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The Japanese evangelist, advocate of social change, and paciﬁst, Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960), was a major twentieth century religious ﬁgure often compared to Mahatma Gandhi.
Kagawa was the son of a wealthy Kobe Buddhist business entrepreneur-politician and his concubine, both of whom died when Kagawa was four years old. The youth was raised by Presbyterian missionaries and had a conversion experience at age ﬁfteen. “O God, make me like Christ” he prayed repeatedly.
Kagawa studied at theological seminaries in Japan and at Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, but was increasingly drawn to an evangelism of social reform, seeking to apply Christ’s teachings directly to Japan’s poor in a theologically uncomplicated way. He lived for much of the 1910 – 1924 period in a six foot square windowless shed in Kobe’s slums. A skilled organizer, he helped found trade unions and credit unions among dock workers, factory laborers, and subsistence farmers. Trade unions were forbidden at the time, and Kagawa was twice imprisoned. He was also a paciﬁst and organized the National Anti-War League in 1928. Kagawa was arrested in 1940 for publicly apologizing to the people of China for Japan’s invasion of that country. An advocate for universal male suffrage (granted in 1925), he later became a voice for women’s right to vote as well.
A proliﬁc author, his autobiographical novel, Crossing the Death Line (1920) became a best seller, and many of his other novels and writings in a Christian Socialist vein were translated into English. He used the revenues from his substantial book sales to fund his extensive slum work. Although Kagawa was under police surveillance much of his life, the Japanese government called on him to organize the rebuilding of Tokyo after a 1923 earthquake and again at the end of World War II to serve as head of the country’s social welfare programs.
Although some knew him best as a social reformer and paciﬁst, Kagawa saw himself ﬁrst of all an evangelist. “Christ alone can make all things new,” he said, “The spirit of Christ must be the soul of all real social reconstruction.”
I We bless thy Name, O God, for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa, reformer and teacher, who was persecuted for his paciﬁst principles and went on to lead a movement for democracy in Japan; and we pray that thou wouldst strengthen and protect all who suffer for their ﬁdelity to Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II We bless your Name, O God, for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa, reformer and teacher, who was persecuted for his paciﬁst principles and went on to lead a movement for democracy in Japan; and we pray that you would strengthen and protect all who suffer for their ﬁdelity to Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Preface of Saint (I)
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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