Mentored in church planting by the son of a former Shinto priest

D‌uring a sermon in 1980, I recall Rev. Nobuji Horikoshi (1927–2017) mentioning that Japanese people might be under a curse by God for the many years they have been unfaithful to their Creator. If there is any Japanese pastor who analyzed the Japanese people and their thinking, it would be Rev. Horikoshi. The son of a Shinto priest and very inquisitive by nature, he knew the Japanese mind. In one of his many books, he talks about the four major barriers that keep the Japanese from accepting the Christian faith: a lack of understanding of an absolute and holy Creator God; difficulty in comprehending sin and absolute truth; a keen loyalty to and dependence on ancestral spirits; and satanic enslavement through idolatry and deception. Despite these spiritual barriers, Horikoshi never gave up on the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He believed that there were many more of God’s children in Japan that needed to be saved.

Partnering to plant churches

My brother Bruce and I were greatly privileged to be mentored by Horikoshi while seminary interns. After finishing seminary training, we returned to partner with him with our wives: Bruce and Susan helped start a daughter church in Kita Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, while Sarah and I helped plant a daughter church on the other side of Yokkaichi, in Suzuka City. As we worked together in church planting, Horikoshi trusted us and gave us freedom to serve as we felt led. In Suzuka, he preached every other week for the first two years. We also attended weekly Bible studies and prayed together. He was happy to enlist American and Australian short-term missionaries to teach English in the three churches, including Rev. Wayne Newsome in Nagoya who was called to long-term service and Teresa Sherrill who was called back to Japan as a missionary as a result of these efforts.

As a mentor, Horikoshi showed us how a humble servant can have a great vision. He gained respect in the community and developed relations with people outside the church by starting a Christian kindergarten and serving as its principal and Bible teacher. He helped form the Japan Creation Society and strongly believed that God needed to be known as the Creator and that evolution could not be trusted as a theory. Horikoshi also wrote many books to help others understand the Bible and the challenges that the Japanese have in understanding the truth. His books dealt with practical issues such as raising children in the Lord, church management, other religions and cults in Japan, and developing good relations. Others of his books explained the Bible in simple terms with diagrams and illustrations. The practical nature of his books was the fruit of having spent hours with people in discussion. I remember him saying that he desired to train children to respect others and develop good relationships more than he wanted them to excel in their studies and get good grades. With that being said, his son is now one of the most influential Christian psychologists in Japan, holding a doctorate from the United States.

Horikoshi started an evening Bible school and recruited others to teach: I taught New Testament survey and Sarah taught a general course on Christian counseling. Our team even helped to conduct Christian funeral and wedding services.

An ongoing relationship

Bruce and I were called to other church-planting ministries, but we continued our relation with Horikoshi as he was happy to travel to Nashville in the US and Melbourne and Perth in Australia. He spoke at churches and church camps where Bruce and I were privileged to serve as interpreters for him. After a summer camp run by a Japanese church in Melbourne, the Lord led a couple, Andrew and Yuri Williams, to join Horikoshi’s church team. Andrew worked as an English language teacher and coordinator, while Yuri taught music in the kindergarten and led the church music program. The Williams continue to lead in these roles at Yokkaichi Presbyterian Church.

A wide-ranging ministry

Although he lacked confidence in his English-speaking ability, Horikoshi visited many foreign countries to serve the Lord. Even with health issues, he courageously left home and spoke where he was invited. His role with the Japan Creation Society gave him many opportunities to speak about the one Creator and creation. In later years, his connection with Korea enabled him to open a creation museum and strengthened his vision of building a replica of Noah’s Ark outside Yokkaichi. He was fascinated by fossils in unexpected areas, rock formations in the Grand Canyon, and stories from different cultures of a worldwide flood. Horikoshi studied science and natural evidences to use anything he could to try and convince people that the Bible is true and there is a Creator behind it all. He was instrumental in publishing the Japanese Creator Bible with additional inserts about creation and evolution. Horikoshi enjoyed working with others and had a great passion to reach the Japanese for Christ.

From Shintoism to Christian ministry

Horikoshi was the second son of a Shinto priest in Gunma Prefecture. His mother died when he was 11 years old. The shrine had been in his family for many generations and his older brother was to be the next priest. Before World War Two broke out, Horikoshi entered the Army Engineer Corps and trained to be an officer as a civil engineer. But before he could graduate and serve his country, the war ended and he felt very uneasy about being an enemy of the Allied forces. The fact that one day he was considered a hero and the next an enemy made him think deeply about truth.

One day he heard Japanese evangelist Tomohiko Kagawa preaching. The message about the Christian faith caught his attention. After the meeting, he went up to Kagawa and asked him some questions. He was then invited to Kagawa’s home where they had more discussion. While there, he was impressed with all the books in his library, and Kagawa invited him to come back and read them. After days of doing this, he was led to buy a Bible and study it. He was very interested in the creation story and the Creator God. Gradually his doubts were removed and his questions answered, and he came to Jesus for his salvation.

He wanted to know more about creation and the Creator, so he enrolled at the Japan Christian Theological Seminary in Tokyo, where my father, John M. L. Young, taught him. He went on to become the first full-time pastor of the church that our father and Rev. Foxwell had helped start in Yokkaichi. Before Horikoshi left seminary, his older brother died, his Shinto priest father became a Christian, and the shrine was bulldozed. The property was sold, and with his wife and father, he moved to Yokkaichi to pastor a church and establish a kindergarten with the money from the shrine property. Later, he assisted Bruce and me to work together as a team in the same church to start two daughter churches. The Lord wants his servants to work together and unite different spiritual gifts to glorify Jesus Christ.

We were honored to know and work with Horikoshi for a number of years. As of 2017, he has graduated to heaven, but his vision for the expansion of God’s kingdom in Japan lives on. He witnessed many blessings from God and knew that the nation of Japan was not cursed. There are more in the nation who will come to Jesus as their Savior.

By Stephen Young. Bruce and Stephen Young have been missionaries to the Japanese since 1976. While in Japan, they worked in church planting with the Japan Presbyterian Mission.

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