2012 Summer: Casilda Luzares, From the Philippines to Japan

2012 Summer: Casilda Luzares, From the Philippines to Japan

How is a woman from the Philippines, whose grandparents were killed by the Japanese military and who has just retired after living and working in Japan for 21 years, connected to you and me?

When Tod and I became international missionaries for Global Ministries (then the United Church Board for World Ministries and the Division of Overseas Ministries) in 1983, we soon realized that we had joined an international community and network.  Shortly after our arrival in South Africa, missionaries from as far away as Mocambique arrived on our doorstep to welcome us and Thandiwe, our newborn daughter, to help us locate our rural Zulu churches not found on any map, and to encourage us to live illegally crossing the colour barriers of apartheid.  Over the years, this circle of colleagues has grown.  Sometimes our paths cross in person, meeting perhaps at a church conference or missionary retreat.  Most often our relationships have grown through sharing a common passion, a common pursuit, to share God’s love in a foreign land.  We are like “intimate strangers,” for though our lives have intersected for only a few days, or perhaps never at all face-to-face, it can feel as though we’ve known each other closely for a long time.

So it is for Casilda Luzares and myself.  While she has lived and worked  in Japan, and I in Africa, Australia and now Europe, our journeys have run parallel for the past two decades.  Because we have both responded to God’s call to leave our homes and serve in strange lands, we share certain things in common. Yet there is much about Casilda, unique to her, that I have learned only as I have prepared this article.  It is, indeed, an honour to be connected to this amazing woman.  Her story is intriguing and inspiring, and I will let her talk for herself.  May her story be a blessing for you.

Casilda, please describe your background and family…

I am from the Philippines, a member of  a United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church in Quezon City.  My mother’s family were first generation converts to Protestantism, and I was raised in the church.  My father’s side of the family was all devout Roman Catholics.  My first husband, the Rev. Santiago Luzares, a minister of the UCCP, died in a traffic accident in 1977.  I have four daughters (and 4 grandchildren!) living in New Jersey, London and the Philippines.  In 2005, after 28 years of widowhood, I remarried, Dan Nebres, is a retired minister of the UCC, Hawaii Conference.

What events in your faith journey relate significantly to your call to international mission…

It takes less than four hours to fly from Manila to Japan—it took me six years to get there!  When God calls you, you will hear it—perhaps not immediately, but surely. 

In 1982, I was Associate Dean of the Catholic College of Liberal Arts at De La Salle University in Manila. I was positioned to follow the administrative track, a significant thing since I was a Protestant.  I would have gladly followed this track, but it seemed God had other ideas for me.  God planted a restlessness in my heart; the sense that I was to leave for another place was very strong.  But I had no idea where I was supposed to go.  First I worked three years at the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UBCHEA) as Associate Executive for Women’s Concerns.  I hoped that this was where God was leading me.  Next I taught at Han Nam University in Korea.  In spite of a very fulfilling year, I knew this was not the place where God wanted me.

In 1984, I met Mary Williams, a missionary teaching at the Doshisha Women’s College at a women’s conference sponsored by the UCC.  She organized a lecture tour for me among Christian schools in Japan and suggested that I might teach at Doshisha.  I thanked her, but I did not pay attention to this suggestion.  My mother’s parents were killed by the Japanese military during the war.  I grew up hearing stories from my mother about how her father was suspected of passing on information to the guerrillas.  For this they were forced to dig their own graves and shot.  So Japan was never on my radar.  Until I realized that this was the only door left open and that perhaps this was where God was leading me.

International mission happened to me—I did not consider it. The stint with the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia and my visiting professorship at Han Nam University turned out not to be a detour to Japan but a preparation for my life in global ministry.

Describe your missionary work in Japan…

When I arrived in Japan in 1989, all I knew how to do was to be a professor.  I had the training (MA in English Language Teaching, Ph.D. in Linguistics) and the experience (almost 20 years then) for this.  What I did not know was how to be a missionary.  For this I had to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I listened and learned, prayed and reflected, obeyed the promptings of the Spirit, and strived to be true to who I was: a follower of Christ, a woman, a widowed mother of 4 young daughters (at that time), a Filipino, a professional—all of which turned out to be important in the Japanese context.

I retired in 2011 after teaching for 21 years in the English Department of Doshisha University.  In addition to required courses, I enjoyed teaching elective courses on “Women Issues” and “Women in the Bible.”  I also taught for the university’s Center for Christian Culture, as a service to the outer community.  I opened my house to provide opportunities to expand my students’ social networks and their awareness of social and political issues, and to provide a venue for exercising self-expression and critical thinking skills.

