Missionaries to Japan
by Irene Gurganus
with exhilaration, George and I stood in awe of God and his plan for us to
be missionaries in
Japan. Was it really
happening? As promised in
"For I know the plans I
have for you ...
God had an incredible future in store for us!
The Gurganus family - bound for Japan
George and I decided to visit friends and relatives while driving cross-country to San Francisco, and then cross the Pacific Ocean by ship. To keep track of our many adventures en route, I jotted down notes in a journal. Lynette and Janetkay contributed to it by drawing very unusual pictures of ships and other interesting sights we encountered along the way. We also took 8-mm movies, now dusty and worn, but full of treasured memories.
Cross-country Road Trip
Thrilled to begin our new adventure, we
loaded up our car, hopped in, and set forth for Chicago. We enjoyed
greeting our friends at the church there and visiting with my
parents. As we returned to
the highway, it rained furiously, and we crept along in heavy
traffic. In St. Louis, we
dropped in on my uncle Hugh, Jr. for a few hours, and then drove on to the
Cedar Lodge cabins on Route 67 to rest for the night. Back then, a night's lodging was
only $5, the day's meals ran from $1- $3, and gas was about $4 per
day. Thus, our daily
cross-country expenses totaled only ~$15.
In the morning, we drove on to Searcy, Arkansas,
another city drenched with rain.
After seeing Wayne and Eddie, Joan Hayes, the Schrades, Dr. Brown,
and other dear friends, we purchased books for educating Janetkay while in
Japan. As we were leaving
Searcy, we were startled when suddenly George Pope backed our car into a
large hole produced by the constant downpour. God, however, always
provides! Using a truck, our
friends pulled us up out of the sinkhole, and we continued on our
Braving flooded roads, we drove through Little Rock
and on to Mt. Pleasant, Texas.
The next day, as it was Sunday, we attended a church service hoping
to find Helen Reese, who had been in our wedding in Chicago. At that church, although we were
missionaries on our way to Japan, we received surprisingly little
attention. The lack of
support was discouraging, and so was the continual rain. Yet, I was reminded that this
journey to Japan was for God's glory, not mine. As it states in Galatians
"Am I now trying to win
passing through Abilene, we spent time enjoying Godís incredible
creation. We toured the
Carlsbad Caverns, relaxed in Juarez, Mexico, and checked out the Coolidge
Dam in Arizona. In Globe, the
mud adobes and Native Indian women carrying their children on their backs
in papooses fascinated us. We
also got a kick out of seeing real cowboys loading cattle onto trains. The
magnificent mountains in Superior amazed us, and in scorching hot Phoenix,
we enjoyed seeing an abundance of oranges, dates, and palm trees.
To avoid the snow in the Grand Canyon, we went south through a desert
dotted with sand dunes. We
stopped in El Centro to attend church and were delighted to discover that
the preacher was a former schoolmate of George Pope. As we continued westward, we drove
from 45 feet below sea level to 5000 feet above in just 12 miles. After the car overheated multiple
times during that climb, it was such a relief to arrive at the top!
The girls were delighted to ride a merry-go-round
and even a fire engine at a carnival in San Diego, and then on October 31,
my birthday, we drove to Los Angeles through beautiful wooded mountains
and along the Pacific Ocean.
I thoroughly enjoyed the girls singing "Happy Birthday" to me as we
We stopped at Pepperdine College, where we saw old
friends and read our mail that had been forwarded there. We had a great time shopping for
appliances at Sears, although the prices were higher than back East. Our purchases, including a stove,
heater, refrigerator, and kitchen set, cost less than $500. In addition, we bought a bedroom
set, a studio couch, and plumbing fixtures from my former classmate,
Discovering that our ship was sailing from San
Francisco in just a few days, we scurried to tie up loose ends. After speaking to the church at
their midweek service, we did our final packing. The following day we piled back in
our car and drove northward in the California heat. By seven o'clock that evening we
arrived at a cabin about 80 miles from San Francisco.
