Living a life guided by the Holy Spirit has led 86-year-old Haruko Morimoto to peddle cosmetics from door to door, gatecrash Parliament and whip grown men into shape.
Haruko Morimoto is not your average grandmother, although she looks it at first: hairnet-clad, petite, with a kindly smile.
For more than half her life, Morimoto has served the homeless in the grimy Japanese district of Sanya. Along the way, she built a church, and later, another one—World Christ Gospel Church and Seisen Christ Gospel Church in Tokyo, Japan.
Morimoto was at City Harvest’s Dialect Church last weekend with her son, Morimoto Shito. They were guests at its evangelistic and healing prayer services, which included a special screening of a documentary featuring their ministry’s work after the March 2011 tsunami.
During their hour-long interview with City News, the senior Morimoto spoke through an interpreter, telling of the exploits God has led her to do, belying her age of 86 by occasionally jumping up from the couch, shouting and gesturing with the vigor and excitement of a live sports commentator.
Her ministry has fed about eight million homeless people and baptized about 8,800 souls—initially on the streets, but later, in a river. For a highly secular country where less than one percent of the total population is Christian, that is no small number. Morimoto laughs as she recalls trying to immerse the protruding belly of a particularly portly man in the river, resulting in him being almost carried away by the currents.
Saleswoman By Day, Pastor By Night
Morimoto saw her share of sorrow early on in life, suffering from abuse at home which only intensified when she converted to Christianity at age 5 at a Southern Baptist Church.
At the start of World War II, she was sent to Pusan, South Korea, but she became more depressed, until she cried out to God in the mountain one day, “Where are you, God?” and heard His thundering reply, “I’m with you,” and felt heat on her body.
She married a Chinese major-general whom she met through a match-making session at 21, and had five children with him. But tragedy struck when he fell sick and passed away, as she was studying to be a minister while doing volunteer work.
In 1972, one year before she was ordained, she heard about Sanya and decided to sow into the lives of whom society sees no more value in. And thus she started, from the most humble of beginnings.
One day, she felt God telling her to build a church. It was an inconceivable thought as she had no money. But soon after, a couple came to her with a prayer request for healing from cancer for the husband. Three days later, they came back, testifying of complete healing. The couple then asked if she had a church, to which she replied no.
Three days later, they came back for prayer for other parts of his body, and again he was healed. To Morimoto’s utter surprise, they presented her with a check for USD 1 million to construct her church. The church building eventually came to be not just a place of worship but a shelter for the homeless especially during winter, when the cold can turn fatal. Today, the church sees a regular attendance of around 200.
The story of how she got the land to build the church is even more mind-boggling. One day she went to the parliament house when a meeting was underway. She waited until lunch time, when the ministers were taking their meal in the canteen, and in front of 300 people, she stood up and challenged them.
She did not want to stand up, she said, but she felt heat coming upon her body, and before she knew it, she was on her feet, and said to the ministers, “Do you know what sort of people are qualified to be in the parliament? People who care for the poor!”
Needless to say, the ministers were shell-shocked, and she, unbearably embarrassed. But she got her land. That was how she started appearing on the newspapers, prompting a flood of donations from readers. It was an unsteady source of funds, however, and the highly enterprising Morimoto was not one to take the easy way out praying for money to fall from the sky.
By day, she became a door-to-door saleswoman for Japanese skincare brand Pola Cosmetics; she estimates she sold half a million US dollars’ worth of products in the 38 years she was in the business.
By night, she tends to the sheep she has been given charge over. Making the rounds with free meals, she shakes semi-conscious men out of their alcohol-fueled stupors with steaming hot food, shouts at them and drags them into the church to get a hot shower. Most times, their clothes are so soiled with urine and excrement that they have to be cut off and thrown away.
With help from elders and pastors in the church living with them, cooking and caring for them, she rehabilitates and redeems them from a dead-end. Favor follows the feisty pastor around as she bargains for, and gets the best deals at the wet market in the morning to cook her free meals, her reputation and impact of her ministry well preceding her.
In between baptism sessions and haircuts (she used to give up to 15 free haircuts a day), she led Bible study, praise and worship as well as prayer sessions. Nowadays, these have been taken over by Shito-san, 55, one of her five children. He is also a pastor at the church.
Compared with the previous decades, the area has changed for the better, says Morimoto. There are less homeless people around, and the government has created a fund to support the same cause.
Asked about the key to an impactful ministry as well as a close relationship with God, Morimoto simply says, obedience. And what is the secret to her radical obedience? The Holy Spirit is stronger than her, she explains. That’s why when He speaks, she has to obey.
The Holy Spirit works in miraculous ways, she says. We can hear God’s voice, but more importantly is that we receive it in our hearts. “When God speaks, it is always accompanied by motivation and inspiration,” she says.
Like Mother, Like Son
Mother and son serve alongside each other in the ministry, but that’s not to say they always see eye to eye.
Sitting at the side quietly all this while his mother spoke, Shito showed that he was truly cut from the same cloth. Launching into an earnest recount, he recalls the objections from his family, including his mother, when he wanted to respond to the SOS helpline received from his schoolmates when the March 2011 tsunami struck. As their own church was partially damaged, Morimoto needed him to stay back to help, despite getting involved in the relief operations after that. “How could I call myself a pastor yet refuse when others call for help?” he asks rhetorically.
“He’s full of love, whatever we had in the church, he will take and donate to the immediate victims,” Morimoto interjects with fond laughter.
What is one thing his mother has taught him about living a life of faith? Practice, he replies. Shito quotes a Chinese saying that goes: whatever one has heard from others a hundred times is not worth seeing it once with his own eyes, and whatever he has seen a hundred times is not worth putting his own hands to practice once.
“If you practice a hundred times, God will surely open a way.”