The missions trip in Iwate has ended, and I find myself fully exhausted yet fully alive.
Many of this country’s strengths, I discovered, are more apparent in the locals from the towns I visited – in Morioka and Miyako, discipline is taught through the strict system of trash disposal, with six different bins in the church kitchen for different materials. There are bathroom slippers for every bathroom- one cannot step into the toilet without removing one’s shoes and donning a specific pair. Strong communal values and good habits rule the system.
It is not this way in Tokyo, or even in Sendai.
My brother and I stay in Shinjuku, one of the noisiest and fastest moving areas in Tokyo. I wanted to stay near Shibuya because it was all I knew of Tokyo, but wasn’t aware that the specific street my airbnb apartment is in is also the street of night activity- bars, clubs, and prostitutes.
Today, 7am, we walked towards the station for the fish market. A young Japanese lady about my age had left a hotel fully clothed in dress and heels. She was alone. While we walked, two different men appeared out of shadowed shopfronts to speak and walk beside her. From body language, I could assume he was pimping. One even walked with her all the way to the traffic junction.
The light changed, and she walked quickly across the long road. Mr Pimp stayed behind and regrouped with a fat man.
This was my first waking experience of Tokyo.
I tried to tell myself that we are all sleazebags and sleazebags need God. But I felt like I was dragging my heavy heart around the fish market for the entire morning.
Lunch was no better- we visited a popular tonkatsu ramen joint. But I didn’t realise that no one liked to talk to each other. In our isolatory existence, customers prefer minimum eye contact, and ordering and payment is all done at a vending machine outside the restaurant.
I am still discovering the city and what is its heartbeat. But there are so many lights and sounds. And people are so rich materially (in Ginza at least).
Philosopher Roland Barthes wrote that in Japan, the package is a thought. The packaging that covers most of their items becomes part of the messaging, the same way the envelope is not just the vehicle for moving a letter, but part of the letter itself.
I’m still staring surface level.
God, please have mercy on a country that does not want to know You. Who will tell them?
Your Spirit is moving through the people in Morioka, and in their constant prayers. They gather to pray on Wednesday, and bring You their time and resources and faith in action.
I ask for forgiveness for my cold heart, my small mind, and my “good manners”.
Back home, I see that my peers and I tend to be quiet rather than to share the good news.
Maybe we are too polite to be faithful to God in this area of sharing the gospel. Maybe we are more concerned about people’s response than God’s glory. Maybe we are more concerned about their feelings than God’s. We wrongly fear them. We don’t want to cause awkwardness. We want their respect, and after all, we figure, if we try to share the gospel with them, we’ll look foolish!
And so we are quiet. We protect our pride at the cost of their souls. In the name of not wanting to look weird, we are content to be complicit in their being lost. As one friend said, “I don’t want to be the stereotypical Christian on a plane.”
You do not like having Your truth suppressed, and that’s what the non-Christian is doing (Rom. 1:18). Good manners are no excuse for unfaithfulness to You, but I have, too often, used them so.
The missionary Catherine informs the Iwate network meeting yesterday that the katsetsus will be closing at the end of this year. It has been almost 6 years since these temporary houses have been set up to house the residents who have lost their homes in the 2011 tsunami.
Today, we will head back to the coastal area at Ofunato to help Saito-sensei with the work in one of these katsetsus. This last programme will be bittersweet; we know the community will be dispersed throughout the new residential areas built by the government next year. Some of the elderly residents will not want to leave – they have been uprooted once before, and will need to find their footing again. Have compassion on them for they are feeble in spirit and in body.
Above all, Father, I ask that the good work of the pastor in building up this community for the past five years will notbe eroded by the physical relocation. We ask that Your Spirit work in the people, to open their hearts to see You in the actions and love of the faithful few who have laboured on this soil. Lord, You love the people of Iwate, and You are tender-hearted especially towards those whose hearts have been broken by death and loss.
I ask that You continue to send workers to this area, Japanese speakers who can commit to growing their own roots on this new soil, so that that can bring the powerful but intangible sense of community to the people.
Give the pastorate clear direction for a new church plant. Out of the 20 church plants in Iwate, there are only 5 left, each with one handful of members. The rest of the churches have already closed. You know the disappointment and frustration of the pastorate here. You know the competition for members – for the precious few who still have not renounced their faith. Yes, You are the God who sees. Continue to act and work, Father, for the people need You in this place where the air is thick and the people are too polite to step out in love.
Prepare and move people to revival in Your grace. Give them humble hearts to seek Your face, and to wait upon You. Startle the region of Iwate, Lord, to bring these multitudes into saving faith.
For us who have seen Your work – You have brought representatives from many nations. Hallelujah!
Grant us the burden for such a revival. Help us believe that it can come to the country of Japan, and to our country as well. Lead me to people who will pray regularly for its coming.
I ask that You build a broad base of people nationwide who are expecting revival. Grant to each nationality – Germans, Hong Kong, British, Filipinos, Americans, a consuming burden for You to bring revival. Your promise is that as we seek to draw near to You, You will draw near to us. I pray that this nearness will be truly revolutionary. Make it humble us, break us, revive us, and change the direction of our disintegrating culture.
