When I received the order, I gave up many things that related my heart to my homeland and went to Japan with high hope. As I am always thinking, my first missionary trip and life in China was for the second missionary act in Japan, which is the most important decision in my life.
This simple statement summarized the life of this great man. As a young man at the age of 25, he left, with his wife Clara, to work as a medical missionary in China and Singapore. They stayed in the orient for five years. Honestly, there was nothing dramatic that was done these five years within the outward ministry of Hepburn. But inwardly, God was using these years to mold a servant. During this time, his first two children died at birth. Both he and his wife suffered from malaria and other tropical diseases. He faced hardships, trials, and saw victories. When he returned to the United States in 1846 (due to medical reasons), he was a different man.
Upon his return, he started a very successful medical practice in New York. But when the United States entered into a treaty with Japan, the door was opened for missionaries to go there for the first time. Hearing of this open door, Hepburn jumped at it. In 1859, he closed his clinic and set sail for Japan with his family. As he wrote, he “gave up many things that related my heart to my homeland and went to Japan with high hope.”
What would become of the hopes of this man who God had been molding? He himself felt that his “first missionary trip and life in China was for the second missionary act in Japan, which is the most important decision in my life.” Would the trials and lessons he learned in China and New York prepare him for the task ahead?
For thirty-two years, Hepburn worked among the Japanese people. During this time, he published the first Japanese-English dictionary and presented the Japanese Churches with the translation of the Bible into their language. According to The Bible Society’s report in 1884:
In no nation in modern times has the gospel made more rapid progress than in Japan.
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