Ex-Gangster Turned Pastor Ministers to Former Gangsters in Japan
Previously in rival gangs, parishioners now praise the same God.
The June Bride church in Japan has a congregation of ex-gangsters, or yakuza. But that’s okay, because their pastor is an ex-gangster too. Sensei Tatsuya Shindo sports tattoos, long hair and an infectious grin, preaching to the converts, among others, in a building that used to be a bar. Nobody seems to mind, though. Men who used to fight one another worship God in the same place. “Before, we were in rival gangs, firing guns,” said Shindo. “Now we’re praising the same God.”
The former bar used to belong to Shindo’s mother. For 25 years the place served drinks and offered karaoke, but when Shindo needed a place for church, she gave it to him. Shindo removed the bar and karaoke stage. Now there’s a pulpit and rows of chairs lined up neatly. “I think this place has significance that God provided here for us,” she told CNN in an interview. “I believe it was God’s intention.”
Life hasn’t always been so clear cut for Shindo. At the age of 17, he joined the Japanese mafia, or yakuza. Shindo said their lives seemed glamorous at the time. “… I admired the yakuza for what was visible on the surface. They have lots of money, spend their money lavishly, and play glamorously. The bad guys looked so cool in my eyes.” But as time went by, Shindo realized that the yazuka demanded blood for various offenses. “My boss was killed. People were killed in power struggles. People’s legs were shot. A guy who was doing drugs with me died of intoxication. Suicides happen. Sudden deaths. I’ve seen many deaths. I saw my henchmen get stabbed to death.” Shindo had his own pinkie finger cut off for the offense of crashing his boss’ car.
Now he preaches life. He found Christ while in solitary confinement for one of his crimes. After he was released over 10 years ago, he became a preacher. He relates to his congregants, who come from all walks of life. “A lot of people with different backgrounds come here. Those who are divorced, bankrupt and cast away. … those who’ve been abandoned after prison,” said Shindo. “This is a place to restart your life. A yakuza returning to society is indeed extraordinary.”
Shindo’s mother is thankful that her prodigal son came home. “When he came back [from prison], he apologized and said, ‘I survived for you mother.’ When I heard those words, I decided to forget everything that happened in the past. And now, I’m very happy,” she said.
When she hears her son being called “Sensei” she laughs. “I believe my son’s life portrays God’s surprise ending.”