Christian life

Shinjuku and One Man

Shinjuku, Japan (a district of Tokyo), is a happenin’ place, including being home to the world’s busiest train station. (At last count in 2022, more than 3.6 million people a day pass through! Been there.)

But let’s go back in time. It’s 1910. Mission workers discovered that in Shinjuku—one of the worst red-light districts—no Christian work was being done and, apparently, never had been. Word was, it’d be impossible to get anything done in such a “vile” place. But pioneer missionary W. D. Cunningham was always up for a challenge. Little did he realize, though, that:

  • the Japanese government would be no help. He naively appealed to them, only to learn that the government, in fact, was glad about the money that came to them through these channels.
  • the broader American community in Japan would be no help. Since the Japanese wanted to be viewed favorably by resident foreigners, Mr. C asked an American associated with a Christian school to help gather American support to shut down the brothels. But this man turned out to actually be in favor of legalized prostitution! Various embassy-related officials were said to frequent such places.

So Mr. C just acted on his own—using, as his wife described, “the dynamite of God.” He rented a house in the area and began to preach and have Bible classes there. But little did he realize:

  • the Buddhist priests/temples would violently oppose them. Buddhist temples, each with a large number of priests, always seemed surrounded by these houses of prostitution. Mr. C said it was difficult to determine who was following whom. Various harassment forced Mr. C to change locations multiple times.
  • Buddhist schoolteachers would get in on the act. They began to frighten children against Christianity by telling how Christians in the past had been crucified for introducing a new religion. (This was referring back to the late 1500s/early 1600s, particularly a famous incident in Nagasaki.)

But Mr. C and his team pressed on. The big earthquake of 1923 provided the unexpected opportunity for the Christians to assist the needy with food, clothing, and shelter—as Christians do. This witness fast-forwarded their efforts and caused the citizens to take another look.*

How does one keep from feeling helpless and alone in the face of enormous tasks? How does one stay encouraged, remembering the saying “Little hinges swing big doors”? The Japanese have a saying: ichi miri kakumei (a “1-millimeter revolution”). It’s the idea of one tiny step at a time toward a bigger purpose. Many Bible heroes and modern-day ones are examples to emulate. Real people, not just cartoon superheroes!

And by the way, Mr. Cunningham bought multiple properties in the heart of downtown Tokyo back then. Over the years, the value of these plots went off the charts. (We’re talking land that in 2022 could sell for $30,000 per square foot!) Bits of those properties have been sold, the profits from which have helped numerous Japanese churches and missionaries buy land/facilities for the Lord’s work. Mr. C’s investments multiplied financially as well as spiritually.

Can’t help feeling that the Lord gets a kick out of this sort of thing.

*Info taken from The Flaming Torch: Life Story of W. D. Cunningham, by Cunningham and Still, 1939, pgs. 130–135.


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1 thought on “Shinjuku and One Man

  1. What a wonderful testimony to our God & the faithfulness of a Christian who was obedient to preach the gospel! Thank you for sharing this & Merry Christmas!

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