Conversation on the Subway

I’ve calculated that in thirty-plus years, I drove to San Francisco at least 850 times. I was in the financial district every other week for three days, meeting with individuals and a number of groups. I stayed with close friends in the suburbs, and it amazes me even now to think that I only rode the subway into the city one time during all those years. That one subway ride produced the following conversation.

At the end of a very long day, I got on BART at the Montgomery Street station to ride back under the bay to the Oakland Hills. The car was jam-packed with standing room only. It was so full that it was impossible not to be touching someone. I happened to stand next to a very nice Japanese businessman who was holding a briefcase because there was not enough room for him to put it on the floor. I said, “Let me move over a little bit, so you can set that down.” He was able to set his briefcase down between his legs and mine. We exchanged greetings, and since we had about a 45-minute ride, I asked, “Where he was going to get off.”

Lafayette, he told me, and I said that “I would get off at Orinda.” He asked if I commuted every day.

“No, this is the first time I’ve ever ridden BART.”

He was surprised. “Don’t you work in the city?”

“No, I only come here for a few days every other week.”

He asked what my business was and why I came to San Francisco. I think my answer was something like, “I come to visit my friend Walter Hoadley and a number of other men.”

“I’ve met him a couple times at banking conferences,” he responded, “because I am a manager of a bank in San Francisco.” He had followed Walter’s career, so he knew that Walter had been the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, economic advisor to the President and was currently executive vice president and chief economist of the Bank of America. I told him that for several years I met monthly with Walter and six other men for fellowship in the boardroom of the bank. After we’d met for a few years, I suggested that we open it to our friends. We currently have around 50 to 70 that meet at the Bankers Club on the top floor of the Bank of America.

He asked, “What kind of a group is it?”

It’s a group where we have fellowship in Jesus. A different person each month shares about his spiritual journey. I told him that I thought he would enjoy it. “On one of my future visits, I will stop by your office, and we can discuss it further.”

He said, “I’d like that,” so we exchanged business cards. We talked about a number of other things and lost track of time; suddenly it was time for me to get off at my stop.

Now the irony of this story begins. In some ways, it was just another casual conversation with a stranger on the subway, a stranger that I probably would never see again. But I had taken his card and made a commitment that I would visit him someday. In spite of this, three months later I had forgotten about him. One day I remembered our conversation and started looking for his card, but couldn’t find it. I looked in the pockets of all my suits and around my desk, but it was not to be found. This caused me to realize that I should try to find him.

I remembered that he was the manager of a bank, so on my next trip to San Francisco, I decided to track him down. Unfortunately, I had forgotten his name and even the name of the bank. There are numerous banks in the financial district of San Francisco, but on each successive trip, I went to at least two banks, asking if they had a Japanese manager in their system. Eventually, I went to 15 banks asking that question. Approximately four months after we had met, a bank employee finally told me, “Yes the manager of their main branch at Montgomery and Pine is Japanese.

I went immediately to that location, which was one of the big, international banks. The office was large and was actually a half of a block deep. As I opened the front door I could see all the way to the back of the room, the location of the executive offices. His office had a glass wall, and I could see him sitting at his desk. I recognized him immediately. For some reason, he looked up at that moment and saw me. As I walked towards him, he looked at me the whole time. Entering his office, I had not yet said anything when he picked up my card, looked at it and said, “I wondered if you would ever come.” That man was Art Mitsutome and what started as a conversation between two strangers on the subway developed into a wonderfully warm friendship. I have stayed in his home several times and have enjoyed numerous meals with him.

Now for a very condensed account of the months that followed our meeting at his office. Art became a regular at our Bank of America prayer breakfast, met Jesus, was baptized and led his wife, Anne to Christ. In the process of getting to know Art, I learned that he was raised a Buddhist. Art told me that before He gave his life to Jesus, there was only one non-Buddhist in his entire family tree; the only follower of Jesus in generations of Buddhists was his cousin Doug Muraki. When he told me that, I was speechless, because Doug Muraki was the pastor of my daughter’s church in Sacramento. Oh, how I love serendipities!

Art and Anne became very active in the Japanese church where they were baptized. That church is affiliated with JEMS, (Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society), and he eventually became a state leader of that organization.

They also planned, promoted and executed a couples retreat for the Bank of American men’s group. About 50 couples attended the very successful retreat at Mt. Hermon conference center in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Art’s love of the Scriptures caused him to gravitate to the international ministry of the Gideons. Some of you may not know the Gideons: they are the people who place Bibles in hotel rooms and encourage the reading of the Bible. Eventually, Art took on the responsibility of leading that organization for Northern California while remaining in the investment firm he founded.

Thank you Jesus for overcrowded subway cars.