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A letter from Barbara Easton in Japan

Late Fall 2013

The cherry leaves are turning red now in Nagasaki, and falling as winter approaches, having done their best for the trees throughout this year. Although the days are becoming colder, people’s lives are warmed by the love that is shown as the holiday season comes nearer.

At religious emphasis programs of Kwassui Gakuin (both the university and the secondary school) in mid-November, Ms. Mitsuko Fukui told us about her lifework at a facility for mentally challenged persons that was founded more than fifty years ago by her husband in central Japan. This is Shiyo Gakuen (in Shiga prefecture). The name indicates “synthesis,” in the sense of bringing together persons of very different abilities to live in a new kind of harmonious relationship. Ms. Fukui, who is now Chairman of the Board of Directors there, told us that there are three basic requirements to work there: to love to eat, to sleep, and to laugh!

Religious emphasis program at Kwassui Gakuin

This attitude was clearly evident in the songs that her co-worker, Ms. Megumi (Grace) Nishitake, sang for us from time to time during the program. Grace lives up to her name as she shares joyfully about life with the forty residents, who have mostly lived at Shiyo Gakuen for many years now. The songs may start with sitting at the dining table, in the kitchen, the bath, the laundry, or wherever daily life occurs. Her first song was “Just a Dainty Basket” with the tune “Little Deeds,” which is a song partly about a greeting that is sometimes sung in churches. As there are almost the same number of staff members as there are regular residents at Shiyo Gakuen, the relationships become very deep over a long period of time together.

We heard about various children. Mariko prays, “Thank you, God, for good weather,” even when it is raining, because God is blessing the flowers and the lake with needed water. Even residents who cannot walk well, or even talk, may enjoy short excursions together. They often move slowly and stop along the way to listen to a bird or watch an insect, showing that their hearts have keen ears and eyes to pick up what busy people often miss. Ichiro runs very fast in races but stops from time to time along the way when he sees something to pray about. He may never win a prize here on earth, but someday still receive the prize of life in heaven. Before Akio came to Shiyo Gakuen, people called him various things, but he announced each day as he entered the Shiyo Gakuen activities, “I am not a fool; I am a person,” and this fact was recognized there. In the outside world he seemed worthless, but his case reminds us that we are made in God’s image even though we lack God’s wisdom. Love is not merely a word. God came down to meet us in the person of Jesus Christ. Love requires action, even if all we can do is to pray, with God’s children, “Watch over children who are not here.”

Sometimes students come from various places in Japan to learn by experience at Shiyo Gakuen. At snack time, one group of children from Tokyo found out that rather than allowing each child to grab what seemed desirable, leaving some without anything, it was much better to follow the pattern established at the facility of distributing the snacks in an orderly manner, with a little left over even after each person received a fair share. The location of Shiyo Gakuen near Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, reminds people of this point. Lake Biwa supplies water for big cities centered around Osaka and Kyoto. Water cannot be grabbed, but can be scooped up to satisfy needs. This point was particularly noteworthy for us, as the name Kwassui means ‘living water’ (from John 4 in the Bible) and makes us think of the love that God shares with us through the Holy Spirit.

Ms. Fukui and Ms. Nishitake conveyed echoes of the heart from shared experiences with persons who experience life differently from most people. These moved our students to consider the real meaning of love as Jesus Christ has shown this to us. Ms. Fukui told how she had been made to feel very early that the troubles experienced by persons like the residents were her responsibility also, and not something apart from the rest of society. It is not enough for us to try to excuse ourselves by saying, “I didn’t know.”

Let me thank you for supporting the work of witness of the Presbyterian Church(USA) through your prayers and gifts that make it possible for persons such as me to serve in mission around the world. I pray for your continued sharing and encouragement, enabling such work.

Yours humbly in Christ,
Barbara Easton

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 208
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