Ingathering Brings Rejoicing in Japan
“IT WAS plainly evident that the Missionaries are feeling a considerable degree of discouragement.” So observed Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, after his personal investigation of the religious situation in Japan in 1912. He was speaking of the failure of Christendom’s missionaries and stated: “What the Japanese need is ‘the Gospel of the kingdom.’”
Was this need ever to be filled? A gleam of truth shone on the Japanese through a handful of faithful Witnesses of Jehovah during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Even during World War II, a few persisted in sounding out the good news despite oppression by the imperial government. However, a much more extensive work of ingathering was in store for this chain of islands in the Far East.
With the arrival of 15 Watchtower missionaries in 1949, Jehovah breathed new life into the Kingdom-preaching work in Japan. The newly arrived missionaries saw the aftermath of World War II everywhere: Cities lay in rubble, and the people were confused, since their ancient system of values had been overturned. Christendom’s missionaries also renewed their activity in Japan at the same time, but they failed to make genuine Christians out of the Japanese. The “49ers” and the more than 150 missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses that followed them faced the enormous challenge of implanting into Japanese minds and hearts faith in the Creator, Jehovah God. How did they meet this challenge?
Laying the Foundation
Their missionary effort started from a small two-story house in Tokyo. In the 1950’s, the ingathering came slowly. ‘Only a few will come into the truth in Japan before Har–Magedon,’ thought one of the first Japanese that responded to the good news in those days. One of the early circuit overseers remembers gazing out the train window and wondering whether the houses in the small hamlets that he passed would ever be reached with the good news.
It took almost a decade of missionary effort for the number of Kingdom publishers in Japan to reach the one thousand mark. But by 1963, because of the steady increase, the flimsy Tokyo branch was demolished and a six-story ferroconcrete building erected in its place.
The missionaries laid a fine foundation for the future by instilling the pioneer spirit into the hearts of their Bible students. Jehovah blessed the united effort of the missionaries and the Japanese pioneers, and the number of Witnesses climbed to the ten thousand mark in 1970. In 1972, to keep up with the increase, a three-story printery and a five-story residence building were built in Numazu, about 75 miles [120 km] southwest of Tokyo. Now, rather than having an outside company print the magazines, The Watchtower and Awake! were rolling off the Japanese branch’s own press to serve the local Kingdom-preaching work.
Who could have expected that the ingathering work would outgrow the Numazu facilities within the next ten years? But that is what happened, and Jehovah had more building expansion in store to handle the growing harvest.
Increase Despite Adversities
A new branch complex three times the size of that in Numazu was completed in 1982 in Ebina, a little to the south of Tokyo. By the time it was dedicated in May of that year, Jehovah had blessed the Witnesses in Japan with consecutive monthly publisher peaks for over three years. This increase continued, and in May 1985 the number of Japanese publishers reached the hundred thousand mark. Yes, Jehovah was speeding up the work in its own time, so further expansion of the branch facilities was inevitable. (Isaiah 60:22) Only a few years after the dedication of the first Ebina complex, the Governing Body approved the building of a new six-story factory with a basement and an eight-story residence.
Evidently, Satan was not happy with this growth among Jehovah’s servants because the month after reaching the hundred thousand publishers mark, a serious blood transfusion case came up in Japan. A ten-year-old boy died after—but not because—his parents refused a blood transfusion for him. (Acts 15:29) As a result, the media raged against the Witnesses. Although the father of the boy was not at the time a dedicated Witness, he withstood ruthless hounding by reporters. He was later baptized and is now serving with his wife as a regular pioneer.
How did this attack affect the ingathering work? Very little. Some Bible students stopped their studies, but monthly publisher peaks continued without letup, and December 1988 marked ten years of consecutive peaks. During the seven-year period between the dedication of the first Ebina complex and the dedication of the new one, the number of publishers doubled from 67,000 to over 135,000, while the number of regular pioneers tripled from 12,000 to 36,000, and the number of home Bible studies almost doubled from 97,000 to 172,000. What remarkable evidence of Jehovah’s triumph over Satan’s attacks on his people!—Proverbs 27:11.
