Hans Bouwman, Japan - 8 - Organizational Difficulties

Organizational Difficulties
The path we walked as missionaries was not always easy, because missionary endeavour will ever be characterized by spiritual conflict: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph.6:12)
Much could be said about the tremendous spiritual darkness in a modern and developed country like Japan. With its ‘eight million gods’ it remains a stronghold of the rulers of darkness. Wherever the work of the Lord is carried out, the experiences of victory and defeat, encouragement and discouragement run ever parallel, yet in all the circumstances the Lord stands true to His promise: “I will never leave thee, not forsake thee”.
When difficulties on the mission field originate in the home-land, it means a hindrance in fulfilling the Lord’s work. It is only fair to mention the organizational difficulties we met in our missionary endeavour, and it is with sadness in our heart that we recall these times of deep trials. Yet, in it all the Lord remained faithful. We have experienced His miraculous guidance because of the fulfilment of the words of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose”. The Lord knows how to instruct and train His servants, and as Christians our whole life is spent in God’s school, learning to serve and follow Him: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be” (John 12:26).

Since the Lord is not physically walking any more here on earth, we cannot follow Him in the same manner as the disciples did. We follow Him by means of His Word. The Bible is the living Word of the living God and is the ultimate source of authority for life and practice. As we approach the subject of ‘Organizational Difficulties’, we wish it to be clear that our
intention is not to minimize the zealous dedication of faithful brethren who have been a great blessing in our lives over many years. Nor is it our thought to exalt ourselves in spiritual pride over other believers who may have a different opinion. May we be kept from a carnal attitude towards our brethren! “And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21).

gospel hall korea

Gospel Hall near hamlet in Korea

conference tokyo

Conference at Tokyo

gerda reception

Reception in the Mayor's office to honour Gerda for her work among women and children, resulting in improved family relationships in Japanese homes.

Unwritten Rules
In the midst of the tremendous effort in adjusting to a new country with different habits and customs and trying to understand a people with an altogether different thought pattern and outlook on life, it grieved us that burdens were laid upon us from overseas. Even at the outset, during the time of language study, we were faced with solving fundamental issues concerning the Lord’s guidance. It became obvious that the movements of missionaries were controlled by the Mission Institutions, established by men of assemblies in Holland and Germany. As time passed and decisions had to be made, it became evident that there were ‘unwritten rules’ to be observed. By choosing just to follow the Lord rather than the rules of men, we were accused of going our ‘own’ way and were put in a difficult position.
The first matter which caused disharmony was our move to Tokyo in 1956. Judging objectively, Tokyo was far more suited as a place for language study than a resort area up in the mountains. For my friend Johannes and I, the whole matter arose after we received a message from Mr. J.B. Currie, an Irish/Canadian missionary, working in Japan since 1943. He told us of a house belonging to a Japanese brother of the Fuchu assembly in Tokyo, which was available for an exceptionally reasonable rent. It had been used over many years as a home for missionaries in language study. At that time there were four assemblies in the Tokyo area which conducted many meetings during the week, providing ample opportunity to practise the language. Independent of our move, it just so happened that our language teacher had decided to move to Tokyo as well. Mr. Yamashita was an able teacher but, having only a few students and living in the remote mountain area of Karuizawa, he could not make ends meet. We were impressed to see the Lord’s
guidance in it all. We discovered, however, that this move did not meet with the approval of the brethren in the home land. The reason was that the summer house at Karuizawa was the property of the German Mission, and they felt that it should be used as a centre for language study.
Another point of friction surfaced when Gerda and I had decided on the date of our wedding. The reaction to setting the date was indeed upsetting. We were advised in letters to stick to the ‘unwritten’ rule of waiting a full year before getting married. This is the common practice of denominational Missions, and their rules were apparently taken as standard. The reason for this rule was for the missionary to be able to finish the basic course in Japanese. This normally requires a full year, but Gerda, because of her gift for languages, finished this course in less than six months. As we felt clear on the Lord’s guidance we set the date and in May 1957 we were happily married. Although no relatives were present, the Japanese Christians and many co-workers in the Gospel were, and we enjoyed an unforgettable day! Mr. R.J. Wright performed the wedding ceremony, while Mr. Leonard Mullan spoke an encouraging word from the Scriptures about Aquila and Priscilla. This godly couple were a good example for our own missionary endeavour.
When the time came to decide on the place to start a pioneering work, we again faced a disturbing conflict. Apparently the area we had moved to as a result of much exercise in prayer was not the place to be in! It became evident that it was the intention of the Missions to set up a kind of ‘German work’, independent from missionaries of other nationalities. Although we were Dutch, in the homeland it was expected of us to work together with the German missionaries, and therefore we were supposed to have moved to an area on Japan’s west coast where some of the German missionaries were already living. These missionaries, however, were involved in an extreme charismatic movement. If we had moved to that particular area, we would have been trapped in a snare and would have faced many problems. How good to follow the leading of the Master, instead of following the directions of men!
A very upsetting matter was the fact that we were asked to write down during two months all our expenses and to send it in
to the Mission Society of the assemblies in Holland. This was required in order to fix a monthly salary, as it was already the practice to transfer each month the same amount of financial support. Names of the donors were not made known, based upon the words: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matt.6:3). For the missionary, all donors were to be kept anonymous. The Mission was there to acknowledge the gifts and to distribute it according to the need. The missionary had to remember that “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life” (2 Tim.2:3). Also we had to keep in mind that the brethren of the Mission were the men appointed over this business, according to Acts 6:3, and that the believers have to lay their gifts at the feet of these men like it was done in Acts 4:3 7. Though the motive may have been sincere, the whole set up of this system is contrary to the Word of God. It creates a supervision by a committee of brethren, and it kills the link of fellowship which should exist between believers and assemblies on one side and the Lord’s servants on the other side, and this is clearly the Scriptural principle. It is according to the Spirit’s leading to provide the need of His servants. The servant of the Lord will be acquainted with the spiritual behaviour, as is set before him by the apostle Paul, the great missionary: “Let your moderation be made known TO ALL MEN.., but let your requests be made known UNTO GOD” (Phil.4:5-6).

