Father Was Imprisoned and Released In Our Home Church Area
Esther Tanahashi and Teija Niskala
August 20, 1985
Two sisters tell of their home church foundation in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, New York, where Father stayed for 47 days in a halfway house.
Esther: About one year ago, Rev. Won Pil Kim asked my husband, Yoshi Tanahashi, to set a pattern in Brooklyn for home church work and to lay a home church foundation for our future family. So I came back to New York from Baltimore to work with Yoshi.
He had already chosen an area. One night we counted out 360 homes each, as Rev. Kim had suggested. But time went by and I did not visit the homes. I just did not feel right about it, and something inside of me told me to wan a little more.
But we did start contacting ministers. Every morning Yoshi and I left the World Mission Center in a very small old car, carting a big TV set and a video cassette recorder with us. The weather was very hot and we had to work hard to find the ministers. If they were not in their churches we asked the kids in the street or knocked on doors to find out how to reach them. We often prayed in the car or stopped in the park and sang holy songs.
One day we stopped in a small park and prayed that Heung Jin Nim would help us in our work. That night we decided to go to a church that was not in our designated area, but it was closed. We asked some people where the pastor lived, but they did not know. Instead of going back to the car, through spiritual guidance my feet carried me around the corner right to the bell of the pastor’s house.
This pastor, Rev. John,* was filled with energy. He explained to us that he himself had been jailed for preaching in the street without a license, and that the IRS had taken the money he had saved up for his children’s schooling. When he saw our video “Assault on Religion” he became very enthusiastic about our work and asked us to come and show this video to his entire congregation.
Two blocks down another church also opened its doors to us. The woman minister there let us show “Assault on Religion” to her congregation. One Sunday Yoshi spoke in front of the congregation and expressed how concerned God is about His children, how He wants them to fill their church by reaching out to the community.
After the service a woman named Mrs. Chestnut asked us to come to her home to show the video to her and her friend. When we came she was waiting for us at the gate. Both Mrs. Chestnut and her friend were visibly moved watching the film. Several times the phone rang, but Mrs. Chestnut would not answer it. She said, “This is more important. I do not want to miss anything’: She was eager to see all the videos we had.
This was the beginning of a deep friendship with this truly Christian lady. Later she shared that she had had a vision 15 years previously about communism infiltrating America, but she had not told anyone about it before. After working for some time in the area near her church, Yoshi and I both clearly felt that we should move our home church area to the neighborhood where Mrs. Chestnut lived.
My spiritual daughter Teija finished a 21-day workshop just two days after Father went to jail, and she came to work with us. We began contacting people in our new home church area in addition to visiting ministers.
Teija: I remember driving around in our tiny car from church to church. It was difficult because the engine would die at every stoplight. Soon we figured a way to drive it so that wouldn’t happen. We worked hard to reach all the ministers and distribute the Principle tapes.
Esther and I started out together by sweeping the streets in our area every morning, and there was a lot to sweep! The streets were filthy and full of garbage. When we started, the people took notice of us and thought we were doing something very good. I guess they also felt they should be doing something, because soon we saw people cleaning up in front of their own houses.
Esther: We began from the lowest level by cleaning the streets; but unlike any other time I had done home church, we were also starting from the top: with the churches. Established churches had always been rather a hindrance to us in the past, but now they were becoming more and more supportive. I had greater confidence to speak to the ministers when I was actually doing work in the community myself. It also inspired people in the area to see that we were trusted by the ministers.
Teija: One of the first women in the area who requested our help was in her forties and single. She had back problems and was always melancholy. She had many things for us to do, one thing after another, and we’d try to keep up with her requests. Esther told me that Father once said you will always find somebody in your area who wants you to do everything in the house. If you can do it, great blessings will come. A few months ago this woman suddenly got married for the first time in her life, and the couple bought themselves a puppy. The spirit in her house became much brighter after that.
Mrs. Chestnut was the best contact in our area, and she came to the Washington Religious Freedom Pageant in July 1984. She was a traditional, Pentecostal Christian and quite spiritual. When we told her we were Moonies she did not say much. Later she told us that one night she had a vision of Jesus, who told her that he had sent Yoshi and Esther to her and that she should help them by going to churches to talk about religious freedom and unity. Because of such spiritual experiences, she began to trust us.
