To Understand Returnees (6) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #5

For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.

Forward

  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2
  4. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #3
  5. How can I approach them? ー”Are Returnees Space Aliens? #4

To Understand Returnees (6) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #5

Murmur by worker: Is a “returnee” an eccentric?

As society in Europe and the US is basically founded on individualism, respecting individual dignity is a basic premise in the society. For example, disabled people are fully accepted in Europe, where nonbeliever Japanese start to to have an interest in Christianity in some cases. Many local Christians who desire to minister to Japanese show the overflowing love of Christ, and they accept those Japanese the way they are, try to understand, help, serve and deliver the love of Christ as well as the good news of Christ through the how they live. There are quite a lot of Japanese who seek for the truth out of the feeling of “I want to be like this person.

Japanese who leave their own country with the wish to gain something even though they have to overcome the barriers of language and culture may be considered as an “eccentric person” from the point of view of Japanese who do not have experience outside Japan. (It could be different with the case of overseas assignment of the company because they are sent for their company reasons.) Would it seem to be even more bothered because that “eccentric person” has “fueled” his/her eccentricity in such a favorable environment and returns to Japan?

I am not denying this because it could be the case of some people that taking it in such a way helped them to understand, treat and accept returnees, but as we are in a position to have direct contact with returnees, we have a different dimension to look at this. Let’s assume that people who go overseas with their own will are “eccentric.” Yet, even these people are lumped together as “eccentric,” those who go overseas vary in reasons for doing so, such as studying abroad to develop one’s career, utilizing a working holiday opportunity to find one’s own identity, going abroad to reset one’s life, looking for breakthrough from sickness in one’s heart by leaving Japan or having a dream of living overseas even with a fake marriage. Furthermore, are those who do not have overseas experience “not eccentric” at all? In my personal observation, there are some “eccentric” people I cannot get over no matter how hard I try. Regardless of the overseas experience, there are people who are labelled as “maverick outsiders” wherever they are placed.

As we are tackling the challenges of how returnees could put down roots at church or how churches can have a better understanding of returnees and help them, it seems that Japanese tend to prefer “homogeneity (i.e. people who have similar ideas or are placed in a similar position),” and it seemingly applies to churches in Japan as is. That could be found to be a barrier for new comers.

Please do not get me wrong. This is not a simple wish like, “I wish church becomes more like churches outside Japan.” Churches outside Japan have their own challenges. An English Christian who is very familiar with church in Japan says, “Church in the UK has a lot to learn from church in Japan. They should have some activities together as symbolized by the love feast held following Sunday worship service. It also happened that an Englishman who is a nonbeliever lives in Japan and was saved in Japan. Some American Christian’s pointed out a strong tendency that Christians in the US commercialize church, select a church only to fulfill their needs and change church easily if they cannot satisfy their needs, and value how Japanese Christians are conscious of the system of church membership, give tithes and offerings and serve for 1 church for a long time.

Each culture has the expression of Christianity that is befitting it as well as how Church should be. However, as a general tendency, it seems that Japanese church feels is challenging to effectively approach not only to returnees but also to new comers. It could be due to the Japanese mentality which unconsciously wishes that strangers (new comers) will be like themselves. Yet, I think that, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23, to learn how we understand and accept people different from us and to help them grow as a Christian is a significant step to capture even more people for Christ. “To understand and accept returnees” may be a challenge for churches in Japan. That is why we believe that welcoming returnees to church is a blessing for churches in Japan. Through the experience of welcoming “returnees” to church and to love them as a part of the body of Christ and the process of hooking up with people who have different experience from that of our own, church can lay the foundation to accept people who are heterogeneous to us. Needless to say, it does not have to be “returnees,” but could be a “youth who has brown-dyed hair, got a tattoo and speaks a different language from us.” To be a friendly church “for people outside of church community.” To be a church that people who do not normally go to church visit for the first time and feel like “visiting again.” When this is realized, I think that will be the breakthrough to a commonly heard “cooped-up feeling that Christian society in Japan has.” Church will shine To Understand returnee Christians 13 the light of Christ on Japanese society as the body of Christ, which Jesus wishes. We sincerely hope to serve with churches in Japan to that end.

To Understand Returnees (5) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #4

For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.

Forward

  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2
  4. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #3

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Point 4. How did the returnee develop their faith? Baptism? – continued#2

During the second half of the meeting, there is a call from the people there to, “please come to a different room if you would like to learn the Bible.” A “word” from worker Whenever we get an opportunity, we tell about “Japanese who cannot say no,” to local Christians who are guiding Japanese. Those who are interested will move to that room. Christians whom they meet there invite seekers to worship at their church, or invite them for other meetings to lead them further. If the person has a high level of English proficiency, it is possible to move further, but if the English proficiency is not high enough, that person cannot have a good understanding even if the same actions are taken.