Constructing the New Buildings
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not build imposing structures to impress people. But as they keep up with the increase in Kingdom proclaimers, their buildings often have to be very large. The new Japanese factory is a good example. It has floor space of almost 243,000 square feet [22,500 sq m], twice the floor space of the original factory. The Bindery, the Machine Shop, and the Export/Shipping Department moved into the new factory, and almost two floors are being used for storage. Even with all of this, the new factory has the capacity to hold still more. Foundations were laid in the basement for two additional high-speed rotary offset presses, and two full floors are still empty, ready for future expansion.
The new eight-story residence building has a beautiful and tastefully decorated lobby. There are 128 private rooms for Bethel workers and 96,700 square feet [8,980 sq m] of floor area—comparable to the floor area of Noah’s ark. A neighbor even asked construction workers how he could apply for the new “condominiums”!
All who took part in the construction credited Jehovah with directing the building work. (Psalm 127:1, 2) The main work force was made up of willing young workers in their early 20’s, full of zeal but without building experience. “At first,” relates an architect who worked on the project, “it was difficult for me to draw a plan in a way that was understandable to inexperienced brothers.” With a spirit of cooperation on all sides, however, obstacles were overcome.
This willingness to cooperate made it easier for Jehovah’s spirit to operate among the workers. “When we were doing the excavation work,” recalls one, “every time it rained—whether it was early in the morning or late in the night—I would go out to the construction site to see if the retaining walls were holding. Every time, I always found other anxious faces there, and all of us worked together, soaked to the skin, to deal with any emergency. Such experiences enhanced our feeling of fellowship.”
Support for the International Ingathering
Since the new structures were built in order to support Jehovah’s harvesting work, it was appropriate that they should be dedicated to him once completed. The dedication program was held on May 13, 1989, with Carey Barber, John Barr, and Lloyd Barry of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with their wives, in attendance. More than a thousand of the first Japanese to be baptized were invited to attend the dedication program, and they rejoiced to find old friends still faithfully serving Jehovah. Representatives from 13 countries accepted the invitation to attend and share in this joyful occasion. “It was just like a small international convention,” said one delegate.
What made the program truly international were the reports from nine of those countries. A strong bond of brotherhood was felt as representatives from various Asian countries recounted examples of international cooperation and referred to the fact that the new factory serves the needs of their countries as well as the Japanese field. The Japan branch now prints publications in 13 languages and ships consignments of literature to many lands.
In the afternoon, Brother Barber addressed the audience and emphasized the importance of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Then Brother Barr gave a talk on the theme “Filling the Earth With Jehovah’s Glory,” helping the audience to appreciate the permeating power of the truth.
The dedication discourse was given by Brother Barry, who had previously served as a missionary in Japan for over 25 years. In his talk entitled “You Must Rejoice Before Your God, Jehovah,” he encouraged the audience to rejoice over living in the time period pictured by the Festival of Booths, or Ingathering, in ancient Israel. He pointed out reasons to be joyful as he related a brief history of the work in Japan. When Brother Barry recommended that the new buildings be dedicated to Jehovah, all in attendance responded with hearty applause.
The following day, the representatives of the Governing Body addressed an audience of 233,780 gathered in 46 locations tied in by telephone line throughout the islands of Japan. Indeed, as Pastor Russell observed in 1912, the Japanese need the good news of the Kingdom. Jehovah filled that need by laying a foundation through missionary activity and infusing the pioneer spirit into the Japanese Witnesses. The newly dedicated buildings stand as a testimony to Jehovah’s ‘speeding up’ the ingathering during the antitypical Festival of Booths.—Isaiah 60:22.
[Pictures on page 24]
Left: the new factory building at Ebina with (below left) the dedication program in progress and (below right) the lobby of the new residence building
[Pictures on page 25]
The new residence building and (inset) the library on the second floor of the office building
[Pictures on page 26]
These 19 missionaries from the 11th class of Gilead attended the dedication. The full-time service of these—plus that of five others from the 11th class who died faithful on assignment in Japan—totals 1,023 years
Three members of the Governing Body—Carey Barber, John Barr, and Lloyd Barry—took part in the dedication program