The 29th English class of Shuyoka (the three-month Spiritual Development Course) began in the Home of the Parent on April 1 as part of the 744th session of Shuyoka, which has a total of 725 students. This year, there are 14 participants from various countries: four from the U.S.A., three from Australia, three from Kenya, and one each from Canada, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand. Their instructors are Rev. Marlon Masao Okazaki, head minister of Hollywood Church in California, and Rev. Lena Reiko Okada, wife of the head of Shimagahara Hawaii Mission Station located in Tenri. Rev. Okazaki serves as the homeroom instructor and teaches the classes on The Doctrine of Tenrikyo and the service dance, while Rev. Okada teaches the classes on The Life of Oyasama and the Mikagura-uta, The Songs for the Service.
Until this year, Tenrikyo Overseas Department had been conducting a weeklong preliminary training session at the end of March each year. The session aimed to help the English class students get used to life in the Home of the Parent by studying and boarding together, so that they could make an easier transition to life in their respective followers dormitories, where they would stay from the beginning of April until the end of the term in June.
However, although they could freely talk to their classmates at school, some of the participants found themselves overwhelmed by the obstacles of language, culture, and customs when they returned to their followers dormitories, where they had few people they could communicate with. In spite of their desire to learn the teachings, some had trouble adjusting and left Shuyoka in the middle of the course. The Overseas Department thus decided to offer this year’s English class students the option of staying at Moya 132 (the dormitory for followers from Brazil and Canada) for the entire period of Shuyoka, in the hope that such students might find the environment there more comfortable and conducive to focusing themselves on spiritual growth. Nine of the 14 students accepted this offer. Although all their activities at Moya 132 including the service practices and lectures are conducted in English, the daily routine is basically the same as in followers dormitories; they attend the morning service at the Main Sanctuary, and after returning from school, they do some clean-up hinokishin, perform the evening service, practice the dance and instruments, and go to bed at 9:30 P.M. Since this is the first time for many of the students to visit Japan, staff members of the Overseas Department not only served as go-betweens between the students and their directly supervised churches, but also took turns serving as the dormitory counselor and assistant counselor each month.
The Human Resources Development Section Head Takaharu Ichise of the Overseas Department, who served as the dormitory counselor for April, explained the situation until last year by saying, “At first, overseas followers may be puzzled with differences in living habits, such as food and taking a bath. But later on, the lack of communication will become their major concern.” He continued: “Things were okay so long as they were with their classmates during the daytime, but once they returned to their own dormitories, many could not communicate with anybody living there.” That, he said, made it difficult for some people to focus their effort on growing spiritually.
Many students applied for Shuyoka due to complicated family issues they are facing. Although their actual problems vary from one another, the students become good friends and trusted confidants to one another during the period of three months they spend together. They talk over everything together during the breaks between classes or service practices and on their ways to and from Moya 132.
Yasuyo Uehara, who was suddenly affected by panic disorder two years ago and also had her elder brother dispatched to the war in Iraq this past March, decided to enter Shuyoka so that she could have time to reflect upon herself. She said, “I was nervous when I first arrived at Moya 132 on March 31, but now I have these fellow classmates who understood me well, and more importantly God the Parent and Oyasama are always with me, keeping my mind sound and at peace.”