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Another Special Life in Christ

These testimony lives are not stories of "role models". Jesus is the role model!
These are lives wonderfully touched & changed by Jesus!

  

The Rev. Kyuzo Miyaishi ("Frankie San"):

(note faith-based prison ministries, below)

He was born Sept. 1929 in Tokyo, Japan; and he was a one-time sailor in the Japanese Imperial Navy. Raised in a Buddhist family, he converted to Christianity in the tumultuous years after World War II and Japan’s defeat. “After the war, I was searching,” he said. No longer believing that the emperor was God, he despaired and nearly took his life. A meeting with a Christian missionary changed everything.

(story, "A fisher of men in a sea of despair", by Carolyn Click, 6/10/07, The State)

He spent 40 years in South Carolina’s worst prisons, doing voluntary hard time with burglars and rapists and murderers because he believed he was called by Christ to be their friend and mentor. He still (June 2007) believes it.

The diminutive Japanese man, an ordained Lutheran minister known as “Frankie San,” dared to go in places others feared. He climbed into sweltering cells with tattooed inmates who had committed heinous crimes, handing out fruit and candy and that most elusive of prison commodities: unconditional love.

Frankie San once offered himself up in place of a condemned man he believed was ready to become a Christian. His face still lights up at the memory of the year’s reprieve he won.

Along the way, Frankie San gave up any semblance of a private life, devoting his time, energy and life’s savings to a prison ministry that still turns, even in retirement, on the sheer force of his own personality and the purity of his faith.

“God put me in there,” Frankie San, now 77 and living in Irmo, said last week. “The most treasure I have found is at a prison.”

‘I WAS SHOUTING FOR 40 YEARS’

He was honored this month by the Lutheran Synod of South Carolina (ELCA). The tribute included receipt of the Order of the Silver Crescent, the state’s highest award for community service.

He appreciated the accolades, but Frankie San said he would prefer society remedy the ills that propel so many behind bars, unwanted and forgotten. “I was shouting for 40 years, and nobody hears this,” he said. Drugs, gangs and family breakdown are behind the broken lives of men he has known, many of whom he still communicates with in handwritten letters.

He first glimpsed prison life at Columbia’s now-demolished Central Correctional Institution (CCI), a Civil War-era behemoth that was a nightmare of clanging doors, crowded cells and human hopelessness. Frankie San taught English there, then ran its library, a colorful place that housed new books, comfy chairs, fish tanks, a parrot and other pets. “It was the oasis,” said longtime friend and former Lutheran field worker Tom O’Brien, “a place away that wasn’t gray.”

In those days, the exuberant pastor bent the rules when he could if it meant easing the torment of an inmate and offering a path away from crime. “He got in trouble all the time,” O’Brien recalled. “Bill Leeke (a CCI warden) once said he was the warden but Frankie ran the prison.”

During two riots in the late 1960s, a young Frankie San moved freely among angry inmates as officials worked to bring the prison under control. He considered CCI home, living first inside officers’ quarters and then in a nearby tiny cinder block home provided by prison officials. “He never had any fear in that prison,” said former state Corrections chief Parker Evatt. “We will never find another guy like him. He’s the most Christ-like person I have ever met.”

One inmate wrote to Frankie San in 1983, “For the first time in my life, someone reached inside of me and touched my soul.”

When CCI was condemned in 1994, Frankie San moved to Columbia’s Kirkland Correctional Institution, where he ministered to HIV and AIDS patients.

Each Christmas and Easter since 1970, he has donned a Santa suit and a bunny costume to distribute sweets and fruit to the men. He also played Santa for years in the state’s juvenile prisons. Today, candy bags are stacked high in his Irmo town house so he will have a sweet to hand out to inmates and staff during weekly volunteer visits.

Frankie San, who became a U.S. citizen in 1981, expects he has been conned more than a few times. But he never lost sight of the reason he went behind bars: He took Jesus at his word.

“That if you will ‘Follow me,’ I will make you ‘fishers of men,’” he said. “I’m a very simple man, and I just take the Bible as it is.”

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Frankie San took to heart Jesus’ admonition to tend to the “least of these” when he came to America.  He came to the U.S. in 1961 with $100 to attend what is now Columbia International University. Six months later, he enrolled at nearby Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, taken under the wing of then-president F. Eppling Reinartz.

Then, he would stand on a street corner and wave and bow to penitentiary buses as the convicts passed, recalled his seminary roommate, the Rev. Peter Setzer, of Charlotte.

After he began volunteering in the prison system, Frankie San would stay up late composing letters to desperate inmates.

“Men wrote to him who were not on speaking terms with their own mothers!” Setzer said. “And, for the first time, some of them saw a light in the darkness of their despair. Jesus became a real person, although he had slanted eyes, yellow skin and talked so strange you had to strain to understand.

“While the rest of us were studying about Paul, Frankie was busy being Paul, bringing the saving life of Jesus to men who had given up all hope years before.”

Even amid today’s toughened views of incarceration, Frankie San is determined to preserve his ministry. Through the years, he saved much of his money to establish the nonprofit Frankie San Foundation, which will pay for outreach to inmates after he is gone.

“If I can help the few, that’s all I ask,” he said.

 

For more information, use an on-line search engine for his/her name and secondary search word, testimony.

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faith-based prison ministries:

  •  studying for Christian ministry degrees behind bars: CIU (drop "prison initiative" into CIU search box) has begun one in S. C.; graduates agree to be moved to other prisons as peacemakers and caregivers.
     
  • Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship.
     
  • Kairos Prison Ministry.
     
  • drop something like Christian prison ministry into Google or your favorite search engine and follow the links.
     

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(posted 10 June 2007; update 8 July 2007)

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You have just read a very brief example of the powerful, supernatural transformation of a person's life which is possible through the acceptance of Jesus as your savior. Are you tired of life as it now is for you? He will accept you just as you are right this second! Consider accepting Jesus now [check it out]!