 

In the US, ministry to international students led by cross-denominational organizations is actively done as well. It is very common that those organizations build friendships and deliver the good news little by little while assisting international students with their reports in English, buying a car or helping them move, on college campus. They also make friends through a party or an event, and offer Bible study for those who have interest. Many churches hold a “Mother-Child gathering.” It is a place where children below preschool age and their mothers are gathered together to have children play together or to exchange information among mothers. Similar to the English lessons mentioned earlier, the Bible and gospel could be shared for in some cases but not others. With this gathering as a starting point, there are quite a lot of ladies who are led to baptism. Yet, if the person does not have much desire to seek for truth, and English proficiency is not so high, in many cases, they may end up just attending the activities. Still, I am thankful if those people are given a heart to want to go to church after their return to Japan, thus we refer them to a church with our wish that “they attend church as long as possible.” When these “seekers” say, “I was attending church outside Japan,” it is helpful if we can find out what kind of meetings he/she attended, what was the expectation of the people who attended the meeting, to what extent he/she heard・understood the A “word” from worker We frequently refer “seekers” who are led by local Christians to churches. In most cases they are led by local Christians rather than himself/herself asking for the information as he/she responds “yes,” when he/she is asked “would you like to go to church after you return to Japan?” by local Christians who are leading the returnee. These local Christians ask us for the information and we provide it. Since there are too many “seekers”who fall under this, we think deeply “how we can connect them to a church.” I think it is a waste that the soul filled with abundant love and service of Christ is completely lost in Japan. I am led to think what is necessary, is it “low-key” ministry.. Rather than delivering a message for ministry as a form of a“ministry meeting,” and inviting people for a commitment, meetings that lead people to come to church and provide them opportunities to have contacts with Christians are needed, such as a bazaar・concert・gospel café. What is surprising for me when I met Japanese who are saved overseas is that significant number of them had never met a Christian in Japan. I think it is meaningful to expand the opportunity to meet with Christians through such “low-key” meeting.  Gospel/Bible and what is he/her looking for to attend church in Japan. It will be easier for them to attend if there is any meeting that is similar to what he/she has experienced overseas.

 

These are the 4 points that help you to find out the experience at church outside Japan and present status of returnees. In the following section, I would like to share my personal comments on returnees and church in Japan from a viewpoint of a person who is involved in Japanese ministry outside Japan.

to be continued….

To Understand Returnees (4) How can I approach them? ― “Are returnees space aliens”? #3

It has been for a while since this article’s up.  I would like to restart the article “Understanding Returnees.”  Please refer the previous articles on the links below.  Hope you enjoy.

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For the booklet download:  LINK

The previous articles links.

Forward

  1. Who Are Returnees?
  2. How can I approach them? –“Are Returnees Space Aliens?” #1
  3. How can I approach them? — “Are Returnees Space Aliens? #2

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Point 4. How did the returnee develop their faith? Baptism? – continued.

Churches in Europe and the US are individualistic and place importance on autonomy just like their culture. Service at church seems to be voluntarily in many cases. Therefore there are many Christians who do not serve in church, and it does not make them uncomfortable to be at the church. Even among Christians, there are different personalities and the stance that each church takes on where all these people should serve. When those returnees who have such experiences look at a Japanese church, they may be surprised to see that so many members of the church are involved in service. As Japan is the country where harmony has a high importance , it is often the case that the pastor or leader of the church asks members to be involved in necessary services and those who are asked accept it, and because of the relatively small scale of church, church activity is managed by many people involved at church. How about the case for those who have not reached the point of baptism? In the case of a Japanese church, in general, their activities are similar to that of churches in Japan, therefore it is not so difficult to verify the level of the returnee by finding out what type of meetings he/she attended to what degree, and how much he/she is spiritually led. In case of a local church, there are various meetings and activities for foreigners, so there are many different ways in involving church even if he/she says “I was attending church.”. Sometimes church offers English lessons for foreigners in the local area. For some cases they talk about the Bible prior to or following lessons, but depending on the policy of the church, there are churches that never bring in Christianity. At the churches that are seriously working on ministering to international students, dedicated staff takes care of the international students and holds meetings only for the international students. For example, some churches of Cambridge University in the UK host a meeting starting around 7:00 pm as a form of “coffee bar.” The Christian Union of the university is picking up steam, where the students of Cambridge University also take part in. If Japanese students show up there, there is a chance for the Japanese student to speak with those Cambridge students and become friends. Meeting in the form of “coffee bar,” is in line with the concept of friendship evangelism, it starts with becoming a friend, just like Jesus became our friend, and gradually talking about the good news to learn the Bible together. People can have a free conversation in the setting like a coffee shop during the first half of the meeting. Sometimes a skit that conveys the message of Christianity or music is played.

 

to be continued…..

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