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They That Sat in Darkness
An Account of Rescue Work in Japan in the Words of the Rev. Yoshimichi Sugiura

New York: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, [1912]

Chapter IX. The Work for Children in Slums.

In carrying on my work for these poor people I understood that it was most needful to give religious instruction to their little children, but at first I found it difficult to start an efficient meeting for them. I had to hold it on the same night, an hour before the adults should be gathered, twice a month. But to my surprise they were more unmanageable than I had thought. They were so thoroughly accustomed to the vicious and lawless life in their homes that we were at our wits' end to know how to teach them, for when they assembled together in a room they cried, laughed, romped or blackguarded each other, without listening to any of our words, and moreover some of them were carrying little babies on their backs to add their noisy crying to this abundant vociferation. Those who seemed so gentle and quiet among them were either sick or hungry.

[45] My co-worker told me that he saw once in a slum one drunkard, who sent his boy to the charitable school one morning without giving him any food to take beforehand, and when the boy came home at noon and teased for dinner, rebuked the boy violently, saying, "Be quiet! Even your father has not taken his breakfast yet, except drinking 'sake' only." What a brutal slave to drinking! What an unfortunate poor boy!

Some children in the meeting were seemingly weak and sickly, but their parents were supposed to be unable to take any care for them, leaving them to their own fate. A boy who came out from a poor large family looked to be very tired, and when we called at his house we found that his father had been long ill, and understood that he was in sad and pitiable state of hunger.

It is impossible to mention here all such instances about these unhappy children. When I looked at them at the meeting and found that I was powerless to give them any material help and comfort, I could not help breaking into tears from the sympathy that I felt in my heart, and it is a burden almost greater than I can bear.

[46] Those wayward and wretched children used to come to attend our meeting only to excite their own curiosity by singing out songs or by looking at the pictures, which we occasionally show them by the magic-lantern.

The ordinary hymns of our church are too hard to understand their meanings for these children, as well as adults about here, and are not of much use for the meetings of the Union, and so I was composing special ones, which are suitable to excite their interest by their purport as well as by the tunes. As I got a few of them by the kind aid of my friends, I have committed them to print and got a nice little book, the "Union Songs," just this month, August, 1910.

Little by little, however, this clamorous meeting of the children became peaceful, and after a few months it changed into an utterly different state. The children became much more courteous, and listened to our teaching with keen interest. The change of their daily life was also so manifest that their parents were surprised by it, and many of them came to thank us for it. I saw a mother one day who heard such a good rumor of it in her society, brought her rude boy with her, and [46/47] asked us, saying, "Is it this house where as they say I may apply to make this boy good for something?"

At present I see many mothers who bring their children at every meeting. From the summer of last year I have increased the number of the meetings for these children, and succeeded in starting the Sunday school for them, opening it from 2 P. M. on every Sunday. The number of those children who are present at every meeting is now from 50 to 70. We are obliged to limit their number by the reason that I have no house large enough to receive more, as it is in the case for adults.

We had a very nice Christmas with these poor children last year for the first time. They looked very grateful and happy, when they received such nice presents as they had never seen elsewhere.

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