Today we have just spiritedly and joyously completed the wonderful music and dance of the Songs for the Service as taught to us by God the Parent through Oyasama, our blessed mother, the foundress of Tenrikyo. This is my second time speaking at our Monthly Service and although I always have difficulty forming my thoughts to talk about, this time was very, very difficult, so I will apologize in advance for my shortcomings as a speaker and hope that you can get something out of my talk today. As I have been designated to deliver this month’s sermon, I would like to ask for your kind attention. (Clap)
Thank you all for coming to our service today at the Mission Headquarters and joining in our prayer for world peace for all of our brothers and sisters in the world. I love the month of April. Don’t you? There is so much life and love and renewal. Here in Southern California it might not get as cold in the Winter as other parts of the world, but for our standards, it was still quite a cold, wet winter for us here and it feels wonderful to see the flowers bursting with colorful flowers as the weather has warmed up.
In addition to the beautiful flowers around us, another even more important reason to love the month of April is because it is also when we celebrate the Foundress’ birthday, which was just a few days ago on April 18th. Many of our family and friends including the Bishop and Mrs. Fukaya have returned to Jiba for the celebration and annual Women’s Association Convention, which is why they are not here today, just in case anyone was wondering. This year, we celebrated Oyasama’s 221st birthday. Happy Birthday Oyasama!
Regarding Oyasama’s birthday, I want to mention something that our friends from Hawaii who run the online blog, Tenrikyo Resource, Lewis Nakao and Roy Forbes have been promoting for some years now. Allow me to read a post from their blog:
“In Hawaii, where I am from, Oyasama’s birthday is expressed as an important occasion in that the Boys and Girls Association (BGA) holds an event in collaboration with Women’s Association, the Young Men’s Association, and Young Women’s Club. However, the event is not very big and usually ends up being on a different day from April 18 since it usually does not fall on a weekend. So while we celebrate Oyasama’s birthday, there may be a tendency for us to lose sight of the grand significance of the actual date of April 18. So, to add a little more significance to this day, I suggest that we start a new tradition: Wear red on April 18. Wear it to school, wear it to work; whatever you do on that day, try to wear red. You don’t have to explain to people why, but it will, most importantly, remind you of this day.”
What a fantastic idea! I just had to say something about this because I think this can really be a significant activity for us moving forward. Wouldn’t that be a grand sight to see! All of us wearing red on April 18!
The blog continues with the question: Why Red?
“Oyasama began wearing red in 1874, which is 36 years after She became the shrine of God the parent and when She was 75 years old. It was unusual for an older woman to wear a bright red kimono in those days because bright-colored kimono were generally worn by young women. But Oyasama’s red kimono became a symbol of salvation to those who sought it as well as being a symbol of the Divine Model, a lifestyle of helping others.
By wearing red, we can remind ourselves the importance of following the Divine Model, get through the day with utmost joy for being kept alive by God’s providence, and help those around us with greater zeal. Wear red and tell your fellow followers why.”
If you haven’t seen this blog, please visit the website when you can. They have put together a great source of information for us English readers and I look forward to the continued growth and popularity of the site. Recently, Lewis has made a database for the Ofudesaki verses where you can search key words and subjects. I used it for my sermon today and it works seamlessly! Thank you Lewis! I will put the address in the printed version in next month’s Newsletter. (tenrikyo-resource.com)
Speaking about our Dendocho Newsletter, as many of you know, for the last two years, we have been including interviews of second and third generation American and Canadian born head ministers. The idea for these interviews came out of a discussion in our Publications meeting where we were wondering what we can do to help our younger generation see what to expect if they ever decide to become ministers. We hope through the information that it makes their decisions less daunting and helps them to see how they can balance a life of spirituality with their everyday lives. If you have been following the interviews, so far, we have had interviews of Reverends Bobby Kokuryo, Linda Nishi, Eddie Takemoto, Kay Morishita, Marlon Okazaki, Hamilton Niwa, Bobby Shimizu and this month Brian Kojima.
I haven’t yet been interviewed.. because I am usually the interviewer, so I’d like to take this opportunity to ask myself a question. Can you tell us about your families’ background in Tenrikyo and how that might have affected your decision to become a head minister? Well, as many of you might already know, my mother was born here in Boyle Heights on New Year’s Day January 1, 1937 when my grandfather was one of the secretaries here at Dendocho. However, it was a turbulent time for the United States and not an easy one for Japanese Americans, being sent to Internment camps during World War 2. As a result of this unsettling time as well as other factors including language, my mother and her 6 siblings did not grow to understand Tenrikyo very well. When I have talked to my mother in the past, she admitted that one of the reasons that my mother was attracted to my father was that he was NOT Tenrikyo and that it would allow her some distance from the Tenrikyo church. My father’s family were members of the Nishi Honganji Buddhist Temple down the street in Little Tokyo, but as far as my father is concerned he was a self proclaimed atheist.
