Tributes to Honorary
Trustee Kosuke Koyama
FROM FTESEA HONORARY
TRUSTEE, MARVIN D. HOFF, Executive Director of the FTESEA from
1977 to 2006
A TRIBUTE TO KOSUKE
I first met Kosuke
Koyama (Ko) in the Barber Shop in the YMCA in Hong Kong around
1970. We were both in a barber chair. Although I had never met
Ko, I knew about him from his creative theological writings and
from the fact that he was married to my wife's cousin. From several
things he said, I guessed that it was Ko in the barber chair next
to me. It helped that I knew he would be attending the same meeting
I came to Hong Kong to attend: a planning meeting for an ecumenical
seminary in Hong Kong. Ko, surprised that I had knew his name,
graciously greeted me. We have been colleagues in ministry for
theological education in South East Asia and China since that
Ko miraculously survived
the USA bombing of Tokyo between 1941-1945. He read Pilgrim's
Progress during this time as the bombs rained down every night.
somehow the idea that our life, personally and collectively,
must be a movement toward God survived in my soul".(1) Ko
was born into a Christian family since his paternal Grandfather
had become a Christian . He encouraged Ko to read the Bible. When
Ko was baptized, the Minister
"who baptized me told
me that the God of the Bible is concerned about the well being
of all nations, even including Japan and America".(2)
After graduating from
Union Theological Seminary in Tokyo, Ko came to the United States
to study theology. He first studied at Drew University, Madison,
New Jersey and then transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary.
His doctoral thesis examined Luther's interpretation of the Psalms.
At Princeton, Ko met
and married Lois Rozendaal. She had just returned from spending
five years in India as a missionary of the Reformed Church in
America. They have three children: James, who lives with his wife
and children in Honolulu; Elizabeth, who lives with her husband
and children in Moscow; and Mark, who lives with his wife and
children in Western Massachusetts. His grand children are named:
Matthew, Isabel, Sophie, Amos and Silas.
After Ko finished his
doctoral studies at Princeton, Lois and he were appointed as missionaries
to Thailand by the United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan).
After a year of language study, they were assigned to the Thailand
Theological Seminary in Chiengmai.
Quickly Ko was faced
with a dilemma. What was the relevance of Wittenberg to Chiengmai?
Stimulated by his guru, the Rev. Shoki Coe from Taiwan who was
the creative pioneer in contextualizing theology for the Asian
context, Ko worked through this dilemma which stimulated Ko's
theological thinking for the rest of his life. The first major
product of this dilemma was Waterbuffalo Theology (corrected in
the 25th anniversary edition to Water Buffalo Theology) about
which Ko wrote: "It doesn't feel right, but English is not
my first language."(1) The essays were written for the Thai
farmer with Tokyo and Princeton in the background. The book was
an instant success. Some were confused by Ko's unique title. The
librarian at Union Seminary, New York, where Ko would eventually
teach, did not place the book in their collection "because
they had no theology for buffalos".
Ko wrote the book in
poetic not academic language. He said that he was inspired to
write as he listened to the "fugue of the bullfrogs"
while watching farmers working with buffalos in the rich fields.
"The buffalos tell me that I must preach to these farmers
in the simplest sentence structure," he wrote. "They
remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively
objects that are immediately tangible. 'Sticky rice,' 'banana,'
'pepper,' 'dog,' 'cat,' 'bicycle,' 'rainy season,' 'leaking house,'
'fishing,' 'cockfighting,' 'lottery,' 'stomachache'-these are
meaningful words for them".(1)
After its publication,
Ko was invited to give hundreds of lectures in all areas of the
world. For example, in a lecture before the World Council of Churches
in 1980 he said: "
historically Jesus Christ has been
presented to the world in the mold of the mind of the West.' Such
theologies, he said, have had more than one hundred years of painful
irrelevance to the world outside of the West, and most likely
to the West itself. Even today, most of the world's Christians,
including their theologians, believe that somehow Jesus Christ
is more present in America than in Bangladesh."(3)
In 1968 Ko was appointed
the first Asian Executive Director of the Association of Theological
Schools in South East Asia (ATSSEA) which later became the Association
of Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA). By 2006
ATESEA had more than 100 member schools. He simultaneously served
as the Dean of the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology
(SEAGTS) and editor of the South East Asia Journal of Theology.
In these three roles he regularly visited the member seminaries
in South East Asia. SEAGTS was unique in that it did not have
its own campus, but its students studied in the seminary which
had the best resources for their graduate study. Up until today
people in South East Asia speak about the tremendous theological
stimulus they received from discussing theology with Ko on his
In 1974 Ko was appointed
Senior Lecturer in the Phenomenology of Religion at the University
of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. While teaching there, Dr. Donald
Shriver the President of Union Seminary in New York called and
invited Ko to become the first Asian member of the Union faculty.
