In December 2019, a Christmas party turned out to be a great way to get to know our new neighbours.
We’d moved in a few months previously and, as is the custom in Japan, had visited each of our neighbours and greeted them, introduced our family, and given a small present. Everyone was polite, but that was it. After that we hardly saw our neighbours unless we happened to put our trash out at the same time. We attended neighbourhood events, but hardly any of our closest neighbours showed up. Something had to change if we were going to get to know them! So, we planned a Christmas party for our neighbours—something that we would do quite naturally back home, but is definitely unusual here. On the invite we explained that this was a tradition from our home country and we’d be delighted to share it with all of them if they would be kind enough to come.
“Thank you for the invite but I’m Buddhist so I don’t think I can come.” The first reply was not very encouraging. However, we prayed and amazingly 11 out of the 12 people we had invited came— including the lady whose first reaction was that she couldn’t come because she was Buddhist.
At the beginning of the party we had a time for self-introductions—important in a Japanese context. Later, one of our neighbours who plays the piano decided we should all sing Christmas carols.
We found out that some of our neighbours had been living two houses apart for 19 years, but didn’t know each other’s names! We realised that this was a neighbourhood that highly valued privacy and leaving each other alone. We want to respect local culture as much as possible, but immediately realised that to build relationships that lead to spiritual conversations, we’d have to break some of the cultural rules of our neighbourhood.
The party went well. Everyone said they had a great time and some expressed an interest in meeting again.
Then, in 2020, coronavirus hit. Our plans for spring and summer neighbourhood barbecues disappeared. We saw even less of our neighbours than before. Christmas came, but there was no chance of a party. My wife decided to make stollen bread to deliver to each of the neighbours with a note saying that we were sorry, but this was the replacement for the Christmas party! We also include a leaflet about the meaning of Christmas.
We had some warm replies, but the best was from one neighbour who sent us an email telling us all her news. She had had a tough year and had been diagnosed with a severe degenerative illness. But she said, “In my heart I still want to be young—being young is a state of mind.” And she sent us a recording of her singing a poem on this subject performed in a traditional Japanese style. This was her “thank-you present” to us.
We looked up the poem and noticed some connections with Biblical themes. We sent a reply appreciating the poem and making some connections with 2 Corinthians 4:13-16. The next time my wife saw her, this lady thanked her and made a comment about the cross.
Cautious about her health, and with the latest Statement of Emergency in our region, we’ve not been able to see our neighbour recently, but pray with us for the words from the Bible she read to work in her heart. Pray for the gospel to spread from us to our neighbours as we persevere in making contact and building relationships with them.
By C, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray the gospel will spread from us to our neighbours as we persevere in making contact and building relationships with them.
- Pray for this neighbour, that God’s words would be at work in her heart.
- Pray for creativity for missionaries and churches in Japan, as we seek to reach out to others.