On the Other Side of the Voice

There is an opportunity for me to talk to the bride and groom during the orientation held before the wedding ceremony.  I still get nervous until the time the couple arrives.  Through the wedding application form that is provided beforehand, I try to picture the two of them as to who and how they are.  However, that often leads to a stretching of imagination with inaccurate information.  Wedding photographers say they do not want any kind of image or information regarding the couple before the photograph shooting because they prefer to take pictures just the way the two or the family is.  I want to follow that same style, but I tend to think about unnecessary information prior to meeting the couple.  Nevertheless, it is the two who are more nervous than me.

With both of our tension unwinding little by little, and by the end of the wedding rehearsal, I feel relieved to see the happy faces on the couple knowing that they have taken a step forward in their wedding preparation.  I had felt a similar kind of nervousness when I used to go and talk to the patients at hospitals.  Previously, I would visit the hospital rooms almost everyday praying that the patients are not suffering from repeated pain or exhausted from their rehabilitation therapies.  Even if I had visited the patients upon hearing their conditions from the nurse practitioner or had estimated the right timing for visitation, patients would repeatedly refuse to see me, and I would be down about it.  There would be times when I would end up walking past the hospital rooms for not wanting to disturb any meetings or wake up the patients.  I would come to myself with a question thrown at me such as “Are you the chaplain in the hospital?”  Even now, it suddenly occurs to me after the ceremony when the groom says, “My gratitude to the chaplain and all the staff” and then I am made to realize that the groom is talking about me.

I am reminded again at the meaning of my being there in that very moment.  When Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew15:21), a Canaanite woman cries out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  To the woman’s voice wanting to have her daughter healed, Jesus answers with words full of racism and harassment such as “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” to turn down her request.  Maybe society was like this in those times.  However, it is the same sad words that I told myself that those were the reasons.  Jesus too was tired, and he might have stashed it away to himself.  The walk of Jesus, was that of solemnness, far greater than that of ours.  His teachings were not understood, and he was not even trusted by his family in his own homeplace of Nazareth.  Is that why he came far out to Jerusalem where there are no lost sheep and in no need of a shepherd?  However, that is when the woman calls out to him, “Lord, Son of David.”  With Jesus as the Savior in this world and people crying out to him, it is likely that Jesus was seeking a long time for this cry.  However, far more than those voices calling for him, Jesus was calling out to us.  Jesus too was calling for us.  In order to have Jesus be our Lord, I want to continue calling for him by saying, “Yes it is, our Lord.”  Jesus is there on the other side waiting for us.

Rev. Matthew Naomichi Yano

The World of God is a Quiet One

Jesus, speaking about the world of God, said that it grows even without realizing it.  People do not know how sowed seeds grow in the soil, but similar to their sprouting and bearing fruit, the world of God is neither visible nor hearable, but there is no doubt that it is growing.  It means that the world of God (the work of God) proceeds profoundly and silently. 

The other day, one particular married couple was baptized and practiced confirmation at Church I.  The wife used to be a kindergartener at this church-affiliated school and, for many years, had been interested in Christianity; however, she was hesitant in becoming a Christian because her family was Buddhist.  She has, at this time, made up her mind to become a Christian along with her husband.

After the service, she said it had been a long way until now.  It had taken fifty years since her kindergarten years for her to become baptized.  But the work of God (the world of God) had been with them and lead them to be baptized and receive confirmation.

And recently, the father of Reverend I’s partner S was baptized.  S said to the father, “Dad, you’re now a Christian for you’ve been baptized.”  But the father replied, “Yes, but it hasn’t hit me yet.”  It’s a charming conversation, but once again, the work of God is hidden behind all of this. 

There’s probably not so many who feel a sudden change in becoming a Christian after baptism.  Especially in baptism for infants, there’s probably close to nothing felt by the infants for they are not even aware they have been baptized.  Myself, upon being baptized, remember feeling nervous, but did not actually feel any immediate change or even feel I had become a Christian.  I think the same can be said for most people who experience this. 

Are we not Christians if we don’t actually feel it?  That is not so.  The work of God is profound, silent, but for sure.  It may not be seen, heard, or felt by people.  However, we are, without a doubt, together with God and Jesus through baptism.  We are Christians for sure.  The father of Reverend I’s partner S might not have felt it, but he is a Christian for sure.  The silent work of God goes beyond the sense of people. 