To keep things brief, after my sister and I were born, my father became heavily addicted to drugs, namely heroin, and my mother was at a point of desperation when she sought help from the Dendocho secretary who was a friend of hers, Rev. Yoshikazu Terada. Through Rev. Terada’s guidance, my father who claimed to be an atheist, experienced a miraculous blessing and was cured of his addiction to drugs, but mostly, in my opinion, he was saved by the Tenrikyo teachings in that it gave him a higher purpose for living. He was 35 years old at that time, and from that time on, my parents decided to dedicate their lives to the Tenrikyo path and he quit his job, and with my mother, me and my sister, decided to go to Jiba and attend the 3 month Spiritual Development Course. 3 months became a year, and after they returned to Los Angeles, my father decided to serve as staff members here at Dendocho. While at Dendocho, he became an important part of the publications and translation committees which, during his time, translated and edited many of our important Tenrikyo books, including the retranslation of the Ofudesaki.
He served in this capacity for over 20 years until November 1, 1990 on the very day that his own father, Senkichi Yuge passed away, we learned that he had liver cancer. After an unsuccessful attempt to treat the cancer surgically, he passed away for rebirth on February 14, 1991 at the age of 57. Before he passed away, he and my mother made a spiritual commitment to God the Parent to establish a Tenrikyo church. After he passed away, my mother wanted to honor the commitment they made, but before she made that decision, she kindly asked me first, so that she could feel assured that I would continue the church after her. That day came in 2013 when I became Head Minister of Heritage Church.
I guess this is what I would have said if I were to interview myself… God has been kind to us and I feel the warmth of God’s love through our family every day. I am certain that if God had not intervened with my father’s addiction, we would have lost him when he was 35, and our family would have been devastated and neither of my younger brothers would have been born.
I am so grateful and full of joy that I get to stand here today to make a testimony of my appreciation to God the Parent and Oyasama for the blessings that we have received and to know that due to God’s continued blessings, Trasey and I have three wonderful children who, with nurturing and experience, will help the future of the Tenrikyo mission continue in a positive trajectory. In fact, as I look around today, there are so many young inspiring young folks that are primed to add to that positive trajectory. However, I believe we can help this potential if they see a future of positivity and optimism from our congregation. For those of us, who have already made a commitment to God the Parent and Oyasama to being here and support our teachings and support our community, we need to share our vision of optimism to our younger generation so that they can feed off of that energy to do great things for our community. I think it goes without saying, that this is true for our entire Tenrikyo community, not just here in this diocese.
This must be why Daisuke-sama, the successor designate for the position of Shinbashira set up the Seminar for Successors program last year; to encourage our youth, namely those followers between 17 and 40 years old. If you recall, last year, there were Seminars held in every diocese of our faith. In our diocese we had seminars in New York, Vancouver B.C., and here at Mission Headquarters. Due to all of the hard work of the organizers and the speakers, we had a great turnout at each venue and there was a lot of enthusiasm from the participants which undoubtedly planted many seeds for the future of our path. I myself was also blessed to be involved with the Seminar as a lecturer, not for our diocese, but for a very different part of our English speaking Tenrikyo fellowship: followers in Kenya and Uganda.
The story of the Tenrikyo path in Kenya and Uganda is a longer story than I have time for today, so I don’t plan on talking about the history of the faith in Africa, just my experience with the Seminar for Successors. One thing that I DO want to mention is that the path of the Tenrikyo teachings in Kenya had its start in the “Milk for Children of Kenya” campaign that some of us might remember from when we went to Ojiba in the 1980’s and 90’s. I remember seeing banners for the campaign everywhere I went in Tenri city.
I feel so deeply blessed to have had the opportunity to speak to our fellow Tenrikyo brothers and sisters in Africa, specifically, Kampala city in Uganda and Bondo Village in Kenya. I honestly don’t know how I was chosen to speak to the followers there, but at first, I was a bit hesitant to reply yes to the request because I had no idea who or what I would encounter. I remembered that Christy Turner and Yoko Sasaki went to help with the Tenrikyo fellowship in Embu village in Kenya for a few months, and Rev. Marlon also went to the same location some 30 years ago to help build water wells. Then I found out later that Rev. Uemura went a few years ago to give a lecture in Nairobi, Kenya which was most similar to my situation and closer to the place I was being asked to go, in village called Bondo, which I learned was quite a long distance from Embu, so he gave me a lot of advice about the regulations and the health precautions that I needed to get before I can get approval for a travel visa. Thank you Rev. Uemura.
