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Nagasaki Pilgrimage Story #4: Facing My Bitterness in Holy Friendship

December 29, 2014

I previously shared three images of our recent Nagasaki pilgrimage of pain and hope:

The story of the persecution of Christianity and miraculous return of the “hidden Christians”








Japan’s history of destructive power

Japan’s history of destructive power







America’s unfinished business in vast killing of Japanese civilians

America’s unfinished business in vast killing of Japanese civilians













This fourth image below is a sign of hope for a new future in Northeast Asia.  I shared the Nagasaki journey with my friend and colleague Katsuki Hirano.  But Katsuki and I hardly began as friends.  I first met him at Duke in 2001 when he came as a visiting scholar.  Katsuki says I was less than friendly.  He is probably right.  I grew up in Korea hearing many bitter memories of abusive Japanese colonization.  The wound for Koreans goes deep.  I could feel the pain through their experiences.  Many times, I confess, I have mocked Japanese people.

North Carolina hike with Katsuki

North Carolina hike with Katsuki

Katsuki and I were given another chance during my first extended visit to Japan in 2011, when Katsuki was our host.  His relational spirit, deep Christian commitment, hospitality, and vision for a new future for Japan through the church gradually seduced me.  Katsuki introduced me to a number of Japanese Christians who prophetically live opposed to the history of militarism and nationalism.  For them, he claims, to be Christian means not being Japanese; for Christians it is the water of baptism which forms fundamental identity—not the Japanese story of bloodlines connected to emperor and country.  The cost is thus high to be Christian, but as Katsuki kept saying over and over, “We have learned that Christians must not fear living as a minority.”

Donna and I shared the wondrous gift in fall 2013 of hosting Katsuki in our home for two months for another Duke sabbatical (Katsuki called it his “American home stay”).  We began to understand the incredible laborer and servant he is:  pastor of what I call his “Japanese megachurch” of 400 (in Japan the typical church is fewer than 50); beloved principal of the elementary school built alongside his church building; chair of the Japan School of Preachers; translator of a couple dozen books into Japanese (mostly on preaching); radio program host; and now a key Forum leader.

Katsuki and I also share a sense of humor which enables us to laugh deeply and often together.  Since that 2011 visit we have worked closely on the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia.  I am grateful for how this friendship has introduced another personal challenge and gift in my unfolding journey of learning to be a peacemaker.

P.S.  My favorite story of Katsuki was the day he told Donna and me to prepare to visit VIPs for lunch at his church.  I said, “Should we wear nice clothes?”  He said they wouldn’t mind jeans.  So we went to his church and visited the delightful elementary students who were overjoyed with U.S. guests.  As lunch approached I wondered where the church leaders were.  About then Katsuki turned to us. “These are the VIPs you are having lunch with!”

Further reading:  Katsuki Hirano interview:  Don’t Be Afraid to Become a Minority

Chris Rice is Mennonite Central Committee co-representative for Northeast Asia with his wife Donna, and Senior Fellow for Northeast Asia at Duke Divinity School.  He lives in South Korea.  His three books are More Than Equals, Grace Matters, and Reconciling All Things.

Previous posts on Nagasaki Pilgrimage:

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