by Megan K. Mertz
In April 1953, Urawa Lutheran School opened its doors in rural Saitama, Japan. At the time, it had just four students.
The elementary school, which was started by LCMS missionaries and Japanese volunteers, “began with all kinds of handicaps,” The Lutheran Witness reported in September 1955.
Yet in just three years, the school established “a modern school building, three grades, … a strong parent-teacher association, and a congregation,” according to the article. The members of the PTA even formed an adult Bible class.
Now more than 60 years later, the school of 700 students — currently located in a busy suburb of Tokyo — is preparing to open its doors in a new place, one that can accommodate future growth and ministry.
In January 2015, classes will resume at the new campus in Misono, an area a few miles away that has recently been rezoned for commercial use. The new campus will allow the school to enroll more than 200 additional students, as well as provide space for a sports field, a chapel and community events. It also is close to an express train line, which will make it more accessible to Greater Tokyo’s millions of commuters.
Urawa serves students in grades 1 through 12, making it the only elementary school and one of only two secondary schools operated by the Japan Lutheran Church, an LCMS partner church body.
“The quality of the education attracts non-Christian students and families, giving us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and His love,” the Rev. Shinri Emoto, general secretary of the Japan Lutheran Church, wrote in an email.
“Every child hears of God’s love every day. The school days at Urawa are started and ended with prayer and songs of praise as we strive to serve the Lord.”
This is an important witness to the Gospel, since only 10 percent of Urawa students and 50 percent of its teachers are Christians.
“A few of our high school students get baptized each year, which is very rare in Japan, where Christians account for less than 1 percent of the population,” Emoto said.
In July, the LCMS committed to revitalizing its long-standing partnership with the Japan Lutheran Church by providing resources and personnel for Urawa Lutheran School. The LCMS Office of International Mission has pledged to recruit a chaplain for the school as well as missionaries to provide pastoral ministry and theological education in other areas of the country.
“Our sister church, the Japan Lutheran Church, has expanded the school and is using it as an outreach,” said the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of Church Relations for the LCMS. “It is a good time for the LCMS and the Japan Lutheran Church to work together on the expansion of Urawa. The joint work shows the commitment both church bodies have to one another.”
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer for LCMS Communications.