In this post, our conversation delves deeper into Janell’s duties and thoughts on her work as a Christian missionary in Japan. Jan discusses the Christian population of her college, and how some of her American friends had misconceptions about the goals of her mission.
This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity and theme. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Janell can be found here [forthcoming].
Janell Landis: But anyway, I had the English classes in the YWCA where some of my friends from Miyagi were a part of that. I had people who would ask me as a blue-eyed American my opinion of Japan, to give a speech on that, and I didn’t have blue eyes [laughs] but anyway. It was a women’s group or I actually talked to all Japan women somewhere, sometime. But, those were not as frequent as everyday teaching in school.
But, then I had some very interesting groups coming to my home, once a month. And we made–that was later in my life. We made decorations for all kinds of things, Christmas and et cetera. That group was a group of women who were on the staff of the college. And uh, the school was, for me, was a family. It really was, and these were all my little girls [laughs].
But, I was not asked to start the Christian work, I was just in it in a program that had been founded years before and carried on. When the missionaries had to do the leading for this program or that. But I was just fitting into what the Japanese wanted and needed, and um, I didn’t have to institute anything on my own, but I was able to if I wanted to branch out. So, there was a freedom there that we missionaries from America were given. It was a Japanese church that was, it’s still one percent of the population. It doesn’t get larger. But it’s a faithful part. And I have a prayer calendar I read everyday, and the list has got a lot of social welfare programs, like a home for mothers or babies, or a home or elderly or children and the challenged and so on.
Malina Suity: Were many of your students Christian?
Malina: Were all of your students Christian, or many of them?
Janell: Oh no no no. No no. I remember the college used to have each year a fair, a celebration once a year that the students themselves took a survey of the students and less than one percent were Christian. But when they took this survey about 10 percent of the students said they would prefer Christianity to Buddhism or Shinto. Now, that wasn’t something they did every year. But that indicated, I always felt that there was a back up much higher than one percent, but many that could not become members. Couldn’t be baptized. And a lot of women when they married, married into their husband’s family. And she was, I can’t say a slave, but she was an underling of the mother and law and sometimes they were not able. I remember occasionally at our church that I attended a woman seventy-four years old finally could get out of the house and come to church.
And there was people like that, men and women who… I remember the story of a man who went to church in a completely far away neighborhood so nobody would know he was a Christian in his neighborhood. And when he died they didn’t know what to do. Um, but if…if um–I also remember one of my Christian men friends. His parents, when he became a Christian, his parents became Christians too and they severed their relationship with their cemetery, their Buddhist cemetery. Now, to give up their Buddhist cemetery was a real step, because that was a normal thing for you to be buried in that cemetery. But they chose to drop that and go into a Christian cemetery. So that was real conversion.
But my job was not particularly to count the heads that I baptized. If I ever write a book about myself I’m going to write it called it “Heartbeats and Headcounts” because I would come home and the people would say, “How many people did you bring to the Church?” or something. You know, people who always think of mission work as conversion. Our mission work was to share life with people and I learned more from my life there than I was ever able to teach. And anybody that became a Christian became because they themselves made the decision. I can’t make a decision for them.
But with that opportunity of having variety in my life, there was a real good chance to meet a lot of people, not just from Japan, but that…people from India and Thailand. That came to Japan for work or training. The rural institute down in uh North of Tokyo, they’re very close to Utsunomiya, big city. That was especially founded by a Japanese Christian to serve community leaders from a lot of Asian countries. Now it includes people from Africa and South America. And we were able to visit there and I could take students there when they’d have a special program. So, there was a lot of freedom that made it possible to…uh, I didn’t feel restricted by school rules or…as long as you didn’t lead the students astray [laughs] into a wicked life. Why, you had a lot of freedom.
Malina: What was your first job in Japan?
Janell: Excuse me?
Malina: Your first job in Japan?
Janell: The first job in, that was from 1953 all the way to about ‘85. My job was working in Miyagi Gakuin College and Junior and Senior high. There were several years where I was assigned to the Junior and Senior High and attended their faculty meetings. The rest of the time I was on the faculty of the college and the junior college, teaching English as a second language. That was my first job and my last job in that school.
But then the last ten years of my life in Japan were in connection with the Tohoku, that’s Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima prefectures that were Tohoku conference. The prefectures north of us were in the Ou conference. But the Tohoku conference, and I visited churches with puppets and I had English bible classes with members, youth and older. I also worked with the YWCA. They had some wonderful women who were interested in reading the Bible in English. And um, so there were opportunities for visiting kindergartens. And recently, with that tsunami there were some of the kindergartens in the area around the sea that I don’t know if they’re still there. I lost contact with those churches after I came back here in ‘95. But I was visiting some of those churches’ kindergartens. And, um they weren’t very big. The churches themselves didn’t have that many members, but that was part of my program in the last ten years of my life in Japan. I was on the train a lot and in the car.