In 1899, official permission was granted by the American Baptist Missionary Union for the establishment of a Baptist ‘gospel ship’, appropriately named Fukuin Maru [literally, ‘Good News Ship’], to cruise freely among the islands of the Inland Sea, with the Stars and Stripes flying from the masthead. The mission was started in 1899; by 1916, the mission was active on 60 islands.
“You would be delighted with the Fukuin Maru, the Gospel Ship of the Inland Sea of Japan, the only ship of its kind afloat among the hundreds of islands and the million and a half of people of this fascinating part of the world and our Family possession. As long as I live, I shall never forget how I felt, one morning, when I looked over the deck rail of the big steamer which had come to anchor in Kobe harbor, and saw among the forest of dingy masts and sails of Japanese boats, a snow-white ship, flying the American flag.
“It stood out like a brilliant star on a dark night, and, silently there, was preaching a sermon on the Light of the World.”
– The Baptist Family in Foreign Mission Fields, by Nellie G. Prescott, 1926
“An eight hours run through a templed hill country beautiful beyond describing, all green and golden and scarlet, with rice ripening, barley, and gorgeous azaleas, brought us from Shimonoseki to Itozaki on the Inland Sea, where Captain Bickel, with his trim little teak-wood launch met and took us over the bluest of seas to our beautiful little blue Gospel Ship, the Fukuin Maru, over which proudly waves the stars and stripes and our mission pennant. Warm was our welcome from Mrs. Bickel and Evelyn, Evangelist Toda San and the crew, the loneliness and isolation of whose life can scarcely be appreciated even by those who know it best.
“Gray dawn – the scrubbing of the decks – the good ship is under way and such a way! Through turquoise seas encroached upon by the everlasting hills, terraced to their very tops, clothed in wondrously rich rice, barley, and wheat fields already ripening for the harvest. No better proof of the large population of these three hundred odd islands could be produced than the sight of these extraordinarily well-tilled hillsides fringed at the water’s edge with frequent large villages.
“Not fisher folk nor officials, though both are well represented, but farmers form the great bulk of the million or more inhabitants among whom our Fukuin Maru has come to be the emblem of good will. ‘There comes the Jesus Ship,’ they are wont to say whenever it is seen from field, home, schoolroom, or sampan on the sea.”
– “A Day on the Fukuin Maru”, The Baptist Missionary Magazine, Vol. 87, by Catharine L. Mabie, M.D., September, 1907