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Memories of the Misawa Baptist Mission
By Clyde C. Wilton, Aaron Z. Wilton
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2016 Clyde C. Wilton; Aaron Z. Wilton
All rights reserved.
Clyde Wilton was privileged to be present in Misawa, Japan, during the formative period of the Misawa Baptist Mission. His first connection with the mission was in 1959 when he was assigned as a USAF Chaplain at Misawa AB, Japan. He had been a Southern Baptist Chaplain with the USAF since 1951 and had served in posts at Illinois, Hawaii, and Texas, before coming to Japan in July 1959. Having never before heard of Misawa, Japan, it was one of the hardest things he remembered ever doing having to leave his wife and four children in Harlingen, Texas, to make the trip, even though they would be rejoining him months later.
One of Clyde's first Japanese acquaintances was Junichi Ishikawa, who was the language specialist assigned to the Chapel at Misawa AB. Junichi meant in Japanese "Number One," but to those who knew him, he was called "Johnny." Johnny was a great help to all those associated with the chapel, but he was especially helpful to Clyde in finding housing so the Wilton family could make the trip to Japan. With Johnny's help, Clyde found a plot of land in B-Battery, located in Misawa City outside of Misawa AB. After buying the land, construction immediately began to build a new house. Although it was small by American standards, the house went up quickly, and the rest of the Wilton family made the trip to Japan in late August 1959, arriving in Misawa about September 10, 1959.
Misawa is located in the northern region of the island of Honsu in the eastern Aomori Prefecture. The Misawa area, in the flatlands on the southern shore of Lake Ogawara and next to the Pacific Ocean, has been occupied by the Japanese since early times. American presence at Misawa Air Base began after WWII, and it is a joint operation with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Misawa currently serves as a combination industrial, commercial, and agricultural center, with Misawa AB making a large contribution to the local economy. Misawa City having a population of about 40,000 and Misawa AB a population of about 10,000, the nearest sizeable city is Hachinohe, which is 17 miles away. Tokyo, the nation's capital, is about 357 miles away to the south.
For as long as Americans have been present in Japan, there has been a tenuous relationship with the Japanese. Although they are very polite in public and they put value on personal accountability and working together, the Japanese are very private where the family is concerned. Largely due to the activity of some boisterous Americans from the base after dark, the American presence at Misawa AB did not have a good reputation among some Japanese. Being a Christian witness among the population there was hampered by this background and by the fact that the Japanese are largely dominated by Shinto and Buddhist religious beliefs. In Misawa City there were a few Christian churches at the time, but there was no Baptist church.
When Clyde arrived in Japan in July 1959, he preached his first sermon at his new place of service on July 12, 1959. It was on that same day that he learned that there was a group of airmen who were holding a Sunday Baptist worship service in the school building on the base. When he attended the service, Baptist hymnals were distributed from a wooden footlocker and marked in large, bold print, "The First Baptist Church." He was excited to hear about this possible place of service, but when he asked SSgt. Calvin Doyle about where it was located, Calvin just smiled and informed him that it was not there yet, but by faith there would be one there some day. That faith was eventually realized, but the church first came to be known as the "Misawa Baptist Mission" instead of "The First Baptist Church."
Communicating with the Japanese people was a strange and wonderful adventure for Clyde. As long as he was on the military base, communication was not a problem. However, whenever leaving the safe confines of the base, it was sometimes a frustrating experience. As an example, shortly after arriving at Misawa, the family car, which had been sent earlier from the mainland, arrived at Hachinohe, Japan, a coastal city some 17 miles south of Misawa. The trip to the city was by a military bus in the company of other military personnel. The travel was a long, bumpy ride on a winding and dusty road that finally took them through the city and over a bridge to where the cars were located. Everyone was preoccupied with finding his own car and driving back to Misawa. By the time Clyde found his car and tried to get it started, the others were already driving up the hill and heading out of sight. At first his car started, but it then stalled out and would not go, leaving him stranded and alone. At that time, the sun was just a little above the western horizon and dropping fast. The thoughts that were in his mind brought memories of the recent bloody war with Japan, and he wondered how he might be received by the local people. There were no people around except the Japanese, and since he did not know how to speak their language, there was no way to communicate verbally with them. Since everyone had left him behind, he had no idea of how to get back to the base. It was a devastating feeling being half a world away from home alone in a strange land.
It was at that time of his deepest fears that help came along. Just before the sun dropped over the horizon, a military helicopter surfaced and landed nearby. In the helicopter was an Air Force pilot who had come to pick up his car. What a relief it was! For many years, it still thrilled Clyde to see in his mind that man coming toward his car and his good deed in providing a ride back to the base. Clyde did not remember the man's name, but he never forgot his kindness and help in that time of need. It was this experience and others that encouraged him to learn as much as possible about the Japanese language and customs.
