Our guest blogger and OMF missionary in Japan, Levi Booth, explores the importance of post-Christmas evangelism:
I’m guessing the Christmas season is over in the UK? I mean technically your tree and decorations should all be down by now, right?
In Japan Christmas is definitely over. It’s a distant memory in fact. For the first half of December shops everywhere had decorations up and Christmas songs playing, but once we hit the 26th that all changed. Overnight the music changed. We were into full-on New Years mode. People were off traveling to visit family, enjoying drinking parties, and hunting for bargains in the sales.
And then today (January 8th) it’s ‘coming of age day’ so my instagram and facebook feeds are overrun with photos of twenty-year-olds in kimonos and suits (boys generally leave the traditional Japanese dress to the girls). And from tomorrow it’ll be back to normal school term and working life.
Christmas in Japan is undoubtedly the easiest time to invite people to church. We were even allowed to advertise for our Christmas party at the local community center, despite their usual restrictions on religious events, and we had over forty people come and hear about the birth of Christ. All over Japan the Christmas season creates amazing opportunities for Christians to share the good news.
But now the Christmas season is well and truly over. So what now?
We rejoice in the good news of Christmas, that’s what.
The news that the Christ has been born. The King has come. God came to earth. And he didn’t remain a baby. Christmas was only for a season. It was only always for a season. If Jesus had remained an infant – silently sleeping in a horse trough – their would be no hope for Japan. None for you or me either, for that matter. He outgrew the stable (or guestroom, whichever it was). He outgrew Bethlehem. He outgrew Nazareth. He lived the perfect life, he died the perfect sacrifice, he was risen and now he reigns as the perfect high priest, and the perfect king.
For sure Christmas creates great opportunities to introduce people in Japan to Jesus. But our hope as Christians is not in the season of Christmas but in the Spirit of Christ – in us, empowering us, guiding us to make disciples of Jesus whatever songs play in shops or movies play on TV.
Maybe you’re feeling the post-christmas ‘what now?’ blues. After all, Japan and the UK aren’t so different. OK, they’re crazy different. But British people can be just as apathetic about Jesus as the Japanese. So it might feel like you too have missed your chance to introduce people to Him. Maybe next Christmas, eh?
Or how about join me in praying. Praying for ordinary Japanese Christians to have boldness to share the gospel with friends and family this new year season. Praying for missionaries to not lose heart, but to rather be filled with expectant faith for what God will do through his church in the coming months. And know that I am also praying for you to have opportunies and boldness to share about Jesus, whatever the season.
Christmas is over: long live the Christ!
Levi lives in Yokohama (a bit west of Tokyo) and works for a church there. When he’s not working there, guest blogging here or writing on his own blog, he can be found exploring Japan by foot, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or relaxing in a cafe with espresso and manga.
The third and final part of our series of posts on missionary identity by OMF worker Wendy Marshall looks at how the notion of ‘home’ becomes difficult for missionaries. If you missed the other two parts, you can find part 1 and part 2 here.
Most people’s identity is tied up with a particular place. We often ask someone new we meet, ‘So, where are you from?’
On Sunday I attended the memorial service for a Japanese missionary and witnessed an awkward conversation between two missionaries who’d never met before. Both Americans, but serving in two different countries.
The Japan-based one asked, ‘Where are you from?’
There was a pause.
Then tentatively he offered, ‘California.’
The hesitation was because this man had just two days earlier come to Japan for the memorial service for his former colleague. He’d come from the country in which he was serving and wondered if the question meant, ‘Where are you serving now?’
‘Home’ is a difficult word when you live in a different country to your passport. Though my passport is Australian, Japan is where my husband and I have brought up our children. In eighteen years of childrearing, we’ve spent only four-and-a-half of them in Australia. It’s been 17 years since we spent more than a year there. In many ways Japan is home for us. When we’re not in Japan, we miss it and the people we know here. But Australia is also home. There are people we love there, and places and things we miss, though no longer as much as we used to when we first came. So, in many ways we straddle the ocean. We’re no longer completely comfortable in either place. We’ll never be Japanese, nor will we ever be 100% at home in Australia again.
So when someone asks us ‘Where’s home?’ It’s difficult to answer. ‘Where are you from?’ is a little easier, because I can say that I grew up in Queensland, Australia. But it doesn’t tell the full story. I went to a writer’s conference in Australia a couple of years ago and I must have struggled with the application form, because the name tag they gave me when I arrived said ‘Wendy Marshall, Brisbane (or Tokyo)’.
It’s not just how we feel, but as OMF missionary, Karl Dalfred, points out, we’re caught between two countries because no one in either country fully comprehends us either (except those who’ve lived a similar expat lifestyle to us). That’s why missionaries love to get together—because that’s usually whefre we feel most at home, with people who understand why ‘home’ is a difficult concept for us to define.
