Dan from Japan: Answering God wherever He leads
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Home is where the heart is. For alumnus Dan Brannen, ‘69, home just happens to be on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Brannen’s story of how he began a ministry with international students in Japan is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.
Brannen was born on Christmas Day in “Big D” Dallas, Texas when his family was visiting relatives. After moving from Alabama to Wisconsin, his family finally settled down at age four in Indiana where his father became the pastor at the Community Gospel Center.
At the end of Brannen’s third grade year, his parents were called to overseas missionary work. They planned to move to Portugal, but at the last minute the Portuguese government stopped granting visas to Protestant missionaries.
Instead of going to Portugal, Brannen’s parents decided to help their missionary friends in Japan.
Air travel was rare at the time, so the family of five, Brannen, his two siblings, and their parents boarded the S.S. Frederick Lykes in Brownsville, Texas on Aug. 1, 1954. In 28 days they sailed through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific into Yokohama harbor.
Brannen spent almost all of his teenage years in Japan, returning to the U.S. for his junior year of high school. He attended a school in Dallas, Texas and, the transition was rough at first.
Photo Courtesy of Dan Brannen
He commented, “I remember the first double-date with my best friend from grade school and his girlfriend. I had never gone on a date in a car, and the evening was a disaster! I am too embarrassed to share the details. I never saw that friend again!”
However, Brennan soon joined the cross-country and track teams, which helped him make friends, easing what he calls “reverse culture shock.”
After graduating high school in Dallas, Brennan learned about Westmont through John and Mary Reid, Westmont alumni who were doing missionary work in Japan.
When Brennan chose to attend Westmont there were only 550 students, and all he knew about school was that there was a Japanese-American church in Santa Barbara.
The first day he arrived to Westmont, he bought a bike and rode down to the church he had heard about while in Japan, Bethany Congregational church. The church became his home away from home.
After graduating from Westmont and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Brennan was the pastor at Bethany Congregational church from 1970 to 1976. Many Westmont students attended Bethany during these years, and former Dean of Students Jane Higa served as youth pastor for a semester while she was a student at Westmont.
After serving at Bethany Congregational Church for six years, Brennan returned to Japan.
Brennan explained, “In the back of my mind I had always thought I would eventually become an overseas, cross-cultural missionary. Even when I accepted the call to pastor Bethany Congregational Church, I was thinking of this as good preparation for becoming a missionary church planter.”
While he was planning his overseas mission work, Brennan met his future wife Carolyn, a UCSB graduate. Both wanted to marry before applying as missionary candidates.
Within a year, Brennan and his wife moved to Seattle where he took a job teaching English to international students. This opened his eyes to “foreign mission field” right here in the U.S.
In 1979, Brennan joined the the full-time staff of International Students Inc., ISI. Between 2009 and 2010, he heard about Japan’s efforts to recruit international students to study at Japanese universities.
With the support of ISI, Brennan and his wife moved to Japan to encourage Japanese Christians to reach out to the international students in Japan. After 35 years, Brennan had finally become an overseas missionary.
Reflecting on Westmont’s influence in his decision to pursue full-time ministry in Japan, Brennan stated, “I appreciated the great chapels that encouraged me spiritually when I was a student.”
Brennan encourages students considering cross-cultural ministry to go on short-term or mid-term mission trips. However, students can engage also in cross-cultural experience right here on campus. Brennan highly recommends making friends with international students.