Today’s commemoration in the Daily Office is for Toyohiko Kagawa, a Japanese Christian figure from the 20th century.
He was born in Kobe, Japan in 1888, and was orphaned very early, living with a couple of different family members in a working class part of Kobe. He learned English by attending a Bible class sponsored by missionaries in Kobe (which is still one of the mainstays of missionary work in Japan). He went to a Presbyterian college in Tokyo for three years and then committed his life to working with the poor and the disadvantaged. He lived among the poor and became known for organizing labor of all kinds. The Co-op line of grocery stores in Japan are the result of his early organizing activity with farmers and merchants to provide fresh foods in local communities. If you read their documents carefully (in Japanese, of course) they trace their roots back to Christian organizations and principles.
Kagawa became an anti-war organizer before WWII and worked tirelessly to keep Japan out of world conflict, to no avail. He was arrested numerous times for his activity, and remained committed to the causes of peace and alleviating poverty until his death in 1960.
I lived for five years in Kobe, Japan and heard numerous stories about him from the old-timers that knew him or worked with him. One story that was quite memorable was from the 1950’s, during one of the times he was jailed in Kobe. His cell had a window that look out on the mountains that surround the city. On one particular place on the mountain was where the majority of foreigners living in Kobe had homes and sent their kids to school (it was the area where the church I served from 2001-2006 was later located). It was a general rule that most western foreigners in Japan were very rich compared to their Japanese neighbors. Kagawa had frequent visits from foreign missionaries, and one day he relayed this information: “Tell the folks on that hill, that if they spent more time in this neighborhood, and spent more money on the folks who live down here, there would be no need for me to be in jail.”
It was a powerful word in the 1950’s that was pretty much ignored. The problem remains in the 21st century. The Church needs to follow Jesus into their neighborhoods and the neighborhoods of need.
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Toyohiko Kagawa, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.