We are saddened to report that on March 24, 2020, Janell Landis passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was 93 year old. It has been our great honor and pleasure to have known Janell (or Jan, as she liked to be called by friends) and to have been able to spend the time we did learning about her journey building bridges between people in Japan and the United States. She was always full of wonder and joy, and sought to bring that happiness to others. Today we are glad to be able to share a piece of writing on Janell’s life in her own voice: an essay in which she reflects on her early path to Japan and her experiences at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University. She will be greatly missed, and we hope to honor her memory by seeing this project to its completion.
To view the essay in the original Japanese, see the following link: 日本語はこちら
My road to Japan probably began in the fall of 1952 in Toledo, Ohio. That year, as the person in charge of the Christian education program at the E&R (Evangelical & Reformed) Church in Tiffin, Ohio, I attended the joint conference of Northwestern Ohio. At the conference, I heard very moving stories about Japan from the church’s international missions office’s Japan coordinator, who had recently gone there. But my motivation for going to Japan may have come about at an earlier time. It may have started when I received a number of letters from Margaret (“Maggie”) Garner.
After she graduated from the Eden Seminary, she taught English as a Second Language for three years at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University in Sendai, Japan. I was in the midst of my final year at seminary and felt doing a mission in the United States was necessary. But in Maggie’s letters, she wrote about her life and experiences in Sendai at the mission school established in 1886 by the German Reformed Church in the United States [the former name of the E&R Church]. And so Japan was in my heart and my thoughts, and I selected Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University in Sendai to serve my three-year mission term.
Fortunately, at that time I was able to “select” the place I wanted to go from amongst places with historical relationships to my denomination. In the many years since I’ve worked in Japan, church policies have become more strict about serving missions in places with the greatest need, without any consideration for those relationships. However in 1953 I was able to request being dispatched to Miyagi Gakuin. Thus, in March of that year I was able to depart for Japan for a three-year appointment in Sendai working as a teacher at the mission school established through the missionary activities of the German Reformed Church in the United States in northern Japan.
I had worked for two years in Christian education for the E&R Trinity Church in Tiffin, Ohio, until the fall of 1952, just before I departed for Japan. At the Trinity Church, my job was to lead groups for children, youth, and women under the guidance of the senior pastor, and it was a fun and worthwhile experience. However, I realized that my greatest weakness was throwing myself into my work (not taking advantage of teachers and leaders who worked in the church school programs). Unconsciously, I did too much myself, and it was difficult for me to request help from church members. Going to Japan and teaching English as a second language released me from the managerial responsibilities of D.C.E. (Director of Christian Education). However, I did not have any understanding of what that work [in Japan] would entail.
It was fortunate that the ocean liner I was going to board for the 14-day journey to Yokohama was departing from San Francisco. [When I arrived in San Francisco,] Pastor Fesperman, who was retired from the mission in Japan, helped those of us departing for missions in Asia. He arranged a comfortable hotel for me where I could get Japanese food. Also, Matsuzaki Chiyoko, an old friend from Heidelberg University, saw me off, and I was very grateful. She was accompanied by her mother, a first-generation Japanese American (issei), and they came to see off a ship departing for her mother’s hometown. In San Francisco, I got to meet Matsuzaki-san’s mother, and though she only spoke a little English, it warmed my heart.
The President Wilson, which I road as a second-class passenger, was a ship that offered delicious food and the opportunity to meet fascinating people. Until we landed in Honolulu I rode with Adlai Stevenson, who had lost the 1952 U.S. presidential election. From Honolulu, I was accompanied by Chief Abbot Otani, the well-known Buddhist leader of a large temple in Kyoto,and his wife [Satoko] (younger sister to Emperor Hirohito’s wife, the Empress Kōjun).
In addition, on that journey there was also a Baptist female minister (my ping-pong companion) and Gordon and Bertha Van Wyk, a missionary couple from the Reformed Church in America, and their children. The Van Wkys were affiliated with the mission board joint commission that had given aid during Japan’s reconstruction, so my friendship with them continued for a long time during my stay in Japan. They were newly appointed to Tokyo and for many years served Meiji University.
I did puppet shows twice aboard the ship, [something] I had started doing since the winter of 1950. The first time I performed them was for children, and the second time was for an all-ship talent show on the voyage from Honolulu to Yokohama. After the show I received praise from the Otanis, and I haven’t forgotten that kindness.