Early the next morning we drove into San Francisco to purchase ship tickets for passage to Japan. Including transporting our car and furniture, the tickets ran only ~$700. While in the city, we shopped for entertaining toys for the girls and bought some Dramamine for George Pope, as he was hoping to avoid getting seasick. Then we had our well-traveled car serviced, as all the chrome needed to be polished before we boarded the ship.
Crossing the Pacific Ocean
George and I were so thrilled when we first saw the
Flying Dragon, the huge cargo ship that was to take us across the Pacific
Ocean. Our trip to Japan was
becoming increasingly real!
As massive as the ship was, the Flying Dragon had only four cabins,
two of which were assigned to our family. The four other passengers included
Joe and Norma Parker who were denominational missionaries, a Frenchman
named Andre, and Art.
George and I scurried to get our
daughters, along with our car and supplies, safely on board the ship. At last we could relax, as the
last few days had been quite hectic.
Before the ship left the harbor that Saturday, November 5, we had
time to enjoy dinner, write letters, and call a few friends.
On Sunday, November 6, the sea's roughness both
scared and excited me. After
conducting a church service with Joe and Norma in the dining hall, a
pattern we repeated throughout our sea voyage, we sat outside on the deck
to view the expansive ocean.
The sea air was chilly but pleasant. After dinner, Andre taught us
French. Later that evening,
back in our cabin, George and I took communion and gave thanks to God for
such an incredible life.
All night long the whistles blew due to the thick
fog. After breakfast,
when the fog finally lifted, we docked in Seattle. Although it was chilly and damp,
after two days at sea we were happy to walk on the solid ground and do
some shopping. In the
evening, we enjoyed playing 42.
The next morning, Pope's aching tooth prompted him to see a dentist
in the city. I stayed on the
ship and wrote an article for our Chicago church newsletter, and then
studied French again with Andre.
That night, with George safely back on board, we again set
As we moved through the Strait of Juan, the ship gently swayed under a brightly shining sun. I felt so at peace. All morning we watched the lovely coastlines of Vancouver
Island and Washington State. However, when we reached the open
sea, the ship began to roll violently. We rushed about putting all of our
belongings in our cabinets and then tied up the drawers securely. The severe swaying forced us to
stay in bed all day, as walking was nearly impossible. Just about everyone, and
especially Lynette, was quite queasy that night. After only the first 372 miles,
the sea's roughness already exhausted us!
As our journey continued, the continual stimulation
gave me quite an appetite.
The food was delicious, that is, except for the boiled salted
salmon bellies. Unfortunately
George Pope was very seasick throughout most of the trip. Sitting on the deck helped George
feel less nauseous, so Lynette, Janetkay and I would often gather around
George on deck chairs as we talked, read, or enjoyed the view
together. A brilliant rainbow
over the deep blue sea was one of the most stunning sights God blessed us
The Captain of the Flying Dragon would tell us
exciting tales of the sea in his Italian accent. He was also very talented
musically. One day, he
invited us to his cabin and played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #4
beautifully. We developed
quite a fun friendship with him, with Lynette often scolding him for the
Joe Parker would sit and tell numerous Bible
stories to the girls.
Janetkay especially loved hearing the complete story of Moses. Meanwhile, Joe's wife, Norma,
worked hard to finish crocheting three pairs of mittens and I spent many
hours sewing. I also
attempted washing everyone's hair, where just keeping steady was quite a
feat. In the evenings, we often played such games as Snap, Old Maid, Big
Business, Rhythm and Chinese Rook.
As we sailed through the passage into the Bering Sea, we were delighted to see huge mountains covered in snow. When we arrived at Adak, an army base in Sweeper's Cove of the Aleutian Islands, we enjoyed the calm water and the snow-peaked mountains covered with an interesting brown moss. The base was off-limits to civilians, but we could see how desolate it was: just a scattering of brown buildings without any trees in sight.