Ko accepted the invitation and moved his family to New York. He
began teaching at Union in 1980 and he was later installed as
the first incumbent in the newly established John D. Rockefeller,
Jr. Chair in Ecumenics and World Christianity.
In New York Ko encountered
Jews and African Americans for the first time. "The experience
of blacks and Jews challenged the heart of the Christian faith
as I understood it at that time."(2) Having creatively included
religious pluralism in his theological thinking and writing, these
encounters deepened his understanding of his theological pluralism.
After Ko moved to New
York, he was elected a Trustee of the Foundation for Theological
Education in South East Asia (FTESEA). Ko was very familiar with
the ministry of the FTESEA because it had stimulated the formation
of ATESSEA and remained its chief benefactor. Plus, Dr. Alan Thomson,
when he was the Executive Director of the FTESEA, had his office
next to Ko's on the campus of Trinity Theological Seminary, Singapore.
to the meetings of the FTESEA were invaluable. His rich experiences
in theological education in South East Asia brought a unique,
and much needed, perspective to the ministry of the FTESEA. One
of his passions was to provide books, appropriate for the culture
of the schools, to the member schools of ATSSEA. Another passion
was training local theologians to become faculty members of the
seminaries in their countries.
In his tribute to Ko
upon his retirement as a Trustee of the FTESEA the Rev. Dr. Charles
("Kelly") Clark said: "I have chosen the words
'apostle' and apologist' carefully and, I hope, correctly. I believe
that a review of Kosuke Koyama's ministry during the last half
of the Twentieth Century matches the model established by those
who set out from Jerusalem in the latter half of the very first
century of our Era to carry and interpret the reconciling Gospel
of Jesus Christ to the social and cultural complexity of the then-known
In a festschrift published
in honor of Ko at the time of his retirement Dr. Donald Shriver,
former president of Union Seminary, wrote: "He has blazed
some new trails in connecting the historical world of the Bible
to our own histories. In any final reckoning of this achievement,
tribute has to be paid to his faithful, not to say relentless,
willingness to bring the Bible and his experience of his own century
into fruitful, illuminating relationship".(4)
"Once in discussing
death, Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet
of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others in 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.'"(6)
"Blessed are the
dead who from now on die in the Lord. 'Yes, says the spirit, 'they
will rest from their labors for their deeds follow them.'"
(1) Koyama, Kosuke. Water Buffalo Theology: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary
Edition, Revised and Expanded. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis
(2) Union Theological
Seminary, "Union Mourns Professor Emeritus Kosuke Koyama,
Intercultural Theologian." New York: Union Theological Seminary,
(3) Christian Century.
Chicago: May 5, 2009.
(4) Shriver, Donald.
Festschrift for Kosuke Koyama. New York: Union Theological
the Rev. Dr. Charles ("Kelly"):" Kosuke Koyama
(A Tribute)." New York:
Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia, 2000.
York Times: "Kosuke Koyama, 79, An Ecumenical Theologian,
Dies", March 31, 2009.
FROM THU EN YU, CHAIRPERSON,
ASSOCIATON FOR THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION IN SOUTH EAST ASIA, PRINCIPAL,
SABAH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
REMEMBERING AND HONORING
PROF. KOSUKE KOYAMA
We are deeply saddened
by the demise of a great Asian Theologian and our first local
leadership of The Association for Theological Education in South
East Asia (ATESEA) Prof. Dr. Kosuke Koyama.
On behalf of all in ATESEA and STS, I send our heartfelt sympathy
and condolences and at the same time we give thanks for the abundant
life that Prof. Dr. Kosuke Koyama can now enjoy in the presence
of the Lord.
Prof. Kosuke Koyama had been a great scholar, a visionary leader
and a good friend to all who have known him. His enormous contribution
to ATESEA as the first local Executive Director from 1968 to 1974
and his expertise by taking ATESEA/SEAGST to new heights in his
inimitable way will always remain a living example and inspiration
to all of us in doing theologies in Asia.
May the gracious God grant his family and loved ones peace and
strength in this time of bereavement and we affirm that nothing
in life or in death will be able to separate us from the love
of God in Jesus Christ.
FROM REV. STAN MURRAY,
AREA DIRECTOR FOR SE ASIA/JAPAN, INTERNATIONLA MINISTRIES, AMERICAN
I have only had the
privilege and honor of meeting Dr. Koyama a few times. Once or
twice, it was at the FTE annual board meetings but the first time
I meet him was when, as an FTE new board member, I visited China
with him and other board members for three weeks. What a special
gift it was to me! Now only was I able to take the trip but to
take it with Dr. Koyama and learn from him while traveling in
China provided a giant boost to my understanding of Asia. My wife
and I spent 22 years serving as missionaries with International
Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA in Japan so we had a
special bond because of our "common culture!" His wisdom,
his knowledge of Asian theology and culture, and his gentlemanly
ways shall be greatly missed!