I’m often asked about what the church in Japan is like. And being a good Brit I tend to focus on the negatives. But today I want to talk about what I consider to be one of the greatest strengths of the Japanese church – namely, that they live out this truth,
‘Brother’ is not a metaphor, it’s a reality.
To illustrate let me tell you about a parcel I received recently.
So last year I went to Sapporo, a city on the Northern Island of Hokkaido. I was only there for 3 months, but during that time I went along to a church and got to know the Inoue family. They had me over for dinner one afternoon, which was nice, and they promised to write to me back in England.
However I have to confess that I was not expecting them to keep that promise in such dramatic fashion. I’m generally not very good at writing letters – I’ve been “working on” one for a couple of weeks – and I’ve probably exchanged letters with only about half the people who I’ve exchanged addresses with. So I was very pleasantly stunned by the parcel I received a few weeks back.
The reason being that the main contents of the parcel was not for me, but for my nephew, Luke. He’s recently started at primary school: something I had mentioned in passing during a chat on Skype.
The Inoues had sent him a little bundle of starting school goodies: pencils, stickers, a globe pencil sharpener (opens around the equator: you must have had one as a kid?), and a t-shirt. They even included another for Luke’s brother, Joel, so as to avoid sibling arguments.
Now this isn’t the first parcel I’ve received from them and I have a hunch that it won’t be the last. We Skype often and have talked about stuff we’ll do together when I’m back in Japan. They treat me as if I was actually part of their family. In fact the mum of the family introduced herself to my dad as “Levi’s family in Japan.”
And the most surprising thing about this is that it’s not all that unusual – at least not in my experience. Every time I’ve visited Japan I’ve had the experience of meeting family that I didn’t know I had.
Now I’m not sure that the Inoues understand that what they’re doing is strange. In one sense it isn’t strange. It’s simply living out a key truth of the Christian gospel: those who have faith in Jesus Christ become one family.
This is an area that I think the church in the UK can learn from the Japanese church. I know people who have thought about the ‘metaphor’ of family as something that helps organise a church structurally. But I don’t know of a church that lives out the truth of being a family as well as those I’ve known in Japan.
(NB: of course there are exceptions I could talk about, but cut me some slack, I’m trying to keep the word count down here!)
In Japan it seems when a Christian calls you ‘brother’ they mean it. For Japanese Christians church-as-family is not a metaphor, but a reality, and one that drives the entire way they be [sic] church.
Why is this? Because churches tend to be small, so being family is easier? Because hospitality is just a part of Japanese culture?
Maybe. Or maybe folk in Japan just take the stuff in the Bible about being family seriously.
I think the more important question is are we in the UK going to learn from the Japanese church? Will we have the humility to acknowledge that the Japanese church – in one sense our younger brother – has important lessons to teach us?
I do hope so, because it’d be nice to get as many parcels when I’m back in Japan as I do here in the UK!
What about you? Have you experienced church in a different country? What lessons did you learn?