by Dr Ronnie Cairns
Sketches from Japan
According to a recent survey, only 0.3% of Japanese people profess allegiance to any kind of Christianity. Judging Japan by statistics alone could soon lead to despair. Let us, however, look at a few Japanese people rather than statistics to see the power of God’s Word in Japanese lives.
Why am I like this?
On arrival in Japan, one of the first Japanese Christians I met was Hisako, a girl in her twenties. Despite severe physical handicap – she had to be carried into and out of the church building – she never missed the services and was active and joyful in her devotion to Christ and the gospel. Brought up in a traditional farming family, she contracted polio aged three. Between the ages of five and 13 her life was a tale of dark, suicidal despair. ‘If I’d had a giant brush,’ she wrote, ‘I would have written across the sky, “Why am I like this?”’ Even from primary-school age, Hisako read books on religion and philosophy, and had long talks with the sympathetic priest in the local Buddhist temple – all to no avail.
One day an American missionary came along Hisako’s road distributing gospel literature. Getting into conversation with him, Hisako challenged him with the agonising question of her life, ‘Why am I like this?’ ‘I cannot answer that,’ replied the missionary, ‘but have you ever read this book?’ With that he gave Hisako a New Testament, which she happily accepted.
Gripped with interest, she read her new treasure every day – the Gospels, Acts and on into Romans. When she reached Romans 9, she reacted with shock when she read, ‘“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?”’
Suddenly, overwhelmed by the discovery of a Creator God, who, whatever His purpose, gave her the body she occupied, a sense of significance and hope flooded Hisako’s heart. She joyfully embraced the Creator, who, she went on to discover, had given His Son to save her.
Now an elderly lady, Hisako has lived her life for God and for His Church. Writing her conversion experience for me, she gave it the title Katachizukurareta Utsuwa (A Vessel Formed).
Suddenly, overwhelmed by the discovery of a Creator God, who, whatever His purpose, gave her the body she occupied, a sense of significance and hope flooded Hisako’s heart
On My Way Rejoicing
Kohji was a quiet, hard-working medical student at Shimane Medical University, where I taught during the 1980s. He had joined some classmates in attending the Bible classes I held in our home near the campus. As he faithfully read the Bible and saw its effect on his friends, he realised that this book had a relevance and a power that he had never found in Buddhism, the religion of his upbringing.
One day, overcoming his natural reticence, he asked for a chat with me at home. As I read some Bible passages with him, it was clear that he had already understood the basic challenge of the gospel. Reading the story of the Ethiopian (Ac. 8), he suddenly said, ‘I believe. There is nothing now but to go on my way rejoicing!’
We later baptised Kohji in the Sea of Japan and he became a member of our Izumo fellowship, staying with us for the remaining years of his medical course. On graduation, he married Keiko, a primary school teacher whom we had earlier baptised. It was a mutual enthusiasm for the Scriptures that had initially attracted them to each other. Today Kohji and Keiko live in one of Japan’s big cities, where Kohji has a private medical practice. They are completely dedicated to the spread of the gospel and three years ago saw a new assembly planted. My wife, Anne, and I always spend time with those enthusiastic believers whenever we visit Japan.
His Greatest Treasure
I once had a two-week stay in a hospital in Ashiya due to an ulcer problem. There were five other men in my ward in various states of ill-health. I soon learned that Mr Nakamoto, the friendly man in the next bed, was in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. One morning before dawn, I was suddenly awakened by a tense and emotional exchange between Nakamoto and a nurse. “I’m finished, nurse.” “Don’t say that Nakamoto san! We are working hard for you, you’ll soon be better, and we’ll have you home to your family.” “No, nurse,” he replied, “you’re not telling me the truth. I’m dying.” The argument went back and forth for a time, and I felt a deep heartbreak for my new friend. He was in his early fifties and both family and hospital staff, out of a sense of kindness, conspired to give him false hope.
Next morning, I went over to his bedside and without telling him I had heard the previous night’s conversation, I showed him a Japanese New Testament. I asked him if he had ever read this book. “I haven’t,” he replied, “but I’ve been intrigued to see you reading it every day.” With his permission I started to read to him from Philippians 4. The dear man’s eyes sparkled with interest.I offered the book to him and with many expressions of gratitude he accepted it. I left the ward for ten minutes and when
I got back, Nakamoto’s head was buried in the New Testament. I heard him repeat under his breath many times, “Hakuryoku ga aru; hakuryoku ga aru!” (This book has power; this book has power!).
Our friendship deepened in the remaining days before my discharge and as I said ‘goodbye’ to him he was weeping. ‘Thank you,’ he said with breaking voice, ‘for the best friendship I have ever had!’
Days later, I had a phone call from the hospital to tell me that Nakamoto was dead. Anne and I waited until we knew the Buddhist rituals would be over. Then we visited his widow to offer our condolences. I looked at the butsudan (the altar where gifts and incense are offered to the spirits of the dead), and there, lying in the centre among the offerings, was his New Testament! Nakamoto’s widow noticed my surprise. “I placed it there,” she explained, “for in the last weeks of my dear husband’s life that book was his greatest treasure!”
I cannot of course be sure, but I dare to believe that Nakamoto had encountered not only a ‘powerful book’ but the powerful Saviour it proclaims.
Who Shall Deliver Me?
When Anne and I hear Masatada minister the Word in the Ashiya assembly, we are moved by his sound grasp of Scripture and deep conviction of its truth. When he joined my university lunchtime Bible class, he had already been reading the Bible. A young man with many problems, he was first introduced to the Bible by Watchtower missionaries. Thankfully he never followed Watchtower, but his interest in the Bible continued. It was that interest that led him to the Bible class.
In discussion, Masatada would quote from Proverbs, the Gospels and from Romans. One day, after perusing a pornographic magazine, which he chanced upon in his student dormitory, he not only felt self-disgust but was convicted by the ruthless accuracy of Paul’s description of the human state in Romans 7. Accepting Christ, he felt a deep assurance of forgiveness.
Masatada then faced a long period of relentless opposition from his traditional Buddhist family, but Buddhist arguments were no match for the assurance Christ had given him. Things were tough but finally, ten years after his first visit to my study, he was joyfully baptised. Later marrying a keen Christian girl, he is today a pillar in the Ashiya church.
Why do I Keep Going There?
Misako was a first-year student in my General Education class at the medical university where I taught. She attended Bible classes in our home and was intrigued by the stories of Jesus. She readily accepted an invitation to join other young people for a mini camp where we would be studying Philippians.
A week later, while cycling home from our home Bible class, she asked herself, ‘Why do I keep attending these classes? Is it because I meet other young people? Is it because I like Anne’s coffee and homemade cookies?’ Suddenly she became aware of a deeper motivation. ‘I go because of One who became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.’ She dismounted and there, in the pitch darkness between the rice fields, she acknowledged Christ as Lord of her life. Today Misako is a wife, mother and paediatric doctor. With her husband, a university lecturer and church pastor, she is fully active in God’s service. Her love of the Scriptures and of the Saviour she met as a young girl is undimmed.
…it is the people behind the percentage who matter most.
Pray for Japan
Space limits me from giving more than these few thumbnail sketches. There are similar examples, and even more dramatic ones, in the experience of workers and churches all over Japan. 0.3%? Perhaps, but it is the people behind the percentage who matter most.