Nomura’s journey to becoming both a Christian and a doctor was unlikely. He grew up in poverty near the coal mines of Yubari, Hokkaido, a once-booming city known as the capital of coal. Yet from its peak of 120,000 people in 1960, today the city has less than 10,000 residents as the mines have all closed and the city went bankrupt in 2007. Nomura’s former high school closed due to a nearly nonexistent birthrate; the city is currently the oldest in Japan—and probably the world—with a median age of 57 in 2010. Nomura says he no longer has a home to return to as everyone he knew from his hometown has either died or moved away.
Nomura first heard of Christianity from an Overseas Missionary Fellowship missionary who gave him a $1 Bible, and he professed Christ at 19. When Nomura’s father found out, he was furious, kicking him out of his home and beating him severely. Nomura remembers his mother looking into his eyes and saying the heartbreaking words: “You aren’t my child.”
They were upset because, as the eldest son in the family, it was Nomura’s job to take care of the kamidana, a miniature household altar to worship ancestors, after his father died. Yet as a new Christian, Nomura knew that he couldn’t worship any other gods. Even his wife was against his new religion, and as a poor medical student juggling part-time work and a young family, he would walk an hour to church and place a measly 40 cents into the offering plate, praying for the day that he could give a thousand times more.
Over time his wife came to profess faith and now teaches at their church’s Sunday school. His mother also professed faith, and three days before Nomura’s dad died in 1985, he also accepted Christ. When asked what to do about the kamidana, his father said to throw it away since they no longer needed it. His father wanted a Christian funeral—rather than a traditional Buddhist ceremony—and as a result two of his brothers refused to come.