BY DOUG BIRDSALL
Oyama-sensei was known and respected throughout Japan and across Asia—and beyond—as a brilliant scholar, prolific author, dearly loved pastor, and seminary professor.
He was a man of slight build, but powerful mind. He spoke with a soft voice, but his words were heard and heeded throughout the nation he loved and served all of his life.
His publishing record is legendary. He seemed to be able to publish books, articles and tracts effortlessly—160 books throughout his career. But those who knew him were keenly aware of the fact that his mind was one of the most disciplined, hard-working, and consecrated intellects in the modern life of the church in Japan.
It is impossible to think of Oyama-sensei without thinking of the Takadanobaba Bible Church. His life was anchored in that church which he founded as a young man, preaching the gospel in street side meetings after the war, and which he served throughout his life. Like everything in which he was involved, the Takadanobaba Bible Church grew and multiplied. Today, there are more than 20 daugther congregations.
As great as his life-long contributions are in each of these spheres of leadership influence, I believe Oyama-sensei’s greatest legacy will be through the hundreds of younger men and women from across Japan and Asia who treasure him as an exemplar of a Christian leadership, and as a mentor of immense wisdom and generosity of spirit. He multiplied churches, and he multiplied leaders through those churches, through his seminary classes, his books, and his radio broadcasts.
It was my privilege to meet him while I was still a young missionary in Japan forty-one years ago in 1982. That was at the time when the work of the Japan Church Growth Institute (JCGI) was being established to help connect and develop some of the most promising and productive pastors in the country.
In 1991, when I became the leader of our mission, Asian Access (now A3), I had the great opportunity to serve with Oyama-sensei on the JCGI board which he chaired. I am deeply indebted to him for the impact of his wisdom and his life upon mine. Being in a board meeting with him was as instructive as being in a seminary classroom. Theological reflection, strategic planning, spiritual formation, and worship were elements of every meeting.
He guided the development of that ministry through some very exciting stages of growth and expansion, as well as through some times of controversy and difficulty. His rock solid faith, calm demeanor, faith, and commitment to truth and fairness served as a powerful illustration of all the books he wrote and the sermons he preached. His life was his message. It was transparent, compelling and transformational. He was Christ-like.
Dr. Oyama's life-long service to Christ has come to an end on this earth. But the impact of his life continues through the thousands of people whose lives were directly enriched and transformed, and that impact is multiplied many times over by those he has and will impact indirectly.
I thank God for the life, leadership, and friendship of Dr. Reiji Oyama. Like David, “he fulfilled the purposes of God in his generation.” Thanks be to God!
S. Douglas Birdsall first arrived in Japan with his wife Jeanie in 1980, serving there for 20 years, and they have remained as A3 missionaries for 43+ years. He is the honorary chairman of the Lausanne Movement, a global network of Christians launched in 1974. He has been the executive chairman of Lausanne and provided overall leadership for the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. Drawing over 4,000 participants from 198 countries and from a wide variety of denominations, Cape Town 2010 was the most diverse gathering of Christians in history. He was the president of A3 (Asian Access) from 1991-2007. Earlier in his career, Doug played on the 1969 Richwoods High School football team—undefeated, State Champions of Illinois.
- The family will held a memorial service for Dr. Reiji Oyama on May 26, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan.
- Dr. Reiji Oyama's Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reiji_Oyama_(pastor)
- Dr. Oyama's Takadanobaba Bible Church (Wikipedia)
- Photos courtesy of A3 unless specified:
- Dr. Reiji Oyama (left) was board chair, Dr. Doug Birdsall (middle) was president, Dr. Paul Ariga (right) was vice chair (2007)
- Headshot of Rev. Oyama courtesy of https://www.christiantoday.co.jp/
- The Biblical Church photo courtesy of Wikipedia
- The Board of A3's Japan Church Growth Institute (2007)
- Doug Birdsall & Reiji Oyama listening to pastoral graduate presentations at A3's graduation (2007).