We are not able to understand the whole spirit of God.  There are numerous things that are only understood by God and not by humankind.  But that is fine too.  I believe not understanding everything about God is, on the contrary, a blessing.  What will happen if humankind found out everything about God?  It is a fearful thing when you think about it.  It is enough that God, and only God, knows it. 

The world of God is growing silently but for sure.  As for the couple at Church I, the world of God for fifty years had grown silently.  In the case of the father of Reverend I’s partner, it took far more greater years than this.  Nevertheless, the work of God, without a doubt, is submerged profoundly and silently, and brings us to this baptism and confirmation.  We will look on to the growth of the world of God.

The world of God is growing somewhere, or in a place relatively close to us.  What a joy it is to live our holy lives looking forward to what kind of world God will show us next.

Jesus, speaking about the world of God, said that it grows even without realizing it.  People do not know how sowed seeds grow in the soil, but similar to their sprouting and bearing fruit, the world of God is neither visible nor hearable, but there is no doubt that it is growing.  It means that the world of God (the work of God) proceeds profoundly and silently. 

The other day, one particular married couple was baptized and practiced confirmation at Church I.  The wife used to be a kindergartener at this church-affiliated school and, for many years, had been interested in Christianity; however, she was hesitant in becoming a Christian because her family was Buddhist.  She has, at this time, made up her mind to become a Christian along with her husband.

After the service, she said it had been a long way until now.  It had taken fifty years since her kindergarten years for her to become baptized.  But the work of God (the world of God) had been with them and lead them to be baptized and receive confirmation.

And recently, the father of Reverend I’s partner S was baptized.  S said to the father, “Dad, you’re now a Christian for you’ve been baptized.”  But the father replied, “Yes, but it hasn’t hit me yet.”  It’s a charming conversation, but once again, the work of God is hidden behind all of this. 

There’s probably not so many who feel a sudden change in becoming a Christian after baptism.  Especially in baptism for infants, there’s probably close to nothing felt by the infants for they are not even aware they have been baptized.  Myself, upon being baptized, remember feeling nervous, but did not actually feel any immediate change or even feel I had become a Christian.  I think the same can be said for most people who experience this. 

Are we not Christians if we don’t actually feel it?  That is not so.  The work of God is profound, silent, but for sure.  It may not be seen, heard, or felt by people.  However, we are, without a doubt, together with God and Jesus through baptism.  We are Christians for sure.  The father of Reverend I’s partner S might not have felt it, but he is a Christian for sure.  The silent work of God goes beyond the sense of people. 

We are not able to understand the whole spirit of God.  There are numerous things that are only understood by God and not by humankind.  But that is fine too.  I believe not understanding everything about God is, on the contrary, a blessing.  What will happen if humankind found out everything about God?  It is a fearful thing when you think about it.  It is enough that God, and only God, knows it. 

The world of God is growing silently but for sure.  As for the couple at Church I, the world of God for fifty years had grown silently.  In the case of the father of Reverend I’s partner, it took far more greater years than this.  Nevertheless, the work of God, without a doubt, is submerged profoundly and silently, and brings us to this baptism and confirmation.  We will look on to the growth of the world of God.

The world of God is growing somewhere, or in a place relatively close to us.  What a joy it is to live our holy lives looking forward to what kind of world God will show us next.

The Rt. Rvd. Peter Ichiro Shibusawa

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” The Blessed Trinity may be a little unclear.  It is sometimes called the Holy Trinity within Nippon Sei Ko Kai.  The name, Kani Holy Trinity Church located in Gifu Prefecture, is derived from this.  Churches have believed in God through the development of religious principles.  The Orthodox Church of Japan officially approves of Andrei Rublyov’s icon which shows the three angels visiting Abraham (Genesis) as the only authenticated icon.  Additionally, this religious painting is in the Central Theological College and is still used during meditation.  Augustine expresses in analogy the relationship of the Holy Trinity as the Father the Speaker, the Son the Word, and the Holy Spirit as love through the speaking of the word, “The Theology of the Holy Trinity.”  While the three Persons are distinct, they work together to form unity.  This is the basic line of reasoning in the western theology.  

However, God as three in one and one in three is not the subject of understanding, but is a subject of mysterious belief.  Why this has continued to be kept is because I believe it has been “something felt from experience” rather than “something understood in the mind.”  For instance, we recite the Lord’s prayer.  This represents God of the Holy Trinity.  The Lord’s Prayer is the only prayer which Jesus taught His disciples and also the one He used to pray to God.  The prayer which Jesus the Son, gave to God the Father.  We pray with the Holy Spirit within us.  This is the importance of the Lord’s Prayer.