Getting there was the longest series of plane rides I had ever taken, so I was quite exhausted by the time I arrived at Kampala, Uganda but I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a group of Ugandan Tenrikyo followers that had attended the 3 month Spiritual Development Course in Jiba. There are three fellowships in Uganda, all connected to different parents churches in Japan. The first is Tenrikyo East Africa Mission Center under Onnoppu Church of Namiki Grand Church headed by Mr. Samuel Kamya, who went to Jiba for the 3-month Shuyoka and ended up staying for two years longer to learn Japanese at the Tenrikyo Language Institute. The second is a fellowship named Shinsei Uganda, under Fuchiwa Branch Church of Takayasu Grand Church which is led by Rev. Takamitsu Yamazaki who is also a minister in Japan. And the third is Tenrikyo Urakami Mission Center under Minamiura Church of Takayasu Grand Church led by Mr. Fujihiko Ishihara, who teaches Kyokushin Karate and has students that have won many awards in Africa.
The location of the Seminar was at the Urakami Mission Center which is in the middle of the bustling city of Kampala. It was much more of an urban environment than I had thought it was going to be and we even visited a newly established Japanese restaurant nearby. That doesn’t mean that it was a city like here. There were still many underdeveloped areas and there were visible signs of social and political uncertainty wherever I went. It is quite remarkable that the Tenrikyo missionaries that I met were able to establish themselves there.
There were over 60 participants who attended the Seminar with most of the followers coming in buses from the other two fellowships which were from villages outside of the city of Kampala. Many of them were meeting each other for the first time, and many of them had religious backgrounds of other faiths including Christianity and Islam, so there were very interesting group conversations and lots of questions about who this woman who performed miracles in Japan was. The point I would like to get across is that there is some tremendous work for God the Parent and Oyasama being done in both of these countries, and I was deeply moved by the experience. The Successors Seminar in Bondo Village in Kenya was similar in some ways to Uganda but different in other ways as well.
Instead of being in an urban city environment, Bondo village is about an hours drive away from the city of Kisumu, Kenya. It also happens to be near the village where former president Barack Obama’s 97 year old step-grandmother lives and the locals were very excited to tell me about his visit to the area a few years earlier. In Bondo, there are two Mission Centers. One is Tenrikyo Miyanojin Kenya Bondo Mission Center of Kochi Grand Church headed by Mr. Julius Ochieng Odalo. The other is Tenrikyo Uryu-Kenya of Shikishima Grand Church headed by Mr. Erick Otieno Onywera. Both Julius and Erick went to Jiba for the 3 month Spiritual Development course and continued their study of Tenrikyo while learning the Japanese Language at TLI, so they and others were a very important as part of the Seminar’s staff including Rev. Hiroshi Kozaki from Shikishima and Rev. Yoshimasa Nakakuma from Kochi. But I think the highlight of the Seminar was the emotional faith speech by Mr. Evans Odegu Otieno. He is a wonderful speaker and he has an amazing story of salvation that moved many of the participants to tears. I hope some day in the near future, we here in America can get the chance to have him come to speak as a guest.
Overall, my experience with the Successors Seminar in Uganda and Kenya was nothing short of inspirational. I wish more of us could see the wonderful work that is being done on behalf of God the Parent and Oyasama in those countries. I look forward to hearing more about the community there and maybe some day we can possibly have a discussion about how we can best support their efforts from here.
As far as our community here in North America, the future is bright and full of energy, yet there is so much potential that we have yet to utilize, and I think one of the best ways to express this will be though the creative expression of our faith. I know it is still 5 years away, but we will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of this Mission Headquarters in 2024. Let’s think of ways that we can use art and music and dance, as well as other forms of creative expression to enhance our celebration even more. Last year our friend, the amazing Mrs. Kazuko Smith, who has taught and performed avant-guarde and ballet dance for over 50 years, presented an idea to a small group of us to create a video or animation about the story of creation taught to us in the Truth of Origin. She has boundless energy and ambition to spread the teachings to others through art, and although the idea she presented is on hold for now, it got me thinking about we should be expanding our message in different forms.
So, let’s encourage the members in our community to create dance, or write music. I see people like Tim Shiba and Julius Wilson with incredible song writing and singing talent. We have budding artists like Aya Morishita and Shigeko Fukaya. We have Oliver Ike and Grant Inouye working in the film industry. I’m sure that there are many others who have talents that can expand this list, but this is just to start the conversation about the potential for the future.
At this point, I know that the Sunday School kids are waiting outside to help us celebrate Oyasama’s birthday so I won’t take more of your precious time. Let’s have a wonderful day and may God the Parent and Oyasama bless us all. Thank you all for your kind attention.