In the 13 years since she first came to church I have seen Mrs Saito* grow. We rejoiced together over her own baptism in 2006, the baptism of her younger daughter (then in her 20s) in 2009, and finally of her two eldest daughters in 2017.
But life has not been easy for this Christian lady, due to a challenging marriage relationship. Her husband has always been an ardent worshipper at the family Shinto shrine. But last year his mother died. He is the only son, and in Japanese culture that means he’s responsible for looking after the ashes at the family grave and the memorial tablets at the family Buddhist altar. Japanese Buddhism also requires many memorial services at fixed times following a death.
For Mrs Saito, the first source of great stress was the Buddhist funeral itself. Her non-participation in the Buddhist worship was a great source of contention between her and her husband. As the priest chanted incomprehensible prayers and incense filled the air, Mrs Saito repeated to herself the promise of Deuteronomy 31:8 which she and the three girls had recently memorised: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (NIV).
She came home rejoicing at how God had enabled them to get through this difficult experience in various miraculous ways.
But that was not the end of the trials. A few weeks later, I received this cry for help: “Please pray. My husband and I are constantly at loggerheads over the 49th day memorial rites and buying a Buddhist altar for the home. I have a permanent headache and am getting very short tempered with the stress.”
We prayed, and miraculously, her husband said she did not need to attend the 49th day rites. She found herself praying in tears for the husband that she thought she couldn’t forgive. “This wasn’t me but the Holy Spirit working in me,” she marvelled.
The next challenge was the arrival of the newly-bought Buddhist altar. “Please pray. It’s arriving between 9 and 10 tomorrow. My husband will be at work so I will have to set it up.” Then a little while later came another message, “I forgot to ask, what am I allowed to do as a Christian? Is it okay to put the memorial tablet into the altar?” I assured her that as long as what she did was not an act of worship towards her deceased mother-in-law, it was right to show respect for her mother-in-law’s memory by taking practical care of the altar. Her husband offers incense morning and evening and at times makes food offerings too. But praise God, he does not seem to expect his wife to perform these acts of worship.
Already difficult marriage relationships can become even more strained when one partner becomes a Christian. This is even more so when a loved one dies, and Japanese culture and religious expectations clash with worship of the one true God. Mrs Saito says, “God’s Word is what has given me strength to overcome these trials. I have been hanging on to Deuteronomy 31:8 with all my might.”
* Name changed.
By Miriam, a retired OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that Japanese Christians, particularly those with non-Christian spouses, may hang on to God’s Word with all their strength.
- Pray that Japanese Christians will find appropriate ways of serving their families and remembering ancestors.
- Pray that many more Japanese men come to faith.