Monday, June 20, 2011

The Awaji Miracle 2011 - The Japan Kobe Mission - Sumoto Branch, Japan Kobe Stake

by President William McIntyre

In mid January 2010, I received a call from the Area President, who told me of the planned consolidation of the Hiroshima Mission. The consolidation was to take place on or about July 1st and would result in the closure of the Hiroshima Mission with about two thirds of that mission being absorbed by the Kobe Mission.
Shortly after hearing this news, I found a map and began to ponder the implications of this change. As I looked at the map, the island of Awaji continued to come to mind. Awaji lies between Honshu and Shikoku, two of the four main islands of Japan. Awaji sits in the Inland Sea and connects Shikoku and Honshu with two wonderful bridges located on opposite sides of the island. Near the center of Awaji, lies the town of Sumoto which is home to the Sumoto Branch of the Kobe Stake.

Sumoto was a small branch with less than 10 people average attendance at sacrament meeting each week. There had not been missionaries assigned to the branch in over 5 years. When I first arrived in the mission in 2008, President Oshima of the Kobe Stake talked to me about Sumoto and requested that if we ever have enough missionaries, he would like to see the branch reopened. He said it had been many years since there were missionaries there and the members were a little discouraged. For the first half of our mission here, we never had enough missionaries to send to Sumoto as missionary numbers never increased. And because the branch was so small and no missionaries were assigned, we never even had the chance to visit the branch during those first 18 months.

As I pondered the consolidation and studied the new mission map, I kept feeling we need to put missionaries in Sumoto. It made sense as we would need to drive across the island several times a month as we visited the districts and branches on Shikoku. I just could not imagine driving by Sumoto Branch several times a month without any missionaries serving there. I had been trying to focus our missionaries on areas of strength. This is usually interpreted as more populous cities with larger wards and branches. But I also realized that sometimes we find a small branch in a rural area that is on fire. For some reason in these areas, we find many people prepared to accept the gospel. Awaji would be the bridge to Shikoku and located almost in the center of the newly re-organized Kobe Mission. I could not help but think that something special was waiting to happen on Awaji Island. I felt the time was right to send missionaries there again.

Awaji Island is actually quite famous and plays a significant role in Japanese mythology. As I thought about sending missionaries to Awaji, I remember thinking about the old Japanese creation myth which teaches that Awaji Island was the first island created in the Japan archipelago by Izunaga and Izanami, the Father and Mother deities of Japan. And from Awaji all the other islands of Japan were formed. I felt Awaji could become a center of strength in the new mission as it became a crossroads connecting the old Hiroshima and Kobe missions. I decided it warranted a visit and sincere pondering and prayer. Little did I know then how prepared this island was for the gospel and the great miracle that awaited the members of the Sumoto Branch.





Early February 2010, Sister McIntyre and I took trip to Sumoto to see the town and confirm my feelings regarding re-opening the area. We immediately fell in love with the island. The people were kind and the scenery beautiful. We hiked up to the castle ruins and took some pictures. From the mountain we could see much of the island and across the ocean to the Kii peninsula of Wakayama. We visited a little shop on the mountain and talked with an elderly lady there. We gave her a tract. As we hiked down the mountain to the car I told Sister McIntyre we have just opened this island up again for proselyting and she was our first contact.

Later that month we had the opportunity to attend the Kobe Stake Conference. I had the opportunity to speak at one of the sessions. In my remarks, I told a story about President Monson when he served as a mission president in Canada. When President Monson first arrived in his mission, he visiting a small branch and had a meeting with the branch president. The branch president showed him a picture of a beautiful large chapel and told President Monson he wanted to build one like that for his branch. President Monson told him he would need about 400 members attending to justify such a large chapel. At the time there were only about 10 members attending that branch, largely consisting of the branch president’s family. Not at all discouraged by President Monson’s remark, this wonderful branch president told president Monson that if he would send him 6 missionaries, he would find 400 members. As the story goes, President Monson sent him those missionaries. Upon arrival, the missionaries and the branch president knelt down together and offered a prayer. In the prayer the branch president said that today was the day they would begin to build their new chapel. After the prayer, he reached up and pulled the phone book off the shelf. He said if we are going to build a chapel we need a carpenter. So he began to call every carpenter in the phone book and invited them to his house. He did the same with electricians, painters and so on. Everyone who came to his home he would introduce to the missionaries. President Monson said that by the end of his mission, that branch built a beautiful new chapel and there were several hundred members attending the branch. I shared this story with the members of the Kobe Stake and testified to them of the great power that comes from members and missionaries working together and of the great blessings that come when members open their mouths and share the gospel.

I then told them that I wanted to send missionaries to Sumoto. I had heard that Sumoto had a goal of one convert baptism for that year. That seemed like a good goal to them as there were only a few members attending and no missionaries assigned. I told them that if the branch would raise their vision to 5 baptisms for the year we would send missionaries and work with them to build up the church on Awaji.