Upon crossing the International Date Line, we
instantly skipped from Wednesday, November 16 to Friday, the
felt so strange to lose an entire day! Soon after that, we were awoken
one morning by a violent storm.
As the sea roughly tossed our ship to and fro, items fell and
rolled all over our cabin. As
we bucked the gale, gigantic waves crashed over the railing, spraying our
windows. Eating was a
challenge as our dishes and chairs would slide around. That Sunday it was comical
watching George Pope preach a sermon while he and his Bible slid back and
forth. We were so relieved
when the storm finally blew over!
After nearly three weeks at sea, the Flying Dragon neared the coast of Japan. George, Lynette, Janetkay and I were so excited the night before we docked that we could hardly sleep. The next morning, we all gathered on the deck in exhilaration as we sailed toward the beautiful Yokohama coastline. That day was Thursday, November 24, Thanksgiving Day! Indeed, that day, we were truly thankful to God for carrying us safely across the Pacific Ocean and planning such an exciting new adventure for us!
Getting Settled in
We slept really well in the harbor that night. In fact, it was the best sleep in
weeks! In the morning, while
we were still eating breakfast, a respected elderly missionary and his
wife came on the Flying Dragon to greet us. We were excited to work together
with these veterans on the mission field. Before disembarking, a medical
technician came on board to give us all typhoid shots. A terrified Janetkay hid on the
ship, but she was found and injected in short order.
We glided through Customs with the help of the
missionary's excellent Japanese.
Then, after supplying our car with gas and oil, the missionary and
his wife drove behind us to ensure our safe arrival in Tokyo. We were very grateful for such
kind and thoughtful assistance.
As we traveled, everything was new and
exciting. We were glad to be
off the ship and looked forward to making this new country our home. As we drove through the streets,
we eagerly gazed through the car windows. The sights of the war-torn city
struggling to rebuild itself impacted us, and our hearts went out to the
people around us. Bombing had
destroyed so many of the homes, and food and other necessary supplies were
being rationed. Even the
royal family was nearly destitute from our troops occupying their
land. Many lived in poverty
and near starvation. Gasoline
was difficult to purchase. We
were so grateful that God would choose us to help heal many hurting souls
in this city.
We moved into a western style home, called a
topping house, located in Sakagose on the Ko train line. Our new home came furnished with a
few chairs, a table, a stove, a refrigerator, and a couple of beds. The only heat in the house was a
single fireplace. To combat
the freezing cold, we burned our furniture crates in the fireplace. I wore
my mother's old fur coat from November to April while outside, and at
night, I draped the fur coat over our bed as a very needed extra
We were amazed that most of the Japanese homes did
not have any form of central heating. Typically, for warmth, the
Japanese lit charcoal inside a hibachi, a little round pot lacquered on
the outside. Often, they
would place a quilt-covered table over the hibachi, which would be lodged
in a hole in the floor. With this setup, you could warm at least your
hands and feet while sitting in the hole under the quilt, but the rest of
you stayed quite cold.
We befriended Kagawa-san, an amazing individual who
lived in the neighborhood and had been a previous resident of our topping
house. Although quite famous
in Japan from writing a number of religious books, Kagawa-san's personal
life most inspired us. He
would provide his own coat to anyone he met cold and barefoot on the
snow-covered road. When we
presented Kagawa-san with another coat as a replacement, he gave that one
away as well. His life was a
testimony that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" as written in
Acts 20:3. From him, we
learned that the percentage of those calling themselves "Christian" in
Japan, whether Catholic or Protestant, was only one half of one
percent. It was clear that
God had plenty of work in store for us. George thoroughly enjoyed walking
and talking with Kagawa-san in the mornings, and we were sad when later we
lost contact with him.
To help us during our initial stay, we hired a
Japanese woman to shop and cook for us each day. She attempted western-style
cooking, including pork chops and bacon. As the pigs in Japan were fed fish
because it was so plentiful, the pork also tasted like fish. In fact, anything fried in bacon
grease tasted like fish.
