“Do you know who I am?” The man on stage with the microphone was looking at us. From the gasps of unbelief around us when he appeared on stage, it was clear that everyone else knew who this man was. From the puzzled expression on our faces, it must have been clear to him that we didn’t. We shook our heads apologetically. “Japan number one comedian”, he explained very humbly in his broken English.
Since then I’ve asked several Japanese people and they all know this man, ‘Sugi-chan’. What he was doing at the quaint seal show at an aqaurium in a small town in Hokkaido, we still don’t know! He must be good at his job though, because even though we didn’t understand much of what he was saying we had a good laugh about it. We were still chuckling about the whole scenario on the way home.
A few days later I was listening to a friend’s sermon in Japanese on Daniel 1 to try to give some feedback. He explained how Daniel was different to the culture around him and made a stand for God. He told the illustration of how to boil a frog. (If you put it straight into boiling water it’ll jump out, so you have to heat the water up with the frog in the pan). He was highlighting the danger of becoming too accustomed to the culture around and assimilating too much to make a difference.
He was speaking to a Japanese congregation but I thought it applied well to us as missionaries. Missiologists might call it loosing one’s ‘prophetic edge’ to speak to the culture. As missionaries, one danger is being too different from the surrounding culture: we’re not understood, seen as foreign and irrelevant to them along with anything we say or believe. An opposite danger is becoming too similar to the culture: we’re not noticed, and seen as having nothing different or interesting to say. (This missiological principle applies just as much to home mission as it does to overseas mission, if not more so.)
The nature of our situation here in Japan is that we stand out. We don’t look like the people around us. We can’t speak the way they do. Being brought up and educated in non-Japanese environments, our values, views and ways of thinking are different. We are unlikely to fall into the trap of being too similar!
Normally our different-ness is a source of culture stress, feelings of exclusion, isolation and frustration, particular when it comes to trying to communicate on a deeper level in Japanese. But today I am encouraged. With no credit to ourselves, we are not in much danger of being too similar. We are different. That is obvious. And it can be a good thing.
May God use our different-ness to draw many Japanese to Himself.