Lord, I believe that there is sufficient grace supplied in the person and work of Jesus to do far more than I have even begun to ask. My hope is in the promise of Your Word. Thank You for Your compassion for us in our sinful ways. In our arrogant lifestyle, we say to You, ‘I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ I repent of that. I confess that as believers, we show our wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked condition.
I lay all this before You, basing every request on the merit and worthiness of the Lord Jesus alone and in His finished work.
I had time this weekend to meet and speak with a few foreigners who have relocated to this city to teach English. As an outsider myself, I imagined that the longer one stayed in this country, the more one would be welcomed into every room as though one was an insider. Even as I find myself still as far away as ever, I wonder if this privileged access into the heart of another world has ever come to pass for these foreigners who have been here for months and years. Will they always remain dismayed at being kept away from the inviolable core? Will they remain a newcomer to the Japanese, and long after these people cease being exotic, to continue to remain exotic to them?
Before coming to Japan, I often read that Japan is the wealthiest and cleanest country in the world. I read about the toilets that talk and warm your seat, and robots that are almost fully human. I read about fascinating Japanese architecture. I knew not to expect this in other prefectures apart from Tokyo, and indeed, in Miyako and in Morioka, I found a world entirely different from the polish of Tokyo pictures. My apartment has no AC, no insulation, no overhead lighting. The hot running water gushes gently, and the sink is the length of my forearm. I do not say this as complaint, merely to consider that although Japan has the highest per capita gross national product in the world, the homes of most Japanese people do not reflect this statistic.
As I faced each day’s ministry burden, I confess that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, I would not be able to do it. The inability to understand the language when spoken to is mentally draining, and the subtle cultural differences are not as easy to overcome. We do not want to offend, and in our fear of possible offense, are constantly extra careful, extra polite. This too creates strain.
However, this allows the precious words of Jesus to ring true, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So we must pray for future grace for the day, and then trust in the promise that it will come with power. “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
It is beautiful to see the small church community come together on a Sunday to listen to Kondo-sensei’s message on Jehovah Rappa, the God who sees, from Genesis 15. He knows where we have come from and where we are going, and we can rest in His control. I sense the heaviness in the hearts of these people, but perhaps it is also part of His grace to them. He has said that blessed are those who mourn at the depth of sin, for they shall be comforted. Perhaps we in Singapore are too comfortable in our social bubbles, too far removed from the stain of grief, to remember our true state and constant struggle against sin. I’m not sure why I felt this way, but it remained. We forget so quickly our guilt.
The epicness of yesterday started from the morning at the public hall. We did not know how many would come, but we were prepared with salted egg yolk fish skin and pineapple buttered rice with cashews for serving lunch. And we were excited to step out in faith that our paltry offerings could bring a blessing to the co-workers and to the participants.
Yet again, faithful pastor Iwasuka arrived bright and early to Shalom House to lead us to the first public housing, where we had done flyering on day 2. It was so good to see the elderly people come, some 20 mins before the start time of the event. Some in their best clothes, as we were aware that these gatherings were the highlight of their week or month.
The songs flooded the otherwise silent hall, and it was heartwarming to sing “God Bless You” to a curious watching crowd. Who are these Singaporeans who travelled for 7 hours to enter into a world many have forgotten?
Without our Japanese translator, we were concerned that we wouldn’t understand the pastor’s instructions that day. We didn’t have to worry! 👏🏼
The ladies at the temporary housing / katsetsu in the afternoon were particularly lovely. Despite the heavy heat, they were patient with the craft. Many sumimasens were exchanged.
Our drive back to Morioka unveiled the incredible beauty of the Japanese countryside. After a while, it stopped making sense to capture the beauty in pictures, because the vastness if sea and density of forest just could not be adequately captured. Back at Morioka
Karage and sushi dinner with Dave Robinson (the American missionary), Kondo sensei and their families was a welcomed break. It is beautiful to see families thriving in the work of the Lord, and to experiencd the peace and joy that flood these households.
I continue to ask for the Lord’s protection on their children as they grow up in a society that is increasingly intolerant of the Christian way of life and living. May they never resent the courageous countercultural choice their parents have made – in opening hearts and home to strangers from all over, and in living as resident aliens in this world.
The 7pm English Cafe started off with a bang: I didn’t know my brother could so put everyone at such ease during the icebreakers. Indeed, there are many things I am learning about him in this trip, and I realised that our faithful God continues to mold him into an unassuming and thoughtful leader. Praise God from which these blessings flow. Praise Him for answered prayer.
Pastor Kondo told us he had borrowed money from a student at Iwate University. He told his student he would only return the money to him if the student came last night for the English cafe. (Pastor Kondo admitted this was a risky bargain, but he figured he could take advantage of a forgotten wallet). Student M came last night, nervously, but he came nonetheless.
The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
Lord, I continue to ask that You prove strong for the Christian community in Morioka.
I ask that You work through the international crowds, to show the Japanese that You are the God of all the nations, not only of the Jews or the ‘white people’.
I ask that through the good work of English language teachers, Your gospel will go forth, if not in words, by sincere actions born from love.
We constantly taste and see that You are good here. You are working and You continue to set hearts aflame to step out in obedience. Jesus tell us that the harvest is so plentiful, but the workers are few. Lord, I ask that You continue to call and send workers into the ripe fields of the Iwate University and Morioka city. Your Spirit moves like the wind; come down upon this land.