Japanese church leader and pastor dies at 80
Yamada promoted Anabaptist identityBy Ferne Burkhardt Mennonite World Conference
FUKUOKA, Japan — Takashi Yamada, a former Mennonite World Conference official and one of the Japanese Mennonite churches’ most creative leaders, died June 20. He was 80.
For nearly 48 years, Yamada was a pastor in the rural Kobayashi district of southern Japan. He also worked at building a network of Japanese Christians with a strong emphasis on discipleship.
“Yamada is best known for his efforts to make Mennonite churches in Japan genuinely Anabaptist,” said Robert Ramseyer, a former missionary in Japan. “Yamada read Anabaptist materials and then wrestled with what this means for being a disciple of Jesus in Japan today.”
Teaching a course at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., led to Yamada’s becoming known in the broader Mennonite world. He was elected to the MWC executive committee and served as vice president for Asia in the mid-1970s.
Beginning in 1960, he worked with missionary Paul Boschman at evangelism and church planting in the town of Kobayashi where he lived and then along the “bullet train” line where some of his members had moved. Twice a year he did a circuit, visiting the network of small groups.
As a young man near the end of World War II, Yamada was drafted into the Japanese navy. He was ordered to “volunteer” for suicide missions, but his conscience made him refuse to do so.
He was known for his courage and refusal to compromise. Sometimes his frankness and confrontational style annoyed his co-workers and family. But he was also patient and kind, Ramseyer said.
Yamada met Mennonites when he and his friend, Hiroshi Yanada, attended English-language classes taught by General Conference Mennonite Church missionary Peter Voran at Eiko church in Kobe in 1951. The two students began attending Bible studies. In a few months they adopted the Christian faith and were baptized.
They became part of the “Kobe Garage Group,” which first met in the mission garage and later became Kobe Mennonite Church. Yamada served as an interpreter, since the missionaries were not yet fluent enough to preach or teach in Japanese.
In 1956, the church in Nichinan called Yamada to be its pastor. For a few years, he worked with the Vorans and also with missionaries Peter and Mary Derksen before being called to the church in Kobayashi. He became a leader in the formation and development of a church conference.
Former missionary Verney Unruh remembered Yamada as a visionary, “always thinking ahead, trying new ways to share the gospel.”
Yamada was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago, which led to surgery and treatment in Fukuoka, where he moved to an apartment with his wife and daughter.
Yamada is survived by his wife, Yoshiko; three sons, two daughters and four grandchildren. All five children are involved in their father’s church community.
Comment on the article Japanese church leader and pastor dies at 80
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.