Excerpt taken from a talk given at the South Asia Tyrannus Halls Conclave.
Forty-four 44 years ago , the right person and the right situation came together for the first Tyrannus Hall. I was 33 at the time, and had made enough mistakes in life to caution me in using the term, “I’m sure this is God’s will.” Unlike the seers and prophets, most of us do not receive direct revelation from God about ministry. Instead, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We are to follow His leading, but He leaves the details to us. In every culture and generation those details vary with the situation and our own personalities. The Holy Spirit honors both. He brings people and situations across our paths and expects us to be sensitive to those people and situations, following His leading step by step, so we can effectively carry out the mandate, “Make disciples of all nations.”
I. The Favorable Situation
In 1957 Elouise and I had taken up residence in Tokyo’s outskirts. We were Associates of the Fukuin Dendo Kyodan, a Japanese evangelical denomination we worked under in north central Japan. Rural churches were losing many youth to Tokyo; they go there for college or employment. Japanese pastors encouraged Elouise and me to move to Tokyo and work among them. But country pastors had no ideas on how to do this.
We first tried what was apparently working in cities like Kobe and Nagoya—setting up a Gospel Hall in downtown areas to reach passers-by at night. Waseda University with 30,000 students was an hour from our Tokyo home. Just around the corner from the university main gate, our mission built a small Gospel Hall and called it the Waseda Student Center. After a year of pulling students in, playing ping-pong with them, serving refreshments, etc we had little to show for such effort. In the Fall of 1958, while praying about the student ministry and its lack of response, I came across Acts 19:9-10. The conditions Paul faced in Ephesus seemed similar to ones we were facing: it says, “the Ephesians became obstinate and refused to believe.” So Paul took the disciples with him and reasoned daily in the lecture Hall of Tyrannus. That is, Paul put a structure on his ministry, a structure that enabled him to be with the same people daily. That is the essence of what missiologists call, “life-involvement discipling.” The results? Those young disciples spread the Word throughout all Asia. The word “Asia” jumped out at me. How could we do that?
While pondering this, within days we received an unexpected visit from a farmer, Mr. Hoya. He was the owner of the land on which our new house was built. When I say built I mean reconstructed. We purchased a small wooden house on a US army base for $600, had it torn down, trucked to Tokyo and rebuilt. But, back to my story. Dressed in blue, soiled work togs and rubber boots, Mr. Hoya leaned his hoe against the side of the house, removed his boots and stepped up from the entryway.
“Please have some tea,” offered Elouise. “I’ll have it ready in a minute.”
Hoya began with an apology: “Your son has been helping me in the fields. I tried to dissuade him. Told him he’d muddy his clothes. But he insisted, saying, ‘Mother will wash them.”’
“Well, that’s a surprise,” I said. “We can’t get him to work around the house.”
“By the way,” Hoya continued, “I think Japanese boys need teachings from the Bible.”
“I agree, but why do you say that?” I asked, somewhat puzzled.
“I’ve been working the fields here for years. Children pass by on the way to school but never say a word, let alone ask to help.”
I didn’t know if Hoya was being polite or had something else in mind. I broached a sensitive subject: “Well, we’d like to build something where we could teach students, but land prices are beyond us.”
Hoya thought for a moment, then looked up: “I can’t donate the plot next to your house. I hold it in trust for my family. But I can lease it. It’s large enough, isn’t it?
“Of course,” I said, “But we can’t afford to pay lease rights.”
“How about paying in monthly installments?” said Hoya.
Such an offer couldn’t be refused. The land was leased. News traveled fast back to the north country. A Japanese pastor, wanting to invest a small inheritance, sent lumber and carpenters to build a student residence hall. Student fees would provide more income for him than bank interest. We ceased operations at the Waseda Student Center and rented out the facility to the Yomiuri newspaper. Rent enabled us to repay the pastor for his investment with interest. He was reluctant to do that, but pastors of his denomination stepped in and got his compliance.
The two-storied wooden structure was completed in 1959. To attract students we prepared small posters to place in the Student Affairs sections of different Tokyo universities. Those posters offered room and board at a price lower than the going rate. Free English lessons were thrown in. Students applied in great number. Within a week we filled the Hall with Christians and non-Christians alike. That was our first mistake.
Let me explain why. The model we were following was the so-called 19th century “band movement” in Japan. A 100 years before us, young men gathered in resident halls near major colleges. Christian educators - William S. Clark in Hokkaido, Captain L.L. Janes in Kumamoto, Dr. James Hepburn in Yokohama, arrested the attention of samurai youth enrolled in those colleges. Some were converted. After declaring themselves Christian by signing a pledge, such as the Covenant of Believers in Jesus of the Sapporo Band in Hokkaido, students met together in those halls and discussed scripture and its implication for their lives. The missionaries came and went; so in-depth discipling was carried on by students themselves. We had forgotten this crucial difference between a Christian dormitory and a Tyrannus Hall. One is for convenience, monitored by wardens, the other for discipling, monitored by committed upperclassmen.
Now lets return to Tokyo 40 years ago. After 4 years of -operating our new Hall in Fushimi, in the summer of 1963, around a campfire in a mountain village in north central Japan, the students and I discussed what was happening at the Hall. We were on a summer evangelistic mission. Some of the students were not yet Christians. They had come along for the fun. We had them do camp chores while the rest of us went into the town with megaphones to do street preaching. Most had bedded down for the night. A few Christians were still awake. We gazed into the fire. I asked them, “What’s wrong at the Hall? I see no spiritual progress among the Christians and the non-Christians have made no commitment to Christ.”
