I had a deep desire to share the gospel with Japanese people when I arrived in Japan in 1951 at the age of 20. I met Phyllis, who was also with the same mission, about six months later and we married in 1953.
We faced all the overwhelming challenges that first-time missionaries face—a new culture and customs, and the seemingly impossible Japanese language. We initially worked through an interpreter in our church planting efforts, but soon realized the limitations of this approach. I was determined to learn Japanese, and so, in 1957, I went to a local grade school and got permission to attend two classes a day at the fifth and sixth grade levels. I wanted to learn the language the Japanese kids were learning. I experienced the joy of communicating directly with people in life and ministry. To this day, I constantly study to improve my language ability.
Home schooling and beyond
We endeavored to put God first and our family next. Ministry was interwoven with these priorities. As our children reached school age, their education became a major issue. We didn’t want to send them away to a boarding school, and so we chose home schooling. But, back in the 1960s, home schooling was comparatively unknown.
Phyllis was the teacher, and she tried to make sure the children applied themselves to their studies, which wasn’t easy because they were normal kids! But Phyllis was persistent, and she slowly prevailed. We found there is no easy way to do home schooling. Phyllis realized from early on that it was necessary to take one day at a time. She said in essence, “With God’s help, today will be a success. I will face tomorrow’s challenges tomorrow.” For my part, as husband and father, I stayed closely connected to the schooling and was an encourager to them all.
Family and church planting go hand-in-hand. When we had special events in our ministry, we closed the school books and the children helped us in many ways. Those were the days of street meetings and small gatherings in community halls. The children got a taste of seeing lives changed by the power of God.
In this way, over 25 years, we home schooled all six of our children from the first grade through high school.
On graduating from high school, each of the children enrolled in Portland Bible College in Portland, Oregon. At first, Phyllis was concerned how the children would fare in relation to the other students, but all six graduated with honors.
The next generations
As we look back over our 66 years of ministry in Kyushu, we continually rejoice for all of God’s goodness to us, our 6 children, 25 grandchildren, and 17 great grandchildren.
Three of our sons responded to God’s call to minister in Japan. Our eldest son and his wife are lead pastors of a church in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu. Our second son and his wife started a church in 1991 in Nishi Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. They continue to pastor this thriving church with their family and pastoral team. Our fourth son Joel and his wife Kelly went to Osaka in 2009 to pioneer Life Church. A fine team of pastoral leaders joined them in pioneering that church.
Tragedy struck our family in 2016 when Joel, then 44, was suddenly taken from us. His pulmonary artery from the heart to the lung burst, bringing his life to an abrupt end. Joel’s passing was a great shock to us all, but we confess in our sorrow that God makes no mistakes. Life Church continues to prosper and expand under the leadership of Kelly and the pastoral team.
Some of our grandchildren are also involved in ministry: one grandson and his wife are assisting in the pastoral leadership of a church in Quincy, Washington; another grandson and his wife are involved in the leadership team of Life Church; and a granddaughter with her husband is assisting with pastoral leadership responsibilities at a church in Funabashi.
Our vision is to see churches planted in Japan that will continue to grow until Jesus returns. Over the years, we have been blessed to see fruit that remains. The churches now have many three-generation and four-generation Christian families. We have seen many Japanese young people saved and answer the call to ministry. These leaders have likewise caught the vision of seeing healthy churches birth healthy churches. We believe the future is bright for the churches of Japan.
(Phyllis and I have written about many of our experiences in our autobiography Unto a Land that I Will Show You. It is available on Amazon.)
Photo provided by author
Leo and Phyllis Kaylor are affiliated with City Bible Church, Portland, Oregon and are members of Ministers’ Fellowship International. They have worked in church planting ministry on Kyushu Island for over sixty years.