Thus, we learned to love that wonderful fishy taste! Due to rationing, rice was scarce,
but we could get potatoes and an array of other vegetables and fruit. Even though the food seemed
strange to us, with so many having far less, we were grateful to have as
much as we did.
When we yearned for a juicy American hamburger, we went to a restaurant at Church World Service, where missionaries could buy products from America and Australia. In addition, those at remote locations, such as Iburaki-Ken, 100 miles north of Tokyo, could have their groceries delivered. Of food items not available through Church World Service, we especially missed Coke and ice cream.
Christmas was soon upon us. As a present for Lynette and Janetkay, George and I set up a small slide in our living room. We put a tree near the fireplace and decorated it with strung popcorn garlands, as ornaments were not yet available in Japan. We bought a chicken for our Christmas dinner from the Church World Service. That first Christmas dinner, topping off our first month in Japan, was a memorable time of fellowship between our family and other missionaries. We felt so blessed by God!
After the war, many Japanese were forced
to sell their land at very reasonable prices. This enabled the elderly
missionary to purchase property from a baron to be used for worship
services, the formation of a Tokyo Bible Institute for teaching English
using the Bible, and his family residence. This estate, located near a
hospital and the Ochanimizu station, included a large house and a circular
driveway enclosing a lovely island.
It was a wonderful new location for the church to gather
together. In addition, in
January, upon invitation, we also moved into the house.
Removing one wall transformed the living room into
a chapel seating 75 people.
The sunshine beaming through the windows greatly brightened and
warmed the room. A long
hallway connected the chapel and our new apartment, which included three
or four bedrooms, a spacious living room, a kitchen area, and a
porch. I loved walking down
the steps down from our porch to a Japanese garden, complete with a
fishpond converted into a baptistry.
From the garden, one could enter four
Japanese-style rooms, arranged in a row and separated by removable paper
doors. Thus, when desired, an
additional large meeting hall could be created. Near the rooms stood a 'kura', a
large cement storage building with a six-inch-thick iron door, used by the
baron to keep valuables safe.
We used the 'kura' to store clothing sent to us by American
churches for the poor in Japan.
One day, while exiting, I slammed the heavy iron door on my
arm. Due to that painful
blunder, my arm hung in a sling for quite some time.
Some of the rooms upstairs were converted into
classrooms for the Tokyo Bible Institute. Eager to learn English, many
Japanese students enrolled in the program. Our hearts went out to Fujiko-san,
a 20-year-old daughter of a prominent family, who was financially unable
to attend the school, but was willing to work to learn English. In exchange for help with
household chores, we provided Fujiko-san with room and board and paid her
$30 a month. She became part
of our family. Fujiko-san
learned English quickly from Lynette, who read her many stories in
English. In fact, Lynette was
so busy helping Fujiko-san learn English, that Lynette was not learning
much Japanese. Meanwhile,
Janetkay, only five years old, heartily played with the local Japanese
children and picked up Japanese very quickly.
At this time, there was a great influx of young
missionary couples from Harding College. Though most moved to Ibaraki-ken,
Collis and Delores Campbell went to Yokohama to support E. A. Rhodes, who
had faithfully worked as a missionary in Japan since before the war. The Yokohama ministry, which met
at a building on a bluff, had great attendances and numerous
baptisms. After the Rhodes
returned to America for age and health reasons, the Campbells realized
that the kindergarten started in their building was becoming more popular
than the church. Desiring a
new start, the Campbells moved in with us and we became the best of
The elderly missionary in whose home we stayed
introduced us to many prominent Japanese in Tokyo. We were impressed by his many
contacts. We enjoyed touring
the Emperor's Palace, and even entered rooms tourists were not allowed to
visit. Senators and others
close to the Emperor would visit us at our home in Ochanomizu. Once, the missionary
organized a dinner for the Emperor's brothers and sisters, who were
finding life difficult without titles, property or wealth.
We especially enjoyed meeting Ukeo Osaki, who had
been mayor of Tokyo when Japan sent cherry trees to Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, when the cherry
trees arrived in America, Customs confiscated and disposed of them as
diseased. This, of course,
made the politicians very uneasy.
