A Four-Hundred Year Old Prayer

Sue Takamoto, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

Our family is in the last few weeks of preparing for our move from Hyogo prefecture, outside of Osaka, up to Ishinomaki, one of the cities hit hardest by the tsunami. Over fifty percent of the city was hit by the huge wave of water that washed in and took back out with it countless homes, automobiles, businesses, and most tragically, many lives.

In preparation for moving our family, we went up in November for four days to pray and help prepare our childrens’ hearts. My husband Eric took us to a famous attraction there – the historic ship San Juan Bautista, which remarkably suffered only little damage from the tsunami.

The existing ship is a replica of the Spanish-styled vessel that was built four hundred years ago by the Lord of Sendai, Date Masamune. During our last term in Sendai, we were intrigued by this legendary leader who, contrary to most other rulers throughout 17c. Japan, showed sympathy to Christians and allowed the gospel to be preached.

While most of Japan was extremely closed to foreign relations, Date modeled the opposite. He ordered the building of the San Juan Bautista in Ishinomaki, and sent an envoy of 180 to trade, establish diplomatic relationships with the Pope, and to bring back missionaries to Tohoku. Led by a Franciscan friar named Luis Sotelo, this voyage was the first ever from Japan to sail around the world. Some of the expedition members became Christians and ended up staying in Spain to escape the persecution of Christians that had begun back home.

Date wrote this in a letter to the Pope, “I’ll offer my land for a base of your missionary work. Send us as many padres as possible.”

While still in Rome, word reached them of the seriousness of the persecution, and the Church determined it was too dangerous to send more missionaries at that time. Date’s wish was never fulfilled. Sotelo and the rest of the embassy eventually returned to Japan, where Christianity was being ruthlessly abolished. Sotelo himself was later burned at the stake for his faith.

Japan entered a long period of isolation from the rest of the world. Yet even after this nation reopened its doors to the West centuries later and Christianity once again was permitted to spread, the Tohoku region has remained very resistant.

Over this past year, however, God has been doing amazing things in the hearts of the people here as Christians from within Japan and from all over the world answer the call to come to the aid of this devastated region. We reflect on the four-hundred year old prayer of a Japanese lord and the ship that stands as a symbol of his desire for this land to prosper, and remain hopeful for all that God wants to do in Tohoku as He draws people to Himself.