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Remembering two missionaries to Japan — and praying for new ones to follow

Joe Betts baptized me in the Pacific Ocean in 1982. The waves were pretty high because of a typhoon, and Mr. Betts almost lost me in the water.

Mayumi Hancock | Voices

But he didn’t, and I continue to serve God today — partially as a result of his firm grip.

Joe Betts and his wife, Ruth, came to Japan by ship in 1956. They served as missionaries for 50 years, teaching at Ibaraki Christian University. Joe was a minister for Churches of Christ, including the Ochanomizu and Omika congregations.

I attended Ibaraki Christian and took a course on the Old Testament taught by Mr. Joe. He made us write the same Bible verse every time we had a test: “Love God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). He hoped the students would remember that verse.

He loved jokes. He had a pet flea named Pico, and he would make it jump between his hands before pretending to lose it. He had a prosthetic eyeball he would pretend to clean in his mouth before accidentally swallowing it.

Another missionary, Marlin Ray, invited me to a youth retreat at Gaijin-Mura. That’s where I was baptized. Teachers at the retreat talked about which church I should attend since I lived about two and a half hours away from campus.

The Mito Church of Christ was closest to me, but Ruth Betts winked at me and said “Omika ni irasshai,” which means, “Come to Omika church.” Now I am a preacher’s wife, and I boldly invite people to come to church just like Mrs. Betts did for me.

Ruth Betts died March 20. Her husband, Joe, followed 11 days later on March 31.

Ruth Betts died March 20. Her husband, Joe, followed 11 days later on March 31.

Joe and Ruth Betts invited young people for dinner and devotionals at their house once a month. I lived far away, so they invited me to stay at their house overnight. It was my first time seeing a dishwasher. The next morning, Ruth asked me how many eggs I’d like to eat and I said, “One.” Mrs. Betts repeated, “One? Just one?” I had never met anyone who ate two eggs at breakfast.

She was pretty strict. She didn’t allow small children to run around in the church building. Also, if someone needed to be corrected, she didn’t mind telling the person what he or she needed to hear.

I married an American and moved to the U.S., but we returned to Japan in 1993 as missionaries, following the Betts’ example. We wanted to use our house for the Lord, so one of the first things we did was to host a marriage enrichment seminar. We invited Mr. and Mrs. Betts to be our speakers. Their marriage was a testament — not to perfection, but to godly love and service.

They remained true to our scriptural tradition of speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent. I can see that same tradition continuing even now in the Omika and Ochanomizu congregations.

They moved to Texas in 2006 and taught and counseled many Abilene Christian University exchange students from Japan at their home.

They died just 11 days apart. Although their passing is sad, I’m not disappointed because I know we’ll see them both in heaven.

Until then, I wonder who will be the next brave missionaries to serve Japan — one of the most challenging mission fields on earth. Churches of Christ are struggling to survive, and conversions can be slow.

But they happen. I am proof.

MAYUMI HANCOCK, a native of, and former missionary to, Japan, lives in Lancaster, Texas, where her husband, Mark, serves as minister for the Cold Springs Church of Christ.

Filed under: Japan Joe Betts Milestones People Ruth Betts Top Stories

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