On the fourth Saturday of every month, my wife and I travel across Tokyo to another OMF missionary family’s house for an “English Dinner.”
It’s a gathering of Japanese people who have spent extended time overseas; they want to meet up, have a meal, and chat in English. Sometimes they have had contact with Christians overseas, but mostly not. Some of the men are quite high up in companies like Nissan or Philip Morris, one is a school English teacher. Their wives and children come too.
People often come early to chat and drink cups of tea, but at about 5:15 pm we start an English language activity. For example, we’ve played “The Minister’s Cat,” going around the room people use an adjective in alphabetical order to describe the cat—”The minister’s cat is adorable, beautiful, cute . . .”—people help each other with difficult letters.
Next comes introductions—name, how we knew about the dinner. We do icebreakers first, then introductions so that late-comers don’t miss people’s names—that’s important in Japan.
Then, before we start the Bible time, the leader prays. It is just a short prayer to ask for God’s blessing. This helps people to understand that this is not just an academic exercise, but also to know what Christian prayer looks like.
During the Bible time we look at a passage and ask questions about it in both easy English and Japanese. For example, we have looked at Isaiah chapter 6, when Isaiah saw the Lord and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The questions we asked were: How big is God? What does he seem like compared to everything else around the temple? What does he seem like compared to what you know of local (Japanese) gods?
Another time we read Psalm 139. David had such a close and intimate relationship with God. We were able to highlight the greatness of God and also how he is so personal.
As people respond to the questions, I can tell that sometimes they are really thinking about things. At other times it seems more on the level of head knowledge.
At the end of Bible time the leader prays again, something like “Thank you Lord God for this time. Help us to remember what we’ve learned.”
While the adults are in one room, the children are in another room doing something like a Sunday school lesson on the same topic as mom and dad.
Throughout this time we have dinner cooking—baked potatoes with a stew or sauce. After we’re finished the study we get our food and sit around chatting and eating for the rest of the evening.
Food and chatter, English and Japanese, the Bible and friendship.
These are the ingredients to building relationships with people who have returned to Japan from overseas and want to keep their English. It’s really not a complicated thing. Through this we hope to deepen their understanding of the Bible and come to faith in Jesus. Could you do something like this where you are?
As told by James, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- For opportunities to reach out to professionals in Japan who have lived overseas.
- For spiritual thirst among those who are keen to keep up their English after returning to Japan.
- For others to join in the work of reaching these mobile Japanese people.