In Yokohama, Dr. Carl Kriete* and his wife Bess greeted me. They took me in their Japanese car to Tokyo and each time they turned left and right, an interesting arrow (blinker) popped out from the side of the car.** Their house in Shinagawa was the first one I saw in Japan. I stayed there for several days and, during that time Dr. Kriete took me to the embassy for my registration and introduced me to life in his Shinagawa neighborhood. To make sure that could get safely to Sendai, the two of them prepared a list of all of the stops on the way to Sendai and helped me board the Tohoku line bound for Sendai. I don’t recall how long that trip took (6-8 hours?), but when I arrived, there were not only E&R teachers there to greet me, but also many students and teachers from Miyagi Gakuin.
* Spelling uncertain.
** This probably refers to a trafficator, which was used to signal turns in old cars.
I arrived in Sendai in the middle of March, so there was plenty of time for me to settle in at my two-story house in Komegafukuro. This house was also home to two short-term missionary teachers, Lilian and Morrie Marnitz*, who had been newly appointed to Sendai together with William Cundiff, Carl Schweitzer, and James Melchior in the fall of 1952. Lilian and Morrie taught middle and high school at Miyagi Gakuin, Bill Cundiff was a university music teacher, and Jim and Carl were newly appointed to Tohoku University.
What was the reason I dedicated more than 30 years to Miyagi Gakuin, and 42 years of my life to Japan? Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These words were my home! I read them as part of a recitation on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, in an Upper Room Contemplation written by a woman from Pennsylvania. That day, her contemplation was “There is no one among us is worthy to be close to God. However, all of us are welcomed.”
15 years after retiring– I’ve discovered this!
In March of 1953, when I was appointed to Miyagi Gakuin, the school had already been in operation for 67 years. As a short-term missionary (J-3), I was to serve at Miyagi Gakuin for three years. However, after six months in the classroom with middle schoolers and first and second year college students, I felt in my heart that I had been put on a path to devote the rest of my life to working as a missionary in Japan. After two years studying Japanese in Tokyo (this was an absolute gift from the mission board), I again was appointed to Miyagi Gakuin. My life in Japan had become full of meaning.
The path that was prepared for me was full of joy. Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University, founded in 1886 by two young women who were dispatched from my hometown in Pennsylvania* and Japanese Christians, was large, with [students] from middle school to college level, and with a good reputation. It attracted students from the surrounding six prefectures and from Hokkaido in the north to Tokyo in the south; some students studied there for six years but most of them for as many as 8 to 10 years. Among them were sisters, aunts, mothers, and even grandmothers who were graduates from this famous mission school in northeastern Japan.
*Lizzie R. Poohrbaugh and Mary B. Ault
I began working with the devoted missionaries connected to either Miyagi Gakuin or its related school, Tohoku Gakuin, as well as the other missionaries working directly with Japanese Christian organizations like Japan’s UCC, etc.. (Tohoku Gakuin, too, was established in 1886 as a boy’s school. By the time until I came to Sendai in 1953, the middle and high schools were still boys-only, but the college had opened its doors to female students.)
There was no need for me to embark on a new line of work for the sake of the mission in Japan. As it is written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand…”—those who come after are surely joyous! I learned many things from my students. My colleagues and missionary companions also taught me many things. Whatever I was able to contribute through my 42 years of work in Japan, was provided by God. That is, establishing this beloved school in Sendai and the faithful church in the Tohoku region— everything I did was possible because of the Holy Spirit of the Creator, led by God’s hand.
“Go to church to pray, go into the world to serve.” When I joined the Good Shepherds E&R Church in my hometown of Boyerstown, Pennsylvania, members would greet each other with this phrase.
This word, “serve,” influenced me throughout my life. Guided by the minister and his wife, I received training at college and seminary, and as someone responsible for Christian education I was able to “serve” in a wonderful church for two years. However, my dissatisfaction with my own lack of management skills gradually grew, and in the end, in order to teach English as a second language I began to consider going to Japan as a short-term missionary. I was appointed to the E&R Church’s international missionary office, and in the spring of 1953 I started work for a 3-year term. Being working with the mission board, working as a teacher at a women’s Christian school, and serving alongside my brothers and sisters were all very satisfying experiences, so I received approval from the mission board and within a year I had become a lifetime missionary. With this, my life began to change.
