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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 XII. An Old and New Men in One Person.

Every member of my Union, who was blessed and born again by the grace of God, has his own peculiar account about their change of the character and life, which would be very interesting to my readers. But as I can not describe all of them here, I will mention one case of Mr. M. Numari, of whose conversion I described already in the preceding chapter.

Though he had run away from his father and committed crimes, his repentance was not hopeless. According to his account, he feared his sins dreadfully and repented from his heart when he was first sentenced to imprisonment, and really wanted to change his life at his return from prison. "If there was any kind person who would have helped me," he confessed to me, "I should have been saved. Unfortunately, however, there was none when he was released. "When I came out from the [76/77] prison," he continued, "I was clothed with only a thin knit shirt and drawer in cold winter, and without one penny--a poor hungering dog! Unless one was a godly saint it is impossible for him to endure a holy death, not committing any more sins for living. Under such circumstances I was driven again to steal the food and clothes for my existence as soon as I left the gate of the prison." Thus he has now great sympathy with ex-criminals in the same condition, and is ready to receive and convert them.

But as he was going on to continue in his hellward course, his sensibilities of such fear of sin had gradually disappeared from his mind, and he became indifferent to it, and grew into quite a wicked fellow. When he was fourteen years old he was put in a non-Christian asylum for ex-criminals, started by a heathen, Zenkichi, Takahashi, as other kinds of our Christian social works are imitated by them. But there was no work of Holy Spirit among them to convert his heart, and, when the director of the asylum saw that he was so stubborn and wild, he gave him a terrible chastisement by binding him to a pole out doors and poured a bucketful of water upon [77/78] his head and exposed him in the freezing winter for the whole night. On the next morning, however, the director still found him not yielded, so that he determined to make him a maimed person who might no longer go on in his sinful ways. So he broke, a joint of his right hand, and set him free.

Having been treated with such a violence, he thought that he would be killed soon if he stayed any longer with such a heartless man, and he ran away from the asylum. When he was running on a street in Kyobashi district, thinking how to get the remedy of his hand, there was a fire and the people were in a great confusion. So he stole some articles in the broad day light, that he might be arrested. He was sent into the prison, as he hoped, and received the perfect medical treatment in the prison hospital. He was much happier in the prison than in the asylum of the hypocrite! In the prison he met with other youngsters, who were in the same asylum with him, having been sentenced to much longer imprisonment than himself for the great crime, and he understood that it was advantageous for him that he did not stay longer in such asylum, and united them to commit the crime with [78/79] them. When lie grew up he became a very famous thief among the policemen in this city, as he had an admirable skill to flee from their hands. Two policemen were dismissed from their office in the police station of my district on account of their failures to keep him. "It is a very easy work to escape from their hand," he remarked to me, when he confessed his past crimes, "if I can find one of the very many careless moments of the policemen."

Once when he was arrested in the Honjo Police Station he jumped up its high brick wall in a moment leisure and dashed away over it like a lightning before the policemen stirred up after him. Having ran round along the corner of the wall before the pursuers caught his sight, he jumped over it again into the compound of the station itself, when it became comparatively a safe refuge, and concealed himself in a narrow space of its back-building. The policemen rung telephones to all other stations, and the extraordinary alarm cordon was instantly arranged in the necessary parts of the city. But all their efforts were in vain, as the thief himself was coolly looking at his watch in this unexpected refuge waiting for the time the cordon should be put off. [79/80] And then he came out from his hiding place there in due course, having dressed his head and face with a band that he made out of his white undercloth, and with the shoes stolen from the house of the head of that police station. He walked slowly and silently in the street as if one was going home from a hospital, having received a surgical operation. When he came to the Ryogeku bridge, where a policeman was standing with yet vigilant eyes, he approached the officer and asked in a rural dialect what was the hour, and thus escaped from their hands entirely, leaving the words, "Thank you, sir."

Such was his skill, and he was much feared by policemen in duty with him. But he told me that he could not run away when he was treated kindly by a certain policeman, as he felt so sorry if the policeman should be dismissed on his account. He behaved also very wild in the prison and often received special punishments of every kind in it.

He had, however, a peculiar patriotic spirit and tried to do some good for the country. Once he thought it is a patriotic deed to persecute the Christians and drive that foreign religion out of this country. So he helped a [80/81] Shinto priest, Shogen Hara, who lives near the Hachiman shrine in my parish, and went round the country, preaching their anti-Christian purport. All the expenses for this movement were paid by him from his unlimited resource. He, at the head of his band of the wicked men, often attacked the Salvation Army, holding its open-air campaign by the Takabashi bridge near my church.

