SUEHIRO, EIJI
I was the minister of San Lorenzo Holiness Church when the war broke out. I was soon sent to the San Mateo Assembly Center, where I spent a couple of months before being evacuated to the Topaz Relocation Camp. At the Topaz Relocation Center, each of the Catholic, Protestant, and Seventh-Day Adventist churches held separate worship services. However, eight different denominational Protestant churches organized themselves into a federated Christian church. The Japanese-speaking Protestant ministers numbered twelve or thirteen. For special celebrations, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, approximately five hundred people would gather together in the church. As there was normally little in the way of amusement within the one-mile-square barbed-wired camp, whenever a special event arrived we all gathered together. I served both Japanese-speaking and English-speaking services as a minister, for I can speak both Japanese and English.

Bible study was very popular in the camp—a study of the Book of Romans was conducted on Tuesdays over a one-and-one-half year period—and many Christians gathered together for the study. As a pastor, I have never since experienced in my ministry such a good opportunity to evangelize Japanese-Americans as during this camp period. I felt truly awestruck in the face of young people who were heading to the front lines. It was an awesome responsibility to be a pastor. I also had to stand between two opposing parties: the Kachi-gumi, a group who believed Japan would win in the Pacific war, and the Make-gumi, a group who believed Japan would be defeated. However, compassion and good communication made it possible to ease the tension between these two groups.

Topaz consisted of twenty-nine blocks of living quarters; each block was assigned its own daily responsibilities. One activity was to clean the bathrooms, yet no one in my block volunteered to do so. I therefore volunteered to do the job. A couple of weeks later, one of my Christian friends took my place, saying: “I can’t let a pastor clean the bathrooms.” I believe my work as a janitor, counselor, and preacher brought favor in the camp.

The American government has recently paid a “redress fee” to each individual placed in the camps. I, however, would rather pay back the fee instead, for I am so thankful that during my time in Topaz I received assurance from the Lord that I could communicate as a pastor in English as well as Japanese (until that time I did not have the confidence to preach in English, as it was my second language). In the Federated Christian Church, there were eight Japanese-speaking pastors from various denominations, and a few English-speaking pastors. We all worked together and enjoyed good relationships with one another. In the case of special meetings, such as memorial services, the meeting was held in conjunction with the Buddhist group as well.

Toward the end of war, I suffered kidney problems and was hospitalized for more than three months due to a disease indigenous to Topaz. Once released I returned to San Lorenzo, where I had ministered before the war, with my wife and three children. However, I was still weak and needed to rest for yet another year. The following year (August, 1946), I was elected the superintendent of the Holiness Church of North America. At first, I declined the offer due to my physical weakness, but there was no other person who could lead both the Japanese and English-speaking divisions of the Holiness church.

Traditionally speaking, the superintendent ministers at the Los Angeles Holiness Church, so I moved to Los Angeles. With the war over, people began to arrive in Los Angeles instead of returning to their local communities and churches, so each Sunday worship service found several new returnees from various relocation centers attending. I truly enjoyed my ministry at the Los Angeles Holiness Church and ministered there for twenty-nine years until I retired in 1975.

Year of Birth: 1905
Place of Birth: Yamaguchi-Ken, Japan
Major Occupation: Minister
Relocation Camp: Topaz, Utah
Date of Interview: October 10, 1989

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