During the last six years an opportunity opened to support spiritual nurture for the increasing number of Filipino graduate students in the Kyoto area.  This community of students (and a few academic professionals) gathered monthly at our home for worship, prayer, Bible study and fellowship.  In a land where foreigners find themselves always the stranger no matter how long they have stayed or how fluently they speak the language, this time was a homecoming time: a time to worship in a familiar way and in their own language, a time to relax and laugh and be silly, to not be on guard about what to say or do, and to eat familiar food.

I (and later Dan) also belonged to the bigger Filipino community in Kyoto, which is a Catholic church-based community, worshipping with them, cooperating with and supporting their activities and standing with them as marginalized and stigmatized foreigners living and working in Japan. In sum my ministry in Japan was a ministry of BEING WITH, rather than one of DOING.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your work?

Coping with the Japanese language and trying to understand the culture.

What about Japan would you like to share with Common Lot readers?

When I participated in the Disciples Summit for Racial/Ethnic Congregations (June 2011), someone said something that struck me as a truth about Japan: “Before we were there, God was already there.”  In my 21 years in Japan I have seen what I consider as evidence of God already having been and still being there. 

What spiritual disciplines strengthen you in your work and in your daily life?

Daily meditation and reflection.  Love and support of family and friends.

  • Favorite Bible verse Be still, and know that I am God!   — Psalm 46:10a (NRSV)
  • Favorite hymnSpirit, spirit of gentleness, Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness. Wind, wind on the sea. 
  • Hobbies:  Reading, gardening, enjoying cuisine of other cultures, foodie movies, learning about other cultures, women’s issues, many more…

Share a story when you have met God face-to-face…

I was on the subway train. Dan had proposed marriage and I was uninterested because I was 59 years old and ready to retire.  I was reviewing my life, how God had always been there guiding, providing, protecting me and my family. I recalled my desperate prayers after my husband died, leaving me with young children (the oldest was 12, the youngest 4) to raise by myself, “God, surely, there is one person in this whole wide world that you can give to me to help me raise my children!”  God never answered this prayer—or rather God’s answer seemed to be: “You do not need a husband—you only need Me.  My grace is sufficient for you.”  

And now after I had finished raising my children, the kind of person I was praying for 27 years earlier appeared!  I was asking God why.  Then in my mind’s eye I saw a word flashing like neon lights!  “Kairos!  Kairos!”  I was so stunned!   At that same moment the subway door opened and I jumped out—disoriented, only to realize I got out one stop too early.

When I got home I e-mailed Dan: “I guess I will marry you.  God has just told me.”

And so we did.  To me this shows God has a wonderful sense of humor.  I also think God was continuing the conversation we had 27 years earlier. “You do not need a husband, you only need Me.  My grace is sufficient for you.  (27 years later) But I will give you a husband to enjoy your retirement with!”  Indeed, God is still speaking.

What is the next chapter for you and Dan?

I have retired from Doshisha after teaching there for 21 years, and we returned home to the Philippines. Our retirement home (designed by my architect daughter Eden Rose) in Bohol is almost finished.  We are excited about beginning a new life in a new place. We hope to still be able to contribute to the work of the church and to education in Bohol.

When I sent the above article to Casidla for review, this email arrived…

I have only one revision–a sad one unfortunately. Dan suffered a stroke on April 14, went into coma and died on April 18. So I am a widow once again. The other day, the Stillspeaking Devotional was entitled “Echoes of Grief” and indeed this is what I have been experiencing since that sad day in April (my first husband also died in April, April 16 to be exact.) This was not the scenario we planned. Dan lived in our new house for only 6 months. I am still trying to listen to what God is saying to me this time around. I am still asking “Why so soon, Lord?”  Still listening–

Casilda, our prayers are with you.

Questions for Reflection:

  • When have you felt God’s blessings, only to have the earth shift beneath your feet, and joy replaced with grief?  What helped you most during those dark days?
  • With whom do you share a relationship that might be called “intimate strangers”?
  • What is your favourite Bible verse and why?

Prayer Points

  • Casilda and other women widowed in their early retirement years
  • Women whose families have been victims of genocide or other atrocities
  • Students and faculty at Doshisha University and other institutions supported by Global Ministries

Action Opportunities

  • Find Bohol, Philippines, on a map, and send a card to Casilda. (Her address is available from Global Ministries or the Common Lot office.)
  • Identify foreigners in your community, and extend hospitality and welcome to them.
  • Contact Amnesty International and learn what human rights issues Japan and the Philippines are facing and how you can witness on behalf of justice.


Currently living in London UK,  Ana Gobledale serves as co-pastor, with her husband Tod, at St. Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Brockley.  They are Mission Associates with Global Ministries, having previously served in Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.