Bubbles

She couldn’t have been older than 3. Then again, three tends to look like two in Japan, and five like three, ten like seven and twenty like twelve. Maybe she was five.

I watched her hands as they reached for the bubbles.

Young

Soft

Miniature hands

She grabbed for the little globes

Rainbows near her eyes

They danced all around

Up and away

Circling about

Playing their elusive games

And when she caught them they hid themselves further

Popping with surprise

Bursting with envy

Out of desire to be higher

 

I observed her carefully

Pondering her life

A child survived

Innocence deprived

A giddy, giggling little thing

She bounced around

Chasing her toys

Making little noises

For a moment a child plays

In a nation where wrath did not delay

Rainbows near their eyes

Hope dancing all around

Playing its elusive games

Evading little hands

 

Gently now

And outstretched arm

Descending from above

It lands on her palm

Fragile grace

Like glass it breaks

 

For a moment a child plays

For a moment hope remains.

 

Meeting Jesus in Japan

A disheveled conversation with Jesus at the center

It wasn’t a long conversation. Maybe 20, 30 minutes at the most. He’d only stopped by the church to greet the pastor. Curiosity, though, drew him into my hiragana lesson and allowed for us to share a few meaningful moments. After practicing my “a, i, u, e, o” words with him and adding a few new words to my vocab I asked about his background. We get a wide range of characters around GMC, so I didn’t want to make any assumptions.

Originally from Hokkaido, Takahashi was sent to Iwaki with his work. I gathered that he’s a medical technician, something about taking blood and diagnosing illness. His wife and two grown sons are in Sendai, where he last lived. The job requires that he moves every two years, and when the children were younger it was too much transition. He came to Iwaki on his own in order to let his wife care for his elderly mother. She’s since died of the same disease that took Takahashi’s father, Hepatitis C. It’s no wonder he went into blood work.

Through his warm smile and sincere small voice I gathered this man was a Christian. I asked and he confirmed with a deep nod of gratitude. It took three times to ask, but eventually I got the questions across, “how did you meet Jesus?” Maybe he was surprised at my language, maybe I was too upfront, but his delayed response had me wondering if he understood. He pulled out a pad of paper and started his story from the beginning.

Hokkaido.

Sendai.

Sick mother.

Mother died.

Then I didn’t understand.

9.11

“Nine eleven?”

He emphasized it with two thick lines.

“Nine eleven”. His eyes got big and wet and his voice stronger. “I turned on the television. One, two towers. Two jet planes. Crash! Crash!” He raised his hands as he recounted his emotions that day. Shock.

“How can this happen God?! Who would do this?!” he said. “I never prayed to God, but for the first time… And then in the window I saw a man.” He hunched over the paper and with quick sharp lines he drew. “I saw a man in white. I was scared. Who is this man? ‘Who are you?’ I asked. The man said ‘I am Jesus'”.

The story ended there without much explanation. The next Sunday he went to church, heard about Jesus and surrendered his life to God.  So simple.

Later I asked Mr. Takahashi about his favorite verse. He pulled up Isaiah 41:31 “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary,  they will walk and not be faint.” “Pretty popular verse,” I though. “Cool”. Of course, though, there was more.

When Saving Private Ryan came out in 1998 Takahashi-san had gone to the theaters like many others. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be Japanese and watch a movie about a war you’d lost. The movie takes place in Europe, I suppose, so maybe it was far enough removed to empathize with.  Similar to his experience 3 years later over September 11th, Takahashi was moved to tears and brought low at the sight of war. “Omaha Beach”, he said, nodding with eyes nearly shut. Then he read Isaiah 40:31 in Japanese, followed by a bit of charades. Gun-fire, men running, dying, bullets flying.

I don’t know where it is in the movie, but some 20 second clip within that 3 hour-long film showed a priest, a single man going out among the bodies, dodging bullets and laying crosses over the wounded and dying.  That scene struck something deep within Takahashi’s heart planted seeds of admiration towards Christians, men who would risk their lives to honor and respect their brothers.

Two stories. America under siege and America at war. A Japanese father touched by the bravery of soldiers who have now since died.  The same working man brought to his knees at the sight of needless death in New York. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somewhere in the story I felt the mystery of a miracle. Decades ago we were enemies, Japan and the US, but today this ordinary, middle-aged Japanese man has found the peace of God, the peace the transcends all knowledge. Jesus introduced himself and put his Spirit in Takahashi-san, so that he can be the eternal dwelling place of kindness, goodness and self-control. Out of so much loss, so much grief, out of war and violence one man found perfect harmony with God. Joy and life everlasting.

