Pen pals become brothers

In 1960 a high school student from Germany wrote to the US Shipping Line in Tokyo. Eleven years later, the first New Apostolic congregation was established in Japan. This year, the New Apostolic Church celebrates its 50-year anniversary in Japan.

Today Japan is part of the Regional Church of the Western Pacific. Before that, it belonged to the Regional Church of South East Asia ever since that Regional Church was established. Prior to that time, the country belonged to the Regional Church of Canada. But the story actually began in Germany...

The beginnings

As a boy, the now retired Shepherd Leonhard Krockenberger was interested in Japan and ocean shipping. This combination of interests led the young brother in faith to write a letter to the US Shipping Line in Tokyo. In Japan, the letter—which had been written in English—met with a welcome response, because many Japanese were very interested in learning English at the time. So it was that the address was passed on to various people, and eventually ended up with Yoshiharu Yahata. The young man, who actually had nothing to do with shipping, was so eager to learn the language that he spoke to people in English wherever he had the opportunity. That was also how Yahata became a Christian, namely in a train over the course of a conversation with an American soldier. A conversation about faith quickly began to develop between Yahata and his pen pal in Germany as well. At that time, there were very few New Apostolic Christians in Asia. It was for this reason that District Apostle Michael Kraus immediately agreed when Leonhard Krockenberger suggested he send a minister to Japan. Although Yahata was quite committed to his Christian congregation, he took a deep interest in the New Apostolic faith, and thus also accepted an invitation from the District Apostle to come to Canada. There he and his wife Mitsugi were sealed in 1968, together with another Japanese couple.

Three years later, Yahata was ordained to the Deacon ministry, and before long went on to receive the mandate to serve the congregation of Tama as its rector. He was an enthusiastic Christian, who—despite all obstacles—quickly promulgated the New Apostolic faith in Japan, and from there it spread via the later District Elder Herbert Pache even into South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Soon the two churches in Tama and Matsuyama were built. Some of the funds for the construction even came from non-believers in the surroundings who simply wanted to guarantee the New Apostolic Church an altar in dignity because they had enjoyed the divine services to which they had been invited.

Facts in Japanese

In 2008, Yahata, who had in the meantime been serving all of Japan as district rector, was retired at the age of 76—likely as the longest serving district rector in the world. Today his son-in-law, Akihiro Kadohira serves the country as national rector. He is supported in his endeavours by an “international” team consisting of three Japanese ministers, one German minister, and two ministers of African descent.

It is not so easy to determine how many members the Church has in Japan. In Germany one can simply check with the registry office, because church membership is recorded there. In Japan, however, it is no problem for citizens to belong to a number of different churches or denominations at once. For example, there are even New Apostolic Christians there who are still registered with the Buddhist temple because their ancestors are buried there.

Friendship despite obstacles

Although the political situation is tense between Japan and its neighbour South Korea, the members of the two countries have enjoyed many activities together. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, whenever there was a special divine service in one of the countries, the members of the other country were always invited. At one visit by Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber in Japan, there was even a Korean orchestra playing on the street in front of the hotel. In order to obtain permission for this, however, some unconventional “weaponry” had to be deployed, namely in the form of a sister who pleaded under tears at the police station. Dr. Wolfgang Ade, a former national rector in Japan, sums it up this way: “In Japan, many things happen simply because God decides to make them possible, even though no one thinks they could ever happen.”

The members of Japan and South Korea remain in regular contact. The young people are connected by social media and even celebrated a youth convention together in 2001. It is not far from one island to the other, whether by airplane or ship. And when some of the young people found themselves in the wrong bus and almost missed the JR ferry, it was again a member of the JR company who came to the rescue of the New Apostolic Church. One of our members called the JR travel agency and explained the problem. They called their colleagues on the ship and they decided to show some compassion, and so the ship waited for the young people, allowing everyone to reach their home in time.

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Katrin Löwen
Asian, Japan, Congregational life