When assembly believers first viewed the small town of Fuchu on the western edge of Tokyo as a potential site for gospel work, the population would not have been more than 100,000 souls. The town was not impressive, being only a “bedroom” town for the nearby metropolis. Four unique features of the town were scarcely conducive to gospel work: a penitentiary housing about 3,000 criminals, a very large brewery, the nation’s main horse racing track where the annual derby was held, and the headquarters of the American Fifth Air Force.
The late Mr. Tom Hay, together with two pre-war Japanese brothers, had a concern for the town. One of those brothers, Mr. Waterfield, had spent almost four years in the penitentiary because he refused to engage in Emperor worship. His younger, widowed sister was an unbeliever and lived in that town. In due course, he had the joy of seeing his sister and her daughter saved and brought into the assembly.
Gospel meetings commenced in a rented building, which had some historical import, but was in a state of extreme disrepair. Prior to each meeting, the Christians stood in front of the railway station and preached the Word. At that same spot, street meetings and the distribution of literature have continued at least once a week for about 59 years. The assembly began in early 1949 as a result of confessions of faith and subsequent baptisms in the river just outside the town. At the time, Japan was still suffering post-war shortages of many commodities, one of these being electricity. This caused some of the factories to curtail their workdays. A few hours at the factory on Sunday mornings left Mr. Hillfield at loose ends during the afternoon. Induced to come in under the sound of the gospel, he became one of the very first believers to be added to the fledgling assembly. Now 96 years of age, he is the oldest believer in the assembly. He still attends the meetings on Lord’s Days when his failing health permits. Occasionally, he engages in his greatest joy: making known the gospel to which he has remained unwaveringly faithful.
One Sunday evening, a motorcycle with its sidecar pulled up in front of the little hall which brother Waterfield had erected. I had been able to buy a small piece of property and gave him $2,000, which was a lot of money at that time. He was a builder and donated his time to constructing a very plain hall that was 12 feet by 20 feet. The motorcycle carried a missionary couple belonging to one of the evangelical missions. They were about to be transferred to another part of the country. With them was a 17-year old girl, completely crippled by polio. When she had realized the seriousness of her condition, she became bitter. Unable to attend school for a period of time, she listened frequently to radio programs. One was a Christian program that offered a free copy of the New Testament. She received a copy and read through the Gospels and the Acts with little reaction. When she reached Romans 9, the words, “Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, why hast Thou made me thus?” struck her like a bolt from the blue. That resulted in a sincere interest in the gospel of Christ. The program sponsors put her in touch with the missionary couple. Since the couple was relocating and the wife, while young, had connections with an assembly on the Canadian Prairies, they wanted their young friend to be in a place where she would hear the gospel. Eventually, Miss Forrestfield was saved, baptized, and added to the assembly, where she still remains. Through correspondence courses in the intervening years, she completed university studies. She became a very capable editor and helped in all our publications until her retirement last year.
One young man brought up in a Christian home was like others who do not appreciate such a privilege. Irked by years of attending Sunday school and gospel meetings, he left his small town in search of employment and entertainment. One Sunday afternoon, he walked down a long flight of stairs in the main railway station where some of the believers were distributing tracts. The young man, Mr. Kudoh, received a tract. Thus reminded of meetings he once attended, he came back to meetings once again. Now saved and faithful for many years, he is seeing his son and daughter-in-law shouldering responsibilities in testimony for God.
The long-haired, guitar-playing, rock-and-roll type rarely shows an interest in the gospel, but “with God all things are possible.” One young brother with that background has proven to be a real asset to the Lord’s work in Japan. First contacted at the street meeting, his subsequent regular attendance at the meetings was a surprise. Nothing in the assembly’s gospel efforts appeals to a worldly appetite, yet this young man, Mr. Goodpart, was impressed. Soon he had made a clear confession of faith in Christ. A native of Okinawa, an island chain far to the south of the mainland, he contacted friends who had come north for work. In a few short months, seven or eight of those souls were led to the Lord. After six or seven years of faithful service for the Lord, the group decided to return to their own islands and take the gospel to friends and relatives. Today an assembly of some 40 believers gathers on the outskirts of the city of Naha. Our brother has been commended to the work in that part of the country.
Fuchu is now a city of about 230,000 inhabitants. The 50 believers in the fellowship meet in a four-story building on the original piece of property purchased so long ago. Four or five near-by assemblies offer us the warmth of brotherhood. Five or six men from the assembly receive invitations to help in ministry and gospel preaching in different parts of the country. The assembly’s interest in furthering the gospel in other lands has increased. They now pray for and give practical help to the work in at least six countries.
The grace of God, which has planted assemblies through the gospel in this land, surely calls for much thanksgiving – and prayer. The door is wide open; we face no hindrances whatever. Some who have a listening ear may still hear the Macedonian call, “Come over and help us.”