A Neo-Anabaptist Approach to Missions:
Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter and the Hokkaido Mennonite Church, 1949-1980
Abstract: Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter’s approach to Mennonite missionary service in Hokkaido, Japan, embodied an emerging neo-Anabaptist vision of missions that stood in sharp contrast to the Mennonite mission movement of the nineteenth century, which had borrowed deeply from mainstream Protestantism. As articulated by John Howard Yoder and other members of the Concern Movement, this model of missions emphasized cultural sensitivity and face-to-face relationships; it stressed discipleship over numerical growth; and it cultivated sending congregations rooted in a commitment to the believers church. Ralph’s experience in Civilian Public Service and the couple’s dedication to peacemaking gave them a unique identity in post-World War II Japan. Their success in realizing this new mission model depended heavily on the depth of their relationships with Japanese Christians who, in equal partnership with the Buckwalters, made the work of church and community building as distinctly Japanese as it was distinctly Mennonite.
In November of 1948, three years after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a Japanese educator came to Goshen College’s Fall Missionary Conference with a troubling tale and a stirring invitation. Speaking before an audience of college and seminary students, Dr. Takuo Matsumoto, president of Hiroshima Girl’s School, described how the atomic bomb had demolished his school building, painfully injured his daughter, and killed his wife, eighteen of his teachers and three hundred of his students. With a gentleness of spirit that astounded his youthful Mennonite audience, Matsumoto asked his listeners to forgive the Japanese people and bring the Gospel of Jesus to his country. Ralph E. Buckwalter, a student seated in the crowd that day, heard in Matsumoto’s words a direct and compelling challenge. ?Imagine how we felt when he asked us to forgive Japan for the great wrongs she had committed,? he wrote later. ?We couldn’t help but cry, ?No, forgive us! Forgive our blindness, our lack of concern, our failure to be truly Christian.?? Although Buckwalter had no way of knowing it at the time, Matsumoto’s speech was a catalyst that eventually led him and his wife, Genevieve, to devote thirty years of their lives to mission work in Japan’a life of service characterized by the same gentle spirit and forgiving attitude so evident in Matsumoto’s speech.
At the time of Matsumoto’s invitation, missions in a Japanese context seemed daunting. No Mennonite missionaries had previously served in Japan; a deep cultural divide separated the Buckwalters and the Japanese people; and the devastating consequences of the atomic bombs were still fresh in the Japanese memory. Under such circumstances, wondered the Buckwalters, how and why should Mennonites engage in mission?
For Ralph and Genevieve, the answer to this question emerged out of a growing conviction that Christian missionary service was, at its best, a way to reconciliation and relationship with the Japanese people. The Buckwalters? career as Mennonite missionaries thus embodied an emerging neo-Anabaptist theology clearly articulated by John Howard Yoder that placed pacifism, human relationship and believers church at the center of Christian discipleship. Yet even as the Buckwalters embraced this new, distinctive theology of mission, they also came to depend fully on local Japanese people for insights into the cultural context. Ultimately, it was the relationship between the Buckwalters and their Japanese friends’mutual partnerships that made church development a shared task’that nurtured the creation of a new, markedly Mennonite approach to mission and Christian community.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Mennonite missions in the decades prior to World War II were more mainstream Protestant than distinctly Mennonite. As the historian Theron Schlabach has argued in Gospel Versus Gospel: Mission and the Mennonite Church, 1863-1944, the Mennonite missionary movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century borrowed deeply from Anglo-American models of Protestant revivalism and fundamentalism. Although Mennonites at home retained a sharply distinctive cultural identity, Mennonites on the mission front did not generally develop a theology of mission that reflected this identity, nor did they regard their convictions about the ?gospel of peace? as the foundation of their missionary efforts. Instead, they tended to engage in mission as ?a formula for being respected Americans and becoming so quite comfortably with the sanction of faith and religion.?
In the early 1940s, however, the complexities of World War II disrupted this pattern. The U.S.?s entrance to the war at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought forth a ?floodtide of activity? in Mennonite circles, reframed Mennonite theological identity and changed the course of the Mennonite missionary movement. In the spring of 1941 Mennonites began working with other Historic Peace Churches and the United States government to create Civilian Public Service (C.P.S.) as an alternative to military conscription. The creation of C.P.S. pushed Mennonites out from their isolated, separatist communities into the public sphere. It challenged their views of two-kingdom theology by prodding them to engage the state according to pacifist convictions’something the previous Mennonite social ethic of ?quiet in the land? had not encouraged. C.P.S. thus brought active pacifism to the forefront of the collective Mennonite consciousness. It gave the Mennonite community distinctive public witness and a unique identity as conscientious objectors in a wartime context. In the words of one historian, Melvin Gingerich, it successfully equated peacemaking with ?the better way of Christ.?
At the same time, Mennonite scholars published several landmark writings that further encouraged their faith communities to ponder the meaning of Anabaptism in an age of increased public involvement and nuclear threat. In 1944, Guy F. Hersberger’s War, Peace and Nonresistance summarized Mennonite identity as being consistently and radically nonresistant. Hershberger challenged his contemporaries to see Christian discipleship as living ?a life of love and good will, even toward our enemies, and to renounce the use of force and violence in all forms.?
Even more influential was Harold Bender’s distillation of Anabaptist core convictions in ?The Anabaptist Vision,? first published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review in the spring of 1944 and reprinted many times since. Interpreting the radical witness of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, Bender freshly advocated a new (or neo-) form of contemporary Anabaptism that emphasized ?Christianity as discipleship,? ?the church as a brotherhood? and an ?ethic of love and nonresistance.? His work gave Mennonite distinctives a decidedly Anabaptist theological foundation and emphasized a theme of transforming peace and reconciliation foreign to much of mainstream Protestantism. Most important, however, Bender’s work invited Mennonites to a revised understanding of Anabaptism’s meaning, message and active witness. According to Schlabach, Mennonites exposed to Bender’s ideas ?went forth with an invitation to a new kind of living in a new kind of group: as serious suffering disciples in God’s visible new community.? For young Mennonites just emerging from their ethnic and rural enclaves, being Anabaptist and nonresistant suddenly meant having a distinct identity and unique message for the world. Anabaptism had taken on contemporary relevance’at least in theoretical terms.
Yet Bender’s ideas came without any clearly established criteria. As Bender himself commented, ?The Anabaptist vision was not a detailed blueprint for the reconstruction of human society.? Rather, it presented an ethical vision waiting to be translated into action. In the early 1950s, a group of recent Mennonite college graduates doing mission and relief work in Europe, many of them students of Bender, took up this challenge of articulating a model for Mennonite social ethics in line with ?The Anabaptist Vision.? Led by John Howard Yoder, the group published a pamphlet series entitled Concern between 1954 and 1971 to record their ideas and convictions. The writings of the Concern Movement strongly emphasized koinonia, or community, and developed a ?vision of the church according to which spirit supersedes structure, essence transcends form, and the simple resists the complex.? In addition, they resisted institutional definitions of the church, defining it instead as ?an intimate fellowship of believers? necessitating only ??two or three . . . gathered together in the presence of Jesus.??