We started showing Mrs. Chestnut the Principle tapes. Of course certain points were very difficult to convey to her. When most people watch the tapes they still keep thinking that Jesus will come down on a cloud and a trumpet will sound! Nonetheless, Mrs. Chestnut understood certain parts of the Principle; she could understand the fall very well. We could see a spiritual change taking place within her. Our conversations grew deeper and so did our friendship.
When we first met Mrs. Chestnut, she found out she had breast cancer. The day she went to the hospital for an operation Esther, Yoshi, and I went there to pray for her.
In the fall we started helping Rev. John in his soup kitchen for the poor. At first the black ladies wondered what two young white girls were doing there, but it did not take long before they accepted us. In fact, they would always ask for us if we didn’t come. The bums from the area would come there to eat lunch — it smelled bad down in that basement! The ladies were irritated by the bums, even though they did not make much trouble. We could sense that the ladies themselves had some kind of resentment and were overworked. So Esther would always massage their necks and shoulders and then they would feel more relaxed.
Rev. John had been the first minister to respond to the cause of religious freedom, since he had experienced injustice at the hands of the government. He had suffered in the past during the civil rights movement, and he would often bring up his inner resentment against white people, although he liked us very much.
Eventually Rev. John came to a CAUSA conference in Manhattan. I remember how he and the other ministers were so inspired after the conference; they sang in the van all the way back home. We all felt very close to each other then.
But later on we were disappointed to find out that some of the ministers’ inspirations had backfired, and they started doubting many things. Rev. John argued about the impossibility of unity among the different churches and religions. He didn’t think that communism was such a bad problem after all. Soon he tried to convert us. If we wanted to say some- thing he wouldn’t even listen to us.
Rev. John still likes us and welcomes us when we visit his church, but there is a barrier he cannot overcome. Once Esther had a dream where she saw us moving to another minister, Rev. Benjamin, while Rev. John passed by. It clearly indicated that since Rev. John did not respond so much anymore, God had to give the blessing to someone else.
Esther: Rev. Benjamin, who lives on the same street, always seemed to be too busy before, but when we gave him the Principle tapes, he asked to borrow a video cassette recorder, which we brought him. The tapes inspired him a great deal, and he wanted to see more. Soon he came to one of our breakfast meetings and there was moved to tears. Finally he decided to go to one of our International Conferences for Clergy. After this he became closer to us, his views broadened, and his hopes revived. The day that Father came out of prison to go to the halfway house, he called me up and said, “Why didn’t you call me? Rev. Moon is out of jail today! You see, we prayed for him to come out earlier, and he did! The Lord answers our prayers!”
Teija: Many times we experienced in our area that people who were first inspired by us later turned out to be unresponsive, while the people who did not seem so good at first would respond later in a positive way.
After Christmas I got a big shock. I found out that Yoshi — only 30 years old — had cancer. He told me that he had been praying on the beach to find some people in our home church area who could truly understand Father, even if it meant he had to pay indemnity. Later the same day, he found out from his doctor that he had cancer, but he did not get upset: He thought this was the answer to his prayer. He went to Japan for treatment, was operated on, and recovered very well. He is still there waiting for final test results. Yoshi’s attitude is amazing; His mind is not focused on himself but on God’s will and home church.
Yet while Yoshi got better and better, Mrs. Chestnut seemed to get worse and worse. She stopped her treatments because they did not do her any good. She deteriorated very quickly and was finally brought to the hospital. Esther and I visited her there and I could see that she did not have much time left on earth. We prayed for her in True Parents’ name, and she seemed to respond to the prayer. A nurse helped us put a lemon-dipped swab in her mouth to ease the dryness.
Mrs. Chestnut died a few days later — only 45 years old. When I found out I seemed to lose all my strength. I just went to bed and cried for many hours. When I was in a state of half sleep a spirit came to me and bent open my mouth several times and stuck something into my mouth. I knew it had to be Mrs. Chestnut, since we had done exactly the same thing to her in the hospital with the lemon-dipped swab. I asked her if it was she and she answered yes by pressing all her spirit onto my head. She confirmed that she was in Paradise, that she had met Jesus, and that she did not want to come back anymore. I asked her if she now knew who Father was, but then I got interrupted and her spirit went away. I guess it was too early to ask her about that. After that my pain was relieved and I cried no more for her. When Esther and I went to her funeral we felt peace inside. She had made a great sacrifice for our home church victory.
