A letter from Barbara Easton in Japan
Greetings from Nagasaki, Japan, as autumn of 2013 begins here.
At Kwassui Women’s University we are currently welcoming our returning students for the second semester, along with some new students from other Asian countries. In this letter I would like to tell you about one of the students who was with us last semester.
Our life is a matter of faith,
not of sight
—(2 Corinthians 5:7)
All Kwassui students are expected to attend a regular weekly chapel hour service of worship as well as a required class about Christianity. However, for our exchange students instead of a regular lecture class there is an alternative option of a discussion group following the Tuesday morning chapel hour. Sometimes I have led this in Japanese and other times in English, depending on the language skills of the students since they mostly come to Kwassui for the purpose of focusing on Japanese studies.
In the first semester this year the main participant in this discussion-based class was Shell, from China. (Many Chinese students use an English name in addition to their Chinese name.) Although she had had no previous background contact with Christians, she participated willingly in chapel-related activities and sought to grow in understanding. It was a real joy to meet with her each week.
At the end of her course she wrote me a letter, from which she has allowed me to share some portions with you, and I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. Shell wrote: “Before coming to Kwassui University, the only thing I knew about Christianity is that Christ is God’s son, there is a person named Nova [Noah], he built a big boat (and I did not even know this story comes from the Bible). So, when told that the university where I would go is a Mission School, I felt so excited because I knew I [could] touch a totally new area which I have never experienced…. Now, standing at the end of this semester, and looking back at what I have seen and done during my days in Nagasaki, I feel so satisfied with learning so much.”
She continued: “I love the stories you have told me from the Bible, I love telling you my feeling about the speeches made by those outstanding [chapel hour] teachers, I love knowing the different culture between U.S.A. and China.” Even though the number of Christians in Japan has remained small, in Japanese Christian educational institutions it is possible to reach out to students from not only Japan but also other countries where there is less freedom of religious experience and expression. Then when such students return to their home environment, the seeds of faith that have been planted may continue to grow and their positive influence may help to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God. Recently I met one of our Chinese graduates, Zara, who was telling her Japanese friend about an experience she recalls from the time when she was feeling discouraged while looking for a career position in Japan. She explained that when I told her that God has a plan for her life, even if it is not clear to her at the moment, she felt peace in her heart. In this way some of our international students go on to help to sow seeds for mission as well.
Shell’s enthusiasm was clear when she reported about the end of the semester when the schedule was irregular as a result of holidays during the term: “I went to chapel hour this Wednesday because I took it as the last one by mistake (I did not realize that we would have one next Tuesday). I value chapel hour too much to miss any of it especially the last one (and [Chaplain] Nihei’s voice is so good that I do not want to miss it, either). The speech was about peace. Mr. Nihei showed us a very beautiful poem about “Peace,” the topic [that] is so suitable for the last chapel hour, suitable for Nagasaki.” This occurred about three weeks before the memorial days when people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki particularly remember the persons who have suffered as the result of the atomic bombings at the end of World War II. Shell observed: “In my eyes, the students in Kwassui are so lucky that they have a lot of chances to attend chapel hour during their four years.”
In this modern rushed society Shell appreciated the beauty of so many people getting together doing the same thing. She wrote: “The atmosphere in the chapel so attracted me, too. It is a totally different environment, different from any other events. … Singing hymns always makes me calm and peaceful. … It makes me … forgive others when they hurt me not on purpose.” After she attended a regular church service that included communion, during which the believers accepted the bread distributed by the pastor one by one, she said that she “finally noticed how powerful ‘Faith’ could be.”
Shell finished her letter by commenting that although she is not yet a Christian, she “still can benefit a lot from what the speakers told us.” One week Kwassui President Nonomura spoke about making his decision to come to teach at Kwassui rather than to follow a different career path that was equally desirable. He said: “I prayed to God, if this choice is wrong, please stop me in some way.” Shell concluded: “After hearing that, I have come to believe that if my choice is wrong, God will stop me by his way some time in the future, so the thing I should do now is try my best, try to live every day well.”
Personal Christian witness may not bring results suddenly, particularly in Japan, but it is important that we continue to join together as members of the body of Christ. I want to thank you for supporting the work of witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through your prayers and gifts, and hope for your continued sharing which makes the work possible.