Yoder, whose theological writings proved foundational for the Concern Movement, formulated a neo-Anabaptist perspective on mission, which the missiologist Joon-Sik Park has summarized. According to Park, Yoder regarded the Radical Reformation churches? peace witness as central to the Gospel and envisioned Mennonite commitment to nonresistance as a way of getting ?under the wall? of the colonial domination that had so often characterized mainstream Christian missions. He envisioned mission as a service in which evangelization meant an ?invitation to discipleship’?rather than a single-minded focus on church growth. Echoing Concern’s ideal of the church as community, Yoder advocated an approach to mission that focused on the growing congregation, or body of believers, rather than the missionaries themselves. Arguing further that the early Anabaptists had initiated the first ecumenical movement in church history, he identified ecumenical unity and conversation with the larger Christian church as a goal for Mennonite missions. In his 1961 book As You Go, Yoder outlined a practical missionary model that he called ?migration evangelism.?  Missionaries, he suggested, should plan to become nationalized in the country in which they served; their own language should extend no further than one generation; and they should be self-supporting. Emerging from the same context that shaped the Buckwalters? mission experience, Yoder’s theology of mission articulated convictions and practices that they, with their Japanese community, would come to embody.
FROM CHILDHOOD TO MISSION APPOINTMENT:
HEARING A CALL TO A MISSION OF RECONCILIATION
The Buckwalters? approach to mission was deeply influenced by their upbringing in a Mennonite culture. Both Ralph and Genevieve were born into Mennonite minister families’Ralph to Earl and Florida Rose (Shank) Buckwalter on August 20, 1923, in Hesston, Kansas, and Genevieve to Joseph and Stella (Sharp) Lehman in Kenmare, North Dakota, on December 25, 1923. Both chose baptism at early ages: Genevieve at 10, and Ralph at 9. And both experienced frequent contact with Mennonite missionaries. Genevieve’s mother had spent time working at the Hallman’s Mennonite City Mission in Ohio and nurtured an interest in foreign missions throughout her life. Ralph’s family often hosted church leaders and missionaries on furlough in the U.S., and Ralph later wrote, ?It just grew on me that serving in overseas mission was my calling.? Thus, traditional Mennonite culture and the early twentieth-century Mennonite mission movement influenced their early identities and aspirations.
Yet Ralph and Genevieve were also shaped by the dynamic social and theological changes within Mennonite circles that pointed them toward a new approach to missions consistent with a distinctive neo-Anabaptist theology. These changes became especially evident in the Buckwalters? own lives during World War II when Ralph entered C.P.S. and Genevieve left for nurses training at the La Junta Mennonite School of Nursing in La Junta, Colorado. During her time at La Junta, Genevieve felt God calling her to a life of service on behalf of the suffering and alienated. Her interaction with a Japanese woman who had come from a U.S. internment camp for treatment of tuberculosis opened her eyes to her country’s internal prejudices and nurtured her emerging commitment to a life of compassionate service.
At the same time, Ralph’s C.P.S. experiences deepened his awareness of God’s call to service and peacemaking. He described his first eight months of work on the Deerfield Dam in Hill City, South Dakota, as a ?mountaintop experience? during which he ?looked long into God’s face.? His next twenty months as an orderly at Ypsilanti Mental Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, were, by contrast, a ?[descent] into the valley of pain and brokenness to walk with Christ and be his hands and feet.? As Ralph reflected later, ?The events surrounding World War II occurred at a time when I was forming strong convictions based on my faith in Christ, convictions regarding Christian discipleship and the way of forgiving love and reconciliation in solving human conflict.? When at Ypsilanti, where Ralph recognized that ?preaching the Gospel in a foreign country should be the work of my life,? he did so with a deep conviction that Christ’s call to missionary service was a call to peacemaking and reconciled relationship.
In June of 1943, Ralph and Genevieve, now engaged to be married, declared their commitment to overseas missionary service publicly in a church service at La Junta. By May of 1946, one month before Ralph finished his C.P.S. term as educational director at a swamp drainage project in Powellsville, Maryland, he and Genevieve began discussions with J. D. Graber, secretary of Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, about working with Mennonite Central Committee in France. Following their marriage on June 12, 1947, the couple agreed to Graber’s recommendation to defer relief work for study at Goshen College and Seminary so as to prepare themselves for a ?greater mission task’?possibly, Graber recommended, in India or Belgium. On February 22, 1949, three months after their encounter with Matsumoto, Ralph and Genevieve accepted a missionary appointment to Belgium to begin in the summer following their college graduation.
However, Matsumoto’s invitation to Japan in the fall of 1949 had affected them deeply, and they could not let go of his compelling words. In a letter of May 3, 1949, written in hurried, smudged type, Ralph unexpectedly confessed to Graber that he and Genevieve saw in Belgium only a ?closed door.? He explained,
Tonight the answer is clear. We cannot tell exactly how it has all come about but we are confident that this is from God. It is the first time in weeks (it is over two months) that my spirit has found release. . . . Today in this experience Japan has entered my thinking. . . . We want to get more information on Japan and pray much about it too. . . . We definitely want to seek God’s will in this matter to see whether this is of the Lord. Perhaps the Board is not too anxious to enter Japan now. Maybe they will be by next year. One thing we do know, that if the Lord is working in the hearts of a number of people He will provide the finances and the courage for volunteers and for the Board to venture out in ?naked? faith that those who have not heard of Christ might know him.
Two weeks later, the General Mission Board’s Executive Committee agreed to the Buckwalters? request and passed an action to take up the question of sending missionaries to Japan during its annual session. At the meeting the Mission Board moved to ?seek to open a Gospel witness in Japan at the earliest opportunity,? appointing the Buckwalters, in partnership with Carl and Esther Beck, as the first Mennonite missionaries to the war-torn nation of Japan. On September 18, 1949, Ralph’s father, Earl, ordained him a minister of the Mennonite Church. On December 17, 1949, Ralph and Genevieve arrived in Japan’s Yokohama harbor on the S. S. General Gordon, thus beginning a thirty- year exploration of Christian service that would require the translation of an emerging neo-Anabaptism into concrete, missional terms.
THE MOTIVE AND POSTURE OF EVANGELISM:
RECONCILIATION AND HUMILITY
When the Buckwalters arrived in Japan, they had no idea what to expect. Contrary to normal procedure, the Mission Board had never sent a commissioner to Japan to gather facts and present a report in order to orient the missionaries before their arrival; neither had it provided the Buckwalters with a specific blueprint for action. As Minnie Graber, wife of J. D. Graber, wrote in Harvest in Japan:
[The Mission Board] simply assumed that the need [for missionary service] existed and the problem then remaining before us was to get our missionaries into the country, make provisions for their language study and orientation and then with them try to find, under the leading of the Spirit, a place of need and opportunity in Japan where we could establish a mission work and church.
As it turned out, however, the absence of a carefully planned strategy for mission had a profound benefit: it not only allowed for creative exploration of new approaches to mission, but it also meant that substantial personal relationships, careful cultural observation and the initiative of local Japanese leadership characterized the Buckwalters? mission experience from the start.
Japan had been the focus of Christian mission’albeit often in the context of Western imperialism’long before the arrival of Mennonites. The Roman Jesuits had established missions stretching from Kyushu to Kyoto as early as 1549; three centuries later, in 1876, a group of Protestant missionaries led by J. C. Hepburn instituted the Congrega-tional (Kumiai) Church. The greatest surge of mission interest, however, came in the years following 1945 when General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. occupation forces in Japan, described the country as the ?greatest missionary opportunity . . . since the beginning of the Christian Era,? and requested that 1000 missionaries arrive in Japan as soon as possible. At the same time, MacArthur repealed Shintoism, the state-sponsored, highly militaristic religion which, under the Meiji Constitution of 1889, declared nationalism to be Japan’s ultimate ideology, and named the Japanese emperor as God incarnate.
