Saint of the Week – Toyohiko Kagawa

Toyohiko Kagawa

Toyohiko Kagawa

I’, really trying to get back on the blogging wagon here and return to your regularly scheduled saint of the week. I had heard the story of today’s saint a little while ago and had planned to share it with you all since then. During this time when there is great division and struggle in many places around the world, I thought it would be nice to share the story of someone who worked to unite humanity amidst some of the world’s greatest struggles.

This week’s saint is Toyohiko Kagawa.

Toyohiko was born on July 10, 1888 to a very wealthy Japanese business man and his concubine. Toyohiko’s parent’s died when he was about four years old. He was sent away to school and ended up being taught by Presbyterian missionaries. These two missionaries, Harry Myers and Charles Logan, brought Toyohiko into their home, taught him English and about the Christian faith. Under their guidance, Toyohiko became a Christian while he was a teenager. This led to further separation from the family he had remaining as they essentially disowned Toyohiko for choosing to become a Christian. Toyohiko then chose to study theology at Tokyo Presbyterian College, and also Kobe Theological Seminary. He would also attend Princeton Theological Seminary and studied embryology, genetics, comparative anatomy, and paleontology along with theology.

During his studies Toyohiko always sought to serve others. He firmly believed that true Christian faith was demonstrated through actions and would often point to the parable of the Good Samaritan as his example. While studying in Kobe he would move into the nearby Shinkawa slum where he worked as a missionary and social worker. In 1914 he moved the the United States to study ways that he could further combat poverty. Because of his studies he would become involved in many labor and peasants movements along with organizing religious programs back in Kobe. He started a group in 1909 called the Jesus Band out of a small room in Kobe to help with his work.

In 1921 Toyohiko would start another group called the Friends of Jesus which was similar to the Franciscian order in that they strove to witness to others through their discipline and compassion for the poor. Around the same time he would also be arrested for participating in labor movements and strikes in Japan. After his release a large earthquake would strike Japan and Toyokiko helped orgainze relief efforts in Tokyo. Before World War II broke out, Toyohiko continued his work with the poor and advocated for universal suffrage for both men and women in Japan and served in the National Anti-War League. Before the United States joined World War II, Toyohiko would travel to the United States in 1940 to try and prevent war between the United States and Japan. While his was accused of being a communist by some, Toyohiko worked to find a better alternative to the capitalist, communist and facist options on display during his active life. He started many cooperative movements and tried to inspire the Church to work with co-ops and the peace movements towards a better economic and societal alternative.

Over the course of his life, Toyohiko would write over 150 books and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature twice (1947, 1948) along with being awarded the Nobel Peace Price twice (1954, 1955). Whatever money he made from his books and prizes was always given to his projects to help the poor and oppressed while he and his family lived off a small salary. His most popular books were Crossing the Deathline and Shooting at the Sun. Toyohiko’s health would slowly decline but he continued to organize projects and preach even when he was bedridden. On April 23 Toyohiko slipped into unconsciousness for nearly three hours before awakening, smiling at his wife and speaking his last words, “Please do your best for world peace and the church in Japan.”

While he studied theology and knew the technical ins and outs of the Christian faith, Toyohiko always believed that a Christian should be known for his actions among others rather than what they believed.  Toyohiko once said,

“There are theologians, preachers and religious leaders, not a few, who think that the essential thing about Christianity is to clothe Christ with forms and formulas. They look with disdain upon those who actually follow Christ and toil and moil, motivated by brotherly love and passion to serve…They conceive pulpit religion to be much more refined than movements for the actual realizations of brotherly love among men…The religion Jesus taught was diametrically the opposite of this. He set up no definitions about God, but taught the actual practical practice of love.”

I pray that we, like Toyohiko Kagawa, could move beyond the belief of Christianity to step out in action. I pray that the Church would be inspired by his example to work for peace and serve the poor even when it is not popular. I pray that we could see beyond the political, economic and cultural options of the day in order to see the truth of God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”


More Information & References:
Wikipedia – Toyohiko Kagawa – Toyohiko Kagawa
Boston University – Kagawa, Toyohiko (1888-1960)



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