story:
In 1945, when the Americans were on the verge of invading the outer islands, the Japanese told the islanders that the Americans were barbaric and cannibalistic. When the Americans invaded Ahari, the woman killed her seven small children. Later, after learning the true nature of the Americans, she went mad. Ever since, in her semi-demented condition, she has combed the hills and valleys and beaches of the island, searching for the unwanted and deserted island waifs, to gather them around her in one of the island’s crudest huts.
During the three years between my first and second trips to Okinawa, the Kermit church invested many thousands of dollars in the ministry of The Fishers of Men. “The Messenger” was a 55-foot yacht that The Fishers of Men purchased with a part of the money the Kermit church sent to them. It was aboard “The Messenger,” with The Fishers of Men, that I spent the five days and nights in the outer islands.
Approaching the Islands
Because of the shallow and coral-infested waters around each of the islands, we anchored “The Messenger” at a distance from the shore. In their roughly-constructed canoes (mostly hollowed-out logs) the young natives joyfully swarmed out and helped row us and our equipment onto the island.
Our first visit on each island was to the medicine man, to whom we carried gifts and trinkets, and asked for permission to hold a service on his island that night.
The Habu Antitoxin
The only medical aid the islanders received came from their medicine man. The Fishers of Men distributed first-aid kits and patent medicines through the medicine man, which guaranteed that they would always receive an open-arms welcome on his island.
One of the most effective ministries of The Fishers of Men was the antitoxin for the bite of the Habu snakes which infested the islands. Before the antitoxin, the mortality rate of the Habu was perilously close to 100 percent.The antitoxin (which was paid for by the Kermit church) was given to the medicine man, who received credit among his people for the lowered mortality rate. Within one year, the mortality rate dropped from the almost-100 percent into the upper-teens percent.
The Island People
On each island, virtually the entire population was present at the service we held on the beach each evening. Some were mentally handicapped, some were physically handicapped, some were borne on homemade litters, some were old and decrepit, some were young and boisterous, some were held in their mother’s arms. Only the extremely weak and ill were not present, and the medicine man always apologized for their absence. On Tokashika, the medicine man proudly reported that there were 186 people on his island, and that 177 of them were present for the service.
Three Humorous Island Tales
The mayor of Zamami, on a warm evening, gaudily dressed in several layers of mismatched clothing (which The Fishers of Men had a few weeks earlier brought to the island), standing barefooted in the coarse sand, serving us hot Pepsi Cola, dietetic!
The Checkers Game on Aka
A sizable crowd was gathered around a checkers game that was being played on a crudely-squared board, using 12 round-flat shells and 12 oval-oblong shells for checkers. A wrinkled and craggy old man was rapidly disposing of all challengers. The crowd jabbered and motioned for me to play the next game.
And I did. In about 13 seconds, the old gentleman had disposed of another challenger. The onlookers roared with laughter and clapped their hands. The old gentleman patted the checkerboard, smiled at me through the toothless gums, and said, “Checkers from America.”
A schoolteacher tried to disrupt our service by angrily shouting, “They shouldn’t be here! They can’t speak our language! Let’s drive them away!” Dwight Dudley replied, “I speak Tokyo Japanese, the same language that the emperor speaks. Even a schoolteacher should be able to understand that.” The crowd laughed and clapped, and a few of the younger men escorted the schoolteacher to the rear of the gathering.
The Wonder and Glory of Nature
At 4:00 A.M., Les Arnold and I took a small boat and rowed out into the East China Sea to watch the sunrise. Oh, what a morning! The North Star, big and bright and beckoning, was lying barely above the horizon. The Big Dipper hovered aslant above the North Star with its handle almost touching the sea. Les told me that from Okinawa, in October, the Big Dipper could be seen only from about 2:00 A.M. until daybreak, and could never be seen below the North Star.
A sizable section of the circle of plants formed a bright and graceful arch in the southeastern skies. The Southern Cross (the only time I have seen it) glowed with indescribably and unforgettable beauty in the southern heavens.
The Portable Missionary Program
The Far East Broadcasting Company, which I have earlier identified as a Christian radio program, had blanketed the islands with small radios (which they called “Portable Missionaries,” or “P.M.’s”) and which the islanders seemed to never turn off, day or night. The company regarded this as a missionary enterprise, and have full-time representatives who toured the islands with fresh batteries and replacements for damaged radios.
On different islands, after listening to their P.M.’s, some of the people would say, “We’ve been waiting for the tall cowboy from Texas,” and would compare their height and hands and feet with mine. On Zamami, the children wanted me to remove my shoes, let them stand in them, and take their pictures. (Which I did.)The
Movies and Chalk Talks
Each night we would string an electric cable from “The Messenger” generator to furnish power for the movies and chalk talks which Anne Dudley so effectively presented in the evening services. Those were the first movies and chalk talks the islanders had ever seen, and they called us “The Magic People.” I do not have (nor does any other person on earth have) the lingual ability to describe the trance-like wonder and awe that engulfed those poor island people as they watched the movies and chalk talks.
We showed the same movie, and Anne presented the same chalk talk, on each of the five islands. And I closed all of the services with the same message: A simple recounting of the promise, prophesy, birth, life, love, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and promised return of Christ.Then, for another hour or so, the 13 of us touched and allowed them to touch us, knelt with them in the sand in a posture of prayer (with them praying in Okinawanese and us praying in English, and neither understanding the other, but God understanding all of us) and allowed them to again touch us and utter some word of farewell before they returned to the crude huts (mostly thatched) in which they had been born, and in which they had lived and suffered, and in which they would die.
As they departed, I was sorrowfully aware that never again on this earth would I see their sun-browned and island-stained faces. And I also knew that I would never be able to vocally express the depths of my sense of the inexplicable presence that brushed my heart and touched those lonely beaches at the back side of the world.
Sayonara to Okinawa
In response to the invitation of Pastor Tomari and his people, my final service in Okinawa was with the Kadena Village church where I had preached in 1963. At their request, I again preached the Ephesians 4:5-6 sermon, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” In order to make it possible for me to be with them, Pastor Tomari, between midafternoon and midnight, twice drove the almost-60-mile round trip between Kadena and Naha.
The service ended, my time of departure arrived, the people gathered outside the church to tell me goodbye, and, as Pastor Tomari and I drove away, the last words I heard from the people were “Sayonara” (goodbye) and “Kamisami” (God). And my emotionally-filled heart silently whispered (as it had repeatedly whispered across the past 32 years), “Sayonara and Kamisami to each one of you.