By the mid-1950s, Japan had indeed become home to more than 1000 missionaries, with the Mennonite Church joining numerous other denominations already on the islands. In 1950, shortly after the Buckwalters? arrival, J. D. Graber wrote that the Mennonite Church ?shared the general worldwide interest in entering Japan’s open door.? Like other Protestant groups, he noted, Mennonites saw in post-war Japanese society ?stony places ? broken up, and the ground . . . fully plowed? for evangelism and church building.  ?Is not this the time for sowing’? he asked. Carl Beck, the Buckwalters? missionary co-worker, echoed the mainstream, Christian opinion in the U.S. when he wrote that the fall of Shintoism had left an ideological ?vacuum? in Japanese society that Christianity had an unprecedented opportunity to fill. Clearly the Mennonite decision for mission in Japan was part of a larger context and even shared, at least in some ways, the opportunistic language of the mainstream mission movement.
Yet when Ralph and Genevieve arrived in Japan they came not as a response to MacArthur’s plea, nor in a spirit of conquest. Rather, they came with a posture of reconciliation. During the war, the Japanese and the Americans had ?demonized? each other and had committed horrific acts of aggression against innocent civilians. For the Buckwalters, establishing peaceful relations with civilian members of an ?enemy nation? served as a symbolic act of reconciliation in itself’a radical bridging of boundaries that gave them the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven as Matsumoto had invited them to do.
Moreover, as C.P.S. veterans reflecting the neo-Anabaptist spirit of the times, going to Japan allowed the Buckwalters to express their faith by modeling the pacifist convictions at the heart of their distinctive Mennonite identity. Writing in We Enter Japan, Graber suggested that the war-ravaged island nation offered a unique opportunity for the success of Christian mission in peacemaking terms. With Shintoism abolished, not only were Japanese hearts ?open to the Gospel? in a generic sense, but they might also be receptive to the peace themes of Mennonite theology that offered an alternative to both Shinto and U.S. militarism in Japan.  Discussing the Board’s initial interest in Japan, Graber noted the influence of Mennonite mission volunteers who ?had developed a sense of call to take the Gospel back to the people who had suffered so much at the hands of American military forces.?
From the very outset, the Buckwalters? missionary experience modeled a new method of mission striving to be authentically Anabaptist. Reflecting themes akin to those evoked in Bender’s ?The Anabaptist Vision? and reasserted by Yoder, Buckwalter described his decision to come to Japan as an attempt to cross war-imposed nationalistic boundaries by building ?bridges of true peace,? or ?Christ’s peace.? ?Jesus has shown us a better way than hate and war,? he wrote elsewhere. ?He shows us the way of forgiveness and love. So we’ve come to build bridges of love.? With this distinction the Buckwalters consciously challenged an existing relationship defined in nationalistic terms, realigning it according to their Anabaptist identity. They came to Japan not in response to the call of McArthur, nor because of an opportunistic desire for bandwagon participation in a greater missionary movement? but in response to an invitation to relationship offered by a victim of the war. In their own way, they were replacing Yoder’s ?wall? of colonial domination with a desire for reconciliation.
Fortuitously, the Buckwalters? commitment to peacemaking and reconciliation appealed to Japanese people who were, on the whole, already sympathetic to pacifism. Takio Tanase, an early member of the Mennonite congregation in Kushiro, notes that after World War II, anti-war sentiment appealed to many Japanese, and Japan generally became a ?peace-loving country.? Yet according to Yorifumi Yaguchi, a Japanese Mennonite pastor and poet, most Japanese did not associate pacifism with Christianity. Initiatives for peace came largely in a secular context. Yaguchi himself had wondered how Jesus? mandate to ?love your enemies? could coincide with a ?Christian? nation’s decision to drop the atomic bomb. As he notes, however, the fact that the Buckwalters were both Americans and pacifists endowed them with an uncommon and attractive identity. Their statement in support of the Emperor’s appeal to Japanese lawmakers to maintain a constitution renouncing war following the Diet of July 13, 1950, aligned with a broader Japanese desire for peace. And they presented an intriguing identity when they received coverage in the Hokkaido newspaper under the headline ?To Build up ?Testimony of Peace? in the Faithful Service of the Former Enemy Country’An American Young Missionary Will do Missionary Work at Kushiro.? The article identified Ralph as a conscientious objector to war, cited his experience in C.P.S. as the motivating factor behind his decision to come to Japan and recognized the sharing of the Gospel as his bridge to peacemaking. As Yaguchi commented in an interview,
When I knew that Ralph had been a CO, I was shocked. I found out that there were some Christians who really tried to live the Sermon on the Mount. All of us Japanese were militant during the war. We hated the U.S. But Ralph said that he had prayed for Japan. This helped me decide to join the Mennonite Church.
Thus, in the early days, the Buckwalters? Mennonite identity and peace witness became apparent in public and private ways that opened doors to relationships. Such qualities added both a distinctly Anabaptist and a distinctly Japanese foundation to the learnings, relationships and logistical decisions of their early days in Japan’reflecting the reciprocal partnership and relationship that would fundamentally characterize their mission experience overall.
The Buckwalters? commitment to reconciliation also necessitated a posture of humility and vulnerability: attitudes that the Buckwalters quickly translated into practical action. First on their loosely defined agenda was language study’a discipline that, paralleling Yoder’s ?migration evangelism,? would inspire a lifelong commitment to learning Japanese. Graber, who had earlier traveled to Japan to secure living arrangements, had found the Buckwalters short-term housing at the Tokyo YMCA’a location from which they could commute to the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language. Under the tutelage of Dr. Naganuma, a professor known for teaching the most modern of language study methods, Ralph and Genevieve experienced oral immersion and rigorous study from the very beginning. Both made quick progress, and the academic program they began set the tone for their ongoing, genuine engagement with Japanese people and culture. Ralph, especially, would later be known for his proficiency in Japanese, modeling an authentic and thorough attempt at cross-cultural communication.
The couple’s primary emphasis during their early days lay elsewhere, however’a fact that became apparent when Ralph commented on the couple’s resolve to avoid language study as an end in itself and instead heed their ?first calling? to a fellowship with Christ and those seeking Him. Indeed, the Buckwalters? ?richest experiences? during their early days of language school came less from an academic study of a culture than from their opportunities for face-to-face interaction: ?visiting in Japanese homes and fellowshipping with Japanese Christians.? A Japanese Quaker, for example, gave them insights into Japanese life; Tanaka, a Christian interested in the couple’s work, invited them to his home in a remote part of Hokkaido; Shigeo Araya, a student who attended Ralph’s Thursday evening Bible studies, became at first a close friend and later a temporary translator. Clearly, establishing relationships of learning with Japanese friends and hosts was at the foundation of the Buckwalters? early approach to mission.
The Buckwalters also sought guidance from Japanese Christians in their decision regarding the location of their initial mission efforts. During their language study days, Ralph and Carl Beck made a few visits to the northernmost island of Hokkaido where Graber had earlier begun searching for a field location. Due largely to invitations from Japanese and missionary Christians already in the area, they eventually decided to open units in Obihiro and Kushiro. Yet here, too, neo-Anabaptist mission theology shaped their decision: in a debate over whether to begin work in an urban or rural setting, the Mennonites opted for the rural and small towns, rather than the large cities. Beck and Buckwalter noted that missions were already adequately established in cities and that urban cultures are ?dying cultures? while rural societies reproduce themselves. Yet they also recognized that ?Mennonites are historically rural people? more attuned to a countryside setting. The new church, they believed, would follow its members to cities once it had been ?firmly established at the rural grassroots of a nation.?
