Pizza!

We had a pizza party last Saturday, inviting a lot of people we’ve met over the past few weeks. I guess the evening brought together a lot of the feelings and thoughts I’ve been having over mission. Sorry if those thoughts are a little disorganised!

I don’t have any Japanese language skills. I can greet people at all times during the day, thank people and apologise… though even with these I’m likely to get them mistaken with each other! So I knew before coming that my opportunities to directly evangelise people would be very limited, and that’s okay, those opportunities are more than enough with everything else there is to do!

And there really has been, and will still be, a lot to do. If I can guess what God is teaching me now I think a lot of it is how to serve. I know I definitely do not have the gift of service, but I’m realising that just means I need to work harder than most. I usually don’t mind helping and serving others, it just doesn’t occur to me that there’s stuff to be done. Well I’m glad that there’s been so much to do here cause there hasn’t been much chance to slack off – there’s so much to do and that’s why we’re here! Working long busy days has been good, it’s a very welcome change in productivity, one I’ve been wanting for a long while.

However, even when God has given me potential opportunities for evangelism, it seems I rarely take them. At our pizza party I spent most of the evening operating the huge 300° ovens (Fahrenheit okay… but it still sounds impressive yes? We seriously needed six layers of towels to get anything out of it.) I’d already burnt myself once and there was no reason for others to get hurt too. I was definitely being a big help, we needed to cook a lot of food very quickly. But… there were people there who had some decent English, and I could have spoken to them more than I did (what was almost nothing). Should I have? I don’t know. When we had a kind of icebreaker game I did make my answers gospel-focused, but that was very short and impersonal. It concerned me more when those who can speak Japanese said they didn’t have gospel-focused conversations either. Maybe I should have been more forward too.

But I also don’t believe I really have gifts of evangelism either. I don’t really enjoy it nor am I good at it. I think my strengths, and interests and passions, are more with teaching and discipleship. I haven’t really had much experience with it yet, but I love both teaching God’s word and working with people. I had hoped there would be opportunities for this in Japan, but there hasn’t been any so far. The church here does not seem to have late-teens/early-twenties guys. There are a few girls of that age, but it would be even less appropriate here in Japan than in Australia for a guy to lead a girl in discipleship like that. So I’ll probably have to wait to return to Australia to do that, which again is fine, but when I wonder what God’s plans are here, a little perplexing.

Mission has given me lots of opportunities for service, which has been great. But I think it’s really highlighting the need for wisdom in finding a good balance between service and evangelism and fellowship and teaching and everything else (rest too.) They’re all essential for a healthy church, and though God gives us gifts and strengths in certain areas of that, I believe we still all need to be working at them all. But what is that balance? I don’t know if mission has given me any of that wisdom yet.

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What can a bookstore teach you?

For someone who knows probably less than ten Japanese words and maybe five Hiragana what can Japanese bookstores offer? Most can’t offer me much of anything, though Lighthouse Books, the Christian bookstore at Itayanagi Chapel, has given me a challenging and encouraging insight to Japanese Christianity. Like everything in Japan the store is small, though packed with many well-produced resources. The kids books were especially impressive, they all looked bright and colourful (also, they were the only books I could understand! Pictures, hurrah!) These books would definitely be well received as gifts.

But when I remembered that this store has to serve two prefectures, the small size makes a big difference. We’re very blessed in Australia to have so many Christian books and resources, at so many stages of Christian life, from pre-Christian to new believers to the hundreds of books for mature Christians and even Bible college students. We have so many that we can even spend a great deal of time debating the finer theological points of each. It doesn’t look like the Japanese people have such a luxury. There were just not that many books in total, and though I couldn’t tell what they were about I would guess that most were on the basic end of theological depth. That’s not a bad thing, it fits where the Japanese church is at the moment. But as the Japanese church continues to grow many more books will need to be written, expanding on both the range of topics and depth in each.

The situation is similar for Bible translations. There is one translation in archaic Japanese (like our KJV), another like our NASB which does use modern Japanese but has many uncommon words and is generally hard to understand and finally there’s a paraphase which may not always be theologically accurate. Hopefully another translation in normal simple Japanese will be written soon.

So if Lighthouse Books has given me two things to pray for, it’s that we praise God for the many great resources that are already available, and ask him to bring talented authors, editors and publishers into the church to serve the future. Join me in prayer!

Orientation

Well now I’m in Japan, and have just finished OMF orientation. We’ve spent a couple of days learning a tiny amount of the language and a bit more about Japanese culture and religions.

But first some observations about Japan. The thing that I found most surprising was how small the streets are! They are very narrow and tight, and have so little traffic. I knew a lot of people took the trains, but I guess it really must be the dominant method of transportation, aside from walking and biking. The train stations are huge and the trains are probably twice as long as in Brisbane… so they can fit a lot more people in.

The food is pretty decent and some is moderately priced, though tomatoes aren’t! I went to the supermarket today, and they seemed to be close to 100 yen each, about four times what I thought, though I must have misread the sign. Which is not surprising as I can’t read Japanese, but I’m sure it said 98 not 398!

The people are very lovely, quite and polite. They really do keep their country beautiful, and they put ours to shame. Which makes what we learnt in orientation all the sadder. The Japanese people value their traditions hugely, especially so in the area of religion. The two largest religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism, though they seem to have somewhat merged together here. What is sad though is that even though it’s been estimated that only around 5% of the people actually believe these religions are true, they pretty much all still participate in their practices. To not follow these practices is to go against tradition and to be un-Japanese. This is especially the case with ancestor worship. In Japan it is believed that when you die you become a new Buddha, and so to not follow the practises is to show disrespect to your ancestors and family, even when the people know it’s not true.

We visited a Buddhist temple today, and one thing I noticed were what seemed to be prayers for sale. For 100 yen you could buy a paper prayer to tie around a cable nearby. Surely these people must realise that a religion where you can buy prayers, and at such a low price, cannot be true! But as those leading the orientation told us, truth is not always valued highly here. Even if a person understands and even agrees with the Gospel, they may not personally accept it as that would mean they would have to stop following several of their traditions. Being Japanese and following the traditions is so important to these people.

Please pray that even though I am completely unprepared, I may still be able to help the Japanese church here, and the same for the rest of my team. Pray that the people might understand that truth does matter, and that the Gospel transcends culture and accepting Jesus does not mean rejecting their Japanese identity. And praise God for the wonderful work he is doing in so many of the churches here!