30 October 1928 – 12 January 2017
Kenny Joseph, missionary to Japan for over 60 years, passed away on Thursday, January 12, 2017 in Fullerton, California, USA at the age of 88. Joseph was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 30th, 1928 to Assyrian-American immigrant parents Sam and Martha Joseph. He accepted Christ at a rally by American radio evangelist Charles E. Fuller when he was 17 years old.
After attending Moody Bible Institute and Bob Jones University, Joseph arrived in Japan in 1951 in response to General Douglas MacArthur’s request for 10,000 missionaries. He met fellow-missionary Lila Finsaas in 1954, and the two were married in Karuizawa, Japan, in 1955.
Ever the pioneer, Joseph coined the term “ad-vangelism” and bought advertising in secular publications for Christian-themed messages. He used various innovative techniques to spread the gospel in Japan and other countries in Asia, and taught for a time at Japan Christian College.
In the early ‘60s Joseph served as editor of Japan Harvest magazine. In 1967 he founded REAP Mission (Reinforcing Evangelists and Aiding Pastors) and published REAP Magazine, which he edited for a decade. He also authored the Japan Missionary Language Handbook, first released in 1955 and later re-released in 1982 as Combined Japan Missionary Language Handbook.
When he discovered in the late ‘80s that Christian-style weddings had become popular with Japanese couples, he championed participating in this new “wedding industry” to share the gospel through the wedding message. “I would pay money to do this, and here they pay me,” thought Joseph. In addition to performing weddings himself, he facilitated opportunities for other missionaries to do so.
A tireless advocate of the belief that Christianity appeared in Japan no later than the second century (not 1549, when most scholars believe Francis Xavier first brought the gospel to Japan), he was working on another updated version of his bilingual Japanese/English book, Japan’s Christian Roots (the “7th peer-reviewed edition” was published in 2010), when he passed into the presence of the Lord.
He pastored Grace Church in Tokyo from 1976 until he returned to the USA in 2012. “Kenny Joseph expressed his love for the Lord by obeying the command to feed His sheep,” noted REAP Mission Chairman William F. Turner, who supervised Joseph’s missionary work from 1978. “He ran the race, he kept the faith, and completed his remarkable journey on this earth.”
He is survived by his wife Lila, sister Barbara, four sons, Ken (Kimbo), Bobb, Jim, and Mark, and fifteen grandchildren.
ASSIST News Service provided most of this obituary, with additional information from Joseph’s biography, God’s Ambassadors in Japan: The Kenny & Lila Joseph Story, by Dan Wooding, and Japan’s Christian Roots, by Ev. Kenny Joseph.