God loves us unconditionally and this is the basis of our world.  The Father sent us Jesus, the only child, to show us love.  And when we answer “yes” to the unconditional love of Jesus, who was sent by God, only then do we become God’s children.  The awakened Holy Spirit within us moves about actively and by becoming God’s true children, we recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” 

There are hard times and we have ordeals; however, it is the utmost joy of the Holy Spirit within us to answer “yes” when asked by Jesus, “God loves you, do you believe this?”  Isn’t it here where we are able to feel “the three in one” and “the one in three?”  And then we will be able to feel that God is always with us and we are not alone when reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Revd Joseph Masashi Ishida

I’m Home

I have been appointed to Niigata St. Paul’s Church since this April.  The ordination ceremony was followed by Easter.  At the start of the service, I stood in front of the bishop with the representatives of the congregation and was encouraged by their words of support.  Niigata St. Paul’s Church is a place where I set off upon deciding to be a member of the clergy and graduating theology school.

Those people who welcomed my husband and I with open hearts having returned after ten years.  Talking with family members about the memories of those who have passed away.  There has been an increase in the number of those who had been visiting the church ten years ago, but who are now having difficulties attending services due to aging.  I am looking forward to seeing them again.

There is a strange feeling when I see the various footsteps of Rev. Ignacio Yoonsic Jung, who worked for five years ten years ago, left everywhere in the church.  I asked about the congregation before visiting them, and Rev. Jung took out his notebook from ten years ago.  He looked at the records from then and taught me family relationships, shared prayers, and words of encouragement.

When talking with the congregation, there are lots of memories from ten years ago.  The many opportunities talking while reminiscing about the “times before going to theological school” brings back to memory the late Ms. Leah Shihoko Nagai. 

My husband, who had been appointed as a priest to Niigata St. Paul’s Church, was spending fulfilling days through preparations for Sunday services, sermons, and pastoral care.  Ms. Nagai would take notice of me and say, “Sunhee, your young, but you live apart from your parents and have only few friends, so it must be hard for you.”  When I told her I had learned sign language during my days in Nagoya, she gave me information about sign language lessons in Niigata.  I would consult her about a troubled young person who would visit the church, and she would tell me about the time when she was volunteering at a hospital after her husband passed away due to cancer.  She would also tell me about her experience as a counselor for “Inochi-no-Denwa (Lifeline) and often cheer me up.

She taught me a lot about the delicious Japanese food and its wonderful culture.  I still think about Ms. Shihoko Nagai whenever I eat a bowl of wheat-rice with grated yam or red turnip pickles.  Since birth, her one of her blood vessels is thinner than it should be, so she refrains from eating pickles, which contains salt.  However, I always envied her when she brought tons of those pickles to church and share them with us.  

I also had an encounter with a young person who had withdrawn from society for ten years and was searching for something that I could do for those people who came to church.  And just when I was thinking about learning counseling and my husband knowing that I had wanted to learn theology since before our marriage, offered to support me in my decision to enter the ministry.  There are still many things that I do not know about from the last ten years.  There were times when I was really down not being able to help those in need of help.  However, I the days at church and the hospital were spent remembering what Ms. Shihoko Nagai had taught me. 

Losing her husband, taking care of her mother, thinking about her daughters who lived apart from her, doing volunteer work, accounting for church, taking care of people from church, and so on.  The thinning of her blood vessels will eventually restrain her from walking, so she started calligraphy and sewing.  There are many people, including Ms. Shihoko Nagai, who have taught me that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  I will bear in mind the love given from you, pray together with you, and interact with people.  I am truly grateful to be a part of this religious community where the people living together are connected by God’s love.  

I would like to become a member of a group of people who love, not only Ms. Shihoko Nagai, but also God, those who are loved by God, gather, pray, and have shared.

Revd Fides Sunhee Kim
Niigata St. Paul’s Church

“Take care” “I’m back” “Welcome Home”

I moved to Niigata from Nagano at the end of March.  As of April 6, I am unpacking my belongings and settling in here at the rectory in Niigata St. Paul’s Church.  I will be living in Niigata, and have jurisdiction over Sanjo St. Mary’s Church and Nagaoka St. Luke’s Church.  I am also involved as a chaplain to Sei Ko Kai St. Mary’s Children’s Center. 

