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Black Gospel Choirs in Japan


December 30, 2002
By Daniel Rempel

Winnipeg, Man.—Gerald Neufeld never thought he’d be leading a Japanese Black Gospel choir when he set out on a mission assignment to Japan eight years ago.

Now a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker, Neufeld also feels amazed and blessed to have a wife, Rie, two-year-old daughter Rena, and infant son Jay after eight years in Japan.

Japan is currently experiencing a Black gospel music explosion; it has become a multi-million dollar industry and concerts can draw thousands. Neufeld first became involved as a member of the “Tokyo Voices of Praise,” but a relocation of their residence made it too far to drive to practices.

After much prayer and deliberation, Rie and Gerald decided to start the “Kodaira Gospel Choir.” From the beginning, the choir had about 15 members. Six concerts have been held so far and the choir has improved significantly since its beginning, said Neufeld.

Neufeld has also started a prayer and support newsletter for the six Mennonite congregations in the Tokyo area; membership ranges from about 5 to 25 members each.

Christianity has been slow to take root in Japan for several reasons, said Neufeld. The prosperity which Japan has enjoyed in the past makes it easier to feel ambivalent about spiritual needs. Neufeld said further that “It’s hard to be different in Japan. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” This creates considerable social pressure against becoming a Christian.

Westernization and other cultural shifts have made younger people more open to joining the church, but Christianity’s growth in Japan remains slow.

“In Japan lots of people are searching for true peace.” Neufeld saw a rising crime rate, a troubled economy, fears of terrorism and recent natural disasters all prompting people to start thinking about deeper issues.

Mostly, Neufeld appreciates the relationships he’s developed. “One of the more inquisitive students in my English Bible class told me that normally foreigners were scary to talk with. I on the hand had been no problem!”

“It was encouraging to hear from many people that I was easy to talk with and get to know. It has been good to see many people grow in their understanding of faith,” reflected Neufeld. “I see a strong possibility that a number of people with whom I’ve been working might become Christians. This makes it difficult to leave. Perhaps some will fall away. I have to leave things in God’s hands.”

Gerald and Rie are in North America to spend a semester at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and to spend some time with family and friends. They will return to Japan next fall. Their work is made possible in part through $40,000 of support by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, and in further partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.