I met Mr. Yamashita in a locked ward of a mental hospital. His plight was depression and he was heavily sedated. A large portion of one side of his head was shaved and a half moon incision with stitches revealed the doctor’s work to relieve pressure from his brain. He had jumped from an open window of the same hospital attempting suicide. It was his fifth attempt.
When I visited the hospital that day to speak with a young man who had visited our church, the room designated as the visitation room was filled with men who wanted to talk to the foreigner. Everyone had a story and everyone wanted to talk.
As I talked with everyone at the same time, the Lord surprisingly seemed to single out this young man and urge me to love him. I argued with the Lord. “He will never be able to come to church. I can hardly understand him. He is in a locked ward of a mental hospital.” These were some of the thoughts that were going through my mind; yet, the Lord strongly spoke to my heart and challenged me to love him.
After praying and asking the Lord what He wanted me to do, I gave the young man a New Testament. I suggested he begin reading the book of Mark. When we met the next week, I was surprised to learn he had read the whole book.
He devoured Bible studies and our allotted visitation time of 30 minutes would often turn into two and three hours. It seemed the doctors and nurses did not mind. There was not much to do other than their normal rounds.
When we first met, the recurring themes I heard from him were of his highly successful father who sometimes would mistreat him due to alcohol. He spoke of his fear of situations in the world such as wars. His life was full of fear.
He spoke of being a top student in the highest level high school in Aomori before going to college in Tokyo. It was there the disappointments of life began. A failed relationship caused his first suicide attempt. One day he pulled up his shirt to reveal scars on his stomach from another failed attempt. That one was what is called hara-kiri (ha-da-kee-dee [“r’s” in Japanese have a soft “d” sound like in the name Eddie). Hara is the word for stomach. Kiri is the verb meaning to cut. I am sure one would be familiar with this term some call “hari-kari”.
As time progressed, I learned that his parents worked. On the weekends they would pick him up and he would get to spend some time at home. On Sunday night they would bring him back.
When he told me where he lived, I was surprised that it was less than a 10 minute walk from our house and church. Yet, no matter how much I urged him to come to church, he would not. No matter how much I challenged him to get saved, there was no decision.
One Saturday afternoon, our doorbell rang. There stood Yamashita san. He was drenched in sweat and looked somewhat panicked. It was not until then, about a year after we met, that I learned he was not supposed to leave his home alone. Previous suicide attempts left him without a sense of direction. He had been looking for our house for over an hour.
After a short visit, I walked him home. There, I met his father. They invited me in and soon his father began grilling me. With a stern face he said, “What are you doing with my son?” From there, I told him the story of how we met and what the Lord had told me to do. Included in this story was the gospel and how the Lord had saved me. His father listened as I described how God called me to Japan and then to Aomori. After two hours he said, “I am a Buddhist … but … no one has ever loved my son!” He reiterated that his beliefs were different, but gave his permission for me to talk with his son. Two weeks later at the hospital, Yamashita san, as we say in Japan, became Yamashita kyodai, Brother Yamashita. He repented of his sin and trusted Christ as his Savior.
He became a changed man. His fears instantly disappeared and even in his sedated state, the doctors and nurses could tell he was different. One day, as I entered the ward, he said to me, “The doctors want to know what you did.” This was a recurring comment over the course of the next couple of months. One day, I received word that the head doctor over the whole hospital wanted to talk to me. After I was ushered into his office, he said immediately, “What did you do to Mr. Yamashita?” He went on to say he had never seen a mental patient cured. I took out my Bible and explained to him what Jesus had done. The look on the doctor’s face revealed that he was very unsure what he was hearing.
Nothing in the Orient changes quickly. It took months for changes to occur. At first they moved him to an unlocked ward. Then they began talking to him about possibly going home. A year and a half later, they told him he did not need to be there anymore.
During this time, he was a witness of the power of God to those around him. Many of his friends would gather around us at the hospital and we saw many of them place their faith in the One who has the power to change lives. So many of his hospital friends started coming to church that one man cautioned me over getting too many of “them” attending our church. He said, “You are going to give people the idea that church is a place for the weak.”
Today, if one visits the Aomori Grace Baptist Church, he will meet Brother Yamashita. Though he carries the scars of five suicide attempts, he also testifies of the wonderful grace of God. He is…a trophy of God’s grace.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword…” Hebrews 4:12