Jehovah Draws Humble Ones to the Truth
AS TOLD BY ASANO KOSHINO
In 1949, only a few years after the end of World War II, a tall, friendly foreigner visited the family that I was working for in Kobe City. He was the very first missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to Japan. His visit opened the way for me to be drawn to Bible truth. But let me first tell you about my background.
I WAS born in 1926 in a small village in northern Okayama Prefecture. I was the fifth of eight children. Father was a devout believer in the god of the local Shinto shrine. So we children enjoyed celebrations and family reunions at religious festivals throughout the year.
As I grew up, I had many questions about life, but I was most concerned about death. Tradition required that people die at home and children be at the deathbed of family members. I felt extremely sad when my grandmother died and when my brother died before he was even a year old. It was dreadful for me to contemplate the death of my parents. ‘Is this really all there is? Could there be anything more to life?’ I was anxious to know.
In 1937, when I was in the sixth grade of elementary school, the Sino-Japanese War began. Men were drafted and sent to the battlefield in China. Schoolchildren saw their fathers or brothers off, shouting “banzai!” (long live) to the emperor. People were convinced of victory for Japan, the divine nation, and its emperor, a living god.
Before long, families began to receive death notices from the front. The bereaved families were inconsolable. Hatred was growing in their hearts, and they rejoiced when heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy. But at the same time, I thought, ‘The people on the enemy side must suffer just as much as we do when their loved ones die.’ By the time I graduated from elementary school, the war was expanding deep into China.
Encounter With a Foreigner
As farmers, our family had always been poor, but my father allowed me to pursue education as long as no expense was involved. Thus, in 1941, I entered a girls’ school in Okayama City, about 60 miles [100 km] away. The school was designed to provide education for girls to become good wives and mothers, and it assigned the students to live with wealthy families in the city as housekeeping apprentices. In the morning the students learned by working in these homes, and in the afternoon they went to school.
After the entrance ceremony was over, my teacher, dressed in a kimono, took me to a big house. But for some reason the lady of the house did not accept me. “Shall we then go to Mrs. Koda’s house?” the teacher asked. She took me to a western-style house and rang the doorbell. After a while, a tall silver-haired lady came out. I was stunned! She was not Japanese, and I had never seen a Westerner in my life. The teacher introduced me to Mrs. Maud Koda and quickly left. Dragging my bags along, I nervously stepped into the house. I later learned that Mrs. Maud Koda was an American who was married to a Japanese man who had studied in the United States. She taught English at commercial schools.
A busy life began the very next morning. Mrs. Koda’s husband suffered from epilepsy, and I had to help care for him. Since I did not understand English at all, I became a little worried. I was relieved when Mrs. Koda spoke to me in Japanese. Daily, I overheard them speaking to each other in English, and gradually my ears became attuned to that language. I liked the pleasant atmosphere in the home.
I was impressed by Maud’s devotion to her sickly husband. He loved reading the Bible. I learned later that the couple had obtained a Japanese edition of the book The Divine Plan of the Ages at a secondhand bookstore and had been subscribers to the English edition of The Watchtower for a number of years.
One day I was given a Bible as a gift. I was happy because that was the first time in my life I had my own Bible. I read it on my way to and from school but understood little of it. Since I was raised a Japanese Shintoist, Jesus Christ seemed very remote to me. Little did I realize that this was the beginning of what would eventually lead me to embrace Bible truth, which would answer my questions about life and death.
Three Sad Events
Two years of apprenticeship soon came to an end, and I had to bid farewell to the family. After I finished school, I joined a girls’ voluntary brigade and took part in producing navy uniforms. Air raids by American B-29 bombers began, and on August 6, 1945, an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A few days later, I received a telegram, and I learned that Mother was seriously ill. I got on the first train home. As I got off the train, a relative met me and told me that Mother had passed away. She died on August 11. What I had feared for years had come true! She would never again talk to me or smile at me.
On August 15, the defeat of Japan became a reality. So I had to face three sad events, all in the short span of ten days: the first atom bomb explosion, Mother’s death, and the historical defeat of Japan. At least it was comforting to know that people would no longer be dying in the war. With a void in my heart, I left the factory and returned to my country home.
Drawn to the Truth
One day, I unexpectedly received a letter from Maud Koda in Okayama. She asked if I could come and help her with the household chores, as she was to open an English school. I wondered what I should do, but I accepted her invitation. A few years later, I moved to Kobe with the Kodas.
In the early summer of 1949, a tall, friendly gentleman visited the Koda family. His name was Donald Haslett, and he had come from Tokyo to Kobe to look for a home for missionaries in Kobe. He was the very first missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to Japan. A house was found, and in November 1949, several missionaries arrived in Kobe. One day, five of them came to visit the Kodas. Two of them, Lloyd Barry and Percy Iszlaub, talked in English for about ten minutes each to those who had gathered at the house. Maud was known as a Christian sister to the missionaries and was apparently encouraged by the association. It was then that I was motivated to learn English.
With the help of the zealous missionaries, I gradually came to understand basic Bible truths. I found the answers to the questions I had had from my childhood. Yes, the Bible holds out the hope of living forever on a paradise earth and the promise of a resurrection of “all those in the memorial tombs.” (John 5:28, 29; Revelation 21:1, 4) I was grateful to Jehovah for making such a hope possible by means of the ransom sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Happy Theocratic Activities
From December 30, 1949, to January 1, 1950, the first theocratic assembly in Japan was held at the Kobe missionary home. I went with Maud. The large house was formerly owned by a Nazi and had a commanding view of the Inland Sea and Awaji Island. With limited knowledge of the Bible, I understood little of what was said. Yet, I was deeply impressed by the missionaries, who mingled freely with the Japanese people. A total of 101 were in attendance for the public talk at this assembly.
