April 7, 2018 Cranes and Common Prayer


Acts 4:13–21

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

On December 7, 1941, after saying Mass for the Japanese congregation in North Platte and, having heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Navy, Father Hiram Hisanori Kano had determined to catch a train to Lincoln to meet with the governor and plead for protection for the Japanese people in Western Nebraska. But as he descended the church steps, he was met by the chief of police and another policeman, who arrested him and placed him in the city jail. The next day, clad in prison clothes, FBI agents arrived and transferred him to Omaha where he was placed in a state prison. That night, three Germans, also arrested because of their nationality, were thrown into prison with him.

The next morning, Fr. Kano greeted his cell mates. “Good morning,” he said cheerily. One of the Germans complained, looking at Fr. Kano, “I couldn’t sleep.” “What happened?” Fr. Kano inquired. “You snore loudly,” came the reply. Fr. Kano, repentant, replied, “I’m sorry.” Despite the rocky start, Fr. Kano reports that the four of them became good friends, and that he became a pastor to them, saying morning and evening prayers with them and reading from the Bible. After two months, the three were released, but Fr. Kano discovered that he, because of his prominent family in Japan and ties to the Japanese government, would be interned for the duration of the war.

In his book, Nikkei Farmer on the Nebraska Plains, Fr. Kano said this about his internment:

With the start of the war between the United States and Japan, enemy foreigners lost their fundamental human rights. They did not have the freedom of assembly. God immediately imprisoned me in an internment camp. In other words, He sent me on a special mission. Because of this, for about five years during and after the war, I was an imprisoned person—but as a messenger of the Gospel, I worked hard in these unique places. I call these my churches during wartime. (Nikkei Farmer on the Nebraska Plains, pp. 110-111.)

Despite being the only Japanese immigrant among the 5000 Japanese in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska arrested and interned, and despite the suddenness of his internment by which he was forcibly separated from his wife and young family for almost five years, Fr. Kano was able to see God at work in his internment. Rather than lamenting his own misfortune, Fr. Kano saw an opportunity to minister to those in need and preach the Gospel. Fr. Kano saw Christ around him and sought to serve Christ in those with whom he shared a jail cell.

And serve the Christ around him he did. Fr. Kano reports that in his first internment camp at Fort Crook in Nebraska, he “felt a great responsibility to comfort and encourage” the other prisoners. He led them in Morning and Evening Prayer and Bible reading (in which some of the guards joined); he counseled an MP concerning a marital problem; he encouraged the other prisoners to be honest and cooperate with the authorities when their hearings came up and provided words of comfort when they got discouraged or became angry; he provided spiritual counsel and helped deepen the faith of others in a situation in which it might have been easy to lose faith. Fr. Kano served Christ around him.

In our reading from Acts, Peter and John had been arrested for witnessing boldly and publicly to the risen Christ alive and present around them. Under threat, the authorities tried to silence them, but they responded, “It’s up to you to determine whether it’s right before God to obey you rather than God.” It is a rather pejorative statement, for as religious leaders, they would know very well what their responsibility was, though they disagreed with Peter and John about the meaning of obedience to God. Still, the faith of Peter and John in the risen Christ led them to proclaim boldly the love of God in Christ and God’s vision for the creation, as all disciples are called to do, and to work to bring about that vision in word and action in their own lives, regardless of the circumstances or the threat to their person.

When Fr. Kano was first arrested, he gave a vigorous defense of his character and the work in which he had been engaged in Nebraska for decades, and most particularly of his faith. Afterward, the district attorney said, “Your speech is admirable. Do you believe you are a true man of faith? When I look at it with a critical eye, it may be angelic, but it may be satanic. In any case, it could be as the two poles, north or south. Which is it.” “For permitting me to speak of my faith…I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” relied Fr. Kano. “Whether I am a religious man or the devil, I will leave up to the well-being of the committee’s judgment.” “Is that so,” replied the district attorney. “Are we to decide that?” (Ibid., pp. 108-109) The sense of Fr. Kano’s reply to the district attorney is the same as that given by Peter and John to the religious authorities. In the end, his fate was not up to him, and not even to the committee judging his case, but to God. Fr. Kano’s only response to it all was to humbly serve the Christ around him in the lives of those given into his care. To this he remained true. “Even Jesus was judged and condemned to die,” he wrote. “I must surely endure any kind of judgment placed on me. God wills me to carry out another mission for Him.” (Ibid., p. 123.)

This conviction, I would imagine, was the touchstone of other Nebraska saints as well as they tirelessly spread the Gospel and served Christ around them. And so, it still is.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!


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