For All the Saints 2022: Week 3

Concordia Historical Institute: Your Archives and Archiving YOU!
Commemorating LCMS Missions in Japan
Staff Spotlight: Peg Robson
Concordia Historical Institute’s Digitizing Missions Initiative

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Concordia Historical Institute: Your Archives and Archiving YOU!

Staff members at Concordia Historical Institute reviewing documents and artifacts.

Concordia Historical Institute archives your Lutheran history—which means it maintains archives on you, too! If you are LCMS clergy, a called church worker, or a layperson contributing to the life of the church through writing, hymnody, etc, we archive your story. CHI collects information on these individuals so that researchers today and tomorrow can learn about these significant persons. We also collect information about all congregations within the Missouri Synod, large or small, new or old.

However, CHI can’t do this work alone. We rely on proactive people—pastors, congregational or district executives, friends, family members, etc.—to send us this critical information. This can come in the form of important official documents, correspondence, reports, financial records, photographs, multimedia objects, artifacts, and more. (Click here to learn more.)

Further, we are happy to accept updated Biographical Records from individuals at any point. This is especially helpful for keeping up with pastors and rostered church workers after a move, marriage, or other major life or career event. Simply fill out this form and mail or email it to the Reference and Research Department of CHI.

Thank You!

CHI relies on and is extremely grateful for the cooperation of the many people working in the world to spread the good news of Christ Jesus—and tell us all about what they are doing! By sharing with us what you, your pastor, your congregation, or your relative is or has done in the church, you are not being conceited or prideful, but are instead helping us curate the history of Lutheranism in North America for future generations. The stories of today—your stories—will go on to edify and encourage Christians of tomorrow. Thank you!

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Commemorating LCMS Missions in Japan

63 years ago this week: on December 1, 1949, LCMS Missionary Roy A. Suelflow began missionary work in Niigata Prefecture, Japan.

Slow Beginnings

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod began missionary efforts in Japan following World War II.  The circumstances surrounding the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces led to an unprecedented mission opportunity. Japan, which had been historically closed off to outside influence of any kind, but especially to Christianity, was facing an identity crisis. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the events they triggered—Japan’s unconditional surrender and the renunciation of the Japanese emperor’s divine status—profoundly undermined the Japanese syncretic political and religious identity.

American General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the Allied occupation of Japan, encouraged Christian missionaries to enter the country following the end of World War II. The Japanese government had repressed Christianity during the war, though the Church had never established a particularly large presence to begin with. Additionally, Japan was rapidly embracing many Western cultural elements, and so it seemed to be perfect timing.

The first LCMS missionaries in Japan were actually military chaplains stationed at U.S. military bases. Chaplain Martin Poch discovered a small Lutheran denomination within Japan already with about 5,000 members. He and other chaplains requested that the LCMS send missionaries to Japan as soon as possible.

Rev. George Shibata, a Japanese-American Lutheran convert, and Rev. William J. Danker, a pastor who had served for eleven years in Chicago, were the first two LCMS missionaries to Japan in 1948. Both men—especially Rev. Shibata, who served as missionary to Japan for 53 years(!), from 1949 until his death in 2001—had a profound impact on the Japanese Lutheran church.

Suelflow and Others Arrive

An LCMS missionary administering the Lord’s Supper to two Japanese women.

A large number of missionaries to Japan were originally missionaries to China. The Chinese Communist Revolution succeeded with Mao Zedong proclaiming the creation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. As a result, the Chinese government expelled a large number of Christian missionaries from the country. Among the LCMS missionaries to China was Roy Suelflow,  brother of former CHI Executive Director August Suelflow. Rev. Roy Suelflow had attended Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and was ordained in 1945. He traveled to China to do missionary work there in 1946. Beginning in 1948, the LCMS began evacuating missionaries out of China due to the ongoing Communist revolution. Among this group was Richard H. Meyer and his wife, Lois, who became long-time missionaries to Japan. The Meyers arrived on December 10th, 1948—74 years ago next week.

Rev. Roy A. Suelflow (from CSL Scholar)

Rev. Suelflow remained in China longer, but, in 1949, the writing was on the wall. Rev. Roy Suelflow relocated to neighboring (and more stable) Japan. On December 1, 1949, Rev. Suelflow began work in Niigata Prefecture, a central area on the main island of Japan. Suelflow and his wife, Wanda, remained in Japan until 1953, when he went to Taiwan to be president of the seminary there. Rev. Suelflow went on to serve as professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and fell asleep in the Lord in 1981.

Sharing the Gospel in Japan

The LCMS was active in Japan from 1948 until 1970, when the Japan Lutheran Church (Japanese: 日本ルーテル教団Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan) declared autonomy and requested Sister Church status with the LCMS. The mission there was often very challenging—language and culture were huge barriers. Nevertheless, the Lord spread His Word of forgiveness and life with the Japanese people through the many LCMS men and women He saw fit to place in Japan from the 1940s through the 1960s.

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Staff Spotlight: Peg Robson

“My love of history is definitely fulfilled by working at CHI. I strongly agree that knowing history as it happened is very important in understanding our roots and beliefs. Donors to this worthwhile cause enable us to preserve our rich Lutheran heritage for years to come. Thank you to our donors for helping us to do this!”

-Peg Robson, Archiving Assistant

Concordia Historical Institute’s Digitizing Missions Initiative

The exhibit catalog from our India missions exhibit.

One of the on-going projects at CHI is identifying, locating, digitizing, and sharing multimedia resources held in our collection pertaining to LCMS missionary activity overseas. The extensive Missouri Evangelical Lutheran India Mission (MELIM) project, which featured an impressive in-person exhibit, multiple print and web resources, and a digitized photo gallery, was the first such endeavor. Further, it is the Institute’s hope that such projects will continue to take root and grow in our fertile historical soil.

Currently, CHI is researching LCMS missionary activity in Japan. As you read above, the LCMS was active in Japan beginning post-World War II and until 1970. There are many stories yet to be told about the missionaries and the people they ministered to. In order to do so, we have begun digitizing Japanese mission media. CHI holds a number of multimedia resources that relate to the LCMS in Japan, including photos, photo negatives, slides, short films, vinyl records, and more. Recently, we have begun identifying these resources, locating them—as they are often in a diverse number of physical locations in the building—and digitizing them.

A processed film negative from the collection. Here, a Japanese man sits at a desk in the Lutheran Hour Japan, Tokyo.

CHI recently digitized a set of film negatives from the Japanese mission field during the 1960s. The monochrome negatives were carefully photographed and digitally processed as “positives.” There were over 500 such photos, which are now available for the first time in a processed digital format. Our next step will be crowdsourcing metadata entry. This means finding individuals who can help us identify the people and places in the photographs so that we can match the photos with historical events and documents in the collection.

How You Can Help

It is because of the prayers and generosity of supporters like you that we are able to undertake this significant task. Your generous general or unrestricted donations help us immensely. For example, your gift may help us:

  • fund a staff position for cataloguing documents and artifacts from the mission field
  • purchase necessary equipment for digitization efforts
  • provide updated and improved technology and facilities for photography and audio-visual recording
  • subsidize online and in-person exhibits highlighting LCMS ministries like the Walther League and overseas missions
  • and more!

If you have been edified by the above stories or any of the other stories shared in our campaign, please remember Concordia Historical Institute in your prayers and consider making a donation of any size today.

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