Connections run deep between Calvin Theological Seminary and Japan.
Several Japanese students have studied at the school, and two are currently enrolled. Former students are now pastors in the region of Japan hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in mid-March.
"It is hard to imagine what the people, both the earthquake victims and relief workers from organizations such as the Reformed Church in Japan, face every day," says Richard Sytsma, dean of students at CTS and a former missionary to Japan.
Sytsma grew up in Japan as the son of Christian Reformed World Missions missionaries, then returned after his seminary studies, along with his wife.
Starting in 1952, his father, also Richard, was one of the first Christian Reformed missionaries in Japan. At that time it was not too many years after World War II, and the country appeared economically poor.
The Sytsma family worked closely with pastors from the Reformed Church in Japan to start new churches. The example of his father and mother inspired their son Richard to missions, he says. “They endeared themselves to the Japanese. God used my parents to build up the church in Japan.”
By the time he returned to work in Japan, overlapping with his father for 15 years, the country had come roaring back economically. But it was still hard to make inroads into the predominantly Buddhist and Shinto society.
Curiously, although Japan remains largely non-Christian, the Bible is one of the best-selling books in the country.
Sytsma says all of the damage and uncertainty created by the largest recorded earthquake in Japan's history is an opportunity for Christian witness.
"Japanese Christians and missionaries report sincere gratitude on the part of suffering people for the efforts of the Christian churches to distribute food, water, and needed resources. They also report an increased interest in the gospel," he says.