On Saturday the world news began reporting that the second Japanese citizen held by ISIS had been murdered.
About 1% of Japan’s population call themselves Christian, with more than half being some form of Shinto and about 40% calling themselves Buddhist. So when word broke that ISIS had taken two Japanese prisoners, the odds against either being Christians were high. Except that we hadn’t taken Kenji Goto into account.
Kenji Goto was a Japanese journalist who became a believer in Christ in 1997. (The same year that I was saved.) The majority of Japan’s Christians happen to be pacifists and don’t agree with their current President’s lead in the war on terror. (President Shinzo Abe has pushed to involve Japan’s military and money in the war on terror. He has become an ally to our leaders in the efforts to fight terrorism – but many in Japan would prefer to simply not get involved.)
As a Japanese Christian, Goto shared these anti-war beliefs, and as a journalist he used his work to help him promote an anti-war agenda by travelling to war zones to cover “the human side of violent conflict.” In his latest trip to Syria, Kenji was hoping that he could serve some purpose and rescue his friend and fellow citizen Haruna Yukawa. (Mr. Yukawa was beheaded by ISIS several days before Mr. Goto.)
Pastor Atsuyoshi Fujiwara explained a little more about Japanese Christianity.
“Kenji is a Christian. Christian population in Japan is less than 1 percent of the national population,” Fujiwara said. “Not only his church, the United Christian Church of Japan, but also the churches in Japan are praying for him. We think that Kenji was doing important work for peace-making.”
But Fujiwara said, “Christians are strongly against the Abe regime as being militarily oriented and nationalistic. When you think about the opinions of Christians in Japan, you can almost assume that they are generally more anti-nationalistic, more non-violence-oriented than the public. Christians should be peace-making, yet we need to be wise as serpents and give alternatives to the Abe regime.”
In much the same way the world cried “Je Suis Charlie” after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Japan has been crying out “We Are Kenji” over the last couple of weeks.
After IS said publicly that Kenji and Yukawa were being held hostage, the parents of both men apologized to Japan’s public on television for the trouble they caused. “The initial reaction here in Japan was that these two went and got themselves in trouble by going where they should not have gone and have made a problem for the country,” said another Tokyo-based pastor. “The reports from his pastor and others that Goto is a Christian and is motivated by giving children in war zones a voice did a lot to gain at least him favor in the eyes of the public that at least he was not just an adventure seeker.”
Kenji’s wife, Rinko, recorded a video statement, saying, “My husband is a good and honest man who went to Syria to show the plight of those who suffer.”
Mr. Goto was a peaceful man, a pacifist in both philosophy and practice, and monsters stole him from us. He had spent much of his adult life making the suffering of others known and trying to ease the pain of our planet with his own two hands. Goto deserved a hero’s reception and instead he was cut down by Muslim villains.
The life and work of Kenji Goto (and other relief workers who’ve been killed by ISIS) may do more to show the stark difference between Christianity and Islam than anything we can say. This was a gentle man of peace who was murdered simply because he wanted to try to help his friend.
While we may not fully agree with the everything that Kenji Goto believed, I ache over the death of my brother, and so many other innocents at the hands of the ISIS criminals. From everything I have read about his life and work, Kenji Goto exemplified what it meant to live as one who “loves his neighbor.” Our world should hurt for the loss of such a man, even though we Christians know that Kenji is celebrating with our Savior today.
John 15:12-17 (ESV)
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant[b] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Our prayers and support go to the family and friends of Kenji Goto (and Haruna Yukawa). They do not deserve the suffering that they’ve been dealt, but we pray that they will suffer well and take comfort in the knowledge that Kenji is happier today than he has ever been, while also resting in the knowledge that if they share his faith they will see him again.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com