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There's a Spring that Waits to Be

March 7, 2011

This month I was blessed to be present for a baptism of a young man at the Kawadaira Church in Sendai. I came to know Satoshi at the Student Center where I work, and also through the class on Ecumenism which I teach at Tohoku Gakuin University. His family was not Christian, and in fact at one time he had a deep felt resentment toward Christianity. Present that day to witness the baptism were two Buddhist priests. I came to learn that these priests had supported him at a time in his life when he was deeply searching for meaning. They encouraged him in his decision to enter the Christian Studies Department at the university. There we stood together in worship, despite our religious differences, to pray for and to bless Satoshi as he started his new life in Christ.

One of the hymns we sang during worship was the beautiful Japanese hymn; “In the Bulb There is a Flower” (New Century Hymnal #433). I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as I thought of another young man and friend of mine who had died two months earlier from heart failure. Yuta had been baptized at the same church only five years ago, and had been preparing for the ministry. He had been a part of the life of the Student Center for the last seven years. We were all shocked by his sudden demise, and many are still struggling with the fact of his death. As the words of the hymn go; “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a Spring that waits to be.” My tears were a mixture of sadness and joy. God is able to create life out of death, beginnings despite endings, hope in the midst of despair. The lives of two young men overlapped. And the community of believers praised God for the miracle of new life.

Because I have spent most of my life outside of the US, I have come to appreciate the value of a church which is at odds with culture. Not that culture is bad per se. But, culture has a way of expecting all people to conform to particular norms. Culture sometimes dominates, and has little tolerance for people who are different. In that regard, the Japanese church is at odds with the culture around it. Becoming a Christian means stepping out of the dominant culture and claiming a new identity. I have always admired my Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ for their courage to choose faith, despite the strains that might result in their relationship to the majority.

This month we gathered to celebrate the baptism of one young man into the community of faith. Please pray for the church in Japan. Though it is weak and small, God is able to use the church to work wonders for a new Spring.

Jeffrey Mensendiek

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.

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