Later, when Osaki-san visited President Roosevelt, the president
apologized for the cherry tree event. Osaki-san replied with a joke,
which was not typical for a Japanese. He said, "I understand American
presidents have always had trouble with cherry trees." Of course, he was referring to
George Washington's chopping down of one. George loved telling this
George learned to greatly respect Osaki-san. On occasion, when Osaki-san gave lectures in different prefectures of Japan, George would travel with him. George enjoyed staying in some unusual inns and seeing the beautiful countryside. During one lecture, while everyone sat in a circle around Osaki-san, he said, "See how tall Gurganus-san is? If the Japanese ate a much meat as the Americans, we also would be tall." At the time, we thought that he was only joking. However, since then, the Japanese have been eating more red meat, and have indeed become taller!
A Rude Awakening
George and I felt so honored and thankful to God to
be able to work with the respected elderly missionary couple that had
invited us to Tokyo. They had
taken such great care of us, even opening up their home. However, in the upcoming months,
living with them, we were greatly distressed by uncovered secrets in their
The initial sense that something was amiss came
from noticing expensive items in their house, including a grand piano and
numerous sterling silver pieces.
But, in August, we learned some facts that shook our faith. One day, a Japanese senator, who
often came to visit, arrived while the elderly missionary couple was
out. The senator said that he
was traveling to the United States and needed about $300 in exchange for
yen. George replied that it
was illegal for any Japanese citizen to take that much cash to
America. The senator,
receiving nothing from George, was quite taken aback and reported the
incident to the missionary.
We were shocked to discover that this respected
missionary was running a black market exchange. For providing large amounts
of U.S. cash, he would receive more yen per dollar than legally
available. This explained the
amazing number of prominent people that would visit our home. In addition, the missionary would
illegally buy American products for the Japanese. When we confronted him on these
activities, he denied any wrongdoing. This stunned us. We had never come across such a
sinful situation involving a respected leader in the church. George would return from a
conversation with the missionary and say, "I must be losing my mind. He talks so spiritually and yet I
know that what he's doing is wrong.
I'm beginning to think there's something wrong with me. I'm just torn apart all the
time." We got down on our
knees and prayed to God for wisdom and strength.
We asked the church supporting us to come to Tokyo
and check into this concerning matter. Woodrow Whitten, who knew both of
us very well, came to talk with the Japanese to get their side of the
story. The Japanese,
reluctant to be open with an outsider, stuck together with a story urged
on them by the elderly missionary.
They indicated that there was a personality clash between him and
us, and that we wanted to separate from him, as other missionaries had,
because some of the churches supporting him were premillenialists. George and I could not believe
what we were hearing!
When we consulted the missionaries in Ibaraki-ken,
we discovered that they had known of the elderly missionary's illegal
black market activities, but were afraid to tell us for fear we would not
believe them. In addition,
they were concerned that we would think that they were accusing him
because of their stand on premillenialism. In fact, they had left Tokyo for
Ibaraki-ken because of what he was doing, feeling that they lacked the
power to change the situation.
One of the military members of the church who was
in Army Intelligence investigated the matter for us. He found sufficient evidence of
illegal activity that the missionary could have been imprisoned, but
because of his great involvement with such influential Japanese, the
military would not prosecute.
Woodrow Whitten, our mediator, found it difficult
to discern the truth. The
elderly missionary was very convincing in his expression of love for
George and confusion about George's charges, and was supported by the
Japanese. George, meanwhile,
was emphatic that the elderly missionary was involved in sinful
activities. In the end,
Brother Whitten felt that a problem existed between the two men, and
decided that both men should leave the church property. George was given an option of
starting a new church in Ibaraki-Ken or returning to America.
This began a time of deep soul searching for George
and me. We believed with all
our hearts that we made a Kingdom decision when we gave up our work in New
York to go to Japan. It was
so painful to experience the present result of our sacrifice. So many in the church now believed
that we had a personality conflict with this established, respected
missionary. How could we have
any spiritual impact on this people?
