Sunday, June 3, 2012

Love, Mercy and the Gospel in Japan

Due to the chaos and traveling of the past few weeks, it had been a couple Sundays since I'd made it to Grace City in Ginza, and evidently while I was gone, Pastor Makoto started a new series on characteristics of the Holy Spirit.  Today's sermon, drawn from Micah 6:8 and Acts 4:32-37, discussed the quality of mercy as it is revealed through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Makoto explained that the Holy Spirit pushes us to unite what we say and what we do, and heals us in the process.  Because of this unity between our knowledge of what is right, and our will, we are more inclined to live in service, charity and love.  Because of this unity, we will be more likely to live out hesed (the Hebrew word for the unique kind of compassion that God shows in keeping His promises, even when we fail on our end).  This is the truest kind of mercy.  One thing that Pastor Makoto said that struck me was that this kind of mercy is not the opposite of justice; rather these elements go hand-in-hand.  Furthermore, he suggested, it is this love and mercy that will be so vital to renewing Tokyo and all of Japan.

The congregation of Grace City Church is primarily Japanese professionals--as I listened to Pastor Makoto, I could not help but be excited at the possibilities because I agree with him 100%.  Though my mission in Japan is pretty well removed from ministering directly to the Japanese people, I have watched the state of missions here as carefully as I possibly could for the 3 and a half years that I've been here.  I've noticed several trends, somewhat concerning:

First, it seems that the population of missionaries here tends to be aging--the generation that started CAJ has passed on for the most part, and now their children, the original MKs of the 50s-60s, are beginning to retire.  As a result, the number of younger missionaries from the U.S. and Canada seems to be small, especially in comparison to what it would have been 30 or 40 years ago.  Much larger are the numbers of younger missionaries from Australia and Korea; this is a positive, obviously, but given the U.S.'s close relationship with Japan, I would love to see renewed energy and passion in the form of a new generation of American missionaries coming over.

Second, there seem to be a lot of missed opportunities.  I want to be as circumspect and careful as I can be in how I say this, so that what I say doesn't come across as accusatory or critical of people I know, and for any who read this, please realize that this is simply the impression I've gotten based on 3 years of observation: I may be wrong, may be misreading things.  This said, it seems to me that there is a tendency to become so zoned in on the business of planting a church, or maintaining house-churches and Bible studies that some missionaries may miss the opportunity to witness on a more informal, day-to-day basis.  I'm not talking evangelizing on street corners, but simply making conversation with people at the store, or in restaurants... acknowledging the Japanese people, seeking out opportunities to show kindness and love no matter what the circumstance.  My frequent attendance at Reno's Bistro, a setting where there is typically a combination of Japanese and foreign customers, has shown me both extremes.  Sometimes, I see and overhear wonderful moments--connections being made to new groups of Japanese people through shared love of a meal, of music, of sports.  These conversations (at least to the extent that I can gather) are not always heavily spiritual in tone; in fact, rarely so.  Typically, it's just the act of acknowledging and engaging in conversation.  I've also witnessed some pretty calculated ignoring on the part of the missionaries; avoiding eye contact with the Japanese customers, no engagement in conversation... sometimes, even more deliberate acts of exclusion (or else, very, very ignorant and unobservant). 

Here's the thing, though: if you're a missionary here, it's a full-time job and you can't just say "Well, I needed a break from my job to spend time with my family, so I'm going to go out of my way to be cold to the people I'm supposed to be loving and ministering to."  That's not a luxury that a missionary has; not in public locations, anyway.  The best moments that I've witnessed, personally, have been ones that started with basic elements of love and mercy, as Pastor Makoto said.  Again, and I cannot stress this enough, the behaviors I mentioned near the end of the preceding paragraph do not describe all missionaries or even most.  I've simply observed it enough to feel confident in calling it a trend.

If the church is to grow here, that spirit of love and mercy needs to be pervasive.  The longer I live here, the more I grow to love this country and become invested in the missionary movement.  I'm striving to learn Japanese (slowly but surely) so that increasingly, I can engage in even just basic conversations with the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. 

We've been shown love and mercy through Christ; His life, His death, His resurrection.  We read about this in the Bible, and most of us have heard about it all our lives.  We're familiar with what this love looks like, how this mercy and compassion feel, and the Holy Spirit nurtures the growth of those qualities within us.  For the majority of the people here in Japan, this kind of selfless love and mercy is as foreign as the gaijin who walk the streets of Higashi Kurume.  Ours is not to primarily tell about love and mercy... ours is to actively live out and show that love and mercy.

To my readers living in America and Canada: if you've ever considered missions, Japan needs your passion, energy and love.  Pray for Japan, and pray about the call to missions: it could be that God is calling you here, now.

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