After going to the prayer retreat, I realized that I’ve been pretending that I was already being 100% spiritually filled (even though I knew that I was spiritually parched and thirsty…).
It’s been a very long time since I was able to let go of real life, pray in silence, focus on God, and be still in my spirit. In my daily life, family takes priority. At times when quick decisions must be made, I actually want to listen to the voice of God and spend quality time with Him. But at the same time, I get caught up in everything. So, it was a great blessing that, in the middle of silent prayer, God very clearly showed me that He was with me every step of the way. While keeping in mind that I was given all these relationships (family, relatives, parents of school children, people involved in childcare services, etc.) so that I might take the love of Chris to them, I was able to reflect on the fact that I may have actually been consumed by these relationships (by the world). I resolved that I want to meditate on Romans 12:1-2 and be still in the presence of God. That I want to live my days in thankfulness of the life given to me and with my heart directed toward God, even if only for a moment.
I have participated in Equipper Conference three times before. So about three months ago when I received a retreat invitation from JCFN, I assumed it’s going to be wonderful and decided to register for it, even before knowing what exactly C-WIT was about. It was also convenient for me that the venue this time will be in Northern California, where I could commute from my house. But I found out in the last part of registration that the venue was in fact the church I attend every week. I was a little bit disappointed by this, because it just made it seem like a part of my regular routine, rather than out of the ordinary. But then again, if I changed the way I look at it, it’s easier for me to ask my family to hold down the fort at home, when I’m going to a place only 10 minutes away by car. So I came to attend C-WIT with a positive expectation.
When I arrived at the venue, I saw fabulous faces from JCFN like Setsu, Yuko, and Sachi Nakamura at the church we always go to, and that alone made it feel very special and I was buoyant.
However as I listened to the instruction, I found out that it was a silent retreat. Even during lunch, we were to eat alone in silence without chatting with anybody else. After that, we were supposed to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon to quieten our hearts in silence. I was taken aback by all this, because it was completely different from my expectations of passionate worship, prayer, and fellowship like I experienced in the Equipper Conference.
The morning session by Sachi started as I was still feeling somewhat disconcerted. During her talk, Sachi said: “You each probably have expectations you brought to this retreat. But please set that aside for now. God is already pleased by the fact that you offered the whole day and came together here.” This touched me deeply, because I have 9 and 4 years old sons and normally Saturdays are very busy with different activities and other house chores. It would have been very difficult to spend the whole day at this retreat without the help of my husband. Still I felt bad to say that I made a significant effort to make time to participate, when other participants came on an airplane or drove over an hour to get here. I also felt a bit guilty to have just shown up and didn’t help for set-up even though I was a member of the church where the venue was.
Despite all that, as I was pondering quietly after Sachi’s talk, I felt God was gazing through even the petty guilt I was feeling.
At the same time, I realized I constantly had a switch turned on in my head that said “I have to do something”, and never had time time to be still. I have a preschool age child at home, and we are spending time together just about all the time; caring for children, doing house chores, occasionally listening to my husband (lol)… It was evident that my mind was never at rest and I was exhausted.
Therefore the lunch in silence turned out to a bliss during which nobody interrupted my time. The church’s social hall where it’s normally filled with people was filled with silence. It was magical. I was able to actually savor the flavors in delicious salad. I didn’t have to worry about people around, and didn’t even think about fun topics of conversation. I was just looking at a beautiful view outside and consider the wonder of God who created all of it. Then I felt enormous joy bubbling out of my heart. Until now, my conversation with God was a one-sided projection of my worries and pleas such as for my need to have alone time, my family’s health, my future vision and wish for solutions for all these issues. But since I have arrived at this retreat and let go of these issues for the time being to bring my little self before God, the view I’ve always seen and even the taste of a meal were transformed.
After lunch we were taken to a nearby rose garden. We each went separate ways there and spent our time on our own: Beautiful roses, their sweet fragrance, blue California sky, people in a wedding, a small baby toddling… All these seemed like a sight full of hope and brought joy to my heart again.
I was so glad I could attend C-WIT this time. My biggest take-away was that even after returning to my busy life, I have learned to stop time to time to take a deep breath and be still, and be reminded of beautiful things around me that God has created, and also that I’m loved by the same God and being sustained by Him.
Point 2. How about experience at church in Japan before going overseas?
If he/she met a Christian, became friends or had contact with Christianity for the first time in their life during their stay overseas, it is apparent that the returnee had no experience at church/Christianity in Japan, so this should be considered when you guide him/her. If the returnee was a seeker in Japan, attended Sunday school when he/she was younger or is familiar with the Bible or service because he/she attended a Christian school, he/she knows what church in Japan is like to some extent, therefore confirming their prior experience is important.
Point 3. How was he/she involved in church outside Japan?
If the returnee attended a local church, he/she could have been treated as a guest (visitor). It is challenging for most Japanese to be involved in church activities in an environment where there are many people and a language barrier. Therefore it is possible that the returnee has no experience in serving.
Meanwhile, in the case of a Japanese Church・JCF, like the businessman in Case 2, often people are actively involved in serving soon after baptism (sometimes even during the stage of seeking) as the church needs to be supported by only a few people.
If he/she is saved at a Japanese church or fellowship such as a home Bible study hosted by a Japanese Christian, it is possible that the returnee was actively serving in the group. It is helpful to know this background information as well.
Point 4. How did the returnee develop their faith? Baptism?
You may think that the question to confirm the spiritual situation of the returnee should be asked earlier, but if the returnee says that he/she was “baptized” at a local church, it is different from the case that he/she is baptized after preparing for baptism and being taught what it means to be a member of church. Thus I believe that the earlier questions are more meaningful considering the importance of this issue.
In case of a Japanese church, many times, a Japanese pastor is providing some sort of learning opportunities before he/she is baptized, so you may confirm how he/she prepared, how much he/she was taught about church and being a member of a church.
If the returnee was baptized at a local church, since some church baptizes ones who wish to be “baptized,” like Ms. A in the first case, it is important to ask, “How he/she was prepared,” and “how the Christian life was led by those who were baptized at the church.” For example, in the UK, a so-called “Christian nation,” as a part of a state church tradition, baptism mainly means infant baptism, and it is common that even nonbelievers have their child baptized when he/she is a baby, just like Omiyamairi* in Japan (*Omiyamairi literary means a visit to shrine. It is a Shinto ritual that occurs when a baby is about 1 month old. They wear special white clothes for the ceremony, and have a special kimono draped over them. As the baby’s grandparents hold him/her, the priest presents the news of the birth to the guardian spirit of the shrine, and offers thanks. He then asks the spirit to protect the baby and keep him/her healthy.). Those who were baptized as Christians attend the same “diocese” wherever they move to, therefore the sense as being a “member of a church” does not exist in general. (Of course, Baptist churches and established churches exist in the UK as well.) Although there is no such a diocese system in the US, Australia・New Zealand, there are many churches that are not conscious about the church membership system, therefore it is not rare to be baptized on the day when one prays for confession. Thus it is often the case that there is a significant difference between being baptized at a local church or at a Japanese church. At a Japanese church, being baptized means becoming a member of the church in many cases, however, baptism at church outside Japanese purely mean the confession of one’s faith.
It is also a rare case, but sometimes when we ask the returnee about their confession of faith in detail, he/she just could not say, “no” when they were asked if they believe in God,” because his/her friend in the area took care of him/her very well and taught Bible politely with patience. This is difficult to understood by non-Japanese.