Next time you meet a missionary, instead of asking ‘Where are you from?’ a better question would be, ‘What have you lived?’
‘You are what do you?’ Is that true? For missionaries, it can sometimes feel that way. The second in our series of posts on missionary identity looks at how missionaries can feel defined by their role and lose perspective. But Wendy also looks at how supporters can help their missionaries in prayer. (If you missed the first post in the series, you can read it here).
As challenging as describing my occupation as a missionary is, I sometimes wonder how well I’d adjust if I lost that label. How tied up has my identity become with my role?
This is a common challenge for missionaries who have to leave the place they’ve been sent to serve in for one reason or another. Be it a sudden change due to illness, a much-agonised change due to conflict, or a planned change due to retirement. Former missionaries frequently go through a period of grief as they adjust to their loss of the role of ‘missionary’.
I asked a former mission worker and pastor about her experience of role loss and she said:
‘I struggle with not being known by people around me. I’d been attending a church for almost a year when I first led worship, and someone said, ‘Wow, you’re a natural at this.’ I didn’t know how to explain my background of 25 years of ministry in Japan, without sounding proud.’
It’s something we need to be careful about while we are still in that missionary role. If our identity gets bound up in this title, then we’ll have difficulty living a balanced lifestyle. We’ll try to prove our worth by our work. Simply taking a day off or a holiday will be difficult.
The antidote to that is keeping our eyes fixed on our Lord. He gave us this role, and we’re just participating in his work. Having God firmly in the right place in our thoughts will give us a better perspective and the security we long for. It will give us the freedom to take breaks, to be misunderstood, and to be less defensive about our roles.
10 reasons a missionary needs an identity rooted in Christ (A Life Overseas, an online community for missionaries).
Wendy’s blog for insights into life in Japan as a missionary.
Celia Olson is an OMF missionary in Japan with her husband Keith. In this post, which originally appeared on Celia and Keith’s blog in 2013, Celia reflects on the challenge of standing out so much as a foreigner. Keith and Celia have served in Japan for the last seven years. Celia uses her musical gifts in mission, playing her cello and you can find out more about that in her Q&A with OMF US.
One day as I was on my way out of the house, I passed about 50 kindergarteners on the pavement. I could tell they were kindergarteners because of their red hats, marking them out as being in the same class. Before I could even smile to myself at their sweet faces and high-pitched voices, a chorus of ‘haro, haro!’ rang out. That’s the Japanese pronunciation of ‘hello.’ I was cat-called in English by 50 Japanese kindergarteners. I probably should have been happy.
When I first arrived in Japan, I probably would have stopped to say hello. Several years in, I confess there were a number of responses that ran through my head, but none of them were ‘stop and say hello.’ I first thought about responding with a cheery ‘ohayōgozaimasu’ (good morning). Then I thought about saying (in Japanese) ‘Sorry, I don’t speak English.’ In the end, I fled on my bike without saying anything, pretending not to hear, wondering to myself, ‘What are their teachers teaching them, anyway?’
Getting cat-called by little kids shouldn’t bother me. It bothers me that I’m bothered by it. I know I should stop and return the greeting, since that’s the polite thing to do. But are those kids calling out a greeting to everyone they meet, or just to the one person who stands out?
In Ishikari, the small city where I live, there aren’t any tourists. Any gaijin (foreigner) here will generally have a pretty good grasp of Japanese, since he or she will be here for work or study. Most of the time, people I meet speak Japanese to me without a second thought, or if they’re feeling hospitable, they might ask, ‘Is it okay if I speak Japanese?’ I’ve gotten so accustomed to speaking Japanese with strangers that it startles and even confuses me when a stranger begins a conversation in English.
A couple of months previously while on holiday, my husband and I visited a church where a friend of ours is the pastor. Another visitor from a rural area struck up a conversation with us as we were having coffee after the service. ‘We love missionaries,’ he said. ‘They’re like kyakuyose panda’ (crowd-drawing panda—we might say ‘dancing monkey’ in English). The pastor and his wife were shocked; they assured us afterwards that they saw missionaries as colleagues working together for the sake of the gospel.
Sometimes it seems that my greatest value to the Japanese church is that people will come to gawk at the gaijin, but introvert that I am, I struggle with standing out. I’m not some animal at the zoo. I’m a person who values close friendships and good conversation. I’m thankful for friends who patiently listen to my less than perfect Japanese and repeat what they’ve said when we don’t catch it the first time. These friends are willing to get under the surface—they can see beyond the fact that I am a gaijin and they are Japanese. The best conversations happen when we all forget what language we are speaking and just talk and laugh together like old friends. If I didn’t have great friends, I would probably spend a lot of time hiding in my house. Well, maybe not, but going out would be a lot more tiring than it is.
