To Japan, With Love


A group of nine representatives from Northwestern College and Orange City enjoyed visiting with Dr. Muneharu Kitagaki, president of Keiwa College from 1991 to 2003, during their visit to Japan over spring break.

A vision I have
Of earth's inhabitants
The world made whole
Humanity healed
Sons and daughters reconciled
To God and their neighbors
Brothers and sisters gathered
Round the Messiah's banquet.

In 1984, on a plane en route to Japan, our father, the late Dr. Lyle Vander Werff '54, wrote this first stanza of a poem titled Vision. This past March, we had the opportunity to travel to Japan as part of a nine-member delegation from Northwestern and Orange City. Our purpose was to rekindle and strengthen relationships with people, churches, a sister city and sister colleges. And for the two of us, it was the chance of a lifetime to witness some of the impact of our father's pioneering work as Northwestern's longtime director of international programs—and to carry on his passion.

As our father understood decades ago, God's kingdom is all about relationships and is built as Christians around the world unite. Japan has a deep history with rich arts and culture that is absolutely fascinating. Japan's people are hospitable and go the extra mile to ensure visitors are welcomed. Japan has lost much of its spiritual heritage, and youth today do not hold to any religion. There is room for God's kingdom to spread in Japan.

Our team soaked in the ancient temples, pristine gardens, food that is a work of art, kabuki theatre, restored castles, traditional hot springs, efficient trains, modern shopping streets and a bamboo forest. Even better, we met the most welcoming church leaders, teachers and principals of our sister schools, as well as the mayor and business people of our sister city. These people relished reconnecting with Northwestern College and Orange City. We all felt the strength of exchanging ideas, learning from one another and gaining hope for future interactions.

One special connection was with Keiwa College in Shibata City on the western coast of Japan. This is a sister college in our sister city built on the friendship of our father and Muneharu Kitagaki—two kindred spirits. They both served at Christian colleges and shared the same vision for students. With our team and Keiwa's staff, we were all delightfully surprised by the synergy among us. We shared a passion for enabling college students to grow from international friendships. Our three days together were a gift.

Another ordained meeting was with Dr. Kitagaki. We spent an evening with him, sitting on a tatami mat floor, enjoying a traditional meal and talking for hours. Karen Barker read our dad's poem. It captured the heart of what our team hoped to accomplish.

In a letter sent after our visit, Dr. Kitagaki wrote, "It was indeed such a special pleasure for me to meet with the visitors from NWC and Orange City. Though I met all of them for the first time, I felt as if I had met them before. During our pleasant conversation, I felt the figure of Lyle Vander Werff looming behind us, looking down affectionately. I remembered Lyle's biblical faith and his broad vision. I do hope the friendship between NWC and Keiwa College will continue long. I also hope the friendship between Orange City and Shibata City continues long. But I especially wish our personal friendships live on forever on a Christian basis."

Dr. Kitagaki expresses the importance of Christians around the world fostering those partnerships. We have so much to offer one another, and we cannot afford to lose our ties in this increasingly interconnected world. It was an honor to travel through Japan and meet people who love NWC and Orange City. It was an honor to carry forward the vision of our father, Northwestern and Orange City in building those relationships. It was thrilling to know God has plans for future partnerships between our two lands.

Kathy Gabel and Kristyn Howe are the daughters of Lyle Vander Werff, a professor of religion at NWC from 1967 until 1998 who established several sister college relationships with institutions in the Pacific Rim. Gabel and Howe both live in Orange City and are part-time members of Northwestern's faculty—in ESL and education, respectively.

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