I had to rethink assumptions I had about life—about its meaning and the nature of social interactions, and beliefs, thoughts and customs I had held for a long time… even my body language. For example, waving one’s hand was not a greeting in Japan but a sign towards children that meant not “Hello!” but “Come here quickly!” As time passed, it became clear that we missionaries were not “serving” Japanese people. In a culture in which the concepts of giri (duty, gratitude) and on (kindness, grace, as well as obligation) exist, human relations are determined by giri and on. Because of this, the way we Christians thought about acts of kindness and charity [giving without expectation of a return] were always understood by the Japanese as returning the favor by giving tangible gifts [giving is an obligation to be returned]. Since “giri” and “on” were the foundation of the culture,I felt as if the act of serving people was understood to be “service,” the same as tipping a waiter or hotel maid.
Before long, I had to deliberately think about serving people. …and the wonderful word sharing became the best word to express my life as a missionary. I was a short-term missionary with very little experience; I’m embarrassed to say that because a lot of time had passed since I left America to serve in Japan.
I then finally understood the words “Go to church to pray, go into the world to serve,” to worship the Creator and serve our Lord.. In Romans 12:11, it is written, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” How we can serve God is very simply and concisely conveyed. Have hope, patiently endure in times of happiness and of hardship, pray without fail, respond to the requests of others, extend your hand to strangers, etc. — how much do we serve God through these acts? The verbs “to do services” and “to extend one’s hand” are acts that share and tie us to others.
How did I come to share while I was in Japan for 42 years? I agree with the words of Julian of Norwich: “God is everything which is good, as I see, and the goodness which everything has is God.” The time I shared with young, middle-aged, and elderly Japanese people brought about so many marvelous things in my life. Although the number of Christians attending church in Japan hasn’t changed– according to religious surveys, they are less than 1% of the population– clearly God is at work in the hearts and minds of many Japanese people outside of the church as well. I think that, after the transmission of Christianity in the 1800s, many people made “connections” to Americans through kindergartens, schools, social groups, and churches, not just at the close of World War II, when the U.S. Occupation shifted to peace-time activities to help relieve many years of suffering and the impoverishment of the people.
When I came to Japan in March of 1953, it was right as the Occupation ended in 1952, and I had set foot into an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. The middle school and junior college I was in charge of longed for fellowship and for the opportunity to improve their English. The success of the Sendai Student Center, established by the first J-3 missionaries who had come to Japan in the late 1940s, was because the students of national universities desired broad social lives as well as meaningful lives and practical abilities in English . Through English conversation, puppet shows, folk dance, and daily group classes, I was able to make meaningful connections with young people at Christian universities, non-religious universities, and various schools. Under the guidance of Jeffrey Mensendiek, the Student Center still exists today, and there one can not only learn about social issues, discrimination, and injustice, but one can visit with other neighbors from Asia, such as those from Thailand, Nepal, and India. He is the only missionary in Sendai from the United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM). (As of 2010, he and his sister Martha, who lives in Kyoto, became the only 2 people from UCBWM in Japan.)
I spent my first year at Miyagi Gakuin serving the mission board and working with not only the students of English literature, Japanese literature, and home economics departments, but also middle school and high school students. After that, through the establishment of the kindergarten and junior college education departments affiliated with Miyagi Gakuin, I spent my time with students who wanted to become childcare workers and kindergarten teachers. At the YWCA of the college, middle, and high schools I was able to go out for special programs established by student organizations, summer groups, churches, children’s hospitals, and other facilities.
As teaching staff, I shared teachers’ rooms with Japanese middle and high school teachers, so I was blessed with guidance from teachers of English and faculty from other departments. Much like the delicious tea one drinks while surrounded by acupuncture needles of a charcoal fire, spending time with my colleagues was a special treat.
In the 30 years total I spent at Miyagi Gakuin, as teacher at a well-known school in the Tohoku region, I also received opportunities to speak with other groups outside of the university. For example, “perspectives on Japan from blue-eyed people” was often an everyday topic of conversation, and I also participated in international relations seminars. These opportunities were frequently proposed by graduates of Miyagi Gakuin who worked at various companies. I retired from Miyagi Gakuin in 1985 and was blessed to have the opportunity to work as a cooperation missionary for the Tohoku region’s United Church of Christ in Japan. When I went out to Miyagi, Fukushima, and Yamagata prefectures I was working alone, but was always able to say I had a connection to Miyagi Gakuin.
