I recall feeling rather sheepish as I read the Word of God in a very loud voice to an elderly priest at the main Shinto shrine in Tonden, Hokkaido. He was the last of the Arai clan living in Tonden who had yet to place his trust in Jesus. As his family members were baptized one by one in the preceding years, I struck up a relationship with the patriarch of the family who served as the chief priest at the local shrine. Many people around the world focused their prayers on this last ‘holdout’ within the Arai family. Rather than being antagonized by the conversion of his family members, elderly Mr. Arai often spoke favorably of Christianity.
Knowing that grandfather Arai was not only hard of hearing but that his sight was dimming, the church gave him a large print Bible which he allowed me to read to him whenever I visited. As I read the Scriptures out in a loud voice, the irony didn’t escape me that anyone visiting the shrine at that time would also hear the truth of God’s Word.
A list of fees the shrine charged for certain blessings was posted in the room where we met to talk about the Bible:
¥10,000 for a car blessing
¥5,000 for a school test blessing
¥10,000 for a new baby blessing
¥15,000 for a new home blessing
The list continued, but it never failed to remind me of the emptiness of men’s religions. Every visit I prayed for God’s blessing to fall upon this man so that he would be delivered from the darkness of the beliefs that had held him and generations before him in captivity. After four years our time at this church came to an end, but over the time that we served there we observed a steady progress in grandfather Arai’s understanding of spiritual things.
His respect for the church grew to such a degree that he donated a piece of land for the church to construct its own building. This land was previously earmarked to be used for another Shinto shrine so this decision reflected the changes God was bringing about in this man’s heart. A major step towards his eventual freedom was to move away from the shrine into a house built especially for him next to the church. Grandfather Arai’s special request was to have a skylight installed in the ceiling of that house so he could look up and see the cross on the church steeple.
At 92 years of age, elderly Mr. Arai was finally ready to openly declare his faith in Jesus and despite his frailty, insisted upon a baptism by full immersion in the church he had grown to love.
Grandfather Arai is now in heaven, but my wife and I have stayed many times over the years in that little house which was converted by the Arais into a B&B. As I gaze up through the skylight there on our visits and catch a glimpse of the church cross, I never fail to think of how God blessed this one family, honoring the prayers of many from long ago.
May the day come when such stories will become common across Japan and the Word of God will go forth unhindered, like my loud voice in a Shinto shrine many years ago.
By Mike McGinty