Robert & Roberta Adair

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A few weeks ago, a Japanese Christian singer came to volunteer at some temporary housing facilities.  She sang a couple of songs at church and, in between songs, she shared an image of how she views the role of the church and of Christians in Japan.  She shared that we are standing along a river trying to pull people out of the flow before they go over a huge waterfall (incidentally, Japan has a TON of waterfalls).   IMG_0405

R translated this part for me then mentioned that he thinks our Japanese friends aren’t on the side of the river – they’re in the current.  They aren’t bystanders watching; they feel the pull of the current very strongly and have to constantly fight it themselves.  They feel this in ways that I don’t.  That I can’t.

[I’m reminded of this – my non-Japanese-ness – with the “ridiculous” statements/questions I make, such as: “If your husband would rather come home and spend time with his family in the evenings instead of going out for the socially-mandatory after-work drinking party 5x/week until 9 or 10pm, why doesn’t he just (man up and) go home already?” – which is met by blank stares and head shakes.  That’s not how it’s done here, Roberta.  Which is met with my – "Then change it!  If it’s a system that is damaging and lamesauce, change it!"  Which is met with – You don’t get it, Roberta.  Heck no, I don’t, despite learning about power distance and collectivism and uncertainty avoidance…and whatever else is at play here.]

Still, I’m finding this picture of a river and waterfall to be helpful.  I need to realize that, as much as I’m trying to learn and do “incarnational ministry,” I’m still on a rock by the river throwing a lifesaver to people. I see the current, but I don’t really feel it.  I might understand it intellectually more and more, but I don’t experience social pressure of thousands of years with millions of people flowing in the direction of the waterfall.  I also realize that when I don’t realize the current my Japanese friends are standing in, I become pretty judgmental.  (“Why aren’t you stronger?  Why are you so timid?  Why aren’t you more brave?  Why don’t you…?”)

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Yet on our hike in the Kita Alps in August, I had my own experience with feeling the current of fast-moving water and not being strong enough.  There was a big rain the day before we started that mixed with the snow melt on the mountains.  At first, there were a few rough bridges to help us cross the water.  Soon, there were no bridges.  We wound up forging across the river 8 or 10 times with our boots hanging around our necks.

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The first crossing like this was too much for me.  Robert crossed (in his boxers – cute!).  It took him some time, but he made it no problem.  Then I started to cross.  I only made it a few steps.  Despite not being very deep, the water was so fast, so cold, and the rocks on the bottom were so uneven and so sharp, and my pack was so heavy.  (and, darn it, my feet were “so delicate.”)

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Although I like to consider myself a “strong, independent, free-thinking woman,” I lost my balance and sat down in the water.  Twice.  I panicked, and Robert had to come and get my pack.  I then managed to make it across the water, but I was practically crawling.  (sidenote – getting gear wet on the first day of a week-long hike at that altitude can be a pretty serious thing.  Thankfully, nothing major got wet.  It was, however, a bit sobering.)

We crossed several more times – none of which were as tough as the first one but all of the crossings took a lot of time and planning and involved me whining about cold water and delicate feet.  …We were fine.

Back to Japanese Christian friends’ current experience (pun intended):

The pressure here is incredible.  Appearance.  Hopelessness.  Consumerism.  Secularism.  Workaholic-ism.  Perfectionism.  Buddhism.  Shintoism.  Withdrawal-ism.  Alcoholism (and a lot of other forms of addiction and -isms).  In the US, we sometimes talk about it being difficult to be a Christian in America.  I’m not trying to minimize difficulty in various contexts.  Yet I don’t know how to wrap my mind around the fact that there were more Christians in my secular university (PSU proud) than there likely are in this whole state of Miyagi.  My friends involved in church planting in the US start with core teams bigger than the larger churches in my area.  If Seattle, WA is the most secular city in the US and is 4% evangelical Christian, I think that 4% sounds like a dream in Japan (or in our region, state, town, community).

I’m still processing this water current thing, but I need to again realize that I’m not as strong as I think I am.  (After all, I nearly ruined our hiking trip with wet gear.)  I need deeper understanding of what my Japanese Christian friends are experiencing (particularly those who stay in the current and don’t bubble themselves off from it).  I need greater compassion.  And I/we need hope that this isn’t impossible – that by God’s grace someday 4% (or many more) of Japan will know Christ.

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