Missionary Work in Japan, c. 1920s

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

During the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the women of our church became active supporters of the Universalist Women’s National Christian Missionary Society. Most of their support was directed toward mission work being done in Japan. Homes had been established in Tokyo and other cities to take in lost and unwanted Japanese children. Teachers were employed and religious activities were a regular part of the routine in these homes.

One story tells of the concerted efforts to save a young girl from her family because the parents were ardently training her to be sold as a geisha. The missionaries ended up buying the girl from her parents and enrolling her in one of the mission houses.

On October 1, 1927, Dr. Harry Cary, head of the Universalist mission in Japan, visited our Essex Street church for a dinner meeting attended by about 50 church members. In his address, Dr. Cary paid high tribute to his predecessor in Japan, the Reverend S. B. Ayers, who had been the minister of our own church between 1901 and 1910.

In an album maintained by our local society, a troubling note is posted from the national office in Boston dated World Prayer Day, March 3, 1933. Some church leaders were expressing doubt as to the wisdom of continuing support for the effort in Japan because of recent aggression by the Japanese toward their neighbors.

Those Universalists working in Japan insisted that the effort needed to continue more than ever. No further information is available in the album but history would tell us that this effort was certainly abandoned as Japanese aggression continued to mount throughout the 1930’s, culminating in Pearl Harbor.