The original push for a Baptist Mission in Misawa City came from an airman by the name of TSgt. Robert (Bob) Nickell. In 1958, after talking with many about this possible work, he received nothing but discouragement. Many so called "wise men" counseled that it was just not possible at that time. However, Bob Nickell was not looking for reasons why it could not be done, but he was seeking to find the way that it could be done. After praying and seeking the answer, there were finally others who were convinced that it could be done. On February 22, 1959, five Southern Baptist military personnel came together to organize a Baptist Fellowship, which was dedicated to the task of establishing a Baptist mission in Misawa City, Japan. Their names were: TSgt. Robert Nickell (Moderator), MSgt. George Ashcraft, MSgt. Richard Gates, SSgt. Franklin Jeffus (Corresponding Secretary), and SSgt. Kenneth Davis (Secretary). Due to military job rotation, some of the original group left Misawa before the mission became a reality, but they prayed and worked and planted, and others came to continue their work.
In the lead-up toward establishing a Misawa Baptist Mission there were several things that first fell into place. The first activity of the Baptist Fellowship after its formation in February 1959 was to begin a regular Wednesday night prayer meeting, with the purpose of knowing the Lord's will concerning a Japanese mission and to generate interest in fellow Christians on the base. Then beginning on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1959, regular Sunday worship services were held, being led by different laymen. Also, the study courses, These Things We Believe and Soul Winning Doctrines, were completed by the group.
Beginning on May 6, 1959, SSgt. Alfred Martin became the interim pastor of the Baptist Fellowship. Also, a budget was adopted and trustees were elected to conduct business for the group, with MSgt. George Ashcraft as the chairman, and to inquire about the means to start the mission. For a while services were held at the Dependents School building at Misawa AB for English-speaking members, and services for the Japanese were held in Bro. Martin's home off the military base.
On the advice of Southern Baptist Missionary, Edwin Dosier, members of the Baptist Fellowship began visiting Japanese Baptist Convention churches in northern Japan. As a result, Pastor Tadashi Ohnuma from the Hachinohe Baptist Church agreed to assist the work in Misawa City. Beginning in June 1959, Ohnuma Sensei began coming each Thursday evening to conduct services in Bro. Martin's home for the Japanese. For the Sunday evening services with Bro. Martin, services were conducted with the help of a Japanese Christian by the name of Hiroshi Minokawa, who served as the interpreter.
At his new assignment at Misawa Air Base, Clyde Wilton was not alone in the desire to impact the Japanese people with the Christian gospel. Shortly before his arrival, there was another Southern Baptist Chaplain who came on staff at the base chapel, Chaplain Joseph Coggins. Beginning August 2, 1959, one of their first acts together was to move the Baptist Fellowship worship service for the English-speaking members from the base Dependents School building to the base chapel, where they became responsible for conducing services. It became a regular service of the chapel program that was first held on Sundays, but later in July 1960 it was changed to each Friday evening. It was an informal service and was attended by many who were not Baptists. For a long time the song leader was Airman Ronald Williams, a member of the Four Square Church, until he returned back to the mainland. After the mission was established, Ron also helped at the mission with the Japanese services. He was planning to enter the ministry, and with Clyde's assistance, Ron was able to get an early release from the military so he could go to the seminary in Los Angeles, California.
As a member of the chapel staff, Junichi Ishikawa (Johnny) was a Japanese interpreter for all the chaplains at Misawa Air Base. He was probably one of the single most influential persons in helping to establish the Misawa Baptist Mission, and he became a very good friend. It was Clyde's privilege to baptize him and two other Japanese men on October 16, 1959, which, incidentally, was the same day as his wedding. Johnny was very zealous in his Christian faith, and he was instrumental in coordinating between the Christian military personnel and Japanese Christians. He was involved with organizing English classes for Japanese high school students, purchasing land for the Misawa mission, and helping to implement the entire mission project.
In addition to the Baptist Fellowship, another organization concerned with communication with the Japanese people was the Voluntary Aid to the Needy Club (VAN Club), composed mainly of military personnel at Misawa AB. Many of the same people in the club were also members or associated with the Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist service at the base chapel. The VAN Club regularly scheduled field trips out into the Japanese community and provided yearly gift packages for the needy during the Christmas season. One of the first trips attended by Clyde Wilton was a trip to the Shingo/Herai Village near Aomori, Japan. In addition to helping members witness some of the Japanese culture, it was a time for fellowship with the membership. The trip included a train and bus ride into the countryside and a picnic lunch in the environs. For Clyde, it was also an opportunity to practice his checker-playing skills with friend John Andre.
In the first week of September 1959, during the same time that the rest of the Wilton family was making the trip to Misawa, Japan, there was a revival held for the Japanese in Misawa City at the Misawa Jr. High School Gym. Two Japanese pastors conducted the revival with the help of other preachers and staff. Shortly after their first revival the Baptist Fellowship rented a building located across the street from the Junior High School in Misawa City. It was at that time that the former services held in the home of Bro. Martin were transferred to the newly rented building. The Missionary Donald Heiss from Aomori, Japan, who also participated in the revival, then began helping with the Thursday night services and a Bible class.