This association of rural and small town culture with Mennonite identity became a characteristic part of the Buckwalters? personal reputation. According to Takio Tanase, a later friend and co-worker in the Kushiro church, a guide had advised the Buckwalters not to go to the Hidaka district of Hokkaido because of its bad climate. The couple, however, proceeded to choose Kushiro’a region farther south that had an even worse climate and that he had heard was a ?locality quite behind the times.? An impressed Tanase commented:
This attitude of choosing the place where most other people prefer not to go stayed with him throughout his life. From Kushiro to Honbetsu. Then to Obihiro, Asahigawa, and on to Furano. So he moved from place to place, responding to the needs of churches literally as a ?sojourner on the earth.?
The Buckwalters? ?grassroots? approach to church building thus became a mark of humility, clearly communicating to their Japanese friends that fellowship with people in places society deemed primitive was, indeed, an important and desired part of the Christian witness.
PRACTICING PARTNERSHIP, ACHIEVING INTERDEPENDENCE AND
NURTURING A BELIEVERS CHURCH
On June 17, 1951, the Buckwalters traveled from Tokyo to Hokkaido on a five-hour ferry ride and an overnight train, ready to begin the work of evangelism and church building in Kushiro. When they arrived at the Kushiro train platform, Junichi Ito, a pastor of Japan’s Kyodan (United Church of Christ) Church whom Ralph had met on a previous visit, greeted them. Ito had secured temporary housing for the couple in the home and private hospital of a Dr. and Mrs. Kogo, and in the next few weeks he helped them acquire a donated plot of land for a Mennonite Church building. The Buckwalters were deeply grateful to Ito; several months later Ralph wrote, ?Our attitude toward him and his people is one of sincere appreciation, of cooperation, and fellowship in Christ.? Corresponding from Elkhart, Graber encouraged the Buckwalters? ecumenical approach of partnering with Japanese Christians. ?I am glad that you can continue on the basis of such good working together,? he wrote, adding:
I know that the cause of Christ will be strengthened for Him and His church as well as for you and the Mennonite Church by working together rather than by having a developing coldness or unfriendliness between you as if you were in competition. [?] You will rejoice to see his church grow and he will rejoice to see your work prospering. That is as it should be and I trust that your close spiritual fellowship may continue unabated in the coming years.
Significant partnerships soon emerged with other Japanese acquaintances as well. The Kogos treated the Buckwalters ?almost as members of the family,? shared their own bath and kitchen, and decided, after tasting a chocolate cake, that rent would equal cooking lessons from Genevieve. After Eichiro Hatano visited the Kogos and expressed his interest in becoming a Christian, he and his family became the Buckwalters? ?senior and trusted advisors.? In November, when the Buckwalters moved into a house in the Tsurugadai neighborhood, Ito led the dedication service and Hatano gave a greeting.
The Buckwalters further cultivated relationships by sharing their living quarters with new Japanese friends. Shigeo Araya, their friend from Tokyo, moved in with them, continuing to share in morning Bible study, translating and interpreting, making contacts with the community and teaching the Buckwalters more and more about Japanese culture and thought. In November, Araya’s friend Takio Tanase’a chain-smoking, ?disillusioned Tokyo boy,? cynical after the war but interested in Araya’s relationship with the Buckwalters’also joined them. He was impressed by the Buckwalters? ?desire to become Japanese? ?an attitude sharply at odds with the general impulse of the U.S. occupiers to promote the cultural Americanization of Japan. Ralph, known as ?Buck-San? to his Japanese friends, insisted on owning a Japanese bicycle rather than a missionary car; he and Genevieve had committed themselves to a ?frugal? lifestyle on par with the Japanese standard of living; and both were making clear progress toward the goal of speaking fluent Japanese. Experiencing ?mysterious consolation? in the Buckwalters? home, Tanase became deeply interested in the Christian faith and joined the Buckwalters in their church building activities. Later, while studying at Goshen College, Tanase remarked to his professor, Norman Kraus, ?I didn’t become a Christian because of what Buck-san said. It was what Buck-san was.?
Reflecting later on these relationships, Ralph described his and Genevieve’s interaction with the Kogos as a ?mutual sharing,? and their friendship with Araya as a ?partnership.? Both phrases captured well the broader nature of their early days in Kushiro. The generous presence and guidance of Ito, the Hatanos, Araya and Tanase hinted at themes that were coming to characterize the Buckwalters? missional approach: valuing cultural sensitivity, taking cues from Japanese Christians, practicing careful learning and communication.
However, a strategy for translating these values directly into a mission effort was not immediately clear. In January of 1952, Graber had advised them of only two things. He had suggested the creation of a ?simple field organization? called the Hokkaido Mennonite Fellowship (HMF). And he had charged the couple and their missionary co-workers to ?preach the Gospel, teach the word, witness the transforming power of Christ through life and service, win men and women to Christ and establish them into churches with roots in the ?soil? dependent only on Christ.? The method of doing this, he left completely up to them.
So the Buckwalters began the best they knew how, initiating a number of programs including evening study groups, Sunday schools, Bible studies, evangelistic meetings and Sunday services. By 1953 their church included ?five students, two elementary school teachers, a post office manager and his wife, a post office clerk, a coal miner, a bank clerk, an office secretary, a factory worker and an unemployed cripple.? Like many Protestant missionaries, the Buckwalters assumed numerous leadership roles in the early years of church building, and essentially followed a ?missionary-directed program.?
Yet at the same time, the Buckwalters assumed that their own missionary leadership should be secondary to the congregation itself. Just as Yoder had envisioned a congregational, rather than a missionary-based, church structure, the Buckwalters sought to develop a ?church-centered program? even as they offered missionary leadership.  Thus, in early 1955, the Kushiro congregation formed the Kushiro Congregational Church Council’a group of five Japanese church members who were responsible for planning meetings, maintaining the church school and evangelical outreach, and keeping church records and finances, and who thus held primary responsibility for the congregational leadership. As Ralph commented in the 1955 annual report:
[This organization] places responsibility where it belongs, in the body of believers. The missionary has work to do’much work’laboring incessantly for the deepening of spiritual life of the church as well as his own, working with his brethren as an equal partner in discipleship, speaking a word of admonition and encouragement, becoming a servant of all, keeping in the background but still moving forward intensively with the brotherhood. 
In addition, on May 14, 1955, the semiannual Japan Mennonite Church Conference, held at the Kushiro church, demonstrated a similar shift toward local leadership. In his report of the conference, the conference chair, Hatano, recorded that seventy-nine attendees of local churches and a few missionary ?observers? attended. Though Ralph preached the first evening, Japanese believers led most of the sessions. The topics of these sessions ranged from debate about alcohol to a discussion of the traditional family religions of Buddhism and Shintoism. Most significantly, however, conference participants entertained questions of community function, leadership and relationship. They moved to create another executive council, including one missionary representative and one Japanese delegate per church, and to operate a revolving fund from the mission board. In an act of mutual aid, they unanimously volunteered the support of their congregations to help cover the schooling costs that Mr. Matsukuma, a fellow believer, would accrue during two years of seminary training. And specifically addressing the question of ?how to embrace a more intimate relationship among brethren,? they decided that
church members might be organized into small groups without making any distinction. Each group would rotate from one to another group. In this way the Christians could meet for frequent confidential talks and in this way they could continually wash one another’s feet.
By the end of their first term in 1955, having shared in a process of creative, community development with Japanese co-workers and friends, the Buckwalters identified ?interdependence? as a clear and gradually-realized missional objective. They recognized that their program had required, and would continue to require, constant adjustment. And yet they affirmed that the surest ?growth of Christ’s body in this place . . . has resulted from the work of the Holy Spirit, using the personal witness of friend to friend.? By the end of the Buckwalters? first term, the Kushiro church was already beginning to move from a missionary-centered organization to one that was truly church-centered. This growing interdependence within church structure and program paralleled the ongoing personal partnerships between the Buckwalters and Japanese Christians. Community relationships, rather than missionary leadership, were coming to characterize the life of the church. A small group of Japanese leaders, emerging out of a body of believers, suggested that the mission approach of the Buckwalters and their Japanese community was indeed bearing fruit.
