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Who is our neighbor?

A letter from Tom Goetz serving in Japan

March 2016

Write to Thomas Goetz

Individuals: Give online to E074285 for Thomas Goetz’s sending and support

Every now and then our global church partner, Hokusei Gakuen University, will receive an outstanding exchange student—an outstanding academic performer, self-starter, and an articulate Christian in Chinese, Japanese, and English. Lee Zihao (not his real name) was one such student. In short, he was a tonic to be around.

Before Lee Zihao completed his courses we had a chance to talk about what matters most in his Christian outlook as a young man.  In fact, he asked the first question.

Zihao: Have you ever been told to love your neighbors?

Thomas: All the time. How about you?

Zihao: Yes. I’m from Shanghai and Beijing. Before I came to Sapporo I was told by my father, “Try to make good relationships with your neighbors, because in the case of an emergency, they can help you out.”

Thomas: Sounds like good advice from a wise father.

Zihao: He is full of good advice. But in particular I think he wanted to say that we have to pay more attention to the people close around us. We also always have to distinguish who are the correct people we have to ask for help or to help.

Thomas: So, is that all?

Zihao: Recently I was convicted by a famous parable of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, which makes this outlook appear limited. Let’s read together Luke 10:25-29:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus, replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Zihao: Let’s stop here.

Thomas: Who is our neighbor?

Then he put the man on his own donkey . . . and took care of him.

Then he put the man on his own donkey . . . and took care of him.

Zihao: This is a very wonderful question. In China my parents and I were living in a very clean and safe place. We were a middle-class family, and we didn’t need to worry about our next meal. People around my house were the same, middle-class with very few needs. I still remember each time when I met them. I thought I was a good neighbor then, because each time I met them I said “Hello” to them.

Thomas: At this point, we could be in any country.

Zihao: True. But in China at times we give our neighbors lovely presents. The main point is that I never fought with them. Because of all this, when we or our neighbors have a difficult time we help each other.

Thomas: Is this what Jesus means by helping our neighbors?

Zihao: I do not think so. Because if it were, it would be easy.

Thomas: Let’s continue reading Luke 10:30-37:

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him, ‘ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Thomas: What is going on? Where are we in this?

Zihao: We are always having a fear of being somewhere we don’t know and especially if we are in trouble. We don’t know anyone there!

Thomas: The threat of being alone and helpless. This is a root fear. Age does not matter.

Zihao: Yes. It reminds me of my time in Spain. Last year I was traveling there with my friend. Spain is a very beautiful country. In August the weather in Spain is very hot and dry. Each day we needed to buy two 1.5 liters of waters. But after seeing the breathtakingly beautiful buildings, it was worth it. Every day was an adventure for us. We started from Madrid and went up to the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, went down to the Mediterranean Sea. We traveled all over Spain. Everything seemed perfect.

Thomas: What happened?

Zihao: After one excursion, we came back to Madrid. It was late at night, and the last train had left. The railway station was big and dark. We thought we knew the city and we took it for granted that we would always be able to find the way to our hotel by ourselves.

Thomas: How about just taking a taxi?

Zihao: You seem to forget that we were poor students.

Thomas: Oh yes.

Zihao: We had reserved a hotel near downtown that night. We’d never been to downtown Madrid late at night. Madrid at night is very different from the day.

Thomas: How so?

Zihao: Drunken people were everywhere. Some of them stared at us. And some of them asked for money. We passed many drunken and homeless people. We tried to get to our hotel as soon as possible, but we could not find it.

Thomas: Then what happened?

Zihao: At that moment a group of Asian students were passing us. A good opportunity, I thought. I asked them to help us out. They looked away and ignored us. I was very shocked, upset, and frustrated.

Thomas: Perhaps they were just as lost.

Zihao: I guess we shall never know. Then a middle-aged Spanish lady saw us and said something to us with a smile. I said very carefully, “We are foreigners and we want to know the way to our hotel.” She understood!

Thomas: You must have felt relieved.

Zihao: Definitely. Then she said, “Your hotel should be over there and on that street, there is only one hotel. You can find it easily.” After thanking her, we went off where she told us to go. But we got lost again. Remember, this is Madrid at night.

Thomas: Well, you at least were in the correct zone.

Zihao: Five minutes, long minutes, later I heard a voice: “Come over here!” I was surprised—she had come back because of us. She told us, “This area is not safe. You should be careful. I found your hotel over there. Just follow me.”

Thomas: She was watching over you and then personally intervened to give you the help you needed most.

Zihao: Yes. That night, because of her, we found our hotel safely.

Thomas: Who is our neighbor?

Zihao: This question Jesus answered through the parable of the Good Samaritan. He wants to tell us that we should care not only for our own circle, our own friends, or the people who live close to us in our neighborhood.

Thomas: Yes indeed.

Zihao: Our neighbor is every person who needs our help.

Thomas: And, as Jesus said to the lawyer, we are to go and do likewise.

Zihao: Yes.

The interview closed with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Chinese, Japanese, English, and Latin.

Such a conversation was made possible by having a long-term international volunteer serving at a Presbyterian-related university in Japan. While most volunteers have salaries from their host institutions, we all benefit from the incredible and dynamic support given to us by Presbyterian World Mission. This support costs money. When thinking about supporting Presbyterian mission work, please consider joining me with your financial commitment as I teach our Japanese church partner’s future leaders.  You can easily make a gift online (use the link below) or write a check to:

Presbyterian World Mission
PO Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Please write on the memo line of your check: Thomas Goetz E074285

Thank you for reading my mission letter. It means so much to know that readers, such as you, take the time to learn what we co-workers and long-term volunteers are doing. Please come back from time to time to see what else is going on. By involving yourself in mission beyond your local community, we risk getting caught up in God’s Holy Spirit, seeing how the love of God is presently being set into action, not just for ourselves, but for countless others.

Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is caring and love, God is always there.


The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 247

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