Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi was born in Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan at the beginning of World War II. His father, who owned a fishing business, was killed when an American submarine sank his father’s fishing boats. Only five years old at that time, Elder Kikuchi grew up disliking Americans.
Elder Kikuchi’s mother struggled to raise her four children after her husband’s death. After graduating from junior high school, Elder Kikuchi went to work in a tofu (bean-curd) shop during the day and attended school at night. He became seriously ill from the exhausting schedule and was hospitalized.
“Though I was not a member of the Church or even a Christian,” Elder Kikuchi said, “I really prayed to God to help me. My recovery was miraculous, and I know that I was cured through the blessings of God and the help of medications.”
While he was recovering from his illness, Elder Kikuchi stayed at his uncle’s home. In the spring of 1956, two American missionaries knocked at the door. Because he knew nothing about the real causes of World War II, Elder Kikuchi’s first response was, “No thank you. You Americans killed my father.” The missionaries, out tracting on their preparation day, told the young man that they had an important message for him and that they wanted to tell him a story about a boy his age—Joseph Smith. He said that he would listen for ten minutes.
“They taught me the most beautiful story of Joseph Smith who saw Heavenly Father and the Son,” Elder Kikuchi said. “I felt a sweet spirit. It changed my life immediately, and I requested to study more. After fourteen days I was baptized.”
After his conversion to the gospel, Elder Kikuchi found that his attitude about his father’s death changed. He followed the Savior’s teachings to “love one another” (John 13:34) and to “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).
A number of years later, after Elder Kikuchi was called to serve as a General Authority, he and his wife and son took a trip, tracing the route of the early Church members as they moved from the eastern United States and across the plains to Utah. “Since I joined the Church, I wanted to feel what the pioneers had felt in their persecution, trials, and hardships,” said Elder Kikuchi. “I had read so much about the early days of the pioneers.”
When they visited Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri, the missionary couples who were working there asked Elder Kikuchi to hold a fireside that night. In the meeting, after telling them of his boyhood hatred for Americans, he said, “But because I found my beautiful Savior through the work of humble missionaries who taught me about pre-earth life, I discovered that I am truly one of Heavenly Father’s sons. My perception totally changed. My values and my understanding of the meaning of life have changed because of the gospel. There is a purpose in life, and we have the light of the gospel, the spirit of the Lord, the power of God to obtain necessary ordinances, the love of God, and the great hope to live again and to meet God.
“I’m grateful, in a way, that my father didn’t survive the bombing, because if he had, I probably wouldn’t have been able to join the Church. My life would have taken a much different course. Where I was born and raised, the Church did not exist, and even now there is no chapel. I would have become a regular student in high school and college. And I may not have been humble enough to accept the gospel if I heard it.”
Elder Kikuchi then told the missionary couples that “I am so grateful, so thankful that you raised sons and daughters to serve as missionaries. Your sons came to my door. You may say, ‘My son didn’t go to Japan.’ But he came to my door because you prayed for all the missionaries, and some came and brought joy to my heart. Because you raised your sons and daughters and sent them on missions, many hearts were touched by them in Japan, in the Philippines, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Hawaii, and elsewhere. It did actually happen that a missionary from Idaho and a missionary from Salt Lake City knocked at my door. I know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ and this Church is true.”