Soon after we moved to a rural town in Hokkaido for our first church internship, I got to know Mr. Saiba.* He was married to one of the church members, a lady from Europe who emigrated to Japan 40 years ago. His wife was a faithful member of the church, but he refused to come to church, let alone entering the building. Nevertheless, he was eager to connect with me and we became good friends. He introduced me to badminton and we played at the local club twice a week.
Furthermore, he offered to correct my sermons—we would spend hours discussing my sermons together and putting it into appropriate Japanese before I preached them.
I would often refer to him when I had questions about Japanese culture. And while he would always answer these questions, he would add a disclaimer, saying that most Japanese people acted that way, but he didn’t. He certainly didn’t comply with a number of the behavioural norms which they taught us new missionaries during our language and culture studies. And, contrary to what we had learned, he didn’t even make an effort to fit into the system.
Walking alongside Mr. Saiba was a good and refreshing experience. It made me realize that not all Japanese people wear black suits and follow the herd instinct. They are individuals with their own hopes, desires, and perspectives. In the same way, there is no “one-size-fits-all” gospel for them, but we need Jesus to meet them wherever they are in life.
In some ways, Mr. Saiba is a foreigner in his own country. Becoming friends with him helped me understand Japanese culture better, albeit from an unusual, but very necessary perspective. And a part of me wishes many more Japan people would become such “foreigners”—willing to step out of the cultural norms and start thinking about life and faith. Because that is when they can and will meet Jesus. Mr. Saiba has yet to accept Christ as his personal Saviour, but I trust that my friendship with him showed him a glimpse of what living as a Christian means.
*Name changed for privacy
By Samuel, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that Japanese people will step away from the usual rhythms of their lives and think about life and faith.
- Pray for people like Mr. Saiba who don’t really feel at home in their own culture, to consider Christ.
- Pray for friendships with Japanese people that will help missionaries understand Japanese culture better.