Joanna Reed Shelton | A Christian in the Land of the Gods

Montana writer explores her grandather's "Journey of Faith in Japan"

Books & Writers

A Christian in the LandJoanna Reed Shelton’s great grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Alexander, and his wife of five months set sail for Japan in 1877 to establish a Protestant mission and “plant their faith in a country just emerging from two and a half centuries of self-imposed seclusion.”

The couple arrived in their newly adopted homeland not knowing a soul or speaking the language. Over the course of 25 years, the Alexanders came to love Japan as much as their native country, embracing the people and culture, and establishing relationships that endured through subsequent generations.

Shelton was first introduced to her ancestor’s connection to Japan by her grandmother who taught her to use chopsticks at an early age, and told her stories about her life as one of Tom Alexander’s daughters. An aunt gifted her with her great grandfather’s journal about his missionary life prior to the author’s first visit to Japan as an economist for the U.S. Treasury.

Over time, her interest deepened and when she made the decision to write her family’s story, she took advice from her aunt who told her, “I want to know what everyday life was like.”

The result is an engaging narrative about people who faced challenges and endured hardships to embrace differences, find grace, and change other people’s lives for the better.

Shelton offers a wealth of history and background information about Japan throughout the book, prior to, and paralleling, the time period that her ancestors resided in the country.

“This fascinating, often poignant story should be read by serious scholars and general readers alike,” writes Dr. George R. Packard, president of the U.S.-Japan Foundation and dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Shelton spent 25 years in the field of international economics and trade, working her way to top levels of government and diplomacy. Prior to moving to a farm in northwest Montana with her husband in 1999, she held the position of deputy secretary-general for the OECD in Paris, France. Learn more at

– Judy Shafter