With the blessing of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces, I was asked to make two trips a year to the island of Okinawa, south of the Japanese mainland. Rev. Dr. Daniel Jastram has worked for the LCMS in Tokyo for seven years and visits Okinawa throughout the year to provide Word and Sacrament ministry to US military personnel stationed there. My trips will increase our activity there (slightly!) and provide additional support to those deployed Lutherans.
Okinawa is a fascinating place. It reminded me a great deal of some of the beach towns in California where I used to serve. The vibe there is very relaxed, at least in the area where we stayed for a few days (near Chatam). I was met at the airport by David, a life-long LCMS-er wrapping up his third year in Okinawa with the Marines. He brought me to the Airbnb we were using and told me a bit about the island.
The seawall of Western Okinawa, south of the Miyagi residential area.
The next morning David and his wife Michelle came by with coffee to talk further. My family would be arriving around noon – hopefully. An overzealous gate agent in Seoul where they were transiting was unsure whether to let them board the plane for the final stretch to Okinawa because of a minor discrepancy on their Covid-19 tests. They were finally allowed to board with the warning they might have to quarantine for three days on arrival. Despite my worries David & Michelle and I had a great conversation. I found out shortly after they left my family had arrived and passed through immigration & customs in Okinawa with no problem. A huge relief!
The following evening Michelle and her three daughters picked us up and we went to experience a uniquely Okinawan cuisine – taco rice. Developed post World War II by Okinawans hoping to make US military personnel feel more at home while deployed, it’s pretty much exactly what the name says. Chopped lettuce and tomatoes with seasoned ground beef – all over a pile of white rice instead of in a taco shell. There are, of course, other regional variations to be had, such as an omelet on top and other fixin’s. Taco rice is a favorite of Michelle’s daughters and we were delighted to enjoy it with them.
The next day we met James, another Marine who anticipates reassignment back to the US in June. I was struck by the seriousness of all these people’s faith and their knowledge and appreciation of their Confessional Lutheran heritage. They struggled with the recent shifts in the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church to ordain women, and so they wait to receive Holy Communion when an LCMS pastor can come to them. It isn’t as often as one would like, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
And they were quite vocal in their appreciation of the LCMS’ efforts to support them. Lutheran Service Books had been donated for use in worship, and while there were no military chaplains available currently in Okinawa, they were grateful for the efforts made by the LCMS to provide them with pastoral support and Word and Sacrament ministry.
Saturday is the Sabbath in Okinawa – a necessity because Rev. Jastram has to be back in Tokyo to lead worship on Sundays. We were driven to Camp Kinser near Naha, Okinawa. I was impressed by the worship facility available to them!
After worship was time for fellowship and a pot luck – complete with Wisconsin-style bratwursts! We were in heaven! It was such a blessing to spend time with these folks and I look forward to seeing them again in the fall. Please keep our military personnel in prayer, wherever in the world they might be serving. And these particular families remain in my prayers for their continued strength to serve their country while continuing to await their Lord’s return.