God’s School
Because of the negative experience to this point, and being burdened by the intervention of organizational tendencies from the homeland, we became more and more convinced that we were on the wrong track. While engaged in the Lord’s work on the mission field we experienced the reality of Scriptural principles applied first to ourselves and then to the work of the Lord. “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine, continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim.4:16). As we had to learn to trust the Lord unreservedly, all the sad and discouraging experiences became for us ‘God’s school’. We had to ask ourselves the all important question: “Are we the servants of men or the servants of the Lord?” The answer was clear, and in order to bring the practice into harmony with our conviction we felt led to take a far-reaching decision to sever all connections with human institutions. However, since the assemblies treated the established Mission as an authoritative institution in missionary work, it meant that from that time on we were without their financial support. It was clear that certain assemblies on the continent of Europe lost their identity as autonomous assemblies. Their endeavour in the Lord’s work has become the tool to minimize the power of God’s Spirit even in the local assembly. But how marvellous are the ways of the Lord! By this time missionaries commended by assemblies in Canada came to live in the Netherlands. Mr. Andrew Bergsma, Mr. Lou Swaan and Mr. Cap van de Wetering moved to Holland in 1961, 1968 and 1972 respectively. They have tried to ‘strengthen the things which remain’ and have opened up new areas for the Gospel.

Now it was up to us to prove ourselves as His servants, being dependent only upon the Lord. Since Japan was no more the poor and primitive country that it had been in earlier years, financially things did not become easier for the missionaries. As an industrial giant Japan had developed into a rich and prosperous country. This meant however that a US Dollar was not worth 360 Yen as in earlier years, but only 130 Yen and later even less than 100 Yen. But our God does not work with ‘exchange rates’. His promise is to supply all our need. I recall that one day when we had been praying for our daily need, it happened that we received a calendar in the mail. As we turned to the page for the current day we were impressed as we read the verse: “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:19). What an encouragement to receive this promise through a small calendar page!

God’s Miracles
At this point much could be mentioned concerning the Lord’s miraculous provision. Each servant of the Lord will have had the experience of a need met in a miraculous way. It was not easy for us as a family in the times when we had just boiled rice on the table without anything to go with it. A most simple meal, but yet, so long as we are able to thank the Lord from our heart for it, a most simple meal tastes delicious.
Due to a serious back problem I was in hospital for three
weeks. On the day I was discharged, and obliged to pay the hospital bill in cash, Gerda came in with the needed amount of money. This provision from the Lord had been received the day before in one cheque. On another occasion when our 15-year-old daughter Linda was in hospital because of a heart condition, we discovered that on the last day of her stay somebody had come in to pay the bill. Till today we do not know who, but accepted it very gratefully as from the Lord. In whatever experience, in the small or big things of life, the Lord proved Himself to be our faithful God. We truly can say that God is still working miracles! “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
At times some individual believers and a few assemblies in the U.K., USA and Canada began to send us gifts of fellowship. Having no connection with these countries at all and at that time being unknown to these believers, the occasional letters with their financial support were like ‘ravens’ sent from heaven. We do not know how these Christians heard about us, but we do know why. Spiritually we have been made so rich by the caring Hand of a gracious and loving God and Father. Could we ever doubt the faithfulness of our God?