As a result of the witness among the Japanese, some of the first Japanese associated with the Baptist Fellowship services in Misawa City were Baptized on October 16, 1959. Johnny Ishikawa, along with Hiroshi Minokawa and Mamoru Yamagishi, were baptized in a local bathhouse by Clyde Wilton. At that time there were no other facilities available for a baptismal service, so the bathhouse was rented for the occasion and members of the fellowship attended to witness the event. These three converts in the mission work at Misawa were instrumental in helping to make the Misawa Baptist Mission become a reality.
Beginning about November 21, 1959, Clyde Wilton began teaching a Baptist doctrinal class in his home off the base at B-Battery, with Johnny serving as the translator for the Japanese. The classes were held on Saturdays for about three months at a time. As a result, there were a number of others who requested baptism. With there still being no baptismal facilities at the rented mission building, baptisms for new members were either conducted at local bath houses or in Lake Ogawara, located near Misawa AB.
In the continuing desire to start a Japanese mission in Misawa, Baptist military personnel met regularly in the home of MSgt. George Ashcraft to discuss possible plans to proceed. One of the big problems encountered was in getting a sponsor for the mission. After contacting several missionaries, pastors, and the leadership of the Japanese Baptist Convention, it was learned that the opinion of the Baptist leadership was that Misawa City was just not the right place for a new Baptist mission. The belief was that if the military base ever closed, the church probably would, too. This had happened before when an installation left, and it had been a great embarrassment to the Japanese Baptists. They were gracious and courteous, but they really did not want to be embarrassed by helping start a work that they thought was sure to fail. They came up with the idea that the fellowship might establish a Baptist work in another city that had a better location and more stable people to work with. However, the Baptist military personnel of the Baptist Fellowship at Misawa were not discouraged by all the negative response of the Baptist leadership. They tenaciously believed that the Lord wanted them to establish a work in Misawa.
Still needing a sponsor, many trips were made to other churches in other cities. At one such visit to the dedication service for the Aomori Baptist Church at Aomori, Japan, on December 14, 1959, Clyde Wilton and Calvin Doyle conferred with missionaries Coleman Clarke and Don Heiss. It was at that time that a recommendation was made by Coleman Clarke that the Baptist Fellowship might seek sponsorship for the mission from the English-speaking Tokyo Baptist Church. In the follow-up that resulted, George Ashcraft and Calvin Doyle met with Milton DuPriest, the pastor of the Tokyo Baptist Church. The matter was then brought before the membership of the Tokyo Baptist Church, and on January 21, 1960, the church voted to accept the mission with its 29 charter members.CHAPTER 2
Misawa Baptist Mission
Shortly after the mission was accepted by the Tokyo Baptist Church, the fellowship was organized into several committees, with the moderator for the mission being George Ashcraft, and the clerk being Calvin Doyle. The committees were a Program Committee, consisting of Clyde Wilton, Joseph Coggins, and Alfred Martin, a Mission Committee consisting of MSgt. James Kelley, and a Finance Committee, consisting of Franklin Skaggs and Hiroshi Minokawa. Committee meetings were conducted on the second Monday of each month, and the monthly business meeting was on the third Wednesday evening of each month. The election for committee members was conducted once a year.
Spurred on by successfully becoming a mission of the Tokyo Baptist Church, the fellowship sought to move into a slightly larger facility. They soon found and leased a building on B-Battery Road in Misawa City. After making necessary alterations to convert the building into a suitable place of worship, the building was dedicated on February 3, 1960. The dedication message was given by Chaplain Joseph Coggins, and Clyde Wilton took part in the service, with Junichi Ishikawa serving as the English/Japanese translator.
The first business meeting in the new building was conducted on February 24, 1960. On Sundays there were two worship services, one at 11 AM and one at 7 PM. The doctrinal study class continued on Wednesday evenings, as necessary.
Also, about that time, there was a weekly English class started by Clyde Wilton and with the help of Johnny Ishikawa, who served as the translator. This class came as a result of a group of mostly Japanese high school students who wanted to learn English. The class had a two-fold purpose, since it was the desire of the mission to share with them the gospel. To this end the Gospel of Matthew was used as the text for English classes. Over the time that Clyde was at Misawa there were a number of Japanese who went through the class and became Christians and members of the mission. Clyde's opinion was that this class became the core of the Baptist work in Misawa City. Another valuable helper with this group was Airman Ronald Williams, who had a great ability to relate to the young people in addition to singing. Ron was also the music leader for the Baptist Worship Service at the Misawa Base Chapel.
Excerpted from Memories of the Misawa Baptist Mission by Clyde C. Wilton, Aaron Z. Wilton. Copyright © 2016 Clyde C. Wilton; Aaron Z. Wilton. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 (Beginnings), Page 1,
Chapter 2 (Misawa Baptist Mission), Page 15,
Chapter 3 (Memorial Baptist Mission), Page 35,
Chapter 4 (Misawa Baptist Church), Page 57,
Picture Credits, Page 63,
Index of Names, Page 77,