And this fall, a delegation from Yodogawa Christian Hospital traveled to Kentucky to formally present a gift to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — giving $208,577 in return, to be used to support mission work in Asia.
There’s a nice symmetry at play here, a symbolic repaying of a long-ago love offering, but there’s more to the story.
Yodogawa hospital is in the midst of a $250 million rebuilding plan that’s due to be completed in the fall of 2012 – a nine-floor facility with 630 beds. Constructing that facility, which by intention has a chapel in the center of the building, involved a petition drive by the community to convince the hospital not to move away, and government support to provide nearby land the hospital could use.
The growth of that hospital and its ability to present a gift to the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in a small way reflective of the long, entwined history of Presbyterian mission work around the world, and the ways in which the growth and strength of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere is changing that relationship.
Presbyterians from the United States have been involved in mission work in Japan for more than 150 years – being one of the three original Protestant groups to do such work in that country.
When Women of the Church (a predecessor group to Presbyterian Women) gave the original gift in 1955, it was used to build a 76-bed clinic in Awaji, Osaka. Many of Japan’s hospitals were destroyed or damaged during World War II, and this hospital was constructed in what was a somewhat industrialized district, with the hope it would provide medical care to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it or didn’t have access to it
Since then, what started as a relatively small endeavor has morphed into a medical facility that both provides state-of-the-art care and has made a name for itself in trying to integrate “whole person” care into the treatment of patients. Through the years, Yodogawa hospital has broken new ground in using hospital volunteers and medical social workers, in providing hospice care and working with compassion with the elderly and terminally ill.
Through the years, the hospital has offered daily chapel services to its staff. Its board and staff leaders are Christians, as are about 14 percent of the hospital’s staff overall.
And now, the Yodogawa staff wants to carry its vision of “whole person healing” to other parts of Southeast Asia, Masaaki Mukubo, the superintendent and chairman of the hospital told the General Assembly Mission Council at its fall meeting. Mukubo said the hospital “longs for a good partnership with the PC(USA) so that we can carry out God’s work together in the needy regions of Asia through medical ministry.”
In recent decades, both Christianity and mission in Asia have experienced incredible transformations – what Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., has described as a “profound southern shift.”
South Korea sends out about 1,000 missionaries a year – nearly as many as the United States does. Christianity is booming in China, with house churches feeding the faith and making exact numbers hard to count. According to a 2008 report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the officially-reported numbers estimate the numbers of Christians in China increased from 14 million in 1997 to 21 million in 2006 – a jump of more than 50 percent in less than 10 years. And “religious demographers and researchers generally agree that at least as many Chinese are associated with independent Christian groups, widely known as ‘house churches,’ as with the officially recognized bodies,” the report states.
For the PC(USA), the shape of mission work in Southeast Asia has shifted too to meet changing needs and realities — from working with those in Thailand infected with HIV to inter-religious work with Christian and Muslim students in Indonesia. Much work is done in partnership, with Christians from those countries taking the lead.
In that context, the gift Yodogawa hospital is giving technically will go to what’s called Japan Mission, which is the legal structure that oversees Presbyterian mission work in southern Japan. The hope is that perhaps it can be used as seed money for a new medical mission project in Bangladesh or Nepal, in which Japanese Christians and Presbyterians from the United States could potentially work together, said David Hudson, the PC(USA)’s area coordinator for Asia and the Pacific.
“This is very much in an exploratory stage, it is not a done deal,” Hudson said.
Already, Yogodawa offers expertise and support to hospitals in Bangladesh, Nepal, and China, and with facilities in Taiwan and Korea that share the focus on “whole-person healing.”
Four years ago, in 2005, the hospital hosted a 50th anniversary celebration of its relationship in mission with the PC(USA). Carol Adcock of Texas, chair of the General Assembly Mission Council, attended that celebration – as did retired Presbyterian missionaries to Japan and their children, and current mission co-workers.
“The gift that was given (in 1955) was so Biblical,” Adcock said. “It was a seed that was planted, and that seed has grown.”
Now, with this latest gift, a new seed will be planted in faith and hope that something new will grow.