On March 11, Tenrikyo Mission Center in Colombia conducted the service to commemorate its 40th anniversary in the presence of the Shinbashira Zenji Nakayama. A total number of 420 Yoboku and other followers attended.
Although Colombia is located astride the equator, mornings in Cali, being nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 ft.) above sea level, are crisp and cool. Thin cirrocumulus clouds filled the sky.
The reception desk opened at 8:30 a.m. When followers arrived at the center gate, they handed an admission ticket they had been given beforehand to a guard. Guards are on duty 24 hours. The scene reveals a glimpse into what it is like to live in Colombian society.
Colombia, with a population of approximately 45 million, is a country with a great disparity of wealth between rich and poor. It has been long plagued by drug cartels and guerrilla insurgencies. Whereas guerrilla groups have gradually weakened recently, public safety has still not been completely secured.
Conveying the path in such social conditions proved to be extremely difficult. Over 90 percent of the Colombian population is Catholic. Far fewer Japanese immigrated to Colombia in comparison to Brazil or Peru. Further, due to security issues, it was not easy to engage in typical missionary activities such as spreading the name of God and door-to-door missionary work. The Tenri young men who immigrated to Colombia to convey the path quietly dedicated themselves and built relationships of trust with locals.
In preparation for the anniversary, center members redoubled their efforts toward nurturing human resources. Along with holding regular service practices and doctrinal study sessions, they also exerted themselves in sprinkling the fragrance of the teachings and engaging in salvation work with the aim of sending 10 people to Shuyoka. Their efforts have resulted in 16 applicants for the Spanish course of Shuyoka, scheduled to begin in April.
Aiming for Spiritual Maturity
The worship hall of Colombia Center, which seats about 200, was filled before 10:00 a.m. The sun showed itself from between the clouds and shone intensely on the faces of worshipers seated outside.
Before long, the Shinbashira arrived in the sanctuary. The congregation members clapped their hands in unison with the Shinbashira, who led them in the worship of God the Parent, Oyasama, and the Mitama-sama.
Rev. Naotaro Shimizu, head of the center, then read the service prayer in Japanese, saying: “We offer our deep respect to our first-generation predecessors who built the path. We are prepared to dedicate our utmost toward engaging in salvation work and sprinkling the fragrance as well as the immediate task of nurturing human resources who will lead the next generation. I believe that these tasks will bring stability to Colombian society and happen to be the only path to bring into reality the world of the Joyous Life that God the Parent desires.”
The Shinbashira then addressed the congregation. He started off by talking about the mission and role of the center as well as the importance of sprinkling the fragrance and engaging in salvation work, saying: “Oyasama taught that telling people suffering from illness or other troubles that there is a path to salvation and administering the Sazuke to them to pray for God’s blessings are ways to express our indebtedness. . . . However, it is important not to stop just at having others know God the Parent’s intention. It is important to exert ourselves to help people live in accordance with the teachings and savor the delight of the Joyous Life.”
After mentioning that the current state of the world is still far from the Joyous Life, he said: “Although it may take time, we Yoboku, while leaning on Oyasama, must straightforwardly and unflaggingly practice what was taught to us with the conviction that this is the path that will truly settle the world. Then, I believe, Oyasama will show us Her grand workings. . . . You are all children of the path drawn by Oyasama. Please remain aware of this as you aim for spiritual maturity by pursuing the teachings and practicing them day by day. I’d like you to help and encourage one another while you keep working for the growth of the path in Colombia.”
The Shinbashira then took part in the seated service as the core. This was later followed by the Eight Verses of the Yorozuyo and the Twelve Songs. The sounds of joyous voices singing The Songs for the Service and the musical instruments resounded in the clear Cali sky.
After the service, festivities were held in an outside tent with the Shinbashira in attendance. There were performances by the fife and drum band that was re-formed last year and by a dance troupe consisting of local followers.
Cali is a city that boasts several universities. In this regard, Colombia Center has attempted to nurture young people by offering instruction in Japanese language studies and cultural activities such as martial arts and flower arrangement.
The anniversary festivities were chiefly managed by young members. The majority of the 30 or so members who stayed at the center from the night before to engage in preparatory hinokishin are first-generation followers.
One of them, Irene Romero, 28, learned about Tenrikyo a year ago after coming to the Japanese language class held at the center. She says she was inspired to learn that Tenrikyo is the teachings for the Joyous Life. She decided to enroll in Shuyoka out of her desire to learn more in Jiba and convey these wonderful teachings back in Colombia.
At the end of the festivities, the five men who came to Colombia half a century ago to lay the path and settled in the country and who now serve on the board of directors of the center were brought to the stage with their families. Rev. Shimizu then led everyone with a shout of “Viva Colombia!”
Prior to his visit to Colombia, the Shinbashira also visited Lima Church in Peru on March 7 and encouraged followers there. While in Colombia, the Shinbashira visited Shimagahara Colombia Church and the Japanese-Colombian Association on the 10th, Farallones and Shigeto Cali churches on the 12th, and Tsu Colombia Fellowship in Bogota on the 13th.
The History of the Path in Colombia
The path in Colombia began in 1961 when 17 youths, mostly from Tenri High School Evening Course, immigrated to Colombia through the mediation of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The youths worked in the heart of the jungle, clearing land for banana plantations. After the operation dissolved three years later, 11 of the youths chose to remain in Colombia, making a living in agriculture, by selling electronics, and by other means.
The second Shinbashira visited the youths several times. Tenrikyo Colombia Center was established in 1972. After relocating several times, the center completed its present sanctuary in 1981.