I stand before a classroom full of 180 college seniors at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s College in Sendai, Japan. They are in my Christian Studies class because it is required.
"Perfect love casts out fear." First John 4:18
I stand before a classroom full of 180 college seniors at Miyagi Gakuin Women's College in Sendai, Japan. They are in my Christian Studies class because it is required. For the most part they are not interested in Christianity. If anything, they are distrustful and afraid. They know a bit about the religious cults that have expressed themselves in violent ways in society. They also know about the Christian fundamentalist groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on doors trying to spread their brand of apocalyptic Christianity, or the Marumori group that uses loud speakers at major festival times to recite Bible verses to tell the world that "you will be damned if you do not accept Jesus." So the students have reason to be afraid. They believe that religious people are narrow-minded, bigoted, and antagonistic toward other religions. I stand before them at this university which was started by the German Reformed Church of America 123 years ago, very much aware of its rich history of service to women in Japanese society. I know that the challenge before me is to take away the FEAR in their hearts. Each time I face a classroom full of students, I am reminded that "perfect love casts out fear."
Our partner church, the Kyodan (the United Church of Christ in Japan) is deeply divided over the issue of communion. This year marks the 150th year of Protestant mission in Japan. There are many celebrative events planned across the nation to mark this significant time in the history of the church. And yet, it seems as though the Japanese Christians themselves are unable to dialogue at all about the issue of communion; whether the Table should be open to all, or limited to baptized Christians. Last year the standing committee of the Kyodan singled out one ordained pastor and voted to excommunicate him because of his open stance on communion. This sent shock waves across the Kyodan, especially among those who believe that dialogue and tolerance have always been the strong foundations of this United Church. At the General Assembly there was much discussion on this issue. At last the General Assembly did not excommunicate the pastor. However, the issue still remains to be resolved. Our partner church is deeply divided over theological issues. FEAR is alive and well within the walls of the church trying to break the body of Christ.
This month I will be marrying a young couple who used to be students of mine at the Sendai Student Center over ten years ago. The bride to be is a Christian, and the groom a Buddhist priest. When they came to my house to prepare for the wedding, I could sense their anxiety as they discussed some of the issues they may need to face in the future because of their differing religious backgrounds. The Buddhist community has traditionally expected the wife of a Buddhist priest to perform many duties for the temple. The young couple shared with me their commitment to see that the wife's religious integrity is protected. They also expressed how dialogue has been crucial in their relationship as a way to build mutual respect. Such young people can inspire us by their trust in God.
All around the world I think we in the church are witnesses to the LOVE that casts out FEAR.
Fear is everywhere. I am encouraged by so many people who take the courage to express a LOVE that overcomes fear. Without knowing it, they give expression to the Good News; "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
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.