Little Boy Obliterated Pastor Kiyoshi's Family

Dan Graves, MSL

Little Boy Obliterated Pastor Kiyoshi's Family

"Here, see what you can make of it." Kiyoshi Watanabe's older brother tossed him the puzzling religious book of the Christians.

For some reason, the Bible's words fascinated Kiyoshi. Although the stories of Jesus seemed far-fetched to his 20th-century mind, when he was done reading, one short sentence simply would not leave him: "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of God's mouth." There were no Christians in Nanataki, Japan that he could ask what the perplexing words meant.

When Kiyoshi completed all the education Nanataki offered, he asked his parents to let him seek work in a larger neighboring city and attend night school. There he met a Lutheran minister, Yamauchi, who explained the Scripture to him. Kiyoshi realized he must reject his family's Buddhism. Surprisingly, his family agreed to allow him to be baptized. His older brother refused to become a Christian but paid Kiyoshi's expenses when he enrolled in a theological seminary.

In his first pastorate, Kiyoshi married Shigaru. When their first two children died of dysentery, they clung to one another and to the Lord for support. And then, shortly after giving birth to her fifth child, Shigaru died. Kiyoshi was devastated, but had long since learned to trust God no matter what went wrong. He did what no self-respecting Japanese father would do in those days: raised the baby himself. Then he met and married a kindergarten teacher named Mitsuko.

Several years passed. He pastored in Hiroshima. In 1935 a sister in America offered him a chance to study at Gettysburg Seminary. It meant leaving his family behind. He found acceptance in the seminary where the students called him "John". When he returned to Japan, he found his country preparing for war. The government tried to force all churches to unite into one state controlled denomination. When that didn't work, it shut down Kiyoshi's church in Hiroshima. He found work as a teacher, but that lasted only three months. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Kiyoshi was called to act as an interpreter for the military.

As a military interpreter he was assigned to a prison camp in Hong Kong. Japanese cruelty horrified him. The first time he witnessed torture he was sick and fell on his knees in a bathroom sobbing and praying for God to help him. Although he loved Japan and never would betray his country, he knew that as a Christian he had to help his enemies. For being polite to prisoners, he was threatened with violence by his countrymen. Trying to explain how he overcame his terror, he said, "I do nothing. It is God who does it. He only uses me."

At great personal danger, he smuggled medicines to the enemy prisoners. He saved part of his rations to help a hungry family outside the prison. When he refused to beat prisoners, he was sent to work at a prison hospital; when he was kind to the prisoners, he was sent to a work camp. Finally he was stripped of his uniform. He dared not tell his wife of his danger in the letters he wrote home. But he prayed constantly for them.

On this day, August 6, 1945, Kiyoshi lost two more of his family. Across the ocean, a Lutheran chaplain prayed over the crew of the Enola Gay before it lifted into the air carrying the atomic bomb named Little Boy which destroyed Hiroshima. Kiyoshi's wife and oldest daughter were vaporized by that bomb.


  1. Nolan, Liam. Small Man of Nanataki

Last update June, 2007

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