It has been ten years since I have been in this church in Niigata.  “That’s right.  I used to use this room as an office and there were such and such things placed in this spot;” such memories are coming back to me.  In certain places you can tell that I had been there, and it struck me as a surprise.  I will get to see those from Niigata and am looking forward to it.

We offered a resurrection service on the first Sunday in April in Sanjo, and I offered a sermon on the story about the women who were talking in front of Jesus’ tomb about who is going to roll the big stone.  I talked about the possibility of this story being not just a simple chat but a prayer saying, “Lord, please open the stone door.  Please rise from the grave and lead a life full of freedom as you have taught us and make us be able to live freely as well.”  I relayed a message that it meant that the members of the congregation, who shared hearts in their everyday lifestyle, are working together by praying together.   Everyone must have some kind of problem, so when you hear someone hollering, “please move the stone,” let us be prepared to be able to help each other.

I am planning to go to Nagaoka St. Luke’s Church next Sunday.  I usually keep in touch with Mr. Masaaki Higuchi to talk about the how the congregation is doing, the condition of the rectory, and about the repair of the vestry roof.  I am hoping for a service at Nagaoka where people’s troubles are shared with everyone through the prayers that Nagaoka church people have been giving until now.  

In the gathering room at Sanjo St. Mary’s Church, there is a painting on the wall drawn by one of our congregation members, Ms. Aiko Nishihara.  A young girl is alone sitting in a vast prairie, setting free the birds from its cage.  The girl is sitting in the prairie full of clover not just simple green but with white and pink flowers, and other plants are also drawn in detail.  The expression of the girl in the picture, not only depicts happiness from setting free the birds, but also sadness from parting.  Maybe from the regret of separating from the girl, there are birds on the girl’s shoulder and on her palm.

However, the birds will probably soon fly away into the sky, and farewell with the young girl is inevitable.

The goodbyes I received when I left from Nagano were meant as “see you soon.”  The girl, who is trying to set free the birds must be full of sorrow, on top of wanting to cheer on their setting out on journey.  Upon arriving in Niigata with that in mind, I will say in front of the Niigata congregation who have become my brothers and sisters, “I’m home!”  You can see the top part of the church in the picture, but I feel as though I can hear the “welcome back” voices.

Energy of Life

Ever since I was installed into the holy order, I have gained experience through working many years in academic institutions.  Being a little different from ordinary churches, I feel I have been “trained” to tell and explain about Christianity without having to use any church terminologies to those around me who are mostly non-Christians.  This was for me to “find God in many places around the world.”

Among them, I have the impression that the concept of “resurrection” is very misunderstood.  In a word, “the dead comes back to life” and that’s it.  However, this is different from Christ’s teachings of “resurrection” and “the resurrection of life.”  What I feel at many funerals is that even if the dead does not “come back to life,” there is, for sure, a “resurrection of life.”  It is not the biological “life” that lives in the body, but “life” given to us by God and our belief in the “resurrection of life.”  As a means to explain this, I would like to entrust the image of the word “the energy of life” without being afraid of misunderstandings. 

During my time as a theological student, I visited the Taize Community and had the chance to meet many people.  The one which left a great impression on me was at a community center for the disabled, supported by our brothers and currently accepts workers from JOCS (Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service).

One day, I accompanied Ms. Naomi Iwamoto, a dispatched worker, to a home whose child related to the Center.  The boy had a severe mental disability and was able to hold any kind of conversation.  However, it was even hard for me, who had only visited once, to leave.  It made me sad, and I ran outside and cried.  I am cheered up by this “energy of life” in him every time I remember that day.

A group, whose members have some kind of disability, had just started at this center.  A woman, who was engaged during her college years, became unable to walk after developing a tuberculosis of bone.  Her engagement was broken off, dropped out of school, and confined herself in her home.  She got herself involved with the center as a user, but when Ms. Iwamoto and the other staff saw her, they felt the woman had a gift of being a counselor.  The woman became a counselor and appointed her as leader of the group.  The other day, when I saw the woman’s name as a group leader on the information for gathering which supports this women’s group, I thanked the Lord from my heart to the staff who have seen the “energy of life” within her and continued supporting her. “To have a share in the resurrection of life” means that God’s “energy of life” fills all parts of the world.  These people have taught me to realize and believe that God gives us this “energy of life” that is within us.