NAGOYA, Japan (BP)–Wang Lee, 80, and his wife Rose, 72, rarely agree on anything. From their modest home in Nagoya, Japan, where the two serve among the homeless, they argue playfully back and forth.
They disagree over the name of their church in the United States, which turns out to be Concord Korean Baptist Church in Martinez, Calif. They can’t exactly agree on how old they each were at World War II’s outset, when they were living as children in Korea under Japanese occupation. They even argue with smiles and laughter over Wang’s age. Is he 79 or 80?
But this Korean-American couple, married for 50-plus years, definitely agree on one thing: God leads His people when they seek Him in prayer.
“Wang and Rose prayerwalk more than anyone I know,” said Linda Lee, an International Mission Board missionary in Nagoya who is no relation to Wang and Rose Lee. “They spend many hours a day in prayer.”
Through prayer, in fact, the Lees overcame personal resentment toward the Japanese for the atrocities committed during the occupation of Korea from 1910 until 1945.
“I had this feeling of resentment against the Japanese,” Rose said. “I tried to fight against it, but the feeling kept coming. I noticed that I didn’t have the resentment while we were praying.”
While God’s grace and forgiveness have removed any trace of bitterness, today, 65 years later, both the Lees still recall acts of violence committed against their friends and family during the years of Japanese occupation.
“I was in elementary school, and I walked by something like a small police station,” Rose Lee recalled. “They were torturing people with hot water, that kind of thing.”
“Stories, thousands of stories [from that time],” Wang Lee agreed. “They took away our natural resources. They were cruel to many young women and sent them to some bad places. They sent all our young people to Japan or to the war zone. They used young people — young Koreans — for labor forces. Everything was so bad.”
“They came in my home and took all the valuable things,” Rose Lee remembered.
“They sent my cousins to labor camps in Japan, all over China, the Philippines and Taiwan,” Wang Lee said.
They even changed their names.
“My Japanese name was Ahara,” Wang Lee said.
“Mine was Aoki,” Rose said.
But World War II also was when Wang Lee came to know Christ through the testimony of an elder serving in a Presbyterian church in his city in what is now North Korea. The man’s last name was Song. Early in his life, Wang Lee learned the power of prayer from Elder Song.
“Every time I went to Elder Song’s house, he prayed for me,” Lee said. “He put his hands on my head and prayed for me.”
Later, during the Korean War, Elder Song prayed for Lee again, as Song and a U.S. Army chaplain helped Lee and other Christians escape North Korea during the U.S. Army’s retreat to the south in 1951.
“Amazingly, Elder Song’s prayers were answered,” Wang Lee said. “I could have been killed so many times while I was escaping.”
Rose Lee’s story is slightly different. She grew up going to church in Korea with her mother, but she didn’t become a Christian until after she moved to America in 1964. Challenges abounded: The young family had little money, and she couldn’t speak English.
“It was very difficult … but God found me, and my faith started a little,” Rose said.
It was that small seed of faith that took root in Rose Lee’s heart and eventually led her to enroll in Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary at the age of 62.
“I was the oldest student at the seminary,” Rose Lee laughed. “But the other students helped carry my books.”
Rose Lee studied Christian education and was challenged by stories of young people returning from short-term mission trips. Presentations from representatives of then-Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) also inspired her.
Eventually, through prayer, both Wang and Rose Lee felt God’s call to serve overseas. Following his retirement from the banking industry, Wang Lee made a short-term trip to China, and Rose Lee made a short-term trip to Venezuela. After those trips, the two decided to apply for service through the mission board. The question was where to serve.
“As we prayed, we kept hearing in our spirits, ‘Love your enemy; [get past] the resentment. [Love] the Japanese people,'” Rose Lee said.
Although they considered various places, when the time came to make a decision the Lees listed Japan as both their first and second choices. That was 2004.
On their arrival in Nagoya, the Lees embraced the Japanese people and sought daily opportunities to share their faith with their neighbors and others they encountered each day.
“I could write a book about them,” said fellow missionary Hank Lee, Linda Lee’s husband and an IMB strategist. “They explored and stretched the boundaries of front line work in a place where some say, ‘It can’t be done.'”
They also prayed continuously for the Japanese.
“We have a habit of waking up early every morning … we always pray at 5:30 a.m.,” Rose Lee said.
“There is a mountain near our home, and we go up there every day and pray for the Japanese,” Wang Lee added.
As a result, when God opened a door to serve among Nagoya’s homeless, the Lees eagerly stepped through it. As a result, they have seen many come to faith in Christ, and they have trained five leaders among the homeless to continue the work when the Lees retire later this year and return to the United States.
“They are going to be good leaders,” Wang Lee said. “They know how to baptize. They know how to [share] the Lord’s Supper. They know [how to lead] Bible study. They know everything now.”
Of course, Wang and Rose also know that God isn’t finished with them. Once the Lees are settled in the U.S., Rose hopes to invite Japanese students she has met in Nagoya to live in her home while they attend American universities. Wang hopes to get to know Japanese students studying at a junior college near their home in California.
Certainly, wherever God leads them, the Lees will seek His direction through prayer.
Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.