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Bridge building and maintenance
Asian visit brings moments of grace and chastening realization

1/1/2006

Margaret Larom met with Bishop Joseph Iida while visiting Japan.  
Margaret Larom, director of Anglican and Global Relations at the Episcopal Church Center, New York, was part of the center’s delegation, including Presiding Bishop Frank T.Griswold and his wife Phoebe, that traveled to Asia and met with Anglican leaders there in October. Here, Larom shares her experience.

Recently, traveling in Asia with the presiding bishop, Phoebe Griswold and several colleagues from the Episcopal Church Center, I experienced some amazing moments of grace. They had to do with making connections across both time and space, actually – moments that created a bridge from the past to the present, as well as from there to here, them to us.

I was particularly touched in Japan to see the love and respect still shown towards American missionaries who worked there many decades ago. It was chastening, however, to realize how people of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai remember and honor our forbears in ways that we do not.

In Tokyo, we were entertained by a wind ensemble from one of the Rikkyo schools. The highlight was the favorite hymn of one of our great missionary bishops of the 19th century, Channing Moore Williams, which the group recently had played at his graveside – traveling to Richmond, Va., to do so. (Bishop Williams is celebrated in our liturgical calendar on Dec. 2; read more in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.)

We visited St. Luke’s International Hospital, a spectacular medical center that began as a small clinic in 1902. There at the entrance was a portrait of the founder, Dr. Rudolph Bolling Teusler, a medical missionary of the Episcopal Church. His vision statement was there for all to see: “This hospital is a living organism designed to demonstrate in convincing terms the transmuting power of Christian love when applied in relief of human suffering.”

Later we had tea in an older building next door, surrounded by furnishings and other mementoes from his home. It was delightful to see how aspects of his life are preserved. In Kiyosato, we visited the flourishing “educational experiment project” begun by Paul Rusch in the 1930s. Another missionary, he had been deeply involved in the 1920s with both Rikkyo (St. Paul’s) University and St. Luke’s Hospital. Homage is paid to him at every turn, in the most inspiring ways.

But these institutions are not simply venerating the past. Their leaders are committed to building strong relationships with our church so that we can be partners in our work in the world, for the sake of God’s people, now and in the future.

On Nov. 30, Dr. Tsuguya Fukui, president of St. Luke’s International Hospital, landed in New York after flying all night from Tokyo in order to attend a meeting of the American Council of St. Luke’s, a support organization, that afternoon. The next morning, he would be flying straight back to Tokyo.

Two 14-hour flights in 36 hours, just for a meeting with us? I was dumbfounded. “You mean, you have no other business here in New York?” “No,” he said. “This was the most important business for me.”

Crossing borders. Crossing time zones. Reaching out. Giving invitations. Accepting invitations. Taking risks. Talking. Listening. Opening our eyes, our ears, our hearts. Breaking down barriers, climbing over walls (real or imagined), recognizing strangers as friends.

This is the work of the church. Love. We need each other. The world needs us. There is work to be done – and joy to be had.