By the late 1950s, a series of new partnerships helped steer the congregational movement even more in the direction of a believers church model. One such partnership emerged when Paul Peachey, a Mennonite sociologist who had been heavily involved in the Concern Movement, came from Europe to publicize a new emphasis on faith-based pacifism by organizing a one-day peace seminar between the annual meetings of the Evangelical Alliance Mission and the Deeper Life Conferences’events attended by most ?evangelical? missionaries. By 1959, working more directly with Mennonite congregations in Kushiro, Peachey responded to an invitation from Buckwalter and other church leaders to help the Japanese Mennonite churches address a general need for ?overall church leadership.? Along with Joe Richards, a Mennonite missionary based out of Honbetsu, Peachey conducted a study of all seminaries and Bible schools in Japan. Keeping with a vision of church structure advocated by the Concern Movement, Peachey and Richards called on the Hokkaido Mennonite Fellowship to explore the leadership possibilities for a ?lay polity.? Their suggestions included sending students to existing seminaries, sending students abroad and setting up a Mennonite seminary in Japan. Yet most relevant to the emerging convictions of Yoder and the Concern Movement, it recommended ?building up a church approach in which the necessary training grows out of the life of the churches and is thus an integral part in it.?
At the same time that Peachey and Richards were conducting their study, the Buckwalters were witnessing the development of greater congregational autonomy in the life of the Kushiro congregation. On April 12, 1959, members participated in the groundbreaking for the first Kushiro church building, which’due to its location in the Tsurugadai neighborhood’became known as the Tsurugadai Church. On July 26, 1959, 150 Japanese Mennonites attended dedication services for the new church. Partnership characteristic of the mission effort from the beginning, as well as budding examples of lay leadership, defined the event. Takio Tanase, a lay pastor from Honbetsu preached the first sermon in the new building, entitled ?The Fellowship of Saints,? and thirteen Japanese youth formed an impromptu choir. Japanese representatives from different Mennonite and Protestant churches joined a single missionary attending on behalf of the other Mennonite missionaries. Local believers, sister congregations, the Mission Board and its sponsoring churches pooled their resources to keep the building project debt-free. Yet even while celebrating the completion of the church building, Ralph also remarked that ?this is a critical time for the congregation. The building doesn’t make the church. It may even ruin the church.? Their focus must remain, as Tanase’s sermon suggested, on believers and their relationships.
Between 1959 and 1965, the Buckwalters, the Tsurugadai Church and other Hokkaido Mennonite churches took intentional steps to implement Peachey and Richard’s model of lay leadership. In 1961 they encouraged a Christian woman and her husband to open their home for meetings in the town of Ashoro. In the ?upper room chapel? over their chicken incubators, the couple began nurturing a congregation of sixteen, hosted the first Christian wedding in the Hokkaido Mennonite Church and invited believers from the neighboring towns of Rikubetsu, Honbetsu, Kamishihoro, Obihiro and Taiki to a retreat on January 2 and 3. The Buckwalters later reflected:
Wherever we missionaries have settled and pastored churches there has often been quite rapid ingathering but also a falling away. However, in the case of [Ashoro] where there has never been a resident missionary (and no ordained pastor, either) growth has been slower but steady. And there has been no falling away.
Thus, inspired by a local Japanese model, the Buckwalters joined the Hokkaido Mennonite Fellowship in supporting lay leadership in already existing congregations. The fellowship had already taken several steps in this direction: Mr. Matsukuma had attended a Japanese seminary, and Takio Tanase had studied at the Hesston College Bible School during the 1954-1955 school year. But in 1961, the Hokkaido Mennonite Fellowship solidified its commitment to lay leadership by inviting Howard Charles, a professor from the Goshen Biblical Seminary, to conduct a yearlong training in Anabaptist leadership for the 195 members in the 11 Hokkaido Mennonite churches. On May 21, 1962, Ralph and Hatano, now a respected elder in the congregation, ordained Takio Tanase as the first Japanese Mennonite minister. Symbolic of the church’s movement toward local leadership, several missionaries stayed with their home congregations so that lay Japanese leaders could participate in the service.
Tanase’s ordination marked a significant step toward the realization of a neo-Anabaptist approach to congregational leadership. Commenting on the event a few days later, Ralph wrote:
The vision of developing pastoral leadership from within the congregations, even the small rural congregations who can never hope to support a ?full time? professional pastor, has been given and is gripping the church so that men are responding and making commitments and preparing themselves to serve where they are. And to help them prepare is part of our responsibility. ? This is the vision with which the work in Hokkaido was started, but the way of working it out was not clear. We needed the experience of a decade for foundation of the vision and the will to carry it out.
Ralph went on to describe Anabaptist congregations as inclusive, rather than exclusive, communities. Such groups, he suggested, would take their Christ-commissioned task beyond congregational walls and cultural distinctions even as they continued to nurture lay leadership and local relationships. ?During this time of transition,? he wrote:
we are convinced that the church will grow only as we deepen the level of brother-sharing and let the Spirit weld us into a team’a truly redeemed community. So we try to avoid thinking in terms of this being ?their? church (Japanese) but it is Christ’s church’it is His’and we are members of his body working for the same Lord that the church may be planted here and grow. And so we keep on trying to work ourselves out of jobs while still bearing burdens together. There is nothing in the world more worth living for than this. No matter what frontier we are located in, and it can be any community in this whole wide world, we can share the vision and joy of being a functioning part of the family of our triumphant Lord.
At a Hokkaido Mennonite Fellowship meeting in October of 1963, Ralph noted that sharing of responsibilities and leadership’such as that symbolized by Tanase’s ordination’marked the church’s entrance into ?a new era.? Keeping with the new missiological vision of neo-Anabaptism, evangelization had invited discipleship within an equitable community.
Tanase himself recognized the distinctive nature of this approach to mission through his interactions with Church of Christ pastors. In 1965 he attended a lecture in Sapporo and heard a famous Tokyo theologian tell his mostly Kyodan audience that it was impossible to preach God’s word truly without ordination. As a new lay leader in the Mennonite Church, Tanase felt strange about this statement and discussed the issue with a Kyodan pastor friend back in Kushiro. His friend commented, ?[The Kyodan church] is institutionalized in a bad way. You Mennonites are free. For me your congregation is ideal.? Tanase ?didn’t take [the] word ?ideal? too seriously.? But the encounter made him realize that ?the Mennonite church was a funny entity to the eyes of the ?standard church.?? A model of lay leadership signaled the Buckwalters? intention to avoid imposing Western values on the Japanese Mennonite Church and to allow room for the local development of creative leadership.
By 1970, the idea of the believers church’based on themes of community, local relationship and partnership’had become foundational to the fellowship’s understanding of mission. In a letter to Wilbert Shenk, Graber’s successor as secretary of the Mission Board, Buckwalter summarized his desire for a relationship-centered believers church. Expressing affirmation of Shenk’s own report on a visit to Nigeria, Buckwalter commented: ?We have to develop a missiology consistent with the historic understanding of the Believer’s church. Apart from the increasingly evident sterility of the Protestant Missionary Movement, I am impressed with what seems to be the genuine potential for mission based on the Believers church model.?