Immediately following the meeting, President Kasai of the Sumoto Branch approached me on the stand. He had tears in his eyes and he embraced me. He said please send us missionaries. He then pulled from his suit pocket a piece of paper with a long list of names on it. He told me, "we have friends and we want to share the gospel." I promised him we would send him missionaries.

A few weeks later, Sister McIntyre and I went back to Awaji to find an apartment for the missionaries. We finally found a nice place only a few minutes from the church. The church was located on the first floor of a small and very old building. It was not attractive and would only hold around 15 people comfortably for sacrament meeting. I remember telling Sister McIntyre, we got to have a nicer and bigger church here.We officially opened the area in April and sent two of our finest missionaries, Elder Ito and Elder Budge. President Kasai and his family helped us move the missionaries in and purchase necessary appliances. That very same day, President Kasai had set up appointments for the missionaries to meet people. I had very high hopes for the area.The missionaries were excited. They received many referrals and worked hard contacting as many people as they could. While I expected and hoped to see a baptism there within a month or two, we saw nothing. The elders focused their efforts on less actives and part member families. Several times they had baptisms scheduled, but they always fell through. Then finally after a thorough trial of our faith and after we had been sufficiently humbled, something began to happen on the Island of Awaji.

Baptisms!

In September (2010) the missionaries baptized Sister Akita. She was found by the missionaries as they went house to house contacting. In November, Brother Uchitani, who was referred by the members was baptized. In December, Mikey Simmons was baptized, a referral from a part member family (his parents are members). In February 2011, Sister Hosoda was baptized. She was referred by her daughter who is a member in the branch. Then things started to really accelerate.

By this time, church attendance was already over 20 members every week, more than doubled from a year earlier. Efforts to find a new church location were accelerated. Missionaries had not only been baptizing, but helping with re-activation efforts as well and it was clear that the branch had outgrown the current accommodations.

In April (2011), the branch saw two more families join the church. First, the Tachibana family was found housing by the missionaries. They introduced the Ebisu family and both families were all baptized on the same day. Ten new members (7 over the age of 8 were baptized). Then in May, another member referral, Torii Shimai was baptized. The church could not accommodate any more members! A new building was finally located as attendance at the Sumoto Branch exceeded 30 people each week. But it has not ended there. This last week in Sumoto the Kawakami Family was also baptized, adding four more new members to the branch. Just about one year after re-opening the branch, average attendance is now over 40 people.

The new chapel will hold 40 members comfortably, but it has room for expansion. When the missionaries heard they had found a new building, they called me and expressed their excitement and joy. But they also told me they had a big concern. They said, "President, the new building is great, but it only holds 40 people. It is not big enough! What should we do?" I told them to keep doing exactly what they have been doing and we would work it out.

Perhaps in the near future Sumoto will have its very own building and not rented space. I am sure it can happen. When missionaries and members work together, great miracles can and do happen. The miracle of Awaji is not over. They are several more people scheduled for baptism in the coming weeks.

The memory of that little branch will always be a special part of my mission. It is a testimony of what is possible with a big vision, unity with the members and a lot of faith and hard work.

When we have faith and works and are obedient to the Lord, we can see miracles. We will never forget the miracle we witnessed on Awaji and the wonderful members of the Sumoto Branch.


21 comments:

Jeff said...

Thank you so much for sharing the wonderful Awaji story President. As an old missionary who spent six months in 2003 on Awaji, it brought me great joy to read about the miracles that have taken place there. I hope I will have the opportunity to again visit the branch at some point (perhaps it will be a ward then). Thank you so much for your contribution to making that miracle possible. I as well as many other past missionaries and friends will continue to pray for more miracles on that wonderful island we still hold so dear. May the Lord continue to bless those doing his marvelous work and wonder.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your wonderful experience. I find great joy in your success. Keep the great work of teaching the gospel of our Savior going in Kobe. My prayers and love go with you.

Mat Dastrup
Japan Tokyo South Mission
mat@dastrupfam.com

Preston said...

I was a missionary in Sumoto for four months in 1988. At the time, there were few members and we met in an old house with a hand made baptismal font in the back. We didn't have the bridge connecting Awaji and Honshu at the time, so the only way to get to district or zone conferences was via a ferry that connected the northern end of the island and Akashi or one that connected the island with a port in Suma (Kobe).

I haven't heard from anyone there since the earthquake on '95 and I understand that it was epicentered just off the island of Awaji.

The people on that island are special and I am glad that the missionaries are now working among them again.

Yolanda said...

Marvelous!

davidbudge said...

This makes me sooooo happy President! The members in Sumoto were so incredible when we came back. They deserve every last miracle they are seeing there! Thank you so much for writing this all out so beautifully! This is a treasure.

David Budge

The Fontanets said...

President Monson's experience & yours are great examples of possibilities becoming realities.
My family has really enjoyed your blog!! It makes us want to do a mission! We will miss your insights into the missionary life in Japan.
Our best wishes to all of you.

