Tomihiro Hoshino is a well-known painter and poet in Japan who also happens to be a Christian. When he was young, he excelled in gymnastics and after graduating from university was employed as a high-school PE teacher. However, while doing somersaults one day, he landed on his head and could not get back up. After being rushed to the hospital he was told the bad news that he was now paralyzed from the neck down.
While in the hospital, he became fully dependent on the nurses and his mother to do everything for him, including turning his body so that he wouldn’t develop bed sores. As a young man who was used to doing whatever he wanted all the time, this was a devastating blow to him. At times he would feel so overwhelmed with sorrow that he would want to cry but would stop himself as he had no way of wiping away his tears.
Soon after being admitted, he was visited by a friend who he had known from his university days. While staying in the same dormitory, Tomihiro had noticed that this friend was a Christian as he would say a prayer before each of his meals. Now hearing that Tomihiro had been hospitalized the friend had rushed down to see him. Shortly after his visit he sent Tomihiro a Bible as a present.
After many months in the hospital, Tomihiro began reading as there was nothing much he could do. One day out of curiosity he asked for the Bible and came upon the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:28~30.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Immediately he was struck by these words and wished that he could get to know this gentle person named Jesus and be held by Him in His arms.
Over time, the Lord also revealed to Tomihiro truths about his own character. He began to realise that all his life he had only cared for his own selfish gratifications. Despite working hard to gather accolades and achievements in the past, even now paralyzed and crying out for pity from his loved ones, he was still the same self-centered person deep down inside. As the Lord cast a light into his heart, he gradually became aware of his sinfulness and the need for a Saviour in his life.
As he lay in bed day after day, Tomihiro realised that while he may be bedridden, there were still things that he could do. Despite being unable to move his body, his mind was as sharp as ever and he began to observe the things around him more keenly. Visitors would often leave gifts of flowers at his bedside and he marveled at their God-given beauty and studied them endlessly. Eventually he decided that he wanted to capture their beauty in painting.
Despite all the odds, he eventually mastered writing, drawing and painting by holding pens or brushes in his mouth and over the years published multiple book collections of his art and poetry. With renewed purpose, his hope began to encourage others and to point them to good news of Jesus. Over the years his work has been exhibited all over Japan and there is even a museum dedicated to his artwork in his hometown in Gunma Prefecture.
Since April, Hooi Yin and I have been interning under Ps Takahashi at Kusatsu Church in Shiga Prefecture. Due to the Covid situation in Japan, many church activities are still on hold and so Ps Takahashi has been conducting lessons for us remotely via Zoom. Part of our lessons include reading and discussing Tomihiro’s story, a book that Ps Takahashi recommended to us.
In reading his story, I was greatly encouraged by Tomihiro’s testimony and touched by how the Lord had changed his life. At the same time, I couldn’t help but marvel at how God uses even the smallest of things for His glory.
People have often remarked that there are very few Christians in Japan. While that may be true, even the presence of one Christian, like Tomihiro’s friend, can result in others being led to Christ. Many Japanese Christians have shared how their decision to follow Jesus came about, not because of some profound act of God but rather from a small gesture of kindness that left a lasting impression.
Furthermore, during this season of Covid, many people may feel, like the bedridden Tomihiro, that their freedom to do whatever they want when they want has been rudely stripped away. Be it in the office, in our families, or even in the church, many things that we had planned, or wanted to do have suddenly become impossible to. However, by focusing solely on what we cannot do, we may become overcome by despair and fail to see that which we can do.
Sometimes all it takes is to stop everything and look carefully for something that we can do and to then commit the results to the Lord. Much like the little boy who offered up his 5 loaves and 2 fishes to the Lord, the Lord then blessed and multiplied his humble offering using it to miraculously feed many thousands.
I cannot help but see this in the life of Tomihiro Hoshino. Through the great tragedy of his accident, he lost his old life but was given a new one instead. God has blessed him greatly since and to this day he continues to serve the Lord with great joy and purpose.
If you search for his name on the internet, you’ll find many examples of his artwork online. While simple in form, the paintings are so beautifully rendered that it is hard to believe that they were so painstakingly painted ‘by mouth’. Many include a short poem reflecting his thoughts, written in his distinctive style and bearing deep insights into the human condition. Many Japanese Christians know of him and we’ve noticed postcards bearing his art pinned up at the entrances of churches that we have visited; a vivid testimony to how far he has come from his first days lying helplessly in a hospital bed.
May we too, humbly offer up our own tiny efforts, feeble as they may seem in the world’s eyes, for the Lord to bless and multiply so that others in turn may also be blessed and come to know the Lord.
Sean Tan (Missionary in Japan)
June 27, 2021