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I am currently re-reading one of my favorite missionary biographies, called “On Giants’ Shoulders: Bringing New Life to Japan” by Patrick McElligott. The author shares in depth about his 34 years of missionary service in Japan with WEC. One day a few years ago, I was visiting a Christian Japanese family and the mother asked if I’d like to watch a sermon on DVD by a British missionary. Lo and behold, the preacher was Patrick McElligott preaching a fantastic, easy-to-understand sermon about what it means to be a Christian family. I was very impressed by the depth of the content of his message and also that he was able to deliver it in fluent, beautiful Japanese!

From the book:

After his van broke down in the middle of nowhere, he wrote, “I was left with…a broken-down old van, unable to read the map or telephone directory, stuck in a town which I did not know one person, still thirty miles from home, utterly embarrassed and dejected…I was completely discouraged to an extent I had never previously experienced. I learned that the devil is not so much interested in the relative size of the problem through which he seeks to cause us to despair, but in the depth of discouragement into which he can cause us to fall.

How important it is that Christians pray for first-time missionaries going through culture shock. How important it is, too, that more experienced missionaries try to understand the newcomer and his problems. A succession of embarrassing incidents can make a new missionary become very insular as he seeks to protect himself from any situation which makes him feel his own inadequacy and foreign-ness…the last thing a new missionary needs is to give in to the temptation to isolate himself from everyday society.”

The author shares a terrific story about his attempt to go to the local bakery to order a loaf of unsliced bread (“Kitte nai pan ikko kudasai.”) He was extremely nervous but practiced his sentence over and over until it was perfected (or so he thought). Instead of asking for unsliced bread, he accidentally asked for dirty bread: “Kitanai pan ikko kudasai.” At first the baker looked bewildered but was able to figure out what Patrick wanted. When he returned to language school and asked what he had said wrong, his teachers had a roaring laugh at his expense!

Another of my all-time favorite biographies is Sensei: The Life Story of Irene Webster Smith by Russell T. Hitt. Irene was an Irish missionary who began her ministry in Japan prior to World War II. Here is a review by a reader on amazon.com: “Irene  dedicated her life to missionary work in Japan. First she ministered to prostitutes and later began to adopt unwanted babies and nurture them in the Christian faith…Her story is one to challenge and amaze the reader as you see how she trusted God in the midst of great obstacles. I was privileged to have met Sensei in her later years and was duly impressed with her humility and willingness to do anything the Lord wanted her to do. She became a legend among the Japanese people in the greater Tokyo area and greatly respected and loved by everyone who knew her.”

One thing about Irene that amazed me was that she was the driving force behind the purchase of a student center in central Tokyo after World War II. Her own mission board was vehemently opposed to this idea. You can visit the building today in the heart of busy Tokyo and stand in awe of the Ochanomizu Christian Center – good thing she didn’t listen to her superiors! (Just kidding.)Located in the heart of Tokyo

Image of Ochanomizu station where the OCC is located

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