“From Japan with Love” : Yoh Shirato’s Testimony

November 28, 2017 — 5 Comments

My life is a testimony to God’s providential leading. My father produced television commercials in Japan, and my mother was a copywriter. From my childhood, my parents were interested in me going into some sort of show business. Even before entering elementary school, my mother enrolled me in piano, Kabuki dance (a traditional Japanese dance form), acting, and ballet lessons. I especially liked ballet–if you can believe it!

In addition to all those lessons, I also received roles in television dramas and commercials. I had a very busy childhood. Everyone expected me to go into show business, and I worked hard to achieve show business success. God, however, had a different and far better plan for me.

My father was a self-declared atheist and my mother was a Shinto/Buddhist (a typical Japanese family). Never once during my childhood did I ever meet a Christian or even see a copy of the Bible. At one point, I thought the Bible was a magical book that only priests could read. However, I knew quite confidently that there must be a God. Lessons from nature and history taught me that.

The thought of God’s existence always made me uncomfortable because I also knew that I was a sinner and somehow knew that God was angry with me. The frustration of a guilty conscience grew heavier as I grew older, and this in turn led me into deeper sin and into self-hatred. God was gracious and although I didn’t yet know it, had a plan to rescue me from my miserable state.

At the age of 15, God led me to the island of Guam to attend high school. This move was precipitated by a long series of events over a period of years, and if even one of these events had been altered, I would not have made the move. My ballet teacher and her family had moved to Guam, and they invited me to come with them since they knew me as one of their sons and they knew that I was looking for a high school to attend. My parents were convinced that it would be good for me to go outside Japan for high school to better learn English and to start a new life.

My parents and I looked at every private school on the island. All of them were either Catholic or liberal Episcopalian, and all of them had a full enrollment for the upcoming year. The last place we visited was Harvest Christian Academy. This was our last choice because we didn’t like the idea of attending a “Christian” school and somehow Baptist sounded more “seriously Christian” than Catholic. Harvest Academy had one opening for a 10th-grade boy, and we had no choice but to accept.

The excitement of attending Harvest started while the filling out of the application. The first question was “What is your religion?” I was startled. No one had ever asked me that question before. I looked at my mother and asked, “What is my religion?” She thought a little and then said, “Just put down Buddhist.” It is not that unusual to be a Buddhist at Harvest, since Guam is a melting pot of different Asian cultures and religions and the school exists for mission outreach, but I was marked by teachers and administrators from the beginning.

My first year at Harvest was difficult. I didn’t know how to behave, and for once, I couldn’t get away with all the mischievous things that I used to do behind my teachers’ backs. I frequently ended up in the principal’s office, and my name was often mentioned in faculty meetings (so the principal has since told me). I felt caged and miserable. Because of my limited English, classes were difficult–Spanish class was the worst–and I could not converse with my classmates.

Thankfully, there was one boy, Ryan Izumihara, in my class who could speak Japanese. Since he was the only one I could speak to, we talked a lot and became best friends. Ryan had been saved the year before, and he had presented the Gospel to me and talked about how it had changed his life. We would often argue about religion, and I would tell him that I believed in UFOs, reincarnation, and the mystical nature of our afterlife.

One day Ryan told me, “Yoh, I just want to tell you that you are my good friend, and I want you to go to Heaven. I want to see you there too.” By that time, I had begun to admire and even envy Christians for their joyfulness and peace, so it was easy for me to respond to that invitation. After chapel that day, I responded to the invitation, trusted Christ, and began living a new life. From that day forward, God has continued to show me the greatness of His grace.

The preaching and Christian fellowship in Guam helped nurture my love for God. During my senior year, I learned about baptism and desired to testify publicly my love for Jesus. My baptism brought about great trials in my life. When my parents learned of it, they thought that they had lost their only son to a cult, and they tried everything in their power to pull me away from Christianity. They even considered bringing me back to Japan in the middle of my senior year.

In time, they relented and allowed me to finish at Harvest, but they absolutely condemned the idea of me attending a Christian university like Bob Jones. I persistently pleaded with them, and tried to be the best possible testimony to them. Eventually they relented and promised that I could attend Bob Jones if I would first go for two years to a conservatory in Japan (they were hoping that I would change my mind).

