When Takayuki Oku was in his second year of junior high school in Yamagata City, about 290km north of Tokyo, and working a part-time job as a newspaper delivery boy, he met a yakuza gang boss, gained his favor, and finally became a yakuza himself. Once, when he was 17, he left the group and tried living a normal life. During that time he met a girl named Yuka, and the two were eventually married. However, he returned to the world of the yakuza and continued with that life until one day, he tried to protect a close friend and fellow gang member, who had attempted to hide from the group. Takayuki was severely beaten as punishment. Takayuki returned home, covered in blood. Overcome with anger and regret at what his life had become, he sought the help of the police and, finally, severed his ties with the gang. “Still, [even afterwards] I am still haunted by my past life. To this day, I have trouble [in my relationships] with people who knew me back then. Ever since junior high, people never come to talk to me… but it’s different with the Church.” Takayuki, now 36, and Yuka have eight children, five girls and three boys, aged from 1 to 16 years old. The first one in the family to go to church, however, was Takayuki himself. “Four years ago, my mother and I had a huge fight, and I snapped at her, ‘Why don’t you just die?’ That was before I knew she had cancer. Within a few months she was dead… and I didn’t get the chance to apologize.” Takayuki wallowed in a continual state of manic depression. Finally, he sought advice from his former foster father, a Catholic, who suggested that he try going to church. And so, last summer, he went to Yamagata Church in Yamagata City for the first time, where he heard a homily by Father Kenji Honma of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. “The homily centered on the idea that, ‘No matter how much a child fights with his parents, they will always forgive him.’ My mother is the biggest reason [I am being baptized]. Of course, there’s so much, too, in my yakuza past that I can’t even say. And, I guess there’s also a bit of what you might call atonement…” Yuka initially went to church with Takayuki only as his driver (because Takayuki himself doesn’t have a license), and had no interest in Christianity. However, she said her husband “had always been short-tempered, but that changed when he started going to church.” “All the people in church treated our children so kindly, so the kids loved going, too. Even our one-year-old would wander freely about the church [with her hands together]. When [my husband] asked how I felt about all of us getting baptized together, I began to think, ‘yes, let’s.’” Takayuki said, “The kids don’t really understand everything, naturally. But when I tell them I’m going to church, they all say, ‘I wanna go too!’ And when I asked them, ‘Dad’s going to become a child of God; what about all of you?’ they all answered, ‘Us too!’” Ken’ichi, 16, the eldest child, took an interest in going to church when he saw Takayuki reading a book about Christianity at home. “I don’t really understand much about the Church yet,” says Ken’ichi, but a few days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, he ordered eight “Miraculous Medals” to match one he got from a missionary group at church. He wanted to give them to all his siblings “as omamori”—that is, an article offering mystical protection—“against earthquake injuries.” Takayuki said, “Right now, we are supposed to be in preparatory formation, but [because we can’t get gasoline because of the ongoing crisis] we can’t even go to church. I am looking forward to the baptism.” The entire Oku family will be baptized at Yamagata Church during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 23. JA13983.1649
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