Walking down the street this morning at about the same pace as a young man going in the same direction, I made a standard greeting. “Its gotten cold, hasn’t it?!” (It’s what everyone says seemingly everyday at the moment!) We got into a bit of small talk; he seemed pretty friendly. I asked if he was a student at HIT (our local uni). He wasn’t. He asked if I was (which I took as a real compliment!). I’m not. So I began to explain that I work in that church down the road.
I don’t know if it was all my imagination but at this point his smile seemed to shift from friendly interest to fearful trepidation. He looked relieved when we’d reached the bus stop which he was walking to and I walked on with a casual parting greeting.
It reminded me of another occasion a few weeks ago when we were out on a family walk and elderly gentlemen who was cycling by stopped to comment on how cute our kids were (It’s what everyone says seemingly all the time!). We chatted for several minutes about the neighbourhood association he’s involved with. Then came the usual question, ‘So what are you doing here in Japan?’ Again, with the mention of church or Jesus, this man who had seemed so keen to talk to us all of a sudden seemed to notice the time and politely made his excuses and left.
At times our strangeness as foreigners can be to our advantage. To a certain extent it allows us to not conform to normal patterns of etiquette – we are allowed to talk to strangers! Some people show an interest in us because they are interested in western culture. But to most Japanese people foreign religion is strange too but not always in a positive sense.
Maybe we need to work on the way we explain what we do to strangers! But I suspect that there is also a real element of fear of religion, cults and the like. It was particularly strong after the Aum sect did their sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. I think that has subsided but there is still a certain degree of fear of the unknown, especially when it comes to religion. JWs and Mormons are also quite active here and there are times when people confuse us with them.
- Pray that we would be unashamed of the gospel but that we would also have wisdom to know how to use words that don’t unnecessarily scare people off
- Pray that people we meet would react not in fear but with a hunger for Truth and Light