Albright Japan Trip – Aug 7 ’10
We have been in Japan three days now. During that time we had lunch with the Fukushimas. We first met them in 1978. He is the minister for the Tachikawa church. They live in an apartment at the other end of the floor where our dorm room is.
We also had lunch with Masa, minister for the Yokota congregation. The Park Avenue church helps support his work. We listened as he talked with us about recent events with both the military and Japanese congregations with whom he works.
The highlight of these past three days was the Thursday morning class we attended at Tachikawa one floor below where we are staying. There were about fifteen of us crowded in the library around a table as well as one member who lives in Chiba Prefecture via Skype (two way voice and video connection). The class this day was hymn practice in preparation for a baptism.
Being together in a small room made the acoustics great. Plus there were some good singers. We began with a reading of Psalm 16 which begins: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.‘” Following this we went around the room offering individual prayers.
Before singing each song, we read the words to the song and talked a bit about its meaning. Japanese poems, like poems in any language, use words and word images which are difficult for non-native speakers to understand. This was very helpful in understanding the sounds we produced as we sang each syllable.
Here is a video clip of the third stanza of one of the songs we practiced. The English title given is “Return, O Wanderer, Return” written by William Bengo Collyer, 1812. For those who know Japanese: 賛美歌239 – 「さまよう人々」. It is a mix of the Prodigal Son parable and Isaiah 44:22 – “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Listen to the song.
Following class we witnessed the baptism of Mrs. Miyasaka. How she came to the decision to be born from above and become God’s child is very touching. She was educated in a “mission school.” These are schools which were started by missionaries working to improve education in Japan following the war. During her time in school she was introduced to many Christian hymns. One was written by a Japanese lady, Eiko Nagai (永井ゑい子), in 1884. 賛美歌217
The words for the song were inspired by Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well from John 4. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (verses 13-14). The beginning phrase for each stanza is 「あまつましみず」 – “Amatsu mashimizu.” Roughly translated it means “pure water from heaven.”
Miyasaka-san sang this song as a student not knowing what it meant or where this water was found. Now in her mid-50’s she passed the bulletin board for the church where the words of this song were displayed. Reading the words again brought back many memories of her childhood and she determined to learn more about their meaning.
That was three years ago. She began attending the church’s assemblies and had personal Bible studies with the minister and others. She began participating in the church’s family life and grew to love the friendships she made as well as the Source of that water. Like the “wanderer” in the hymn above, she came to the Lord, was washed clean through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, and is now enjoying this “pure water from heaven.”
Following her baptism and the great welcome she received from the Tachikawa church family, we settled around a table for curry rice and a wonderful time of fellowship. We never know how the seeds of the gospel we plant will grow and blossom, even decades after being planted.
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11, NIV