A man of prayer with a passion for spreading the gospel, Richard D. Sytsma was one of the pioneer missionaries to Japan in the early 1950s when the Christian Reformed Japan Mission began. Until two months before his death on January 14 at the age of 97, Sytsma lived independently in Breton Ridge of Holland Home in Grand Rapids, Mich.
While serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Sytsma felt the call to ministry. On a visit to Yokohama after the war ended, a seed was planted in his heart as he saw Japan’s need to know Jesus’ love. After graduation from Calvin College and Seminary and ordination in 1952, he returned to Japan where he served for 31 years. Besides planting six churches in cooperation with Japanese pastors, he was involved in other projects with the Reformed Church in Japan such as establishing Holy Grace Rehabilitation Center and the Shizuoka Center for the Evangelism of the Blind. Sytsma was loved and respected by Japanese pastors and church members.
After retirement in 1984, Sytsma and his family returned to the U.S., where he served as an interim pastor in several churches in California, Washington, and Michigan.
An extrovert, Sytsma was known for his sense of humor, infectious love of life, and optimism, as well as his love of travel and the outdoors. He wrote a 550-page memoir for his children and grandchildren detailing his life growing up in Denver, his experience in the Navy during the war, and his service as a missionary in Japan.
Sytsma was preceded in death three years ago by his wife, Dorothy. He was also predeceased by their daughter, Kathy. He is lovingly remembered by his five children, 20 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.