Being a Christian in Japan is like being a pineapple in Antarctica. Or whole-wheat bread on the shelves of Japanese markets… Far and few in between. It is said that a total of Christians in Japan, called “Nihon kirisutokyō-shi,” is less than 1%. Many believe that this is due to Japan’s deep history of Shintoism and Buddhism that are embedded in their culture and the daily lives, mentality and social norms of the people. This also means that when you meet Christians in Japan, they are usually sold out for the Lord in ways that are so inspiring.
As we settled into our new lives here in Nobeoka, Jon and I made it a priority to seek out Christian community. After some research, we found that our church options were Mormon, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholic or Baptist. Intrigued by some of the options but unwilling to sacrifice our moral code just yet, we decided to check out the nearest Baptist church. It was a small, easy to find building, home to a congregation of about eight of the kindest people. However, the service was in Japanese, traditional Baptist style and I had my first culture-shock-breakdown. After gathering my emotions, eating a delicious curry lunch with the members and saying our goodbyes, we decided to keep our eyes open for more options, praying that God would show us what to do.
And our prayers were immediately answered.
On a bike ride around the town that same afternoon, we discovered a tiny white building seated alongside the river with a cross on the sign. The next Sunday, we opened the door to the little white church and were greeted by the pastor and his lovely wife. We also soon realized that we were the only attendants. They immediately made us feel welcome, asked why we were in Japan along with the usual questions a gaijin anticipates. After learning that Jon is fluent in Japanese and I speak only English, Pastor Tasaki tailored his message so that Jon could easily translate for me. We also worshiped in English and Japanese.
The next Sunday, Pastor Tasaki shared about his former struggle with a speech impediment that resulted in a style of ministry that he still uses. His goal is to share the gospel in the most simplest way possible. In Japan, the bible is hard to understand and finding a simple answer or explanation to questions about Christianity is difficult due to language and cultural differences. Therefore, having Jon and me there reminds Pastor Tasaki to stick to his goal and keep the language simple so that we can all understand. And once again, he had English worship waiting for us. Thank you Jesus.
Even if Pastor Tasaki didn’t go out of his way to tailor his worship and message for us, him and his wife’s Christ-like love and hospitality would be enough. And although there is still a language barrier, I think that after spending more time with them after each service, chatting over snacks and tea, God will continue to show me that His love is far more than language and words can explain or demonstrate.