While I was working at Miyagi Gakuin, through the service of all my posts at schools, I was given many opportunities to serve God. And I became friends with the students and the teaching staff and shared that precious time with them. I also had exchanges that were separate from the school–the church, Sendai’s YWCA, and other groups in Japan. English Bible study, puppet shows, a variety of services at the church, performances, holding fun groups at my home– they were all wonderful opportunities to share my life with virtuous people. And before long, the church I went to regularly offered prayers for my sake. God had given me the gift of these people who worked devotedly to be servants of God in the city and this beautiful countryside church. At the time, through work as a part-time instructor at the middle and high schools in the religion and English Literature departments and as a board member I had a close connection to Miyagi Gakuin.
God is good! God’s family is good! Serve God– is it not joyous to be able to share your life with God’s family?
As the 125th anniversary of Miyagi Gakuin’s founding approaches, I offer my congratulations; in a constantly changing world, I pray that Miyagi Gakuin does not change. May the spirit of love exemplified by Jesus Christ continue, without change, to be part of the fundamental spirit of Miyagi Gakuin.
[Letter from Janell Landis, December 6, 2010]
This school building has a 109-year history, but we are only one part of that. And each of us has graduated from Miyagi Gakuin with different goals, experiences, and memories, but we all received the same promise. When we entered this school built on the principles of Christ, we all received the possibility of a new life founded in Christianity. It was a glorious gift.
In today’s Bible, this new life is written about thoroughly. The first nine or ten verses [of Romans] are a model for a new life. In the ninth verse of the Colloquial Japanese Translation Bible and the Japanese New Interconfessional Translation Bible, the verse is translated as, “In love, there must not be any falsehood” (Romans 12:9). However, I prefer the more positive and simple duty espoused in the English version, “Love must be sincere,” rather than the negative version in the Japanese translation. Verse [12:]10 explains true love: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” In the New Interconfessional translation, the English phrase “mutual affection” is not translated into Japanese well [as “brotherly love’]. There is definitely no “high and low” in the word “mutual,” and I feel that in “brotherly love” in Japanese there is this sense.
I remembered something recently when rereading the English translation of this section. Regarding love, the writer, Joan Chittister wrote the following:
Life based on the teachings of Christ is living in community. The principles of community are rooted in the spirit of Christ, and you learn from supporting the people you are living with and applying that [knowledge]. The necessary events in a Christian life present themselves as things like, for example, making meals and adequately considering the needs of others, and then preparing for those events, feeling good about making requests, and politely declining others’ assistance.
Christian love also has requirements. For example, using our talents not just for our own family but for strangers as well. For Sister Joan D. Chittister’s idea of love, the most important requirement is to make relationships with others the center of your life. Create community for others, share your thoughts, knowledge, and time with others; share your real feelings with others. And the most important thing is to, with your own power, accept others around you such that they can grow.
While Chittister was a nun in the Roman Catholic Benedictine order, at the same time she was also a missionary for all Christian churches in America, but the community she spoke of did not enter convents. We can make Christian lives [outside convents] in the environment we were provided, in our families; those who are single like me can make Christian lives with our friends and in the places where we work.
Please read Romans 12 carefully. It’s wonderful advice. Chapter 11’s title, in contemporary language is “Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” It only uses the word “serve” once. Think of others as excellent. Help people; be hospitable to travelers; be joyous with joyful people, and so on. Share with others. If you serve the Lord with spiritual fervor, you will find real love, pure and sincere love, and naturally manifest a Christian society!
So that we can continue to teach young people who learn at Miyagi Gakuin about new, Christian lives, we ask for all our alumni for prayers filled with love.
[[original] summary by the late Emeritus Professor Izawa Yūko]
My dear Matsumoto-sensei,
I heard that last week everyone suffered a terrible earthquake and tsunami, and I am praying that you and all of the staff, teachers, and students at my beloved Miyagi Gakuin have gotten through it safely.
My heart hurts thinking of how so many people have been struck by this kind of enormous disaster, and how, unable to be there, I can do nothing. I am ardently praying. I pray that the reconstruction proceeds quickly and that Miyagi Gakuin is able to pass on the works of that important education. All of our group of retired missionaries is praying for the health and safety of everyone at Miyagi Gakuin. You are in our hearts.
May God’s protection and compassion be upon you all.
March 15, 2011
[A message from Landis-sensei to President Matsumoto]