A Valentine Present02.17.11

Valentine’s Day evening I attended a forum on missions in downtown Tokyo put on by the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association. JEMA membership is predominantly English speaking, white, and culturally western. To my surprise and delight, none of the four presenters was white or born in the US. Sadly however, few of the listeners were either. Most were family, friends, and church members of the presenters. It was a cold and sleeting night, so many JEMA members probably found it easier to stay home with their near and dear ones- I know I almost did.

One presenter mentioned that the first Filipino martyr to die in Japan was Lorenzo Ruiz, who was tortured (Silence-style, for those of you who have read Shusaku Endo’s book of the same name) and died September 29, 1637 in Nagasaki. I was jolted to realize this: In the psyche of many Filipinos here in Japan as migrant workers- or perhaps immigrants struggling to build a family and raise children in an international marriage- there is a deep longing to be part of God’s plan to see that the blood of Jesus, and the blood of those who followed, was not spilled in vain. Filipino churches are thriving, and not only as enclaves of Filipino culture. There are many vibrant praying and worshiping Filipino churches here reaching out to Japanese through music, the arts, youth activities, and community events.

Most of the Brazilian, Korean, and Indonesian churches in Japan also share this passion. And there are probably many other groups with the same passion that I just haven’t heard about yet.  Why was it a surprise to find out how widely held this commitment is among sometimes less educated, often lower income foreigners in Japan? If I’m honest, it’s because at times my own passion to share Christ with Japanese has been dampened by weariness, ill health, communication mishaps, lack of results, the challenges of trying to raise kids between two cultures…to name a few. And yet I have had almost every possible support system provided. People pray for us regularly and send money so we can rent a house and drive a car. I attended two years of full time language school when I first arrived. I have complete, legal documentation, and can return to my own country whenever I wish. I have health insurance. My job isn’t dirty, dangerous, or overly strenuous. I have a white face, which means most Japanese don’t expect me to be able to speak or understand their world, and are surprised when I do. They are almost always kind when I make mistakes.

I know this is not the case for all outsiders to this culture. I’ve watched and overheard a number of conversations where non-Japanese, non-white people were ignored, excluded, or otherwise underappreciated; there may have even been times when I allowed my silence to be construed as agreement with this attitude. So I had to face my own prejudice (assumptions that my kind of missionary is more effective and more useful to God than people without the credentials, training, and backing I have) as well as my own pride (embarrassment to realize that I had those thoughts at all).

I left the meeting feeling humbled and grateful to God for opening my eyes to a new dimension of this truth: For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. This means that no one can boast in God’s presence. (1 Cor. 1: 25-29)

God’s present to me this Valentine’s Day was a reminder to open my heart and join hands more firmly with the many fellow foreigners already here in Japan eager to show the love of Jesus to Japanese.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Church, culture, History.

2 Responses to “A Valentine Present”

  1. Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability and willingness to stand with them on a cold rainy night and every day afterward. All of us, no matter our religious, spiritual, skin color, country of origin, educational opportunities, financial standings or whatever other external label we attempt to cling to, must toss it all away, let go and allow ourselves to be vessels of Love every single moment of the day, for God is Love.

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    Posted by Julie on 12/13/09 February 17th, 2011 at 4:29 PMReply

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