Toni Finds Keiko

Toni Finds Keiko

When I interviewed Toni, she had many stories I’d like to tell you, but I chose this one, because of the way it ended.  It made me want you to hear it, too.

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Toni had been so relieved when she placed the ten-year-old boy, Akira and his thirteen-year-old sister, Keiko, in a good home.  Like so many children after World War II, they were orphaned because their American soldier/father had left them behind.  Their mother had been shunned but even though she became very ill, she’d tried to care for the children.  When she died, they were passed back and forth to aunts and now and then to their seventy-six-year old grandmother.  But the aunts decided Keiko’s mixed race might scare away eligible suitors for their own daughters.  Besides, they argued, as they brought the children to Toni— a social worker in the Tokyo World International Social Service, “The grandmother is just too old!”  So, Toni visited Army post after Army Post thinking they would be more likely to feel moved to take these neglected orphans, but though some were sorry for them, they weren’t sorry enough to give them a home.  And among the Japanese families she had no luck either.  They were blinded by the stigma that went along with “those shameful children who shouldn’t ever have happened.’ Toni didn’t give up, though.  Finally, she found a stable married couple of mixed races, willing to give the children a home.

She remembered the joy she’d felt when she told her husband Eliot the good news that night, and how she’d said a prayer filled with gratitude before she went to bed.  But the next morning a phone call came that made her heart feel heavy.  Thirteen-year-old Keiko was caught sniffing glue!  The new parents wouldn’t have her.  They’d keep Akira, but sure couldn’t deal with a “glue sniffer” Toni explained that so many of the abandoned children had turned to anything they could find to help alleviate their hurt and loneliness and that all Keiko needed was just someone to love her.  But her words didn’t help.  Keiko hung her head as she climbed into the car with Toni.  She didn’t cry-not out loud.  Her whole body sank into the seat like it was, itself, filled with tears..

Toni took a saddened Keiko home with her that day.  She told her not to worry.  She smiled at her and said.  “It’s going to be alright”.  But that night, she lay awake for hours wondering, “What can I do?  What can I do?” and her question turned into an anguished, “help” to God.  “Help!  Help me!”  When she woke the next morn, she sat up in bed with a bright awareness that the answer she’d been given was obvious!  She had to call the American father and make him listen.  It seemed so logical.  She hadn’t even considered it before.  After all, hadn’t he abandoned the children?  She rushed to her files and there was a phone number.  He answered on the first ring!  Toni said a quick prayer and then, filling her voice with urgency, she painted the picture with all its pathos.  She wanted so much for him to take this little lost girl and for him to believe he was her daddy, that she almost didn’t hear him say, “Why, Yes!  I will.  I want to.”  But, she quickly rallied and told him that if he did, he must promise to always keep the two children in touch with each other.  And, again, he said, “Yes!  I will.”  And he kept his promise.

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When Toni said, “yes” to husband, Eliot Shimer’s proposal, she also had said yes to being commissioned as a United Methodist Missionary in Social Work.  She was a natural to help foreigners from all over the world to adjust to living in Japan plus other jobs like teaching/counseling in “Planned Parenthood in Nagasaki.  Tragically, women used abortion as their only birth control.  Some had had four or five abortions resulting in damage to their health and their emotions.  Toni helped them find a better way than abortion.  And her placement of abandoned children saved them from lives of sadness.

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