Despite my limitations and frustrations, there really are some ways in which it is beneficial to be a gaijin missionary in Japan. Some people will come to church events to meet gaijin. Some of them even come back a second time. Gaijin are often perceived as friendly and open, so lonely people sometimes start conversations with me. Those who feel overburdened by the many pressures of Japanese society may come to a gaijin, who is on the outside of Japanese society, for help.
I wish I weren’t bothered that I stand out. I’m praying that I can see my own ‘strangeness’ as an opportunity and not as a cross to be borne.
It’s the Easter weekend, filled with church services, hot cross buns and Easter egg hunts.
We know what Easter looks like the UK, but what about in East Asia?
We asked three cross-cultural workers what Easter is like where they are and how we can be praying for these places.
Ask the average Japanese person on the street if they have heard of Easter, ‘the resurrection festival,’ and the answer is almost sure to be ‘no’.
So Easter is a wonderful opportunity for the church to reach out to the majority of Japanese who have no knowledge of life eternal.
Most funerals are Buddhist and are followed by memorial services on the 7th, 49th, and 100th days after death, and then irregularly for years to come. Relatives feel obliged to attend, although many say the prayers intoned by the priests are incomprehensible. Everyone wears black and the atmosphere is usually thick with incense. There are many Buddhist sects but most are vague about what happens to people at death.
So Christian memorial services are a great opportunity to share the hope of the resurrection. Every year on Easter Day, my Japanese church combines the main Easter service with a memorial for all church members who have died. Families are invited and it is exciting to have up to 20-30 non-Christians coming to church for this service. Many stay for the special lunch and sharing of memories. Pastor Matsumoto reads two testimonies followed by a simple Easter message. He says, ‘It is important for relatives to hear the testimonies of their loved ones and to see how lovingly they are remembered by the church family.’
Pray that many relatives will learn to say, as their loved ones did, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Phil 1:21).
Easter is sadly not celebrated at all in Thailand as it is often around the time of the Thai New Year (or Songkran) on 13-15th April.
The whole country is on holiday at this time to visit family and bless Buddhist monks and images by pouring scented water over their hands. Thai Christians will adapt this ceremony to honour the elderly and leaders in church (see photo).
Sadly, Songkran is also known for the high number of fatalities as thousands drink and drive, gathering to have a massive water fight and paste clay on people’s faces.
The good news of freedom and hope through Jesus Christ who has defeated death is much needed in a culture of karmic beliefs.
Easter can pass you by in most of China. Compared to Christmas, where you can buy plastic trees and decorations in major supermarkets, Easter is not marked in any commercial sense. You can buy Kinder eggs, but then these are on the shelves all year round!
Only Christians and foreigners seem to mark Easter at all. However, it usually coincides with a very important festival called Qing Ming Jie – or tomb-sweeping day.
At this time of year families make their way back to their ancestral homes to sweep the tomb of their ancestors, the graves are swept and incense is burned as living family members bow down to those past and offer up prayers for them in the afterlife. Paper money is burned in the belief that burning it on earth sends it to relatives who in the afterlife still need such earthly things. Enterprising paper money sellers have learnt to move with the times and the streets are lined with them not just selling paper money, but also paper designer clothes, luxury cars and even iPhones!
The festival presents both a deep challenge and a great opportunity in China for believers. As the festival is a public holiday, it can distract from anything happening in the surrounding weeks – everyone is busy back at work. However, churches in the area are very active in putting on both events for believers and outreach events. So even though on a commercial level, there is absolutely no indication that anyone is aware Easter exists, yet, I hope and pray that through the activity of our brothers and sisters, that many will get to hear about the real, non-commercial Easter story.
Will you pray for them?
Find out more: If you’d like to find out more about Qing Ming Jie, have a read of this Gospel Coalition blog post, ‘the swept tomb vs the empty tomb‘.
This Easter weekend, as you go to church and enjoy Easter eggs, could you take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters in East Asia as they celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? And will you pray for the many who are yet to hear of this good news that transforms lives?
Please pray with us:
For Christians to have opportunities to share with friends and colleagues about the hope of Easter.
Church services such as the memorial services in many Japanese churches and the visitors who come.
That by God’s grace, whole societies would be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ, who has defeated death.
My name is Kathy, and I have loved Japan ever since I lived there at the ages of 10-12. Now I am 22 and have been back twice since then. The last time was for a month with OMF’s Serve Asia programme. One of the things I learned whilst in Japan was to always have a minute long self-introduction prepared, so I’m a pro at this first bit! Anyway, here are the three things I have learned in Japan: