Well, Friday Night Noisemakers is now over. It ran for three months, from April to June, and was it ever a blast! I was able to make some great connections with the people who attended—we had three regular attendees with another two occasional ones. In our last newsletter, we told the story of how one of the girls requested a Bible (to read more, click here). Today, I would like to share about our last session before the summer break.
The week before, we’d collectively decided to have a movie night for our final session. So I had popcorn, drinks, and homemade cookies on hand to celebrate.
Also on the docket was a short talk from Higa sensei, the pastor of Seaside Chapel, who wanted to connect with the attendees before we ended. (I’d asked their permission to have Higa sensei come a few weeks before.)
Though everyone had been open to including Higa sensei, I knew that speaking with a pastor can be nerve-wracking for Japanese people. So I prayed that God would guide me in how to make them feel more comfortable with the experience.
The ideas began to flow.
I started by serving the cookies and drinks. That way, they wouldn’t feel like they were in a staring contest with Higa sensei during his talk. They would have an excuse to look away without being rude.
Higa sensei started talking about the history of Seaside Chapel. They visibly relaxed as he went on. He was talking about history, and history isn’t so threatening. He eventually gave an overview of the Bible, only briefly touching on actual beliefs for maybe a sentence or so.
Throughout this, I only half listened. The majority of my attention was focused on praying: that the girls wouldn’t feel pressured, that God would guide Higa sensei on what would be most helpful for them to hear, and that their hearts would open up to embrace the truth.
After about ten minutes, Higa sensei was finished and started to gather up his things. One of the girls piped up with a question, about how Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses fit in with our beliefs.
The questions kept coming.
I kept praying.
When Higa sensei leaned forward, I leaned back. When he leaned back, I leaned a little forward. It was like we were on a see saw, but the result was that the body language in the room was always balanced and would not be interpreted as pressureful.
At the end, Andrea too requested a Bible from Higa sensei. He gave her a little New Testament to start with. She was very happy.
After Higa sensei left, we continued on with our movie night.
“Do you have any questions about the movie, or about what Higa sensei said?” I asked at the end.
The two of them talked briefly in Japanese and then turned to me. “Does the church pay your salary?”
“No. We have many partners in Canada. They donate money to our organization. Our salary is paid by our organization.”
When I told them that Seaside Chapel does not pay our salary, something relaxed in their faces. It suddenly seemed that they realized I have no “conversion quota" to fulfill. I would not pressure them to attend the church, or make a decision to follow Jesus. For the first time, I started to realize that there might be social benefits to being paid by an outside organization.
“Why did you come to Okinawa?”
“In Canada, I was an engineer, and Peter was a pastor. But this was never our final goal. At one point, God told us that we should come as missionaries to Japan. So we did. We are here to let people know that Jesus loves them.”
I knew I was starting to get into dangerous territory— if I wasn't careful, they might feel social pressure to become Christians even if they weren't truly interested. In Japan, half of my job is enabling people to say “no”. If they know they have permission to reject Jesus, and we will still be their friends if they do so, they are less likely to say “yes” because “no” is socially unacceptable. Using this method we can greatly reduce the number of false conversions, and instead focus on spiritual discussions with people who truly are interested in hearing more about Jesus.
“But we don't want to cause anybody stress,” I continued. (It's best to talk slightly more indirectly, and not use the word “you”— because this might also be seen as social pressure.) “If people want to hear more about Jesus and His love, that’s okay. We can tell them more. However, if people don't want to hear about this, that's okay too. We don't want to cause stress. Relationships are important.”
The two of them consulted together again. Then they turned to me. “We want to hear more."
On its last night, Friday Night Noisemakers went an hour longer than ever before. We deeply enjoyed each other, and promised to stay in touch. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to starting up this program again in the fall!