In search of the origin of LARA and CWS

Yukiko Maki | November 4, 2016


Yukiko Maki, right, with UCC staff in Toronto. Photo: courtesy Yukiko Maki.

CWS Japan wouldn’t have been established if there had not been the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Actually, it was more like a fateful ‘comeback’ of CWS to Japan. CWS Japan did exist 70 years ago during the postwar period for the mission of LARA.

The name LARA has gained renown nationwide due to its scale of operation and contributions to restart school lunches in Japan after the end of World War II. People in their 70s and 80s today are those who benefited most from LARA in Japan. It saved the lives of 14 million Japanese suffering from hunger and poverty, which was equivalent to one sixth of the population at the time between 1946 and 1952.

LARA, an acronym that stands for Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia, consisted of 13 American agencies. Church World Service was the leading organization in this operation in terms of the size of the organization and the shipping volume, which constituted 50 percent of the total shipments. During the LARA operation (1946-1952), the total weight of relief supplies amounted over 32 million pounds, which cost over $10 million US (at the time). They contained food items (grain, powder milk, sugar, dried food, etc), clothing and other commodities.

Although LARA supplies were highly appreciated by the Japanese people at that time, the historical fact that they were donated by so many Christians in North America has never been well known. Likewise, this historical relief operation isn’t something that North Americans today are familiar with, either. However, the CWS Japan Office has appreciated the value of this historical fact as the asset of our organization.

When the Rev. John L. McCullough, the President and CEO of CWS, emailed staff earlier this year to remind us about our 70th anniversary, it rang a bell. LARA was also started 70 years ago when CWS was established in N. Y. Is it just a happy coincidence or inevitable development?

We have a story to tell. This year is the time for us to speak to our origin and history. This has motived me to start my journey for the excavation research on the history of LARA and CWS.

Foundation of Church World Service

CWS was originally founded by several Christian organizations from the prewar period. One of the predecessor organizations, Church Committee for Relief in Asia was an ecumenical body with about 50 affiliated religious organizations across the United State. CCRA was involved in establishing LARA to serve Japan and Korea.


Jean MacArthur, wife of General Douglas MacArthur, presents a check covering the proceeds of a milk fund drive throughout the greater Tokyo area to Dr. G. E. Bott, head of LARA in Japan. Photo: U.S. Army, January 25, 1949.

On May 4, 1946, when the Federal Council of Churches, the Foreign Missions Conference and the American Committee of the World Council of Churches jointly established Church World Service, CCRA was incorporated into this new body. This was how CWS was born as the biggest ecumenical organization, affiliated with a large number of Protestant churches, and achieved outstanding contribution to LARA. My question, then, was this: If there had been no LARA, would CWS still exist? How did CWS collect the donation across the country for LARA? CWS started the CROP program, which historically stood for Christian Rural Overseas Program, in 1946. Where were the destinations of donations to CROP?

I finally found the answers both in Toronto and Tokyo. Through my research I became convinced that CWS was an inevitable by-product of this humanitarian movement of establishing relief committees during and after WWII.

Rev. G. E. Bott and CWS

As was mentioned at the beginning, CWS did exist in Japan 70 years ago by opening an office in Tokyo with a representative. That was the Rev. George E. Bott. He had been a missionary sent by the former Methodist Church of Canada to Japan in the prewar period. He dedicated his life to social work by founding many welfare facilities in Japan which are still run by his successors today. After the end of World War II, he returned to Japan as part of the first Canadian missionary team sent by United Church of Canada and was later assigned to be a representative of CWS in Japan as well as a director of LARA.

In fact, the UCC was not a member agency of LARA. Why was Rev. Bott appointed to be the representative of CWS to serve LARA? Perhaps it was because he was fluent in Japanese language and culture. This was the presumption of many people I met. However, I suspected that there had been a systematic connection between CWS and UCC at that time. To find out, I visited the UCC headquarters in Toronto following a CWS staff gathering in Chicago this summer.

Trip to Toronto

The history of Canadian mission in Japan reaches back to the 19th century. The Methodist Church of Canada (later merged as UCC) have sent many missionaries to Japan. Therefore, they have had close links with Japan through their mission work. CWS Japan has also been supported by UCC twice, at the time of East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 and after the Kumamoto Earthquake this year. I was very thankful for their support, and I longed to make a visit to UCC to thank them properly and update them on our activities.

I was warmly welcomed by Pat Elson and her team at UCC headquarters. Pat started off by saying that she didn’t know about Rev. Bott being the representative of CWS for LARA operation in the postwar period. This tells me that churches in North America didn’t pass on the great achievement of their contribution to LARA to coming generations. Only the documents have been filed and kept in their archives quietly. I saw it as their humbleness and humility coming from the spirits of LARA.

The Archives of UCC

I visited the archives on the following Monday. I was so impressed by their efforts in keeping their documents carefully and systematically. I respected their great awareness of the value of their history. Besides, they share their records to the public generously and openly. It truly was a testament to the quality of the organization.

The archivist brought me all the photos I had made request of from Japan. I found one photo of a Showa Emperor and Empress visiting the storehouse of LARA and another one of Mrs. MacArthur (the wife of Supreme Commander of the General Headquarters Douglas MacArthur) handing a check to Rev. Bott. I could feel the 70 years of history when I checked the photos one by one in hand.

The Collaboration between CWS and UCC

My another mission was to find out the answer of above-mentioned question. I found it in the meeting minutes and letters of Foreign Missions Conference of North America written from 1945 to 1946.
Rev. Bott finally left Japan in 1942 as he was persuaded by his Japanese colleagues to leave for Canada due to the deterioration of war situation. However, after his repatriation to Canada, he focused on preparation for the future needs of emergency relief in Japan. After the war ended, he was officially reassigned to Japan by the Japan Planning Committee of the Foreign Missions of North America in December 1945. He joined their first mission team to Japan after the war to represent Canadian mission. When he left Canada for this mission in March 1946, he was with CCRA.

The Foreign Missions of North America, along with CCRA, was one of the organizations that made up the new CWS in May 1946. UCC had been part of the Foreign Missions of North America since the 1930’s and thus became linked to CWS. Prior to the foundation of LARA and CWS, Rev. Bott left Canada for Japan in March 1946 by the appointment from Foreign Missions of North America. After CWS was established, he was transferred to CWS to be the representative in Japan. I also found his letter appreciating CWS in New York for paying for his living expenses and salary. Thus I could find the collaboration between CWS and UCC. I was so pleased to know that our collaboration has started since the postwar period.



A truck transports LARA supplies. Photo: Archives of the American Friends Service Committee.

The other question of the destinations of donations to CROP had been on my mind since I returned to Japan. When I was looking for some information about collection of donations to LARA within the United States, I came across the description on the donations to LARA from each major donor organization including CWS. There was an answer I had been searching for in the document “About LARA Relief Supply” (1951: Department of Social Affairs, Ministry of Health).

At that time, CWS had a head office of CROP in Chicago. CROP collected donation of food by Friendship Train across the US and shipped mostly to Japan for LARA through Lutheran World Relief which was one of the 13 LARA member organizations.

So, LARA was an origin of CROP, and it still exists as a fund-raising program today.

Yukiko Maki is a Program Manager with CWS in Japan.

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