Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Kosuke Koyama, Theologian

We met Kosuke Koyama's daughter Mimi on Christmas Day, 2004 (Western calendar) at the St. Sergius Monastery, while we were living in Moscow. We got to know her and her family, and heard wonderful stories about her father. Our sincere sympathies and condolences to her and the family at this difficult time.

This excerpt from the obituary in today's New York Times gives a sense of his remarkable story:
Dr. Koyama was born on Dec. 10, 1929, in Tokyo. In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptized as a Christian at the age of 15. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Dr. Koyama graduated from Tokyo Union Theological Seminary in 1952 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Drew University in 1954 and a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1959.

He was then sent by the United Church of Christ in Japan to be a missionary in Thailand. In 1968, he moved to Singapore to become dean of the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology and editor of The South East Asia Journal of Theology.

From 1974 to 1978, he lectured at the University of Otago in New Zealand. In 1980, he joined Union. Before he arrived, someone noticed that his “Water Buffalo” book had just landed on the discard pile outside the library door, Dr. Shriver said. Apparently, a librarian had concluded that the prestigious school had no program for teaching theology to water buffaloes. The book quickly and quietly returned to the shelves.

Dr. Koyama was the first holder of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Chair in Ecumenics and World Christianity. He retired in 1996.

In addition to his son Mark, Dr. Koyama is survived by his wife of 50 years, Lois; another son, James; his daughter, Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.

Once, in discussing death, Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way:

“Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus will say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty. Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.’ ”