One of the more perceptive students answered: “You’re trying to do two things at once, disciple and evangelize. Focus on one. What will it be?”
The Bible is clear. Make disciples of all nations, so I answered, “The Hall should be for discipling Christian students. But how can we change?”
“We agree,” the students replied. “Leave management of the Hall to us. We’ll make the change.”
And they did. I stood behind them during the transition. Some students left, but Tyrannus Hall was born. Thereafter, by trial and error, they established the four pillars—student-led devotions three mornings per week, two-hour theological lectures once a week, three hours of sports per week, one week of mission each summer. To my amazement, evangelism by our students took a quantum leap. They formed small groups on campuses that later became affiliated with KGK, the Japan branch of the International Federation of Evangelical Students (IFES). Tokyo TH has developed not a few leaders for KGK.
II. The Committed Person
Having a Hall facility takes you only half-way. The last half—having the right residential discipler—in many respects is the more difficult half. Let me remind each one of you that the present Halls exist not because of a building but because of you and your commitment to students. You voluntarily adopted the boys and girls living in the Halls. Without you, nothing happens. The halls would be merely Halls, not a warm, loving, Christian home away from home. What kind of person should be watching over students, setting an example for them, being a loving parent to them?
Here again prayer is needed. Only the Holy Spirit knows the heart, and upon Him we must depend. Not a governing board, not a denomination, but the Lord himself. When you finally see that Hall stand before you, you remember the days of uncertainty, the problem of funding, the land issue, etc. All will prove to be labor lost unless you find the right person or persons to disciple your charges. No amount of questions, no recommendation, no personal compatibility with you, can be the deciding factor. You need time to see how the would-be resident staff relates to students and how they to him.
I speak from experience. The one I chose for Tokyo 15 years ago seemed perfect. An athlete. A seminary graduate. Good sense of humor. An outdoorsman. A graduate of the Hall. He and I were and are today the best of friends. However, he himself never said he was called to students. He accepted the position because the hall seemed to be in need. We were putting a good man in the wrong place. It was my idea, not his. We limped along for these 15 years until just a year ago I had to suggest he move on. I had made a serious mistake, and the Japanese expected me to correct it.
But Lord Himself set aside His own vessel to make life-involvement discipling go on despite my bungling. He did this through a small woman. She came to us through a Japanese pastor of that same denomination I first mentioned. He met her in a Hokkaido church while on a preaching mission. She and her baby had been recently abandoned by her husband whom she thought was a Christian. She needed work. We needed a cook. Her family first insisted that the baby be given up to an adoption agency; a divorced woman with child stood little chance of remarrying. Mrs. Kito dutifully obeyed, turned over the baby and came to Tokyo.
Mrs. Kito had gone through so much at a young age she had little confidence in herself. So she prays over everything: before she cooks breakfast in the early hours of the morning; before she goes shopping to get the best buys…. Go to her room, there is always a Bible out. She reads and prays. She is there when students return from school, tired, and wanting someone to talk to. I still see her small frame bending over the stove, and a boy standing nearby talking with her as she asks different questions about that day. When students are sick, she is there with special food and drink. When they want to relax and look at TV, they come to her staff quarters. They discuss politics, sports, school, anything while she sits quietly and listens. She always has tea and cookies for them. If you would ask her, “How do you disciple students?” She’d probably answer, “Who me?” You see, the best discipler is not a discipler. He is a servant.
The Lord in His mercy allowed Elouise and me to get close to Mrs. Kito. During her first year, I noticed she rarely smiled. One week when she looked particularly sad, I asked her if something was troubling her. She said, “Yes. I just received the adoption papers from Hokkaido. They found a couple to adopt my daughter.”
Whereupon I asked her, “Are they a Christian couple?”
“Then you can’t turn over to them your responsibility to raise your daughter as a Christian. Have you signed the release?”
“Do you want to raise her?”
“Oh, yes!” She said.
“Alright. I’ll write the letter to the Adoption Agency. Take this money, get on the next train, go get your daughter.”
I pulled out the letterhead of the Evangelical Missionary Association of Japan and wrote, requesting Mrs. Kito’s desires be honored and the baby turned over to her. I just happened to be president that year and decided to use that office to make the transfer happen. That daughter became her life-long companion. She is married to a Lutheran pastor, has three children and lives not 20 minutes away.
So despite my mistake 15 years ago, discipling goes on. Every summer before students go on their summer mission, she is there helping them prepare and there when they return. After they leave the hall, she follows them up with regular cards and personal notes. When they get married, she goes to the wedding if at all possible and presents the couple a wooden plaque with Scripture text. When children are born, she sends them a congratulatory note; thereafter those children get birthday cards every year.
After a student graduates from college and leaves Tyrannus Hall, she keeps track of them with notes and phone calls. Almost every time I go back, she has a list of those boys who qualify to become members of the Tokyo Band. I take them a pledge card on which it says, “I dedicate my life to Christ, His Church and the World.” Also it says, “I will take the following responsibility for TH” and lists options of faithful prayer, recruiting students, or finance. Those who sign are given a tie-pin to remind them they are members of the Tokyo Band. Here is the tie pin they wear. We have about 50 members of the band.
It is no wonder the students have created a retirement fund for her. But she can’t retire until her replacement is found, for she knows that unless someone truly cares, Tokyo Tyrannus Hall will become a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal in Christ’s kingdom.