The Protestant Missions — March 29, 2011 at 8:20 am

the continuing ministry in the prisons!

by

Kataoka Kenkichi

In sad contrast with the Kindergartens where laughing, innocent children engage in happy games and pleasant occupations are the prisons with their bars and locks, and with the clanking chains that fetter the movements of the gloomy inmates. Yet Christianity seeks everywhere its opportunities to help men, and He who took the children in His arms to bless them said that a part of His mission was to preach deliverance to captives. We have already seen how at times Japanese prisons had proved fertile fields for Christian effort, and some further incidents may here be related.

The Kumi-ai Church in Matsuyama

The Kumi-ai Church in Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku had obtained permission to have someone go every noon to the local prisons and preach to any that cared to listen. Usually about fifty persons attended these services. On rainy days the evangelists would enter the rooms of the prison to explain the Bible to those that desired it. This teaching was made more effective by the change in the conduct of the chief warden, who had been led by a missionary lady to accept Christ as his Savior. Whereas he had formerly been very severe in his treatment of the prisoners, he now became forbearing and kind. In 1888 a man that had been convicted of murdering three persons was in prison awaiting the day set for his execution. He was led by the evangelist to repentance and a belief in Christ.

On the fatal day he was brought to the place of execution, where his eyes were bandaged and the official sentence of condemnation was read to him. He was then asked whether there was any article of food or drink that he would like to receive as a last favor before suffering the penalty of the law. The man replied that he would soon be beyond thoughts of hunger and thirst, and so he would be glad to have the cost of the promised gift spent in buying some delicacy for any of the prisoners that might be ill. Then, having received permission to pray, he did so in the following words, as they were reported by one of the officials:

“Heavenly Father, I have been a great sinner and must now die for my crimes; but while I was in prison Thou didst greatly bless me by opening my heart, baptizing me with the Gospel of Jesus, and filling my soul with joy and peace through the atonement that He made on the cross. At this time of suffering the penalty of death, Thou hast given me hope and everlasting peace. O Father, now I go to Thee. Receive my soul. I beseech Thee, O Father, have mercy on my mother and my sister. I beseech Thee to lead them to believe in Thee. As Thou hast saved me, I beseech Thee to save all these my brother and sister prisoners who are in this jail.”

Rising from his knees, he made a few last requests to the warden. The principal one was: “Please see that my aged mother and my young sister soon learn to know the truth as it is in Jesus, and become believers.

Please say to them that this is my dying wish and legacy.” The man’s evident sincerity made a deep impression on all the officers that were present.

 

Taneaki Hara, Founder of the Tokyo Home for Ex-Convicts

The petition for certain political reforms

Not all prisoners are hardened criminals. In December, 1887, a number of persons had gone to Tokyo in order to petition the Government in behalf of certain political reforms. The Government issued “Regulations for the Preservation of the Public Peace,” and commanded the leading petitioners to leave the city. Some of them thought it their duty to protest against what they considered a tyrannical order by disobeying it. They were arrested and sent to prison. Some of these were men that afterwards occupied high official positions. Among them was Mr. Kataoka Kenkichi, a Christian, who a few years later became Chairman of the National House of Representatives. Another Christian has written an interesting account of his own experiences at this time. When arrested, he had taken his Bible, but was told that the rules prohibited prisoners from bringing anything with them. Saying that he was a Christian and therefore felt the need of a Bible, he asked permission to petition for one; but the keeper refused to forward his request to the higher authorities. Afterwards it was learned that the Department of Home Affairs had refused to let the Christians have Bibles. At a later date this restriction was removed, and the writer feelingly describes the great joy with which he spent the moments of leisure from menial and distasteful tasks in perusing the sacred pages. He also says:

“After we were permitted to have the Bible and other religious books, many of the prisoners who were not believers began to read them. As many as five hundred of them read more or less, some of them became earnest Christians and gave us great joy. Several of these, as they went out to labor or to become nurses in the hospital, became the means of spreading the story of God’s love among other prisoners, and some were converted.
Thus we were not imprisoned in vain. It was the will of God that we should receive training in a practical school of theology.”

A still more noteworthy event in connection with prisons was the appointment of men as teachers of morality; or, since Christians were deliberately chosen and were expected to use Christian methods and motives, they might be called chaplains. In the northern island of Yezo large prisons had been established to which were sent criminals from all parts of Japan who were under sentence of twelve years or more. The newly appointed warden of one of those prisons, a man who was earnest in seeking the welfare of those under his charge, was convinced that they could be most helped through some one imbued with the principles of Christianity.

Chaplains in the Yezo Prison

Hence he secured the services of Mr. Hara Taneaki as instructor in morals. A little later Rev. Tomeoka Kosuke was given a similar position in another prison. Both of these men have since become widely known for what they have done to help prisoners, discharged convicts, and wayward youths. At one time, all five of the prisons for long-sentence criminals had such chaplains. In addition to the ethical instruction given to all the inmates, they taught Christianity to those who desired to learn about it, were ever ready to give helpful counsel to those that sought personal interviews, and in other ways exerted an influence that proved the means of fitting many to lead upright lives after their terms of imprisonment were over. This good work continued until in 1895 a new superintendent of the prisons imposed restrictions that led to the withdrawal of the chaplains.

Japanese page for Kataoka Kenkichi

a tribute to Hara Taneaki

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