It was with great joy that I first set foot on Japanese soil on November 17, 1952. Japan was where God had called me to go—it was an answer to prayer. I could never have imagined that I would still be serving the Lord here 66 years later. It is all his plan and his grace.
I sailed on a freighter from Mobile, Alabama, with fellow missionaries Mr. and Mrs. Dale and their young son. It took five weeks. At the time, I was engaged to Ralph, but he stayed stateside to attend graduate school for a year. He arrived in Japan in August 1953, and we were married in Karuizawa a month later. The following year, we came to Shikoku to do church planting. Before the Lord took him to his heavenly home in 2008, Ralph planted churches in western Japan for 55 years. During those years, about 60 Japanese gave their lives for full-time service.
Ralph’s vision for church planting took us to several prefectures: Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, and Oita (the latter in Kyushu). We usually had 12 short-term workers at a time in different churches who assisted in the progress of the many churches. I felt we kept Japan Rail in business since we used it so much.
During the first few years of ministry, it was my privilege to let Ralph do the ministry while I took care of our three children. We taught them English at home, and they attended Japanese school. Now, our two children live in Japan, one in business and one a missionary. Our second son went to heaven almost five years ago.
It was challenging in the beginning to adjust to Japanese culture. For example, in the US, we freely had visitors over for tea, but in the 50 years I have lived in this house, I have never been invited into my neighbor’s house.
Making contacts in order to reach the Japanese is very important. The year our youngest child went to kindergarten, I started cooking classes in our home with about 60 students each month, eight months of the year. A short gospel message was always given, and some found Christ. These classes continued for 40 years.
It is difficult for non-Christians to attend church since they think “the threshold is too high” for them. The home Bible classes that Ralph taught and one-on-one lessons and discipling brought forth much fruit.
To reach a larger group of unsaved people, I started a ladies’ luncheon at a hotel in the early 1960s. God has blessed it, and we had our 55th one this past year. The luncheon has gradually grown. We had 256 people this time, and 27 people made decisions. Fifteen people from various churches form a committee that organizes the luncheon. A well-known speaker and musicians are invited for the program.
In the early 1960s, Ralph was elected chairman of TEAM, and we had to move to Tokyo for two years. I was excited at first, but it was not a rosy road. I had three children to care for (the youngest was ten months old), while Ralph had to do office work and care for 180 missionaries in the field. I was also in charge of our TEAM Center guesthouse for missionaries. There were usually 20 for breakfast and dinner, and I had only one Japanese helper. I survived with the Lord’s help for I had to lean on him. I learned a great lesson from that time: “You conquer only when you yield!”
These are some lessons I have learned through the years of ministry. It took me a while to realize that we must have a passion for lost souls and realize that each person has an eternal soul. We are called to love each person regardless of their character or personality. I’ve learned to have an open heart and an open home, where people feel free to come by any time for help, and to surrender to him any situation, for he is in charge.
It was not easy sending Ralph on to heaven ten years ago, but God’s grace was sufficient. We had three funerals for him: one in Takamatsu, one in Tokyo, and one in Okayama. I wanted to go with him, and yet he said to me, “You have so much more to do!” I am trying to do that “so much more” at my age of 90 and plan to stay in Japan until God calls my name. That will be a hallelujah day!
Photos from https://team.org/blog/women-in-missions
Stella Cox grew up in Tennessee and came to Japan to serve as a missionary in 1952. She married Ralph Cox the following year, and together they helped plant over 80 churches in Western Japan. Now 90 years old, she lives in Takamatsu, on Shikoku.