RECOVERING ANABAPTIST CONVICTIONS:
MERGING ECUMENISM AND MISSION
Ecumenical activities had been part of the Buckwalters? experiences ever since their encounter with Ito during their first days in Japan. But in September of 1970, Ralph and Genevieve began to practice ecumenical partnership more actively when they moved north to the city of Asahigawa as interim pastors in a congregation of six members. In September of 1970, Dr. Takuo Matsumoto, now the 82-year-old chairman of Hiroshima’s Friendship Center, came to Hokkaido for a weeklong visit and stayed a night in the Buckwalters? home. The old man had just returned from a two-month U.S. tour marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Once again Matsumoto inspired them just as he had twenty-two years earlier in the Goshen College chapel service. ?I was glad for Matsumoto Sensei’s clear enunciation of the Biblical basis for peace of Christ and his reconciliation of man to God and one to another,? Buckwalter reported to Shenk. ?This amazing man, whose very life is a witness is still going strong.? Matsumoto’s visit marked the beginning of a renewed commitment to bridging boundaries and witnessing for peace in which the Buckwalters engaged more actively in cross-denominational partnership and yet remained true to the distinct, relationship-centered, neo-Anabaptist mission approach they had progressively cultivated in the past twenty-two years.
Shortly after Matsumoto’s visit, the Japan Christian Evangelical Mission invited Ralph to attend the Japan Evangelical Association meeting in Tokyo as an ?official observer.? Along with ten other missionaries, he would represent the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, an organization he had joined to keep up on happenings in the larger missionary community. Buckwalter and Lee Kanagy, another Hokkaido missionary, were the only Mennonite Church members who had joined the Japan Christian Evangelical Mission; though the other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ groups had become members, the Japan Mennonite Church as an organization had not. Buckwalter apparently felt somewhat of an outsider to the Japan Evangelical Mission’and seemed to sense a discrepancy between a distinctly Anabaptist form of witness and his membership in a cross-denominational organization. In a letter to Shenk he deemed the situation ?odd? and debated whether or not he should attend.
Yet he did attend, and on October 8, 1970, his reports back to Shenk confirmed his earlier assumptions. Though Buckwalter recognized a certain ?spiritual kinship? between the Japan Evangelical Mission’s different groups despite their theological differences, he also noticed a strong polarization between the ?so-called evangelical community? and the ?orthodox? and ?social-gospellers.? Desiring to offer a more distinctly Anabaptist contribution to Japan’s Christian community, Ralph weighed his options. If the Japan Mennonite Church joined, it would be able to contribute formally to the ongoing conversation. And yet joining might mean assuming an identity that did not faithfully represent the Anabaptist witness. As it turned out, the Japan Mennonite Church never did join the Japan Evangelical Mission. As Ralph had written in September, they opted instead to
accept as part of our Christian responsibility in the world to help repair and reconcile broken relations among Christian groups . . . assuming that our potential for playing this role is generally enhanced by declining formal membership in organizations which tend to polarize the Christian community . . . by maintaining communication with all elements. [Not] joining [the Japan Evangelical Mission] keeps us out of the councils all together, but there is still the possibility of a prophetic witness in the way the church relates to all groups in Hokkaido.
Maintaining this particular Anabaptist identity meant embracing ecumenical partnership within Asahigawa’s local community. Upon arrival in Asahigawa, the Buckwalters had been surprised to discover the lack of communication between mainline Christian churches and other Christian groups in the city. While the Kyodan, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Nazarene and Mennonite churches in Asahigawa cooperated, they were somewhat removed from the Holiness, Overseas Missionary Fellowship and Plymouth Brethren congregations. Ralph, however, felt that the three latter churches were also ?doing good work,? and detected a similar appreciation within Asahigawa’s Mennonite community. He commented to Shenk: ?It seems to me that here again we are in a unique position because we find it possible to cooperate with the mainline churches but also find real Christian fellowship and mutual understanding with the other groups, too.?
Thus, in the next few years, the Buckwalters began intentionally ?sharing in the life of the larger Christian community in Asahigawa,? by volunteering at the Koinonia Center in the center of town. The Koinonia Center was a ?halfway house? project (by which they meant a place halfway between the church and society) run by Rudy Kuyten of the Kyodan church. Serving as an evangelistic hub and a gathering point for local churches where Christians could meet people who would never seek out a church on their own initiative, Koinonia challenged the Buckwalters to ?take seriously Jesus? prayer for unity.? The Buckwalters also began to participate in the Tuesday Evening Club, Kayobi Kai; they attended a pastors? fellowship with all other non-U.S. missionaries in Asahigawa; and on July 2 and 3, 1974, they attended gatherings in the public hall with members of Nazarene, Holiness, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Lutheran, Episcopal, Kyodan and Baptist churches in the city. Yoshiaki Tamura, their pastoral partner since 1972, worked at the Koinonia Coffee Shop as a counselor for seekers from the local community. His presence inspired some new believers to begin attending the Asahigawa Mennonite congregation. In another instance of indigenous leadership and relationship, it was Tamura’s involvement and enthusiasm for the Koinonia Coffee Shop that encouraged the missionary couple to ?relat[e] to other Christian groups and persons on the basis that unity in Christ is a gift to be accepted gratefully and a command to be obeyed joyfully and expectantly.?  Such actions placed the Buckwalters? and their church’s neo-Anabaptist orientation within the fellowship of a greater Christian body.
DEFINING THE CHURCH AS A SENDING CHURCH:
TAKING THE GREAT COMMISSION SERIOUSLY
The Asahigawa Church’s ecumenical partnerships reflected another impulse that characterized the Buckwalters? neo-Anabaptist theology: a vision of mission as a global commission in which every congregation became a sending church. Ralph’s ideas had begun brewing in 1958 at an East Asia Literature Conference that had prompted him to predict a reciprocity within the mission movement. ?It looks,? he wrote, ?as though the initiative or thrust of missionary outreach may someday shift from the present West to East movement to an East to West flow. America will not always ride the crest, and that is bound to affect the church in the West, too.?
In the mid-1960s, Ralph articulated a realization that radically extended his commitment to relationship and partnership beyond the local context. He observed that around 340 missionaries from the ?so-called younger churches of Asia? had been sent into Brazil, Bolivia and other Asian countries to teach, evangelize and provide medical services. Identifying the information as ?a great new fact of our day, an indication of what the Holy Spirit is doing and will do,? he wrote:
The day has come when missions can no longer be considered a movement from the Christian West to the pagan East, from the privileged to the underprivileged, from the rich to the poor. More and more there will be movement from East to West, from north to south, and south to north. Christ’s mission today is and must be a movement of the whole church to the whole world.
In Asahigawa in the 1970s he and Genevieve began to see this movement actualized. In a 1971 letter to his father, Karl, and brother, Albert, Ralph reported on a number of Japanese Mennonites serving the church in international’and sometimes even Western’settings. The Kanekos were in Ecuador, two Japanese men in Vietnam and Germany, and another single woman in Bloomington, Illinois, as a Mennonite Central Committee trainee preparing for work in Ecuador. In addition, he reported, the Hokkaido Church was raising $420 to send their pastor to the October Asia Mennonite Conference in India. In twelve years? time, the Buckwalters? missionary status had ceased to signify a role only they could claim. Now, not only did Japanese ministers and lay leaders share church leadership, Japanese missionaries and service workers corresponded from distant nations.
By 1975, Ralph had embraced ideas of a universal church and global commission even more fully. In an article entitled ?Rejoicing in Expectant Hope,? he challenged his Japanese and missionary co-workers to realize the ?fullness of Christ’s promise? in their methods of church planting, a ?fullness? that he defined as a vision extending beyond the local church community. Nurturing churches with ?their roots in the soil of Japan? was still the growing community’s goal. But ?moving in creative ways? toward that goal meant redefining the vision of the Japanese church and missionary community according to Christ’s universal commission. Thus, Ralph emphasized: ?The end objective of our mission is not this church in Hokkaido for itself, but this church for the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus? sake to the glory of God.?