We questioned, "Why, Lord, did you send us to Japan? Why did you lead and guide us
here? Now, with this division
in the church, are we to return to America?"
For the first time in our Christian lives, we
questioned our convictions.
How much of what we believed and taught was from God, and how much
was from the traditions we grew up with? Both George and I decided to
reexamine our convictions. We
studied through the Scriptures asking, "Why do we believe this?" "Why were we taught this?",
and "Why have these events unfolded this way?" As we searched the
Scriptures, our convictions were deepened. We resolved that we would follow
Jesus regardless of the obstacles and costs. In addition, we believed that it
was no accident that we were in Tokyo, that God had called us to save the
Japanese, and so we decided to stay in the city, believing that it was
Once we decided to stay in Tokyo, we had another
dilemma. By beginning a new
congregation in Tokyo, would it be causing division in the church? The last thing that we wanted to
do was imitate the sin of the Corinthian church as described in I
Corinthians 1:12, where
"One ... says, 'I follow
After much prayer, we concluded that starting a new
church would not be divisive, but stepping out to do what Jesus wanted us
to do. Jesus commands his
church to be pure, honest, and mission-minded. The lost in Tokyo could not find
Christ in a congregation tolerating greed and deceit. In the end, we were grateful to
God that our faith had been strengthened, our convictions deepened, and a
new and exciting course set for us.
"...in all things God works for the good
A New Beginning
Interior of the new building
George and I were grateful for the encouragement and support of the military disciples in our endeavor to start a new church. In addition, about ten of the Japanese disciples, including Judge Inomata, Dr. Takada, Yokyo Mori, and the Shoto brothers, wanted to go with us.
George with Judge Inomata
While looking for property to build on, we met in
the Nukijo building in downtown Tokyo. Inamota-san helped us locate the
land where the Tokyo Church of
Christ still meets. After
targeting the property, he timed the walking distance from the nearest
train station. I still
remember driving alongside him while he walked so dignified and
precise. His walk took only
seven minutes. All
around, nearly everything had been bombed out, leaving only a few houses
in sight. We paid just $1500
for the land. An architect
designed a wooden church building, and directly behind, a house for us to
During construction of the new building, the
Japanese workers conducted a ceremony when the walls went up, drinking
sake, a rice wine, to appease the gods so the work could continue without
any evil befalling the workers or the building. We also had a ceremony; however,
we toasted the new building with Cokes and prayed in gratefulness to
Once, during the construction of the building, the
Japanese workers came across a large hole, possibly an old well. We saw them put a long bamboo pole
down into the hole. When we
asked about this procedure, they explained that they wanted the spirits
down below to get air so as to be able to breathe and, thus, not get angry
In March, 1951, we held our inaugural service in our wooden auditorium used until 1994, 43 years later. Before this first service, the disciples visited the homes in the neighborhood, inviting all to join us for this special event, including Sunday school at 9:00 a.m. That first Sunday morning, children starting arriving at 8:30, and by 9:00, the auditorium was filled with 200 Japanese children. I still treasure the photograph of all of them lined up against the bamboo fence. Many of those children, now grown up and married with children of their own, still live in the area.
The military disciples greatly encouraged George
and I by organizing a special contribution to build four classrooms on the
side of the building, as well as a library, two offices, a kitchen, a
bedroom downstairs, and four dormitory rooms upstairs. In addition, about a year later,
they built a print shop, enabling us to translate McGarvey's commentary on
the book of Acts into Japanese, as well as several other books and small
The dormitory rooms allowed us to house eight young
disciples converted in churches in the countryside, mostly in Ibaraki-ken,
so that they could attend school in Tokyo. These young men diligently helped
George and I with the church programs and also maintained the property in
return for their rent.
Copyright (c) 2000 Tokyo Church of Christ. All rights
Revised: January 18, 2002 .