In my pre-waking moments, I thought I was on a subway again. I’d been in the country only a few days, and with my group of journeymen missionaries had ridden several trains and subways, touring the city as we acclimated to the culture. Awakened long before my alarm rang, I thought someone was shaking my bed. My eyes rolled open to realize my bed was indeed shaking though no one was near it.
I sat straight up wondering,
“Is this an earthquake? …
We’re rocking, not rumbling. What am I supposed to do when there’s an earthquake?” My roommate and I sat dumbly blinking at each other. But when after only a few seconds the swaying stopped, we both returned to sleep for another hour.
“Welcome to Japan,” our orientation leader said a few hours later. It was the first, and strongest (6.1 on the Richter scale), of innumerable earthquakes I would experience over the next two years.
I had gone to Japan because I wanted to know what parts of the gospel resonated with a culture far different from my own.
Though I had a job to do, teaching English and working in a church, personally, I was there to expand my understanding of the God I loved. Obviously, I can’t share it all in a single blog. But I can share some of the highlights.
1. Japan is a group-oriented culture. They seek to not stand out as individuals. So in their churches, unity is a must. They never do anything significant without 100% agreement. We Americans have a lot to learn from them about surrendering our individual agendas (uh-hum … pet preferences) for the sake of the body.
2. When I served there in 1988 and 1989, less than one percent of Japan’s population was Christian. What I loved about this was that people weren’t afraid to ask real questions. Questions I tended to either ignore because they’re too scary to delve into (in case I might change my mind about my faith), or questions I took for granted because that’s what I had been taught and it hadn’t occurred to me to challenge those teachings. I grew to love digging into the Bible and into my own suppositions to solidify what was Biblical truth and what I could set aside. (photo courtesy of kiwihug on unsplash)
3. Whenever you visited anyone, you always brought a gift. Always. What a sweet gesture of appreciation! I wish I would remember to do this more often now.
4. You’re probably quite familiar with the Japanese practice of taking shoes off at the door when you enter a home (and even churches and other places). In fact, other countries, and in many northern states (because sloppiness sticks to your shoes in the spring when snow melts), this same practice is observed. When I taught the gospel to a group of Japanese ladies, the removal of dirty shoes served as a great picture of our sin being removed before entering the holy presence of God.
What’s cool about the Japanese, is that the host always has slippers for you to wear so your feet don’t get cold. I suppose this, too, is a picture of God’s grace—clothing us in His righteousness.
5. The Shinto shrine’s layout is very similar to the Old Testament tabernacle. Now isn’t that interesting? Japan for thousands of years has prided itself on its autonomy, and yet they built their places of worship with strong similarities to the instructions found in the Bible. How did that happen? (photo courtesy of Gideon Peter Caringal on unsplash, and of the very shrine I visited in the area of Tokyo where I lived)
Now hear me carefully. I’m not a universalist. I believe there’s no god or religion founder who came close to doing what Jesus did for us. None died for the world but Jesus. None rose from the grave but Jesus. None sent His Spirit to live with us but Jesus. This sets Jesus apart, and far above, any other.
But the Japanese shrines, to me, were prime examples of what Paul said:
“… what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, …” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV)?
So, if God has made himself known to an autonomous island country, has He not also made himself clearly known to people of other cultures? What about the culture your child/ren came from? Maybe this is how we can reach them with the love of God.
Souvenir for the Soul:
Start with what’s familiar to them that reflects the character of God and His salvation story, and build on that.
Because it’s true that …
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness,
And all the peoples see His glory.
Psalm 97:4-7 (NKJV)