Mr. Sawabe received two-man who were interested in Christianity. Mr. Kannari, who after-wards became a prominent evangelist and Mr. Arai; though only a youth, had a reputation of being a talented scholar. Both were deeply impressed by what they had heard. These new inquirers were taking an active part in the political movement of the time. With others of the Sendai clan, they favored an attempt that was being made to rally adherents of the Shogun and establish a republic in Yezo. Seeing that their numbers were insufficient for the impending conflict with the Imperial forces, they returned in April,1869, to their province in the hope of getting others to join them. They found Sendai occupied by the Imperial troops and such a sharp watch being kept that they were obliged to remain in concealment. In conversation with those whom they met clandestinely they repeated what they had learned about Christianity.
As education had been highly valued by the Sendai clan, it possessed many man of superior ability. They were now regarded as rebels. A few of them had been put to death and others had no opportunity of using their talents in direct service of their country. many of them became farmers or else went into retirement while they watched the course of events and hoped for better times. It was among such man that Mr. Arai found persons ready to hear about a religion whose nature they did not clearly understand but which seemed to offer a ray of hope for their own future and for that of their country, which they considered to be in a deplorable condition. The speedy defeat of the rebels in Yezo overthrew plans of those opposed to the new order of things. Might not the Christian religion be used as a means for averting some of the evils that threatened the land?
In January,1870, Mr. Arai went again to Hakodate. Mr. Sawabe heard with joy that the samurai of Sendai were ready to listen to Christianity. It seemed to him that by their help a movement could be commenced for the spiritual and political renovation of Japan. He had Mr. Arai write a letter to these man urging them to come to Hakodate for the study of Christianity. The reasons presented were chiefly political; the argument used being that the new religion would be the best instrument for uniting the hearts of the man who, discontented with the present trend of national affairs, were working for the good of their country. With Mr, Sawabe himself at this time, patriotic motives were probably more powerful than those that were directly religious
Several of Mr. Arai’s friends decided to heed the call. Some of the man thought that a movement could be inaugurated that would restore the clan to its former position of influence, others agreed with Mr. Sawabe’s view that a new religion would provide a bond of national unity, and some had the idea that by association with the foreign priests in Hakodate a way might open for their going to Europe. The writer of the Japanese history of the Mission compares these man to those who at first followed Christ because they thought He would free Judea from the Roman yoke, but who afterward learned to know His real mission and became the pillars of the early church.
Those who decided to go to Hakodate sold their goods, bade farewell to their friends, and set out in two or three small companies. When the first party of three men reached their destination, they learned that pere Nicolai, who was to be their teacher, was not there (he was in Russia at the time), On going to Mr. Sawabe’s house, they found that he was temporarily absent, and, moreover, that, instead of being, as they had supposed, a wealthy man able to become their patron, he had hard work to provide his own support. Mr. Sawabe sent for Mr. Arai, who was surprised to learn that his friends had come so promptly. Until late at night he answered their questions about Christianity and used a small manual of doctrine which he read and explained. The new comers soon saw that Christianity was much different from what they had supposed, and some of the doctrines they found difficult to understand. There was some talk among them of returning to Sendai; but they thought they would be ridiculed by their friends and so they decided to remain long enough to give Christianity a thorough examination.
The Japanese historian remarks that if these men had found Mr. Sawabe in flourishing circumstances and immediately met Pere Nicolai, it is probable that they would have been unable to see anything save in the light of the motives that had brought them to Hakodate, and thus their selfish purposes would have been strengthened as to blind their eyes to the truth. Disappointed as they were, they were now willing to listen humbly to Mr. Arai and Mr. Sawabe who soon returned home. Ere long they became deeply interested in their study of Christianity.
Meanwhile four others were journeying towards Hakodate. They passed through the village were one of their friends named Kageta was in hiding because he was a prominent samurai of the clan. After some persuasion they induced him to come with them to Hakodate. These new additions were heartily welcome by Mr. Sawabe. His house had been burned, so that he was living in a shed on the grounds connected with the shrine where he had once serves as a priest.Though everything was in a confused state, there was considerable room in the building and he gave gladly shelter to all the men from Sendai.
Mr. Sawabe is described as having been at this time a rough, fierce-looking man, who from his outward appearance might have been taken for one of the blood-thirsty swashbucklers whose riotous conduct gave so much annoyance in the troubles times of the revolution. His heart, however, had already been so softened by Christianity that his words and acts were gentle. As they were well-educated men, they asked many questions that he found difficult to answer. Hitherto he had despised learning, considering it a sign of effeminacy to spend much time over books. Now he mourned over the difficulty he had in understanding the meaning of his Chinese new testament. He saw that he needed to study if he did not wish to be put to shame, and he recognized that his lack of literary culture would greatly limit his usefulness. Hence he set himself tor studying the Chinese classics, and also borrowed books on various subjects in order that by their perusal he might remedy some of his defects.
Of all the men from Sendai, Mr. Kageta was the least ready to give assent to the new teaching. While the others busied themselves in copying the Bible, he said that he would not take the trouble to do so until he had found out whether its doctrines ere true or false.
It would be instructive if we had a record of what was said in this interesting class whose teachers had so slight knowledge of the doctrines they taught, doctrines so different from anything these man had before believed. One day for instance a discussion arose over Christ’s words “Love your enemies”. Did this mean that revenge should not be visited upon the enemies of one’s feudal lord? Some asserted that it could mean nothing less. the there was great excitement. These men had from childhood been taught the Confucian precept, “Live not under the same sky with the murderer of they lord or father.”They said that they could not accept the new teaching which was so contrary of the fundamental principles of loyalty and filial duty. When one of their number, who had first kept silent, ventured to say that this new idea ought not to be set aside lightly without due consideration, the others glared at him as though he was the one with whom they ought not to live under the same sky.
Mr. Ono, the man who had thus spoken, had from the beginning been very susceptible to Christian ideas. Even with such imperfect teaching, he had become convinced that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity were true, and he had become desirous of teaching them to others.
After a time the funds of these men ran low. Mr. Ono and Arai returned to Sendai. the others also began considering returning home, but Mr. Sawabe was anxious to keep them in Hakodate until Pere Nicolai returned from Russia. In providing for their support he went so far as to sell his sword, a great sacrifice for a samurai to make. At last he proposed, for he was still imbued with the old ideas of his people, to sell his wife in order to gain funds for the same purpose. The others would not consent to this, and all but two returned to their homes. They were so convinced of what they had heard that they began to teach it to their relatives and other friends. A pardon was extended to the members of the clan, Mr. Kageta was at liberty to go wherever he pleased. He had become an earnest believer, and now openly collected people together that he might read and explain to them the manual of Christian doctrine.
(Mr. Arai soon went to America in the suite of Mr. Mori Arinori, the Japanese Minister.)