It took three times to ask, but eventually I got the questions across, “how did you meet Jesus?” Maybe he was surprised at my language, maybe I was too upfront, but his delayed response had me wondering if he understood. He pulled out a pad of paper and started his story from the beginning.

Takahashi had indeed met Jesus. I gather he’s never had anyone ask him his testimony using those words, but they were perfectly suitable to describe his 9.11 encounter.

Declare a Holy Fast

Image

 

I missed the evening meeting. So much was going in on my head I silently bowed out to get some space in the empty sanctuary below. I hurried into the lowly lit chapel that smelled of fresh pine. Rows of empty chairs. A dry baptismal. A map stretching across the wall with the pacific made central. There I found rest and instruction for the rest of my week.

I came up stairs and into the nearly finished meeting having heard from the Lord. “Now is the time to fast”, God had said. I wasn’t keen on the message, but I couldn’t deny that I’d heard it. I was greeted on the second floor by cheerful voices and a buzz of activity. “You missed it! We just had an awesome time. Everyone was testifying about the power of prayer and now they want to fast!”

That morning Dayn and I had prayed, “Lord we want gatherings of prayer, we want people to want to come together and seek your face, that there would be days of prayer, weeks of prayer and that people would hunger and thirst for your presence. But Lord, we don’t want to initiate it. We want you to put it on people’s hearts.”

Eight hours later. 

One of the members of the Romanian team heard the Lord speak out of Joel 2, “declare a holy fast.” In response the entire group decided to set aside 3 days for fasting, prayer and community service. The California team responded with equal desire to see the Japanese set free and wholeheartedly joined in. Some of the Japanese staff were moved by the overflow of love coming from foreigners and hopped on the holy bandwagon. The result has been 6 hour prayer chains each afternoon. In the mornings the teams visit survivors of last year’s disaster. In the evenings we cook, clean and prepare to feed the stomachs and hearts of some 50 to 60 people, believers and unbelievers alike. This is my definition of fun. 

Last night we gathered together, all of us with one thing on our minds: God set Japan free from the yoke of slavery. We took turns sharing testimonies about the power of fasting. One woman had been healed of 5 diseases. Another had experienced financial breakthrough. We felt like the Lord was instructing us not to question our motives or fear whether or not this was a “religious activity”. Instead we positioned ourselves to enjoy the next 3 days as a consecrated celebration of God’s love for this nation. 

There’s a thing that the Japanese say, and a special way they say it here in Fukushima. The word is “ganbappe” and it loosely translates to “keep fighting”. It’s been the rally cry of support since the March 11th tsunami. After a round of tri-lingual popcorn prayer we came together, arms stretched out and hands stacked one on top of the other. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” Then with one voice we cried out, “Ganbappe! Common!”

Come on, God. We’re in this with you, to see the beautiful people of Japan renewed and made whole. And you, Father, say back to us your children, “Keep fighting, kids. I need friends to stand with me in this battle. Let’s love Japan together.”

Sabbath Rest

Sabbath Rest

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves.
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.

“We are Japanese”

This morning I came across two little ones running around GMC, a boy and girl around Kindergarden age. The mother was sitting gracefully, eating her jam covered ham and cheese toast, a colorful young woman from Moldova. The children ran between their breakfast plate and their toys, down the hallway and back again, responding to mama’s sharp eastern European tones.

I asked her, “what are their names?”

“Ask them yourselves. They speak English”.

Celine and Jon. Seven and five respectively. I wondered about their family, what it would be like to grow up in Tochigi, Japan, speaking Russian at home, English at church and Japanese in school. They mesmerized me for a moment. The entire family. Stunning. Beautiful in all regards. The cultures blended like ink in water, no way to distinguish, to draw lines or define.

“We are Japanese”, said the woman in a thick Russian accent.

How perfect, I though. I wonder, twenty, thirty, forty years down the road, a generation from now, what will it mean to be Japanese? When Celine and Jon have children of their own, born and raised in Japan, still the memory of communist Europe running through their veins, left their from their parents parents. The taste of freedom and liberation in their make-up, flowing intermingled with the beauty and delicate nature of Japan.

“We are Japanese”, they will say.