The Chaplaincy Path: An Interview with Kenji Toyomura

Kenji ToyomuraKenji ToyomuraIn 1996, at age 16, Kenji Toyomura moved with his family from Japan to Atlanta. He attended college at the University of Illinois, Chicago, graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. That fall he matriculated as a Young Oon Kim scholar at UTS. He and his wife Kyoka have two children, both born at Barrytown.

Mr. Toyomura completed one unit of clinical pastoral education at Emory University Hospital in the summer of 2008, and was recently accepted into an eight month paid internship residency at a major hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He will graduate with a Master’s of Divinity degree this spring term and is planning to continue toward a certification from the Association of Professional Chaplains.


 

What got you interested in chaplaincy?

I have taken leadership roles in the [Unification] movement and have learned that to be a better leader I need to learn how to listen and take care of individual members. Chaplaincy is about providing pastoral care to individuals and families. It’s less about running programs and events and more about person-to-person ministry. I want to develop that kind of ministry.

 

What skills did you learn during your chaplaincy internship?

First, I learned how to be comfortable with myself, with my own identity as Unificationist and a blessed child. I learned how to stand up for what I believe and be comfortable with it.

I learned about the “ministry of presence,” that your presence alone means a great deal to people in crisis. You don’t need to say anything, just be with them. Internally, people in my group taught me that I don’t need to do something to have value, simply being myself has and offers value.

For example, in one family the mother was dying and the whole family was there, and I came in. They were silent and I just stayed with them. She passed away, and then the father approached me and thanked me just for being with them. My group helped me realize that he wasn’t just saying that, but it really was the best thing I could do under the circumstances.

 

You talk about your group; who was in it and what did they do?

There was a Catholic monk, a Baptist man, and two Methodist women. They all were seminarians or had just graduated. Another Methodist minister was the supervisor. She came out of the corporate world and was on the last stage of training for certification. She was great; flexible with her time and helping us dig deeper into ourselves, to draw out our feelings and reflect theologically, so the group could help each other improve.

 

Could you share some of your theological reflections?

I wasn’t sure whether my church allows members to donate their organs. I’ve heard it said that it is an issue for the blood lineage. But my experience and reflection led me to conclude that donating one’s organs is consistent with our theology. And they asked me why I believe that True Parents are the Messiah; that’s a big question which I worked through. Also I had to learn how to control my body, such as being there with a woman being resuscitated, naked. And there was the challenge of how to end my prayer. Should I say amen, or aju? I resolved it by their recommendation that I pray in my own way, in my own name plus aju. After I explained it, they thought it is beautiful. But still I prayed with an “amen”, out of deference to others. So I can go either way; especially when there is no way to explain what aju means.

 

What moved you most about your chaplaincy experience?

I grew as a person. I moved from the organizer-coordinator mode to the interpersonal mode. I became more genuine, able to listen to others’ concerns, struggles, family issues and so forth. I like that.

Also, I like the ecumenical environment of chaplaincy. I like being around people of other faiths. Chaplaincy is teamwork, the entire office works together. We serve the patients plus the medical staff. I like being on an interfaith team to work for the purpose of generating spiritual health.

 

Why did you decide to do a full-time chaplaincy residency?

I was searching for the next step; a door opened and I took it. My 10-week experience at Emory was really good, so it encouraged me. I may not continue for the next ten years, but I feel it is what I need and want and that God prepared this way for me. The Emory experience was life changing. I was looking for it and ready for it. It was ecumenical, interfaith, teambuilding and served a good cause. This is what is right for me right now. Also the group always helped each other grow personally; we opened up to each other under the condition of confidentiality. I shared things that I’ve never told my own friends.

 

In what ways did your life change?

My focus changed from “doing” to my way of “being”. Beyond that, by sharing with the group in that safe environment, my heart opened. As I said, I got into things I’ve never shared with anyone, and they took it well and respected it. They didn’t just listen, but helped me work through it and grow. Especially the family issues got deep, the parent-child relationship. It’s great to have people with whom you can share such deep things.

 

Was it difficult to find a full-time residency? How did that work out?

I searched for an opening starting in January ‘09, which is when my course work will be finished. It was not easy to find; most programs start in the summer. So I e-mailed eight different CPE centers, and this one, Arizona, told me they might have an opening; it turns out that someone dropped out. So I sent my resume, a reflective essay, reports from my Emory internship, and so forth. I loved Arizona when I was there during my time on STF (Special Task Force). It is my kind of state, the weather, the natural environment. So, they were interested and set me up for an interview, and I flew out there and stayed at the home of the local unificationist leader, Rev. Staffan Berg. I was interviewed by five people, a psychologist and four chaplaincy supervisors, including one Muslim, all at once for an hour.

 

What was that like?

I was surprised to have so many people there; I expected only two or three. Also to have a Muslim interview me was interesting, because at Emory I worked with Christians. And I wondered why a psychologist was there. But I was ready; they had already told me what to prepare for.

The first question was, why Arizona? They were happy that this was the only place to which I had applied; that made them want to go deeper. They wanted to find out what kind of person I am. They said, doing CPE is like peeling off layers of yourself, layer by layer, and if I was ready to do that. I said yes, of course. They asked if I had any concerns. I said: “This is 8 months, not just 10 weeks, so I don’t know if I can handle it.” They thanked me for my honesty and said they were not hiring me for staff, but as a student. Later I got word that I was accepted and that they were confident I’d be a good student. They wanted to know if I would accept their offer. I told them that I needed some time to consider, because I still thought I might stay with my family in Georgia. But through prayer, I decided to go to Arizona.

 

So what have you signed up for?

It’s an eight-month residency to get 2 CPE units. I’ll be paid a stipend of about $2,200 a month. No housing is provided, but they give me cafeteria coupons and individual health and dental insurance.

 

And after that?

I think that chaplaincy could become a career for me. I’m young and it seems that most chaplains are older than me. Patients like to see young chaplains. Patients asked me my core beliefs and asked me to pray for their young adult children. Also, as I am Japanese, older Americans like to go back to and work through their memories of the war. I may go all the way to become a chaplain supervisor, which will give me skills that can be used in many fields.

If I get the fourth unit of CPE, I will be able to earn chaplaincy certification. I might be able to finish that off in Atlanta, where my parents live.

UTS congratulates Mr. Kenji Toyomura for following a great ministry path that will surely inspire many other Seminary students.

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