Born to Be

Today I want to tell you about one of the missionaries of this generation who might hold the record for being in Japan for the longest time.  That’s because he was born there.

Takahiro Oue was born in 1943 in one of Japan’s southern towns, Kochi. World War II was raging, and his father left for the battlefield in Okinawa as soon as little Tak was born.  He never reached his destination, however, because the transport ship he was on was torpedoed by the allies and sank with 3600 souls aboard. Tak’s father was one of the many fatalities.

Tak’s young mother left him with the grandparents and did what she had to do, traveling to the mainland in search of a job that would enable her to send money back to support her child.  The war ended, and while she was working in a city near Kyoto, she met and married an American GI.

They had three ceremonies, a Shinto one, one on the base, and one at the US Embassy.  Soon, a half brother and a half sister were born in Japan, after which the decision was made to go back together to the new husband’s assignment in the USA.
They were not sure how yet another ‘war bride’, would be received, or how a small child might respond to such a big move, so it was decided initially that Tak would remain with his grandparents in Japan until the parents settled in. Then finally, when Tak was 12 years old, his mother and family came back to Japan to get him.

Tak’s new ‘dad’ had taken a cut in rank in order to be reassigned to Japan, ostensibly to be reunited with a son he had met only a few times and he didn’t know.

Just before he graduated from elementary school, Tak moved to Tokyo to live with his new family.  He studied English with a tutor, and then a few months later, together, they moved back to the US.

It was a big shock for Tak, especially since the English he had been studying was British English, a far cry from that spoken in Kentucky!  Nevertheless, he was placed in the 8th grade because of his age, skipping one whole year and jumping into his studies with no discernible English skills. His new ‘dad’, in an effort to help him, forbid him to speak Japanese to anyone, even if spoken to in Japanese. He was able to muddle along thanks to some kind classmates and eventually began to thrive.

And as might be expected, Tak became a quiet child.  He stayed at home whenever possible, which may have been in part because he was a teenager, but also because it was just easier.  That is, until one day his friend, a pastor’s son, finally convinced him to come to the church youth group.  To this point he had been raised as a first-born Japanese son with all the responsibilities, including caring every day for the family Buddhist and Shinto shrines.

Because the youth group only had a King James Bible, it was difficult for Tak to understand, but friends and the youth group helped and were glad to see him finally understand and become a Christian at 17.

He graduated from high school and headed to Western Kentucky University where he began attending Glendale Baptist church. There he excelled in Math and Chemistry (Less talking required) as well as being chosen for the Scabbard and Blade Honor Fraternity of the ROTC and on the University Rifle Team.

However, he began to feel a tug on his heart to go into the ministry. After fulfilling his obligation to the ROTC, he separated honorably and graduated, then left for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

One more thing: the night of his graduation Tak asked young Lana O’Banion to marry him, and in his second year of seminary she did!

During their time at Southern seminary, they were able to meet many Southern Baptist Missionaries from Japan. Everyone of them, when sizing up the situation, pleaded for them to get over to Japan as soon as possible.

Then his beloved grandmother back in Kochi passed away. Other missionaries had been sent to her to witness but perhaps because she didn’t know them, she resisted. Tak felt this keenly as he had not been able to reach her for Christ. It occurred to him that perhaps he, like Moses, may have been raised in a foreign land to go back to his people and share the love of Christ. From then on he was committed to go back to Japan, as was Lana, who’d made her own decision a few years earlier.

With that in mind, they had several hurdles to cross, the major one being that at that time the Foreign Mission Board had a policy to not to send nationals back to their countries.

Finally at the bequest of the Japanese themselves, Tak was allowed to be one of the only 4 nationals ever to be sent back to their countries as missionaries.  Fortunately nowadays it’s more common for missionaries to be sent back to their country of origin.

Tak settled quickly back into life in Japan, but because he had been away for so long, found that he had to go had to go back to language school just like everyone else. Thankfully however, it did come easier and quicker to him and he was able to preach in just 6 months, which is nothing short of a miracle for those other foreign born missionaries.

Over the next 40 years, the Oues planted several churches, along with working in the mission in a number of influential jobs. They had their share of ups and downs, both in the ministry and in their health, but they soldiered on, never complaining.   For the last four years of their ministry, they headed up Baptist response to the huge tsunami that devastated Japan in March of 2011.

Their two sons, Richard and Jonathan, have both gone through seminary and continue to serve the Lord, with Richard, wife Renae and four boys spending the last 20 years back in Japan and Jonathan and wife Brittany and three children in the US.

It is a testimony to God that He knows our names before we are even born and has set us apart to do His Will.  What a tremendous legacy the Oues and so many other missionaries have left for the people of Japan!

God is faithful to us.


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