Such is his former life. But when he came to my Union and was converted, he was entirely changed. The first work I gave him was to clean the street lamps. I told him that God's name could be glorified by any man irrespective of his work, and that he must work most honestly as an ideal lamp cleaner. He did just as I told him. One day, when he was doing his work at the gate of a mansion in Azabu, the master of the house, whose admiration had already been excited by his daily work, came out and gave him some money and said, "Take this little money; I am surprised by your honesty; it is for your tobacco; go on in your present way, and I am sure you will become a happy man." "No, thank you, sir," responded the amazed fellow; [81/82] "I am doing what I ought to do, receiving my daily wages from my company, and there is no reason on my part to receive such extra present." But as the gentleman forced him to take it, he brought it to the manager of his company, but the manager only sneered at him, saying, "Don't be a fool; that is your income." However, his conscience would not let him keep it. So he came to me to ask what to do, and according to my advice, he bought a religious book with that money and gave it to the gentleman, and told him what made him different from other working men is explained in that book.

The next work I gave him was to go round the streets and sell some liquid. Now there lived in Honjo district his former chief--a man who was over fifty years old, also very wicked and sentenced many times to long imprisonment, and once killed a policeman and some other people. One day, when he came round near this man's house, he accidentally stumbled and fell down, pouring out all his liquid on the road and lost it. Presently a maid came out from his old chief's house, saw the poor young man in despair, and was much surprised to find him to be her old acquaintance. [82/83] She ran in and informed it to her master. The master came out instantly, and seeing all that, told him, "I was much moved having heard of your recent change, and hope for your success. I feel very sorry for you to see this unfortunate accident, but I hope you will never be discouraged by it. So I propose to buy all the liquid you have lost, and pay for it at your selling price, so that you may go home without damage by this accident." Mr. Numari understood his kind intention and sympathy very well, but at the same time he thought that he must not yield to any merciful help from that sinful man, whom he was to lead to God and make repent. So he declined to accept his kind proposal, saying, "It is very kind of you, and thank you very much for your kind offer, but there is a reason why I can not accept it. One who makes me stumble and lose my article to-day is none but the God, my new Lord," and smiling at the old man's perplexed face, he continued, "My God has seized my day's earnings from my hands to-day. But do you know why? There is a profound reason. As you heard, I had repented and become a Christian, and many persons are praising me; but there are great many sins more to repent in [83/84] my heart. You know very well, I was ignorant of the true value of money, as I could get it any time by an easy labor, and squandered it most carelessly. So my God gave me a very important lesson just now, and taught me that the money I used to steal before was so valuable that the people could earn it only with such pains and difficulties as I have now experienced. Now I understand more deeply about my past sins to repent, hearing this clear voice of God from above. I can not, therefore, sell such a precious grace of God to you whatever price you may offer me. It is the will of God to polish and enlighten my heart more and to lead me to the more happy life. I would rather pass this day with fasting and prayers, and receive this heavenly food to my thankful spirit." His old chief was greatly amazed and moved with this extraordinary change in the young man, and ever since he listens to his words with keen interest and reverence.

On one occasion Mr. Numari called on a police detective at Honjo Police Station, Mr. G. Ashida, who warned me for my safety when I took Mr. Numari into my Union. He was arrested several times by this man, and [84/85] they were old acquaintances with each other. Mr. Ashida is a Christian, but is not earnest, and Mr. Numari found now that he had done many things to him which were not becoming to a Christian. So in his return he went there to arrest him in the name of Christ, and persuaded him to become more earnest, and told him before the audience of many astonished policemen about the grace of God that changed him so marvelously.

He has visited also the Shinto priest, Shogen Hara, many times after his conversion, and told him to repent and to become a Christian, demonstrating the powerlessness of his work, by the fact that he could not convert him when the priest was with him so long time. The result of it is at least the priest's silence against Christianity, and that he has no more courage to do anything against my work as he did against the Salvation Army before.

Mr. Numari is one of my powerful weapons against such ignorant people at present, at the same time he is a good citizen, who pays the taxes to the government, successful in the trade of shoemaking, which work I gave him at last. He married to a good [85/86] Christian woman last year, and a lovely baby was born to them this year, whom I named "Nobuko," a daughter of the Faith. They are enjoying the luxury of the bountiful blessings of God in their wonderful happy home, glorifying the name of our Lord in this miserable heathen society.

As Japan has made some progress in the material civilization, some think that we are also much advanced in religion and morality. But it is a great mistake. Those who have hitherto hated Christianity became indifferent to it--that is about all of the present change. It seems to me that all foreign churches should now reinforce the missionaries and concentrate their forces, and do their very best for solving the problem, "Can Christianity conquer Japan?"

However, the age of arguing is now past in Japan; we must show the people the practical good of Christianity to humanity. Such is my humble desire in carrying the work of the Laborers' Reform Union. I have already began it, and its foundation is laid upon my past work of twenty years. If I may be allowed to go on with my work in a greater scale, it is not only a blessing to the poor people, [86/87] but it will also do a tremendous good in establishment of God's kingdom in this country by showing what His religion can actually do.

The following are the farewell words of my father in faith, the late Bishop C. M. Williams, which he wrote to me from Yokohama, when he was about to leave Japan eternally for Virginia:


"I hope your work among the poor wretched people will continue to grow and be blessed and that others will follow your example."

I am ready to serve our Lord until my end against any hardship--my life and my all is offered in sacrifice to Him. I hope my readers in sympathy with my work will pray for me and for my work. I tried to keep silent for the last twenty years, but now I can not, not for myself, but for His glory.

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