“I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?” Psalm 121
The beautiful campus of Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU) has captured my heart ever since I started working here in the spring of 2014. The landscaping is exquisite. There is a Japanese garden hidden between classroom buildings and walkways which allow passersby to enjoy the beauty of each season of the year. Most impressive, however, is the open field at the center of the campus where the clock tower stands with Mt. Kabuto and the Rokko mountain range in the background. When the campus was relocated to the present site in 1929, the leaders recited Psalm 121 as they envisioned an educational institution that would enable students to learn and reflect on the true source from which all blessings flow.
I work as chaplain of the Center for Religious Activities on campus and also teach in the School of Theology. I am responsible for maintaining and re-envisioning the religious activities on campus. I am amazed at the volume and content of religious activities already existing. We have 41 chapel services on campus each week and in November I participated in a one night Taize-style retreat with 75 students to reflect and share about “Going Beyond the Boundaries that Separate Us.” It is always refreshing to be able to share deeply with young people who are earnestly searching for meaning in their lives. A pressing concern for the institution is the decreasing numbers of Christian faculty. A whole generation of Christian faculty is facing retirement, and it is hard to find capable people with a Christian commitment. KGU is an open and liberal school. A great challenge for the school will be to hold onto the Christian identity of the institution.
Human Rights Education is also a high priority at KGU. Much time and energy has been spent to provide an environment for students to learn about the importance of human rights. Various courses are offered to learn about minorities in Japan. In May, KGU celebrates “Rainbow Week” to raise awareness for the rights of the LGBT community. This past year I was blessed to assist with a class on the resident Korean population of Japan. The historical relationship between Japan and Korea has been a rocky one. Many young people are ignorant of that past. In recent years “hate speech” against Koreans and other minorities has become a major social issue, causing the United Nations to caution the Japanese government to be proactive in restricting public demonstrations of hatred and prejudice. One of the guest speakers in our class reminded us of how ignorance leads to prejudice, and prejudice to violence. Education is the key to building a society with a strong foundation of peace and tolerance.
Our family has settled into an apartment on the eighth floor of a high-rise. It is a completely new living environment for us. The city of Kobe is known for its harbor and the precipitous Rokko Mountains which rise up from the sea. It is also known for the large earthquake which claimed more than 6400 lives twenty years ago. We continue to pray for all those suffering from the damages of natural and man-made disasters. Japan is our home. We pray that this small nation, and the small church in Japan, will continue to find ways to be a sign of peace in these turbulent modern times.
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to Kwansei Gakuin University. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.