After Mrs. Chestnut died, tragedy after tragedy seemed to come upon our contacts. People died of cancer, in accidents, or of old age. We had become close to Rev. Simon and Rev. Mildred of the A.M.E. Church. Rev. Simon’s eldest son, 15 years old, got in a car accident and died. Not long after that Rev. Mildred had a heart attack and was in the hospital for a few days. But when she got out of the hospital she came to a God and Freedom meeting in Manhattan.
However, the next morning Rev. Mildred had another heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. We went to see her but she did not talk about her health, only that she wanted to get out of the hospital to start working again. She would always ask about Father. She is worried about Father going off to Korea soon; she hopes to get a husband from him before he goes!
Esther: The day before Father was released from Danbury, we heard that Father would go to a halfway house in Brooklyn. Even though I saw it written in the newspaper I couldn’t believe it: Father was going to stay at Phoenix House in our own home church area!
Teija: It was a big surprise to all of us that Father was coming to Phoenix House but it was not just a coincidence. I have always felt Rev. Kim’s deep prayers for us and his deep understanding about Father and God’s will. Yoshi’s sacrifice and Esther’s dedicated work have made our successes possible. No matter what problem Esther faces, she always goes on with a smiling face without wanting any recognition for her work.
Esther: If our area had been more completely restored, the people would have been eager to greet Father when he left Phoenix House every morning, but they are not that far along yet. I am deeply sorry for that. But at least some small foundation is there. I felt much more responsibility during this time to protect Father, and while he was there we asked our best contacts to pray for him.
Although it was a blessing that Father was staying in our neighborhood, it was also a judgment time for us. We had to repent for all the things we did not do and commit ourselves even more to bringing about a victory for Heavenly Father.
On July 5 Teija walked a long way from her fundraising spot to Phoenix House to see if she could get a glimpse of Father. A kind security guard gave her some notepaper. She wrote, “This is the home church area of my spiritual mother,” and she left the note and a rose with the guard to give to Father.
A few days later while Teija and I were going to visit a home across from Phoenix House, a car pulled up in front of Phoenix House, and Dr. Bo Hi Pak went inside. Half an hour later he came out again, just as we were coming out of the house we were visiting. Father’s security guards knew us already, and Dr. Pak recognized us too, and he waved warmly. Just then I saw a young man with a camera peering at Phoenix House. He did not look like a reporter, but when I asked him, he said he was a reporter with the French newspaper Le Matin. As I speak French, I spoke with him in his native language, which surprised him. He said he was proud to have gotten a picture of Rev. Moon right there, but I told him it was not Rev. Moon he had photographed. He asked how I knew it was not Rev. Moon; so I told him that we were his disciples! He was even more surprised and took a photo of us.
On July 17, as I was on my way to a morning prayer meeting just one block away from Phoenix House, I looked and saw a car stopping there. I ran quickly over, feeling that Father must be getting ready to go out for the day. After a short while he did come out, and just as I was going to wave at his car, I could not see it anymore. Father moves so quickly, like a wind. Suddenly gone and out of sight!
People in the area were aware of our Father’s being there. One morning a woman looked at me intensely while I was walking down a street. We had already passed each other when suddenly she turned around and quickly caught up to me. She said, “Now I know! You are working for this Moon! I saw your friend selling roses the other day. She looked so spaced out; I really think he is doing something to your brain!” I let her speak for a while and get it all out. Then I said, “Yes, I understand how you feel. If I were in your situation, I would probably feel the same way.” That calmed her down, and then I asked her if she could listen to what I thought and felt. She agreed to, so I told her why I was doing this work and all about our Father’s motivation and concern. Her attitude changed and our talk became quite deep. At the end she shared some peanuts with me and we left with a good feeling between us.
Teija: You will find many different characters in your home church area. It is never-ending! It might be difficult at times and you might feel stuck, but I can truly say that doing home church has more lasting value than anything else. Even if I just pull up weeds in somebody’s garden, I can sense it has eternal value. This is the way we can restore the world! Everybody should be doing home church. It will take a lot of effort and investment at first, but later on so much blessing will come to us through the people there. They are the ones who will make our life much more like our True Father’s has been.
* To protect ministers from persecution we are using their first names.