I auditioned for a small, private conservatory started by a famous Kabuki actor, and I was one of four students accepted. Although my major emphasis was ballet, I also had to take voice lessons. I have always loved singing. In fact, my elementary school teachers would often write on my report cards, “Yoh loves to sing–loud.” Taking voice lessons was a dream come true. Learning to sing loudly for a long time without hurting my voice was exhilarating (I didn’t yet care about sounding beautiful). Singing was more enjoyable and less strenuous than ballet, so I changed my major to musical theater.

Contrary to my parent’s expectations, my determination to come to Bob Jones University did not wane. I had planned to major in math at BJU, since I obviously was not going to be able to study Kabuki or ballet, but now I determined to major in voice performance. My parents seemed pleased with that choice and decided to come with me to BJU to see what kind of place this “Fundamentalist Christian University” was. After seeing the beautiful campus and the well-dressed friendly people, my mom was convinced that she could entrust her son to this school.

In fact, the Lord used the visit to begin to soften my mom’s heart to the Gospel. That fall we prayed for my mother nearly every night in my prayer group, and on Christmas day, she responded to an invitation at Harvest Baptist and trusted Christ as her true God and Savior. She has grown in grace through many different trials, and I can boldly say that now I have a Christian mother.

During my senior year at BJU, the Lord directed me in another marvelous way. My plans were to audition for a conservatory after graduation and to pursue a professional singing career. That fall while on a choir tour, we received news that Dr. Bob Jr. had passed away. I knew that he was a very talented actor and poet but that his real passion was for preaching the Gospel. The Lord spoke to my heart and during Dr. Bob’s funeral service, I dedicated myself to the Gospel ministry, and then I enrolled in the Master of Divinity program.

My father passed away during the first semester of my graduate study, causing greater financial need. As my graduate work progressed, I greatly desired a position as a teaching assistant, so that I could study languages and prepare for comprehensive exams in the summers. Eventually the Lord provided me with a teaching assistant position in the Division of Music. This provided for my financial needs and gave me an opportunity to experience the joy of helping to equip Christian young people to better serve the Lord.

I finished my Master of Divinity and my doctorate at BJU and then thought about returning to Japan to help train Japanese pastors for the ministry. After having been at Bob Jones University for ten years, I was looking forward to passing on to others what the Lord had taught me there.

Instead, I went to Singapore as a missionary replacement for Dr. Steve Reynolds for a year. I stayed on after the Reynolds returned as his assistant pastor and a teacher at Asian Baptist School. After being in Singapore for 3.5 years, the Lord led me back to Guam in 2010 to teach at Harvest Baptist Bible College where I currently serve as the dean of academic affairs and the mission’s pastor for Harvest Baptist Church.

 

Rajesh

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5 responses to “From Japan with Love” : Yoh Shirato’s Testimony

  1. Yoh, what a wonderful account of God’s grace. I had no idea that you had been to Guam, or how you had obtained your voice training. Reading your testimony is such a blessing. I remember asking one of your campus brother’s, Yohane, how old he was and he responded, “You are my mother, you should know!” As your campus mom, I knew so little of each campus kid’s history. It is amazing to learn how God worked in your life. Thank you, Rajesh for sharing this.

  2. Mark Weatherford November 29, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    Yoh,
    Thank you so much for sharing your testimony. What a blessing you continue to be to me to this day. You are a man of great strength and dignity.
    I will never forget the first day I met you on Guam. You were the preverbal “deer-in-the-headlights” kid. Brand new school, brand new language, brand new food, brand new everything.
    But you embraced it and took it all in. And then, at the right time, you embraced our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as your Savior. Now you get to share that “Good News” with the world.
    I am thankful for you.

    • Hey Mr Weatherford! Thank you for your kind remark! Ray told me not long ago how he and Pastor Dan framed you to get in trouble with Pastor Lewis 😀 I have so many fun memories with/about you, too. It was you who explained the meaning of baptism to me when you were in charge of the youth pastor. Thankful for your impact you had in my life.

  3. Praise God for the power of the Gospel! Praise Him, too, for His providential leading in our lives.

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