Often times, when you’re focused on a mission, it can be easy to forget how that mission is perceived by others. What seems obviously true and objectively important to you may appear as questionable and only of subjective value to those around you. For those of us who are saved, we see the gospel through spiritually illuminated eyes as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18-25). But for many, our faith is but another viewpoint in a sea of religions. In Japan, there is an old adage that goes something like: “many different roads lead to the top of Mt. Fuji.” As a religiously syncretistic culture, the Japanese people don’t mind other religions, but the claim that Jesus is the only way is a tough pill to swallow.
And yet, so many people have come to worship services after we invited them. We have had many friends who have attended worship and listened to me preach the gospel. They knew we lived in Japan as missionaries. We were there with the specific focus of bringing them to Jesus. They knew we wanted them to become Christians. And yet, that mission did not prevent them from building relationships with us and happily receiving our invitations. From the side of the missionary (or those supporting them) that may seem easy. But is it really?
We forget that for the Japanese people, Christianity appears as a foreign religion. How many of us would be willing to give up free time to attend a Mormon worship service or activity? How many of us would be comfortable going to a Buddhist temple upon receiving an invitation from a friend? Even if you could do it with a good conscience as a Christian, how comfortable would you feel attending? Would you go with your children? I think for most of us, we’d look for excuses not to go. We care about our friends, but maybe that’s a bridge too far. Yet, so many of our Japanese friends crossed that bridge which I would have difficulty crossing myself.
I have come to see this as an act of grace. While they may not yet see the full value of Jesus, they care about us and they know it’s important to us. Attendance is thus an act of grace towards us. Knowing that fills my heart with thankfulness. Of course, I do want them to become disciples themselves, and I have used every one of those opportunities to the best of my ability towards that end. However, I am still grateful for that initial kindness.
I see in that kindness an important lesson for us as Christians. What our Japanese friends have really done for us is give us the benefit of the doubt. They have said that, while they don’t necessarily believe as we do, they’re willing to hear us out. They’re willing to give us the chance to explain why we find it so important, and they’re willing to reflect on it. What if we did that more for each other? What if more Christians were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to others? What if we could extend grace and just listen? I imagine there would be a lot of spiritual growth and a lot less division.
Because we see the spiritual truths of Christ, we tend to assume others will see it easily as well. Especially for those of us raised in the church, our faith seems obvious. We must never forget how not-obvious it is to much of the world, and thus we must be thankful when they are willing to hear us out. An open heart is an act of God’s grace, and it is an act of that person’s grace to extend it to us. May we never waste those opportunities, and may we learn from it in how we treat one another.
We need partners in reaching out to the people of Japan. Click here to find out how you can help.