“Because of the Ancestors”
Thursday began in our usual way. The boys slowly woke up on their walk to Eifuku-Minami. It was to be a reasonably slow day, so not too much urgency (except from me who had to write a Bible Study in Japanese for the evening and had left it a bit late). Cans of hot coffee from the vending machine supplied us with a burst of energy, mostly from the excessive amount of sugar rather than an actual coffee they may or may not possess.
The book of Daniel supplied us with our character study for the day. We thought about how God had prepared Daniel and his friends by their experience to be his witnesses while captive in a foreign land (one big difference is we are not captives here, as captivating as it may be sometimes). But we also thought about how we might find ourselves in situations where we might be asked to compromise our values and in doing so cheapen the gospel, which is of more worth than gold (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Afterwards some of us folded some flyers for the church, we were expecting to letterbox drop them too but when relationships with neighbours are important giving one to someone who has complained previously could cause some issues. Some ladies who came to the café (and not usually to church) walked passed and were happy when we greeted them. Höhne Sensei scrubbed some mould off the inside walls and some of the guys pressure-washed one of the outside walls. Some practical maintenance jobs are difficult to do when churches are made up of only a few older women (which is the case in many Japanese churches).
Over lunch we found out from Luis how he came to be assistant minister at Eifuku-Minami Church. Then we heard from Matsumoto Sensei, a minister at a small nearby church and previous Bible College lecturer, about ancestor worship in Japan. We saw how most Japanese people will have shrines to their ancestors in their home and may ask you to greet them when you come in. When things happen, good or bad, it is often said to be “because of the ancestors.” We thought about how to respond and what not compromising the gospel means. While it may not be so much of an issue for many of us on team, it certainly is for the majority of Japanese people.
Our heads spinning from such a much needed introduction to a deeper aspect of Japanese culture, we hurried off to Shinjuku where we went to a café that specialises in chocolate croissants. There we joined a JCFN Bible Study (JCFN is a group for people who have become Christians overseas and returned to Japan). We knew many of the people from the hike, and met some more. The topic was work, and it was very loosely based on Andrew Cameron’s five poles in “The Joined Up Life”. We hoped it would provide a framework for thinking through other topics too.
We spent our time looking at Ephesians 1 and how God knew us and loved us before He (and we) had done any work. Naomi’s friend from primary school who joined us and is not a Christian seemed to understand from the passage that work shouldn’t be a big concern for Christians because they have security in a much bigger identity. I think the Christians agreed, but it is certainly hard to put this into practice in a culture that values work so highly. But it would be a great witness in our work places if we could remember it.
After study we went out for dinner. I use the term we loosely because I turned around for a second and everyone was gone. Not having a way of contacting anyone I waited for someone to come back and find me. I prayed that wherever they were they were having great conversations. And they were, so much so that they never came back. They only remembered me when it was time to go and they knew I had chocolate as presents in my bag. But I had made my way back to church and they joined me shortly after.
Friday was an earlier start, and we met at the station to go to Yasukuni Shrine (Shinto) and war museum and then to Sensoji Temple (Buddhist). After yesterday’s introduction to ancestor worship and its effect on these religions in Japan, everyone found these tourist sites much more interesting. The museum also explained how in modernising Japan the imperial government turned household worship into a nationalistic religion. It is this transformation that still effects Japan today as many people, whatever they may actually believe, are “religiously Japanese” (to quote a team member from earlier in the week).
We then made another trek across Tokyo to visit Karen Dada (no your eyes are not the problem it was just a poorly taken photograph). We had another nabe. In case you were wondering, there are other foods in Japan, but for groups this is cheap and easy. We heard about how she came to Japan from humble beginnings in “the Shire”. We heard about her past work with the KGK in a more regional part of Japan. We heard about her present involvement in church planting in a relatively new area in Tokyo, as well as the joy and the struggle of having a group that is a welcome part of the community but also not allowed to meet in public spaces. We were all thankful for the way that God continues to work in spite of us and in spite of sometimes challenging circumstances.
Time for bed again, but you can pray for:
Christians in a culture of ancestor worship. If you have inherited responsibility for it, giving up the practice is very difficult. Working out how to rightly honour those who have gone before you and how to honour the Lord Jesus Christ can be a block to people becoming Christians so pray that Christians will be wise in the way they deal with this issue.
JCFN Bible Studies. Pray for those who have become Christians overseas and find church difficult (different style/not many Christians around) to find each other and enjoy meeting around God’s word. Pray that what they read together would transform their lives and through that bring many people around them to know Jesus.
Church planting. While it can be hard to find people to meet together as church, it can be much harder to find places to meet together as church. Please pray for good relationships between churches and neighbours and councils, and for wisdom to know what to do when the church outgrows its space.