By linking the local and the universal’and by seeing his and Genevieve’s missionary identity as something reciprocal and shared’Buckwalter was again underscoring themes that had already come to characterize the nature of the couple’s relationship to Japan and her people. Seeing mission in a global context meant again crossing and transcending boundaries, celebrating partnership and building ?bridges of true peace.? The Buckwalters? neo-Anabaptist mission approach reclaimed the sixteenth-century Anabaptists? emphasis on Great Commission. Yet it tempered that orientation with a particular relationship-based experience of mission in Japan.
FAITHFULNESS VERSUS EFFECTIVENESS
The Buckwalters? mission approach aligned well with ideas about mission articulated by John Howard Yoder and the Concern Movement; it did offer a model of neo-Anabaptist mission in practice. But the numbers of the Japan Mennonite churches were still quite small. In 1962, little more than a decade after the Buckwalters arrived in Japan, the Japan Mennonite Church consisted of ten small Hokkaido churches and 188 members. Emma Richards, former Hokkaido missionary, recalled that some church members and missionaries expressed concern over these small numbers and slow church growth. Had Mennonite mission to Japan actually been effective?
In a series of reflections in 1963 entitled ?My Post-Furlough View of the Church in Japan,? Ralph addressed this question of ?effectiveness.? Drawing on examples from the early church in Acts 11:19-26, he concluded: ?The point is not so much that we be effective, at all costs, but that we let the Gospel be effective in our own lives and the church.? The real measure of effectiveness, he concluded, was that the church ?demonstrat[ed] the meaning of the gospel . . . in use of time, in interpersonal relationships.? Similarly, in 1966, a Hokkaido missionary, Marvin Yoder, defended a mission approach that emphasized community, relationship and personal commitment over the numbers. Numbers, Yoder argued, are secondary to the individual people touched by the church; the goal of mission should be to foster personal relationships rather than achieve high membership counts.
Rather than focusing on numerical growth, Japanese Mennonites measured their effectiveness according to instances of faithful human relationship. The fellowship embodied this definition practically when a fire destroyed the Ashoro church on February 6, 1964, and the ?entire community practice[d] mutual aid.? Two hours after the fire had destroyed part of the first floor and gutted the second-floor residential area, church members had cleared the debris and put wet household items out to dry. A church member served food and tea to church women who had helped with cleanup, and visitors from Kamishihoro, Rikubetsu and Hombetsu came to lend their support. The $800 necessary for rebuilding came almost exclusively from the ?love offerings? of sister congregations. Yoder had called for an evangelization that invited discipleship over membership numbers. The Japanese Mennonites, with their commitment to community relationship, embodied that example.
RELATIONSHIP AND COMMUNITY TO THE END
Ralph did not live to see the full fruition of his and Genevieve’s convictions about the universal nature of the Great Commission. After developing melanoma in 1977, he left Japan for medical treatment in the United States in June of 1979 and died in Upland, California, on January 10, 1980, at age 57. The events surrounding his death fittingly reflected the themes of relationship and community that had progressively emerged during his and Genevieve’s thirty years in Japan. In characteristic form, members of the Furano church where he and Genevieve had been pastoring last took turns in planning worship services in the couple’s absence. Beginning in 1978 the Japanese Mennonite congregations raised funds to pay most of the Buckwalters? transportation and medical bills. And celebrating the reciprocal relationship that made them co-workers and friends, members of the Hokkaido Mennonite churches sent Takio Tanase as their representative to be with Ralph at the time of his death. Thus, Buckwalter’s last interaction with the Japanese Mennonite Church’a community to which he and Genevieve now belonged’marked a final encounter with the pattern of relationship so important to his neo-Anabaptist convictions.
In 1949 the missionary couple had set out for Japan to forgive and be forgiven. They had regarded mission an act of nonresistant peacemaking rooted in the convictions of ?The Anabaptist Vision.? Yet most important, they had come to depend on partnership with Japanese Christians’on dialogue, co-creation and shared, local leadership’to construct a self-sustaining neo-Anabaptist church community. Thus, when Ralph died, Genevieve and a faithful Japanese Mennonite Church community remained, living intentionally and striving for faithfulness.
Perhaps the best summation of this legacy comes from Buckwalter’s own reflections in ?Rejoicing in Expectant Hope,? an article published by the Mission Board in 1975. In writing the article Buckwalter identified four missionary roles’learner, catalyst, stimulus and model’all of which had been important to him and Genevieve during their work in Hokkaido. These roles, he explained, represented Jesus? self-emptying nature, his servant identity, his humanity and his obedient death, respectively. Yet defined in missional terms, they could not be understood apart from local commitment to relationship, partnership and community. Describing the learner role, Buckwalter wrote that missionaries ?must always be in the process of coming as learners.? They must say to their host communities, ?Teach us, Show us. Share with us,? so they might finally suggest, ?Let’s share together the adventure of following [Christ].? About the catalyst role he wrote: ?To be a catalyst means that sometimes we will initiate or assist in a chain of action but always be ready to become marginal in the process. This is always . . . a ?servant of God’s servants’, sharing deeply as team members in the brotherhood.? Similarly, he defined stimulus as ?a confessing of humanity,? or ?the point of contact’not Christian experience, not Christian virtue, not dazzling gifts of personality, but the bond of our common humanity.? And finally, he explained the model role as ?sharing in the process of Christian growth? and asking the questions: ?What are my attitudes toward co-workers or other Christians? How do I relate to people in the community? How do I treat my neighbors and strangers’? All of his definitions emphasized the importance of relationship within a body of believers. They reflected the lessons of his thirty years, articulating an attitude of partnership to accompany active mission and church building. And they allowed him to state with assurance,
Our conviction through all these years continues to be that the missionary presence must be characterized by personal warmth in relationship to Christ and others, joy in sharing the good news, a lifestyle committed to discipleship, a posture of flexibility in working relationships.
With such emphases the Buckwalters and their fellow believers had realized, perhaps precociously, many of the themes Wilbert Shenk later envisioned in the introduction to his 1984 book of thirteen essays entitled Anabaptism and Mission. According to Shenk, the sixteenth-century Anabaptists? emphasis on the Great Commission had set a precedent for Anabaptist mission. And for Mennonite missionaries to realize Bender’s vision they would have to ?recover an ecclesiology that takes its apostolic character seriously.? Shenk’s words, of course, came after Ralph’s death. But they captured something of what the Hokkaido Mennonite congregations had already accomplished. As Takio Tanase himself realized, the lay leadership, mutual aid and community of believers that emerged from the fusion of the Buckwalters? and the Hokkaido believers? efforts marked an ?intent . . . to recover [a] New Testament vision of Jesus? movement? that paralleled the efforts of the early Anabaptists.
The path toward recovery was never absolutely certain or fully completed; for both the Buckwalters and the Japanese Mennonite church, celebrating a neo-Anabaptist identity and calling had been as much a faithful experiment as a tangible goal. Yet through relationship and mutual discovery they had, in many ways, achieved this apostolic character. Together they embodied a mission approach and church community that was indeed distinctly neo-Anabaptist.
[*]Emily Hershberger is a 2004 graduate of Goshen College majoring in History.
1. J. D. Graber, We Enter Japan, (Elkhart, Ind.: Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1950), 10. Graber’s work, part of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities? Japan Mission Study Kit, offers a statement on the Mission Board’s perceptions of Japan and goals for mission, and gives an account of Ralph and Genevieve’s early missionary experiences.
