January 14 – May 31, 2019
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
Late in January 2011, we received an email from the World Friendship Center (WFC) American Committee. They asked if we would consider becoming the Directors of the World Friendship Center, a peace organization in Hiroshima, Japan. They wanted us to start work in May.
We knew WFC’s work as a Japanese Peace Organization through hosting groups of their members on visits to the US and participating in commemoration ceremonies in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the previous summer.
Larry, being a very analytical person, came up with 13 reasons why we couldn't possibly entertain this request, especially in such short order. The reasons included:
- We had just moved into our newly constructed home.
- Living in Japan was too expensive for our fixed income.
- We don’t speak Japanese.
- It was too far from Larry’s parents, both in their 90s.
- We had concern about Larry’s chronic health conditions.
- JoAnn was an adjunct faculty member at Linfield College, and Larry was on the College’s Board of Trustees.
- We were not members of the Church of the Brethren as were many of the previous Directors.
We spent two weeks carefully studying the situation, talking to family, friends, Brethren Volunteer Services (BVS), and the current WFC Directors. We soon concluded that all of the reasons of why we couldn’t go melted away – we were meant to go!
We were commissioned to do this work by First Baptist Church of McMinnville, Oregon and The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (now BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz).
In early May on the flight to Japan, we asked ourselves “Why us?” We knew that we were going to operate a guesthouse for foreign visitors to Hiroshima and to teach conversational English classes. However, we reasoned that there must be something more. During our two years in Hiroshima we found ourselves engaged in a large number of other activities that provided a clearer sense of God’s calling. A sampling of those activities include:
- Participating in the dedication of a monument in Peace Park honoring the work of the founder of WFC and long time peace activist, Barbara Reynolds.
- Producing a musical concert fundraiser – “One World Peace Concert.” The concert featured folk singer and friend, Mike Stern, from Seattle’s University Baptist Church. Traditional Japanese musicians also participated.
- Participating in the dedication of a new museum in Hiroshima honoring people and groups who came to Japan to help rebuild the city following the atomic bombing. Those honored included the late Rev. Emery Andrews of Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle and the late Floyd Schmoe, a forestry professor from University of Washington.
- Facilitating a meeting between Dr. Bill Apel, Linfield College professor, and a WFC Board member who shared a common interest in Thomas Merton.
- Inviting two Japanese-Americans, Yosh Nakagawa and Herb Tsuchiya, to tell about their internment story at a seminar in Hiroshima.
- Preparing for the 2013 International Premier of “Breaking the Silence,” a live drama describing the Japanese-American story during WWII.
- Planning and conducting a three-week tour of the western US for 16 Peace Ambassadors from WFC.
- JoAnn also continued her research on the question “Can leadership attributes be applied to institutions such as the City of Hiroshima?” She collected data through interviews with approximately 70 Hiroshima citizens assisted by friends at WFC.
While we still question, “Why us?”, the answer clearly is that God called us to do our part in making the world a better place by Building Bridges of Peace and Understanding between Hiroshima, Japan and the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico). God’s call can come in many ways, including e-mail and may ask you too, to do something you have never done before!
JoAnn and Larry Sims are members of McMinnville First Baptist Church, McMinnville, Oregon. They are retired, JoAnn as an educator and Larry as an environmental engineer. They served as Volunteer Directors of a Japanese peace organization, World Friendship Center, in Hiroshima Japan from May 2011 to July 2013. They have facilitated several events in the Pacific Northwest where survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki told their stories. They coordinated the Seeking Justice Project at Linfield College and Willamette University in 2014. That project focused on the story of the Japanese -American imprisonment during WWII from the perspective of internees, faith communities, and the US Government National Park Service. In September 2015 they hosted three WFC board members coordinating a week tour of the Pacific Northwest.