When asked, Leroy and June Seat are hard-pressed to name the most satisfying aspect of their recent trip to Japan. Just once again visiting the country they called home for nearly 38 years could be a starting point.
But the Seats focus on the growth of ministries they helped launch and on the people with whom they served while International Mission Board missionaries from Sept. 1, 1966, to July 31, 2004. The couple spent most of their career in Fukuoka, where Leroy Seat served as a professor of Christian studies at Seinan Gakuin University and then as a professor of theology in the school’s department of theology, which serves as the country’s Baptist seminary.
The Seats spent three weeks in May in Japan to help celebrate several ministry milestones in Fukuoka, including a ceremony to mark the beginning of elementary education in the Seinan Gakuin system.
He said he was perhaps the main one to advocate the beginning of what is now Seinan Gakuin Elementary School,” particularly during the years he was chancellor of Seinan Gakuin University (1996-2004).
The school, which opened its doors in April, attracted 200 students for grades 1-3, and will add a grade each year through grade 6. “I was overwhelmed by the facilities and the way the…school kids participated in singing…and in saying The Lord’s Prayer,” he added.
“It was just a thrill…and exceeded my expectations…. It was a dream come true for me because I thought it would be an effective way to introduce children to Christianity at a young age.”
The private school system has a strong reputation throughout the country, not only for its Christian base, but also for its academics. Most of the elementary students had had no exposure to Christianity until they started classes.
The Seats also made the trip this year to participate in the 30th anniversary celebration of Fukuoka International Church, a congregation the Seats helped launch on Easter Sunday in 1980. Seat served as pastor until his retirement.
A trained counselor, June Seat was especially gratified to see the continued use of “Active Parenting,” a video-based parenting education program. When June discovered it while on furlough in 1985, she took it back to Japan and shared it with international friends.
When it seemed to work across international lines, she convinced Baptist leaders to dub the videos and translate the materials into Japanese. “I saw it as an outreach of the church and that has worked out,” she said. Many Japanese Christians and some pastors continue to use the materials.
“It was fun to see the Active Parenting people so enthusiastic.”
As they reminisced, both focused on people. “In addition to the institutions, the personal things were gratifying,” Seat said.
He was able to visit two adopted brothers — one, who is Japanese, in prison and the other, who is from China, in the detention center. The Seats have known the adoptive mother for several years, and have continued to minister to the family.
The imprisoned son is serving time for a murder he committed in 2000. After being incarcerated, he began to read the Bible and has made a profession of faith. He now talks of attending seminary and becoming a pastor once he is released. “He seemed so much at peace,” Seat said. “It was a gratifying thing to see his progress, faith and desire to serve the Lord.”
Touched by the change in her son, the adoptive mother accepted Christ and Seat baptized her in 2001.
The son in the detention center is appealing a death sentence. He is accused, along with two other men, of killing a Japanese family. Although he is not a Christian, he has begun to read the Bible.
A reporter with an influential Japanese newspaper accompanied Seat on his short visit with the young man. As they parted ways, the reporter mentioned that he will soon study Christianity and would like to talk with Seat about it.
The retired missionary also emphasized the opportunity to see former co-workers. Three former IMB missionaries, who resigned or were fired for refusing to sign a statement affirming the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, continue to minister at Seinan Gakuin.
“It was gratifying to see these former Southern Baptist missionaries still working, doing the kind of thing they had been sent to do as Southern Baptist missionaries,” Seat said.
In addition to reconnecting with Active Parenting leaders, June Seat enjoyed a day with five former students who composed an English class June taught for more than 20 years. “It was fun to be with them again,” she said. “They were more like friends than students.”
Both Seats use their training and mission enthusiasm now in retirement in Liberty. June and daughter Kathy have led an Active Parenting group. She hopes to offer the ministry at Second Baptist Church, Liberty, where the Seats are members.
Seat still uses his professorial skills, teaching a course in the history of Christian theology at Rockhurst, a Jesuit school, each semester and teaching world missions at William Jewell College every other year. He has published a book, Fed Up with Fundamentalism, and will release The Limits of Liberalism in mid-August. He also blogs.
And they are already thinking about their next trip to Japan. During the May trip, they joined Seinan Gakuin’s Founder’s Day celebration, marking the institution’s 94th year. They plan to return for the centennial anniversary in 2016. “But we hope to return at least once or twice before 2016,” Seat said.