Building on a longstanding relationship with churches from Japan, leaders of the United Church of Christ welcomed five international guests from the country’s Christian churches during a historic visit to the denomination's national offices in Cleveland.
Traveling to visit with UCC leaders for the first time on Feb. 3 and 4, executives of the United Church of Christ in Japan, the National Council of Churches in Japan, and the Korean Christian Church in Japan were welcomed to the church house with expressions of solidarity and sympathy for the execution of journalist Kenji Goto, a member of the UCC-Japan.
"We discussed common challenges, mission and ministry, and ways we can work together in the future," said the Rev. James Moos, executive minister of the UCC Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries. "It was good to have them here and a productive two days."
The visiting delegation included the Rev. Tetsuo Nagasaki (General Secretary of UCC in Japan), the Rev. Makoto Kato (Executive Secretary for Ecumenical Ministries of UCC in Japan), the Rev. Shoko Aminaka (General Secretary of National Christian Council in Japan), the Rev. Byungho Kim (General Secretary of Korean Christian Church in Japan) and the Rev. Baekki Heo (Korean Christian Church in Japan).
Earlier this week, the delegation visited the denominational headquarters of the UCC partner in Global Ministries, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), arriving in Indianapolis the day after Goto was executed.
The 47-year-old journalist, who went to Syria to tell the stories of families affected by the conflict, was a member of Denenchofu Church. Goto was captured in October by Islamic militant group ISIS and killed on Jan. 31, a week after the group killed fellow Japanese captive Haruna Yukawa.
"We shared our sympathy for the captives who were killed," Moos said, "but we also spoke at length about issues of racism in both our countries, issues of peace in the Pacific, issues of recovery after the disaster there."
Moos described the way in which the churches are speaking out against racism as "a common challenge we are working on together." There has been an increase in the amount of hate speech directed toward Koreans living in Japan, Moos said, and the nation does not have any hate-speech laws.
The group of faith leaders also discussed the ongoing relief following Japan's triple disaster—the 2011 earthquake, resultant tsunami and nuclear accident, as well as conversations about Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits acts of war. Moos and the Rev. Xiaoling Zhu, Global Ministries area executive for East Asia and the Pacific, attended an Article 9 Conference in Tokyo in December, which highlighted the implications of Japan’s remilitarization on peace in the region.
To wrap up the meeting, UCC executives worked to find ways to strengthen the relationship in the future with Moos inviting the Japanese churches to have a presence at upcoming UCC events.
"We'll see what interest there is from them having a youth delegation to National Youth Event (in 2016)," Moos said. "We invited the UCC-Japan and the KCC-Japan to send a delegation of youth.
"We always have international guests at events like General Synod and National Youth Event, and we would gladly welcome them," Moos continued. "They're very excited about that."