October 1-2, 2011
In 1942, approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals living along the Pacific coast were forced by theUnited Statesgovernment to move to internment camps.
Over 60% of those interned in the “War Relocation Camps” wereU.S.citizens. In 2007, it was finally proven that the United States Census bureau had released confidential information to help the government identify Japanese-American families.
For those of us who did not live through the war,
who have not lived on the Pacific coast,
and who have never been a minority,
the event remains mostly a piece of history –
a piece of history that is shameful,
but one that we don’t think about much,
one that we think and hope we’ve learned from,
and one that we’ve moved beyond.
In 1998, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation apologizing for the internment on behalf of the U.S.government. The U.S.government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.[i]
End of story….for most of us.
But not the end of the story for those who were affected.
I admit I’ve never really thought a lot about how such an incident affects someone so many years later, how it affects the community, and how it affects their descendents.
So this morning, I am going to read a letter – a real-life letter – written by a couple describing what it was like for them.
It is a stewardship letter written by an elderly Japanese American couple to their adult son and daughter-in-law.
It is a letter about the impact of community – acting together.
And it is about Jesus’ call – especially in times of crisis – to love one another.[ii]
Dear Yoshi and Karen,
Before we left for the camps, we had a prayer service at our church. We heard the story of Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples before he went to the cross. Jesus told the disciples to love one another, so others would know about Jesus. We prayed together, and then we boarded up our church, hoping it would stay safe.
We remembered Jesus’ words when we had to say goodbye. “Love one another.” Jesus said those words before he left this world. It was a terrifying time for the disciples. And now it was a terrifying time for us. The hardest part was that we were sent to different camps inArizona
When we arrived at the camps, it was hard to breathe. Everything familiar had changed in a day. We had to endure large annoyances and small annoyances. Hot weather, bitterly cold weather, dust, cramped quarters, sick people, bad food. The indignity of being the subjects of the nation’s suspicions. It was hard, but after awhile all the injustices just became normal.
We wrote to each other every day. Even though we couldn’t send all the letters, at least each day we could be faithful. Jesus’ words stayed in our minds when we felt bitter and angry. “Love one another.” Just that. We remembered our church and how much our Christian family helped us.
Jesus went away from the disciples. We went away, too. Everything changed.
Everything except God, who made us and continually loved us. Somehow the Spirit that Jesus promised came to us. It moved among us like the dust. We didn’t die inside. Our baptismal water kept us from drying up in the desert. We prayed. It was easier when we tried to keep each other going. Jesus walked with us, comforted us, and showed us what sin looked like.
There were so many people to help. We tried to witness to Jesus by keeping our hopes alive. Many people were looking for good news and something to hold on to. We made a new community—we had to. We learned to work together, not just worry together.This kept all of our spirits up.
Jesus wanted his disciples to be a model for others. We felt God’s spirit drawing us to faith, pulling us on, pushing us out to someone else. And we knew deep down that God’s love was something totally opposite from the injustice inflicted on us.
How did we survive? Only God knows. When we finally saw each other again, all the tears came. They washed away the dust of the camps. But the residue remained. What remained was the compassion we learned. We still feel it when we hear of the injustices in God’s kingdom.
Our best advice to you in these times of change is the advice of Jesus. Love one
another. That is the strongest tool for you and our beloved grandchildren, for your
congregation, for God’s world. Hold on to Jesus’ words and practice them.
Jesus knew we needed to stay focused, so he gave us the gift of a commandment. Love one another. These words are a touchstone for your children—a comfort and a call.
Don’t worry so much—love so much. When everything is gone, love remains. And a new reality, no matter what it is, brings new chances for worship and witness to Christ’s love, multiple chances to pour out God’s love that lives in you.
Maybe our advice will seem too simple for this modern world. But you asked and now we tell you. How did we survive those times? We survived by Jesus’ words—“Love one another.”
Mom and Dad
As the passage in Deuteronomy reminds us. “Keep these words… in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deut 6:6-7)
Love one another.
[i] From Wikipedia, “Japanese American Internment”