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. Burkholder, ?Concern Pamphlets Movement,? 178. Original participants in the Concern group included Irvin Horst, David Shank, Orley Swartzendruber, Calvin Redekop, John W. Miller, John Howard Yoder and Paul Peachey.
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. Ralph Buckwalter to Harold S. Bender (Feb. 23, 1949), Private Collection of Genevieve Buckwalter. In this letter, Ralph and Genevieve explained to Goshen College President Harold S. Bender that though they felt under-qualified for work in a new mission field, they also felt ?compelled by the urgency of the call and by God’s evident leading that we should now think, pray, and plan in terms of Belgium.? At this point, Japan was not a primary interest.
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. Ralph Buckwalter to J. D. Graber (May 3, 1949), Private Collection of Genevieve Buckwalter. Ralph later explained this unexpected decision to his daughter, Rosemary, as a combination of general conviction and concern about particular world events. Rosemary quotes him as saying, ?Basically, the decision to become a missionary was made’out of personal experience of the Gospel. [?] But the decision to go to Japan was definitely influenced by the world scene and situation.? See Rosemary Buckwalter Hershberger, ?My Parents: Their Life and Times,? 8.
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. Minnie Graber, Harvest in Japan: A Study of the Christian Church in Japan (Elkhart, Ind.: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1957), 3. This work served as a sequel to We Enter Japan, and became part of a Japan missions study kit. It provides the chronology of the first missionaries to the Japan Mennonite Church, outlines the growth of the Tsurugadai church, where Ralph and Genevieve would later work, and records the missionaries? methods of service and personal witness.
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. Mazakazu Yamade, ?History of Anabaptist Mennonite Churches in Japan,? (Manuscript, Mennonite Global History Project, 2000), 2. Yamade’s work provides a comprehensive history of greater church development from the eyes of a Japanese Mennonite who worked closely with Ralph and Genevieve in the early years. See also his 1972 academic paper, ?The Beginning of the Kushiro Tsurugadai Church,? (located in the Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana) for a more specific history of the Buckwalters? experience in the Tsurugadai Church between 1948 and 1953.
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. Graber, We Enter Japan, 7. Eight million Japanese became homeless when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Graber notes that when the Buckwalters arrived in Japan, housing was scarce for nationals and foreigners alike.
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. ?To Build up ?Testimony of Peace? in the Faithful Service of the Former Enemy Country’An American Young Missionary Will do Missionary Work at Kushiro,? (draft of article for Hokkaido Shinbun, (1951). Other evidence for the Buckwalters? pacifist position can be found in a letter the Buckwalters sent to friends in the U.S. in Sept., 1951. Reflecting on the pending San Francisco peace treaty they asked, ?Will Japan’s leaders, so intent in fighting the leftist elements in the country, yield to the deceit of the rightists and lead Japan into military alliances that will again bring bombs on her cities? President Truman may say, ?We can’t forget Pearl Harbor, but. . . .? and Japanese people who have seen and know reply, ?Neither can we forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki.? How can men make peace unless they follow the Maker of Peace’??Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter to ?Friends,? (Sept. 22, 1951), Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter Papers, IV-18-10 Drawer 1: 1950-1955, Archives of the Mennonite Church, 1.
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. Genevieve Buckwalter, interview with author, May 16, 2004. Also: Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter to ?Friends? (April 19, 1950), Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter Papers, IV-7-5, Archives of the Mennonite Church, 1. Genevieve Buckwalter, interview with author, May 16, 2004.
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. Rosemary Buckwalter Hershberger, interview with author by e-mail, May 9, 2004. Rosemary commented: ?Kushiro and Obihiro were cities, not small towns or villages, but they were certainly not large urban centers like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc., on the main island of Honshu, and the ?countryside? was very close by. Hokkaido was the frontier, the last island to be settled, and more rural, which still had some wilderness, and considered the less cultured place by the rest of Japan. After Kushiro and Obihiro, the next places where the Mennonites began work were definitely smaller, rural towns? the Kanagys in Nakashibetsu, the Shenks in Shibecha, the Richards in Honbetsu, the Blossers in Taiki,?those were small towns, at least at first.?
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. In line with Yoder’s mission evangelism model, the Buckwalters, though supported financially by the Mission Board, also began contributing to their own support by teaching English and sending their wages to the Mission Board. Genevieve taught continuously during the first ten years in Kushiro, working with students enrolled in the nearby Kushiro Teacher’s College, or Kyoikudai, where Ralph occasionally taught courses as well. Both considered the experiences ways of becoming more involved in the community and culture. Genevieve Buckwalter, interview with author, May 17, 2004.
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. Ralph Buckwalter, ?Report of the Japan Mennonite Mission,? in Holding Forth the Word of Life: Report of the 46th Annual Meeting of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (1952), 59-60.
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. Ralph Buckwalter, ?Report of the Japan Mennonite Mission,? Reclaiming the Message of Reconciliation: Report of the 47th Annual Meeting of Mennonite Board of Missions (July 13-16, 1953), 47.
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. Ralph Buckwalter, ?God’s Open Door in Kushiro,? in Building the Church of Christ: Report of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (June 11-14, 1955), 178.
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. Ralph Buckwalter to ?Folks? (Sept. 2, 1958), Private Collection of Genevieve Buckwalter. In an address on ?Christian Pacifism and Liberal Pacifism in Historical Perspective? Peachey argued that ?as long as Christians don’t renounce war . . . Christianity will fail.? Later that summer, at a peace rally sponsored by the Committee for the Abolition of Atomic and Hydrogen Tests, Peachey served as a representative with Friends and Brethren to discuss the message Christian pacifists should advocate in the secular setting of public protests.
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. Ralph Buckwalter to ?Sharing Friends? in the ?Japan Prayer Letter? (Aug. 20, 1959), Private Collection of Genevieve Buckwalter. This Mission Board provided $2,150 and local Japanese congregations provided $2,200.
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. Ralph Buckwalter, ?Japan? in That Men May Know Christ: A Handbook of the General Mission Board of the Mennonite Church Including Annual Reports (Elkhart, Ind.: Herald Press, 1960), 251.
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. Ralph Buckwalter to Carl Kreider and Wilbert Shenk (Feb. 5, 1974), Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter Papers, IV-18-13 #4, Archives of the Mennonite Church, 2. The church’s previous leaders, the Hiroshi Kaneko family, had accepted a service assignment with Heralding Christ Jesus? Blessings (HCJB) in Ecuador. From 1970-1972 Ralph preached a sermon once a month and the Buckwalters themselves hosted meetings around the table in their apartment. Consistent with the trend toward Japanese leadership, however, Yoshiaki Tamura, a pastor from Kushiro, began pastoring in Asahigawa in 1972; later, after a furlough and at the church’s request, the Buckwalters would again join him.
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. Schlabach, Gospel Versus Gospel, 25. Schlabach suggests that the Great Commission, though not formally part of Anabaptist confessions of faith, was part of their language. Anabaptists cited it in court defenses, used it to argue that teaching should precede baptism and allowed it to inspire a 1527 plan in Augsburg, Germany, to evangelize Europe by region.
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. Marvin K. Yoder, ?The Growth of the Japan Mennonite Church: A Search for Situational, Experiential and Background Factors Significant to Response and Continuing Commitment [sic] to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Church,? Academic Paper (1966), 5.
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. Marvin Yoder, ?The Growth of the Japan Mennonite Church,? 23, 26. As Park writes, Yoder had also claimed that ethical content should ?not be set aside for the sake of numerical growth,? 6.
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. Takio Tanase, interview with author by e-mail, Nov. 11, 2003.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
Neo-Anabaptist Missions in Hokkaido
MQR 78 (July 2004)