Soon after that, I decided to participate in the field ministry. It took courage for me to go from house to house, as I was shy by nature. One morning, Brother Lloyd Barry came to our house to take me out in the ministry. He started at the house right next to Sister Koda’s. I was practically hiding behind him while listening to his presentation. When I went out the second time, I worked with two other missionaries. An elderly Japanese woman invited us in, listened, and later served us each a glass of milk. She agreed to a home Bible study and eventually became a baptized Christian. It was encouraging to see her progress.
In April 1951, Brother Nathan H. Knorr, from Brooklyn headquarters, made his first visit to Japan. About 700 people came to the public discourse he gave at the Kyoritsu Auditorium in Kanda, Tokyo. At this special meeting, all in attendance rejoiced at the release of the Japanese edition of The Watchtower. The following month, Brother Knorr visited Kobe, and at the special meeting there, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah.
About a year later, I was encouraged to enter the full-time ministry, the pioneer service. There were only a few pioneers in Japan at the time, and I wondered how I could support myself. I also thought about what would become of my prospects for marriage. But then I came to realize that serving Jehovah should come first in life, so I joined the pioneer ranks in 1952. Happily, I was able to work part-time for Sister Koda while pioneering.
About that time, my brother, whom I thought had been killed in the war, returned home with his family from Taiwan. My family had never shown interest in Christianity, but with pioneer zeal, I started sending our magazines and booklets to them. Later, my brother moved to Kobe with his family because of his work. “Have you read the magazines?” I asked my sister-in-law. To my surprise, she replied, “They are interesting magazines.” She began to study the Bible with one of the missionaries, and my younger sister who lived with them joined her in her study. In time, both of them became baptized Christians.
Impressed by International Brotherhood
Not long after, I was stunned to receive an invitation to attend the 22nd class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Brother Tsutomu Fukase and I were the first from Japan to be invited to the school. In 1953, before the class started, we were able to attend the New World Society Assembly held at Yankee Stadium in New York. I was greatly impressed by the international brotherhood of Jehovah’s people.
On the fifth day of the convention, the Japanese delegates, mostly missionaries, were to wear kimonos. Since the kimono that I had shipped beforehand had not arrived in time, I borrowed one that belonged to Sister Knorr. During the session it started to rain, and I was worried that the kimono might get wet. Just then, someone gently put a raincoat over me from behind. “Do you know who he is?” asked one sister standing next to me. I later learned that it was Brother Frederick W. Franz, a member of the Governing Body. How I sensed the warmth of Jehovah’s organization!
The 22nd class of Gilead was truly an international one, consisting of 120 students from 37 countries. Though there were some language barriers, we fully enjoyed the international brotherhood. On a snowy day in February 1954, I graduated and received an assignment back to Japan. A classmate, Inger Brandt, a Swedish sister, was to be my partner in Nagoya City. There, we joined the group of missionaries who had been evacuated from Korea because of the war. The few years I spent in the missionary service were very precious to me.
Joyful Service as a Couple
In September 1957, I was invited to serve at Tokyo Bethel. A two-story wooden house served as the Japan branch office. In the branch, there were only four members, including Brother Barry, the branch overseer. The rest of the family were missionaries. I was assigned to do translation and proofreading, plus cleaning, laundry, cooking, and so on.
The work in Japan was expanding, and more brothers were invited to Bethel. One of them became an overseer in the congregation with which I was associated. In 1966 that brother, Junji Koshino, and I were married. After we got married, Junji was assigned to the circuit work. It was a joy to get to know so many brothers and sisters as we traveled to different congregations. Since I was assigned to do some translation, I did it at the home where we stayed for the week. While traveling, we had to carry the heavy dictionaries, besides our suitcase and other bags.
We enjoyed the circuit work for over four years and saw the organization continue to expand. The branch moved to Numazu, and years later to Ebina, where the present branch facilities are located. Junji and I have long been enjoying Bethel service, now working with a family of some 600 members. In May 2002, friends at Bethel kindly celebrated my 50 years of full-time service.
Blessed to See Increase
When I started serving Jehovah back in 1950, there were only a handful of publishers in Japan. Now there are over 210,000 Kingdom publishers. Truly, thousands of sheeplike ones have been drawn to Jehovah, just as I was.
The four missionary brothers and the sister who visited us at Sister Koda’s house back in 1949, as well as Sister Maud Koda, have all faithfully finished their life course. So have my brother, who was a ministerial servant, and my sister-in-law, who enjoyed pioneer service for about 15 years. What will the future prospects be for my parents, whose death I had feared in my childhood? The Bible’s promise of the resurrection gives me hope and comfort.—Acts 24:15.
As I look back, I feel that my encounter with Maud in 1941 was a turning point in my life. Had I not met her at that time and had I not responded to her invitation to work for her again after the war, I would probably have settled on our farm in the remote village and not had any contact with the missionaries in those early days. How very grateful I am to Jehovah for drawing me to the truth by means of Maud and the early missionaries!
[Picture on page 25]
With Maud Koda and her husband. I am at front left
[Picture on page 27]
With missionaries from Japan at Yankee Stadium in 1953. I am at far left
[Pictures on page 28]
At Bethel with my husband, Junji