A father, son, return to family’s pastoral roots in Japan
Published on: 08-31-2018
All Japan 2018 Maranatha participants Tim and Max Aka, father and son, journeyed from the United States to Okinawa in May because of their desire to share the gospel message with others—even in a country in which Christianity can be a “hard sell.” Japan, however, has a distinct draw for them.
“My dad was the first Adventist pastor on the island of Okinawa,” says Tim, an associate treasurer of the General Conference, who together with his son spent three weeks preaching to the people and conducting programs for schoolchildren. “When we learned about the All Japan Maranatha program, I said, ‘Sign me up!’ Then I recruited Max as well.”
In 1950 when Tim’s father, Koei Aka, was 19 years old and a student at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, he was hired as a translator by Seventh-day Adventist missionary Ejler Jensen.* Koei was unfamiliar with Christianity and had no knowledge of the Bible, but he joined Jensen doing evangelism in Okinawa and soon was baptized into the Adventist Church.
“My father helped to organize five churches in Okinawa and to raise funds to build a medical center,” Tim says. “He was very involved in the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the island.”
Apparently Koei is still remembered by some church members there. A highlight of the mission trip, Tim says, was meeting a 101-year-old woman who came to know Jesus and was baptized into the church as a result of his father’s pastoral work in Okinawa. Although she had lived in a remote region of the island, she remembers Tim’s dad hiking to her village to give her Bible studies.
“She cried when we met and found out who I was,” he says. “It was very touching.”
RECONNECTING WITH FAMILY ROOTS
Born in Japan, Tim was only 3 when he and his parents immigrated to Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. Although he went back to Okinawa for a short visit when he was 9, he has no clear memories of his young life there—except for one.
“My grandfather’s garden,” he says. “I remember that vividly. Shortly after World War II my grandfather bought property in Okinawa and built a house and a beautiful garden. The house has been renovated and turned into a restaurant, but the garden is still there. Max and I had the opportunity to eat in the restaurant and see the garden, which looked exactly the same as I remembered it. It was a great experience.”
Max, creative editor and project manager for the Adventist Learning Community “I Believe” program, based in Michigan, describes seeing his great-grandfather’s garden as “surreal.”
“There was so much history in our family that predated me,” he says. “It was definitely interesting to be standing there and realize that there are all these lifetimes worth of experiences, and that I’m really only catching a glimpse of them.”
As a Master of Divinity student, Max, 28, is at least somewhat following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps.
“I’m very interested in college campus chaplaincy,” he says. “I like working with college-age students. It’s a formative time in their lives, and I can relate to them.”
Together with preaching in Okinawa, Max was able to put his musical skills to work there as well. As a guitarist, he connected with young adults from Toronto to provide music for students during school visits.
“I knew the songs, so I was able to just jump in and fill that slot,” he says.
“We were able to engage with the people, especially the kids at the schools,” he adds. “That type of interaction, I think, is really meaningful.”
THE GENERATIONAL PICTURE
Recalling the early life of his father before his father’s association with Jensen—when he lived in an internment camp in Okinawa with little food to eat and scavenged for scraps of paper to use for schoolwork—Tim describes the generational journey of his family as “remarkable” and says that being able to share in his father’s work is “incredibly rewarding.”
“I’ve been reminded of how gracious God is,” he says. “He reached out to a young 19-year-old kid in Okinawa all those many years ago, and now I’m here working at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters. Max, as well as my wife, Sharon, and our two daughters, are still very much part of the church. It’s a story of God’s grace and His wonderful care for us. He is an amazing God.”
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.