When I first met Mrs. K, I thought it strange that she would turn up after our events with gifts of food and drink. She was shy, lonely, and elderly, but loved conversation with our church staff—why only come at the end when everyone had gone home?
It was due to fear of her neighbours.
This was a semi-rural suburb completely surrounded by rice fields in the Tohoku region of Japan. The sort of place where everyone knew everyone—and everyone watched everyone. It seemed that some of those watching were not happy about our church purchasing a new property and running outreach events.
One such person was Mrs. K’s neighbour. One time when this neighbour received our monthly flyer advertising upcoming events, they took it over to Mrs. K’s home and dramatically ripped it up in front of her. The message was clear—we know you’ve been attending and we don’t like it.
What should she do? She loved coming, but she did not want trouble. It seemed the middle ground was to turn up at the end with gifts—an unspoken way of communicating that she wanted to maintain the friendships with us but didn’t want to be seen to be attending the “religious stuff”.
Over a year passed by after we first met her, with occasional drop-in visits from Mrs K. We were overjoyed when she developed the courage to attend regularly. After each monthly church service she was always keen for someone to pray for her.
Until . . . her adult sons commanded that she cut off all contact with us. With sadness, she called on the phone to tell us that she would no longer attend any of our events, and requested we stop all communication with her—including sending flyers advertising upcoming events.
The fear of what others think is a powerful barrier to the gospel in Japan—especially in a small town where people watch each other carefully. The response of Mrs K’s neighbours and sons shows that there remain strong currents against Christianity. It is invisible to outsiders like us, but Japanese people who spend time with us are acutely aware of these barriers. We can easily underestimate the amount of courage it takes to merely turn up for a chat.
By Andrew, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that God would embolden seekers to pursue Christ despite negative societal pressure they might feel.
- Pray that Christians in Japan would excel in loving deeds and good works, and that this would help change prejudices against Christianity.
- Pray that God’s words will accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).