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A Window into My World

A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan

Spring 2021

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Mark 4:26-29 records this parable of Jesus: Jesus “also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know-how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’”

The harvest happens in its own time. We do not control it.

I hope these short reflections provide a window into what this feels like here in Sapporo Japan.

Life here, in Sapporo, continues in the midst of the pandemic. We started the academic year in April. For three weeks, we were in the classrooms, face to face, after a full year of being online. What a tonic that was! Then, conditions worsened, and we have been online since the beginning of May with no end in sight. Making the switch was depressing.

The only people other than frontline medical workers to be vaccinated so far are those 65 and older. The virus is on the march, but the government seems more interested in hosting the Olympics. Recently the Prime Minister Suga mentioned that he wants the entire country vaccinated by November. That seems dreamy at best.

The Hokkaido District of Churches for the UCCJ (United Christian Church Japan) delayed its annual meeting, which will now be held remotely.

Our Chapel services at Hokusei are all held remotely.

Our classes are held remotely.

Our meetings are held remotely.

Our church services are held remotely.

No vaccine notification schedules have been sent out telling us where and when we can look forward even to making an appointment to get a vaccine.

I asked my doctor when vaccinations for my age group will start. I can’t say she yelled at me, but I could infer that every single patient probably asks the same thing by the tone of her voice. It appears like she felt that I wasted her time.

It is as if there is a distant putrefaction in the air. And no matter how many windows you open or how often you clean your mask, it just does not go away.

But go away it will. And how quickly shall we forget! I will not forget, however, noticing that many of the shy students in class participated more in an online class than in a face-to-face class. They felt safer.

I will remember that my video chapel messages that were hosted on Youtube had many more views than students who would have shown up in chapel. They did not feel watched simply by stepping into a chapel during worship time. Japan holds Christianity at an arms-length.

Personally, I will miss having access to digital meeting materials in advance of committee meetings so that I could better familiarize myself with the issues up for discussion. Japanese printed on paper is intimidating. There is so little to go on unless you have walked the arduous walk towards literacy. I confess – I am a miserable example of a work in progress.

While some friendships faded, new friendships emerged out of our digital world. These are people I have never met and probably never will. Families unable to gather for joyous reunions or somber funerals have found ways to meet often online to support each other.

The main point is that we have learned to find reward in what we have and what we can do instead of getting hung up in desiring what we do not have and cannot do.

That is what it is like here.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.


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