Julie Stout said...

Wonderful story! We love you McIntyres!

bunchahams said...

miracles happen when we take that first step with faith. XO Awaji saints and missionaries! -linda

Chris VanCampen said...

Thank you for the story of what is happening on Awaji Island. I was there for 5 months in 1987, and went senior there. I also recognize Pres. Kasai- I believe he was a missionary at the same time I was. It does my heard good to hear that the small branch there isn't so small anymore. We used to meet in a crooked narrow old house on the road between downtown and the old missionary apartment. We did baptize two people when I was there. I am thankful that you listened to your inspiration and facilitated so great a miracle. I would love to go back and visit the thriving Sumoto Branch someday!

Velma said...

This is wonderful news...I love the people of Japan and I pray that more people will except the Gospel message, and join the church!! I have three good friends there in the outskirts of Tokyo cities...I have given them Book of Mormons. Hope & pray someday they will join the church!

Annie O said...

Pres McIntyre:

I was so excited to open the LDS Living page and see you and your lovely wife. Thanks for sharing the sweet story of miracles. I miss working with you but I'm grateful you're doing a greater work where you are. Thanks for the inspiration you are.

Annie O

Alice Wills Gold said...

Wow. What a testament to the importance of following the Spirit. It's God's work, of course He guides His servants: mission president, fulltime missionary, and member missionaries are all guided the same if they will just listen.

Jeff said...

This is a great story. I lived on Awaji (in Seidan-cho) for 4 years in the mid 90's and was a part of the branch. It always had a great spirit, it was just small in numbers. Great to hear that more people on that wonderful island are enjoying the gospel.

Sister Linda Gold, SLC said...

President McIntyre, it has been wonderful to be able to receive information on your blog concerning the Japan earthquake 2011, the mission, and the work being done there. May you rejoice at this the end of your mission presidency, knowing you have helped the Lord. Elder Andrew Neff is our neighbor and serves in Kobe Japan Mission also. You will all be coming home in July. Our thanks to the Lord for preserving you all.

CoolCasey said...

I visited Sumoto as a DL in '88 and wished I could have served there. What a fantastic story. May the Lord continue to bless the faithful.

Anonymous said...

Pres McIntyre,

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of miracles! I served in Sendai in 89-90, worked in Matsuyama for a few years after that. I love to hear the success stories that come from Japan.

becky clarke

cortnieb said...

Thank you for posting this story President McIntyre!!!! Our Elder Draper just baptized that family of four and we are so grateful for your wonderful example and service to him as his mission President!!! Our prayers are that the work continues to grow in Awaji!!!

Anonymous said...

I hate the fact that the people in these stories so quickly devolve into mere numbers. They are not numbers, they are people. With hopes and dreams and love and worries. Then again, there is strength in numbers. Every saint matters, but so does team work! We are supposed to bear one another's burdens, and lighten each member's load. Each new member gives the long-timers hope. Not to mention friendship! I loved this story, and wish I could do more to buoy up the saints in 淡路島

Anonymous said...

Dear President,

Wonderful to read of this miracle. I served in Akashi in 1977 and used to look across the water to this little island and wish we could go there. You are so right about the opportunities in the little places. I served in both Nara and the South Kyoto branch (Kyoto Daini in those days). There were many people waiting to hear the gospel and the formula you mentioned for success worked as well than as it does now. God bless you for your great and eternal work.

Brad Howell
Japan Kobe Mission 76-78
howellb2@yahoo.com

BTW. I serve with a Loren McIntyre in the 70's. Wouldn't happen to be related?

G. Hughes said...

Thank you for this wonderful story. I was a missionary serving in Sumoto in 2005. It was my final area. My heart broke when I was told that my companion was also to transfer, and that no missionaries would replace us. I didn't know that it had been closed for so long, and I am overjoyed that missionaries are once again working with the members on that blessed island.

Ralph said...

Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful experience. I had the amazing blessing of serving among the beautiful people of Awaji for six months in 1980-81 under President Porter. I have many cherished memories from that experience! Members like Sister Kamidoi, Sister Shirakawa, Brother Bando, and many others left indelible imprints in my mind and spirit that I will carry into the eternities. When I first arrived in Sumoto we had about 60 members, of which 4 were what you might term active. We managed to get that to 10 members after 6 months, but there was still so much work to do. As I read your account, one name shot out like lightning. The name "Tachibana" is not a common one. I remember meeting and teaching an amazing young man with that surname. Could they be related? He never joined the church (at least not while I was there), but I still think about him from time to time, wondering how he's doing. I would be so grateful if someone asked them if the name Tobias Choro rings a bell. Awaji and Sumoto are truly beautiful, almost magical, places. Oh how I love my Japanese brothers and sisters! Thank you again for taking the time to share your experience. I have no doubt the gospel will continue to bless more and more lives on that tiny but significant island.