I bring you Christmas greetings from the church in Japan. We have entered the advent season, and each church is preparing to welcome the Christ-child into their midst. For churches in our Northeastern Conference, that means a celebration on December 20th, Sunday morning, and December 24th, Christmas Eve. Many of our churches have less than ten people who gather regularly on Sunday. But, on this day we can hope that our numbers will be doubled. Christmas is well known by the wider public, and there are people who are open to coming on “special days.”
At the Kita Sanbancho Church which I attend with my family, the children are busy preparing for the Christmas play. This year we are performing the Exodus Story. Some mothers will help to make the costumes, and others are involved in practicing for the big day. My wife, Kako, was responsible for writing up the script. This play will be performed on Sunday, after worship. We usually sit down to a splendid lunch, during which various groups put on a performance. “Our church” has an average attendance of 65 on Sundays. The majority of people are older than 70. This is true of all churches across the nation. There may be about ten young people at Kita Sanbancho Church, but we have not been so successful at getting them together to do activities of their own.
Some people remark that mission in Japan was a failure. You go to the neighboring country, Korea, and you can see churches everywhere. Twenty five to thirty percent of the population of Korea is Christian. Christianity is no longer a foreign religion for them. They have taken it in and owned it. For the Japanese however, Christianity is for the most part a foreign import. Christians are only one percent of the population. The numbers will decrease in the coming years as the post-war generation passes on. But I am not convinced that “mission in Japan was a failure.” I believe God works in different ways in different settings. Koreans embraced Christianity during the harsh years of Japanese colonization, and then also during the years of military rule after the Korean War. The gospel was a liberating force for them. But Japan has never been ruled by outside forces. When the gospel took root among the common people of Japan, and the gospel moved them to stand up for what is right, Christianity was brutally suppressed.
I think there is meaning in being small. God must have a purpose even for a small minority community. The Japanese church is so visibly weak. Many fear for the future of the church here. I believe however, that God is a God that provides. The gospel tells us “do not fear!” There is no room for fear this Christmas! So into our midst we are preparing to welcome the Christ-child. Japanese Christians will not be filled with joy because so many people came out for the Christmas worship. No their joy will be something deeper; a joy that comes from knowing that God has claimed them to live out a life sustained by God’s Promise. As our children perform the Exodus play this Christmas, I will be thinking of the many ways in which God has worked throughout human history to liberate us from the bonds that tie us down; the greatest of which is our own fear.
Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek and family
Kako, Hana(10), Tomo(8), Stella(3)
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the Gakusei (Student) Center in Japan. He serves as Director of Gakusei (Student) Center in Sendai, Japan.