Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just Two Days Left - To The Rising Sun With The Risen Son (Part 10)

Jonathan Eller in front of Tokyo's Statue Of LibertyIt hit me today when I was writing an email to a friend that for all intents and purposes I only have two days left on this trip to Japan. Yes, I will technically be here on Wednesday, but that day will be obsessed with packing and getting to the airport. How could this time have passed so quickly?

I guess this realization has made today a day of reflection and contemplation about the trip thus far. In some ways I am disappointed that I cannot point to some very clear reason for why I came - at least a reason that would be easy to explain to most people. God often does things that are not obvious. The times that seem the least productive are the times that the Lord is moving the most - even though we haven't a clue. So it is probably my own flesh that wants to justify the trip with some very clear reason that God chose to go to such expense to send me. There is, however, another part that wonders if perhaps we just haven't gotten to that part of the trip yet.

I tend to think that tomorrow will prove to be the most significant part of our trip. In a moment I will talk more about that, but first I want to talk about some of the things that we encountered the past couple of days.

Saturday, we traveled to Shinjuku to take a care package to Abby who is here in Japan as an intern with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. (It will forever be the FMB to me. I don't care what they call it now.) Poor Abby had gotten pink eye and a cold just before we were to meet with her. Nonetheless we did have a nice visit with her and enjoyed a tasty meal at a Japanese steak house. (Which is nothing like what you are thinking of back in the States when I say that. This is not like Ichiban at all.)

We had a really good conversation with Abby that helped me to understand some of the cultural issues in Japan that I haven't encountered yet. It was very insightful, and I am grateful for her sharing these observations with us. She helped me to understand how easy it is to become isolated in this culture - both for the native Japanese and for foreigners.

A statue to Venus in Odaiba, JapanAfter we left Abby to rest, David and I headed to Odaiba to do a little exploring. This area isn't too far from Walt Disney World - Tokyo. There were certainly some interesting things to see there, including a smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty - which you see in the picture above. There is a large mall there close to the train station where we decided to go for some refreshment. On our way in we discovered a strange sign. One of the entrances to the mall was called the "Gate of godess." I'm not exactly sure what that was referring to, but not too far from there we discovered an idol of the goddess Venus. I have no idea what that is attached to her head and I have no idea what that is beside her. If there is any consolation at all, it is that it does not appear that this idol is being worshiped. Still, it creeped me out a bit. The statue reminds me a lot of some of the images that I have seen of Artemis of the Ephesians.

There were some other interesting things we encountered. We found a monument that looked like a gold, pointy cigar that we think was called the flame of liberty. It looked a lot like Ultraman's rocket.

While we were at the mall we did a little shopping for souvenirs. There was a Toys R Us there and we were very pleased to find that it wasn't filled with a bunch of American toys. Almost everything there was Japanese. We also talked over a drink at Starbucks about the conversation that we had with Abby and about what we have been learning about Japan. It is clear to us that man's inventiveness and clever programs will not set this people free. Nothing short of the power of the gospel quickened by the Holy Spirit will break through in this nation. We also talked about a very unorthodox idea that we had to help reach people here.

We wandered around a good bit, and by the time we decided to head back home we were completely worn out. But before going back to the hotel, David treated me to a wonderful dinner at Outback Steakhouse. In the midst of all of the differentness that there is here, it is nice to find something very familiar. There were some small differences, but it was a great meal.

By the time we got home last night we were both beyond done. We both went to bed pretty early.

Today we went to church at a church that David had found online. It is called the Jesus Lifehouse and was within walking distance from the hotel. It was apparently started by Australian missionaries and is growing very quickly. According to what they told us today they have over 700 people attending the various services through the week. They are running 3 services on Sunday and one on Saturday night. There are also many small groups that meet all over the city. The services are in English and Japanese. Most of the worship songs were from Hillsong in Australia. I don't know if there is a direct link between the two churches or not.

We got the opportunity to speak with several people from the church today, and their report is that God is moving in Japan. They are seeing many people coming in and getting saved and they are finding that the people of Japan - especially the young people - are hungry for something and when they are being shown the gospel they recognize that it is what they have been looking for. We heard a testimony today of a young woman whose job made it hard for her to attend church, but she asked her boss in faith if she could have Sunday off. When she explained why she wanted the day off, she had such favor with her employer that he gave her every Sunday off! Another young man shared how he had come to Christ after being challenged to study the Word of God. We met Nick who told us how he had been raised Buddhist and Shinto, but how through friendship with an American missionary he had been convinced of the truth of the gospel. By seeing him live his life for Jesus, this man was convinced that Christianity was true. I hope that some of the people that we met today will stay in contact with us.

On our way to church this morning we passed a shrine. (It was the Hie Jinja shrine.) We didn't know that was what it is this morning, but on our way back home from church, we decided (well, it was more David's idea than mine) that we should go up and check it out. (Once I found out it was a shrine, I really didn't want to go there.) When we got there we looked around a bit. I doubt that I will take the time tonight to go into all of the details. I need to download some pictures and we need to process some of the information that we have found out since getting back to the hotel tonight.

But to make a long story short, this shrine predates the Tokugawa shogunate. It has been here for a very long time, and it "houses" two very major "deities." The primary one supposedly protects the city and the Imperial family. It is the "god" of the high places. There is also another "deity" here that is a "goddess" of fertility. This "goddess" is one of the most popular figures worshiped in Japan. 1/3 of all of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to her. Her name is Inari. (I think it is interesting that a character in the series Firefly was named Inara. This, I suspect was not an accident.) This shrine sits on one of the highest points in the whole city. There is also a major link to a similar (and much older) shrine outside of Kyoto.

I was not game for going to the shrine. I just would rather not be in a place where demons are worshiped, but I believe that it was good for us to go there because it gave us the clues that we needed to be able to find out what is really going on there spiritually speaking.

Perhaps the saddest thing that we saw there were some parents teaching their children to worship the idols in that place. Perhaps we should have said something to them. I wish I had thought of that at the time, but I was feeling particularly out of place there. Please pray that I'll do better.

Tomorrow we go to the Imperial compound for a tour. Then we plan to return to this shrine. In both locations we intend to pray. Later that night we will have a time of fellowship with some of the missionaries that have associated themselves and their ministries with JEMA. I truly believe that tomorrow is going to be a pretty important day. That being said, I need to wrap this up and call it a night and get some sleep. Please continue to pray for us as we are wrapping up this trip. I'll update you tomorrow night on what we discover.

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