Charles Gumm is pastor at Community Lutheran, Honolulu.
Just after Christmas, I left Hawaii for a trip to visit our WELS military personnel and their families on Okinawa, an island between Japan and Taiwan. Our synod’s Military Services Committee and the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) asked me in October 2015 to look into developing a more consistent ministry to WELS service members stationed throughout the Pacific. We already have an organized mission of five families on Okinawa, so that was chosen as the place to begin. I had previously made one trip there in October.
Japanese tourism is huge in Hawaii, so getting flights is very convenient. From Honolulu to Tokyo is about six hours, then another two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo to Okinawa.
The week after Christmas was an excellent time to visit as most of our members had much of the week off, so we were able to do a variety of things together over a period of four days. For me, one of the most memorable moments was our visit to the underground headquarters of Japan’s navy during the brutal World War II battle (April to June 1945) that left over 200,000 people dead.
Throughout the week it was difficult for me to shake the horror of war and how it destroys even the lives of those who survive it. What a contrast with the message of Christmas, so filled with hope, strength, and encouragement. At various times our conversations drifted to this contrast.
This Christmas visit was also special because I was able to spend at least one day with almost all the participating families. It was like an extended pastoral visit! The added time gave me the opportunity to get to know the adults and the young people as well. We spent New Year’s Eve playing games throughout the night. One evening I led a devotion with the family that was hosting me before we turned out the lights.
On Sunday afternoon we all met for Bible study and worship with Communion in one of the beautiful base chapels. We also discussed the possibility of having regular Bible classes and worship via Internet. Currently I give confirmation classes to one young person on Okinawa with very good results. So we are excited about developing more frequent contact, even if it is a virtual meeting. My next visit is scheduled for June, when we will celebrate two high school graduations and one confirmation.
Many thanks to the LMSG, the new WELS/ELS veterans group, for providing travel funds for this trip. Their goal of providing more personal support for WELS military personnel throughout the world is a worthy one. Even though we may never be able to provide a church setting like our members are used to back home, we can help them grow in their faith in ways they might never have if they had not journeyed to the distant corners of the world.