When the Paul W. Buys family of West Bountiful, Utah, had the opportunity to support a Japanese missionary almost twenty years ago, it meant sacrifices; but those sacrifices seemed insignificant when on October 1, 1977, they raised their hands to sustain that missionary as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi is the first native-born Japanese to be sustained a General Authority; his colleague, Elder Adney Y. Komatsu, is Hawaiian, born of Japanese parents. At thirty-six, he is among the youngest of the General Authorities. Elder George P. Lee is thirty-four; Elder Gene R. Cook is also thirty-six.
Elder Kikuchi was born in Horoizumi, Hokkaido, Japan. His father was killed in World War II and his mother raised the four children alone. At age fourteen, Elder Kikuchi was going to night school and rising at 4:00 A.M. to make tofu (bean-curd), a staple of the Japanese diet. He fell ill from overwork and was recuperating at his uncle’s house in Muroran when two missionaries knocked at the door. A month later he was baptized and almost simultaneously met Toshiko Koshiya, who had joined the Church after two years of study. “As soon as I saw her, I felt that she would be my wife,” he said. Sister Kikuchi, laughing, said she had not felt the same way and, in fact, sent him a “Dear John” on his mission. They were married within two weeks of his return and are the parents of three daughters and one son. Sister Kikuchi is spiritual living leader in the Tokyo Third Ward; Elder Kikuchi has been stake president. Both show the kind of devotion that has led the Japanese Saints to raise 124 percent of their temple allotment funds in the last year and a half.
Their first intimation of the great change that was to come into their lives was a call from Elder Komatsu saying that President Kimball’s personal secretary had made three unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with Elder Kikuchi. When Elder Kikuchi made contact, President Kimball said simply, “Can you come to conference? I’d like to see you.”
That began a spiral of frustrations—trying to renew visas and passports across the barriers of a national holiday and a weekend; wrapping up loose ends at business; Sunday’s ward conference, missionary meeting, and stake business; traffic jams on the way to the airport; and missed connections. For the first time in her life, Sister Kikuchi lost her purse. For the first time in his, Elder Kikuchi missed a plane. They arrived in Salt Lake feeling miserable, thinking “we were the first people to miss an appointment with the First Presidency.”
President Kimball’s kindly questions the next day about work, the family, the stake, and the flight did not decrease their nervousness. “And then when he said, ‘Brother and Sister Kikuchi, the Lord wants Brother Kikuchi to become one of our General Authorities,’ the tears came and we could not stop.”
In all of the questions and speculations that must have crossed their minds since that first phone call, had this possibility been one? “No,” said Elder Kikuchi simply. “Never. Not ever.” They met the other members of the First Presidency, still feeling that the whole thing was “unreal.”
He shared some important parts of his testimony. “When I was a missionary eighteen years ago, Elder Hinckley, who was supervising the Asia area, came to a meeting. Afterwards we had a testimony meeting. It was all in English since I was the only Japanese missionary, and I didn’t understand any of what was being said, not even when Elder Hinckley said that he wanted me to bear my testimony. My companion had to explain.
“So I stood up and began my testimony in Japanese. Within a few seconds, I was speaking English. I don’t know what I said. I only remember the feeling I was trying to communicate. Afterwards, Elder Hinckley spoke. I could not understand him, but he gave me a blessing—that if I were humble enough and stayed close to the Lord, my name should be known in that part of the Lord’s vineyard in a good cause, in building up the kingdom. My companion copied down as much as he could for me and it has been a special blessing to me, a special blessing for me.”
He bore a fervent testimony of President Kimball and told of seeing him during a visit to Japan, quietly take a metal folding chair and have the stake presidency sit in the padded chairs. “So humble, so loving,” said Elder Kikuchi. “I felt then that I knew what the disciples must have felt when Jesus washed their feet. I understood that was how we must run the Church in Japan—by example. And so many things since. When I was made stake president I got an envelope—not the Church letterhead but just SWK in the corner. In it the prophet said, ‘I just found out you were made stake president. Why didn’t you let me know?’ And when my brother-in-law was sick, I sent his name to the temple. In a few days, here comes another envelope, SWK. He says, ‘The temple president just told me yesterday that your brother-in-law is very ill. I’m so very sorry. I am praying for him.’ Think of it. The kindnesses he gives to us, so tiny and small. My wife and I could not stop our tears. You understand that President Kimball is really something special for us.”