Baby Steps

So here we are back again after our humorous note about the missionary lady on the train last week.

Since the last blog went out, we did enjoy a long road trip up the coast to a place called “Emu Park”. The 10-hour drive (each way) gave us a lot of time to visit and enjoy some warmer weather, which is nice in winter.  It also reminded us a little of the long hours we spent on the road a few years ago when we were traveling back and forth to the tsunami disaster in Japan.

On Wednesday we had a nice, rather quiet 49th anniversary.  We tried out a new Japanese Sushi cafe, and were delighted to find some things we love, and equally alarmed to see some concoctions that no Japanese would recognize as Sushi.  I guess it’s like ‘Tex-Mex’ to a Mexican.

So, today I’d like to begin a story you may have heard before……from us perhaps, but one that bears repeating: yet another reminder about God’s Faithfulness in Japan.

The year was 1981 and we’d just finished language school in Tokyo and moved up north to Sendai where we were assigned the task of beginning a student ministry.  We had often fantasized about what it would be like to be no longer driven by schedule and tests, but just to follow the Lord’s leading and get started.  I’ll have to admit, we weren’t nearly as fluent as I thought we’d be after two long years of language study, but by now we could at least make rudimentary conversations and bumble around successfully most of the time.

Our work began even sooner than we dreamed. Two teaching opportunities dropped into our laps almost as soon as we arrived, teaching English at some large Christian universities in town. Our 5-year old, Trevor was settled into pre-school without incident, and we were off and running.

Tony walked around the campus of Miyagi Gakuin University, wondering how to turn a teaching role into a Christian ministry. Stopping at a campus coffee shop, he ordered up, laid his Bible on a table and sat down.

Within minutes a young student walked by, stopped, did a double take, and made a cautious approach.

“Are you Woods sensei?” she asked.

“Why, yes I am,” he answered, a little surprised. “How did you know my name?”

“Well, our teacher said a foreigner would be coming. I saw your beard and your Bible, and I just guessed it was you!”

She bowed politely and introduced herself as Yukiko Tanaka. Then she went on…

“You are a missionary, right?”

“Yes, I am, but,”

“So when and where is your Bible study?”

This was no time to hesitate. He gave her a look of confidence and said, “Next Thursday night at our house.” And being a Southern boy, he had to add, “And we’ll serve dinner!”

She took down the details and off she went.

And so began what is even now, almost 40 years later, called “Searchlight Club”.  Sometime when I’m talking about some of the more funny things in the language, I’ll fill you in on how that name came to be. But it got started that next Thursday with a bowl of chili and two students. Yukiko wasn’t there, but she had spread the word

Within months we had 20-30 kids each week.

First they would eat (in typical college student fashion, devouring everything that wasn’t nailed down); our little boys entertaining them with their antics and baby Japanese.

Then while Tony taught the Bible in simple English with as much Japanese explanation as he could manage, I’d put the boys to bed and lay out a snack for the “post study”.

Finally, I would happily shove everyone out the door at 9:10 to catch the last bus at 9:15. I was so thankful for the fact that it was the LAST bus because by then we were exhausted. One of the guys nicknamed me “The Pumpkin queen”.

We didn’t loose track of Yukiko however.  She never took a class from us, never even came to dinner, but she became what we call in the mission, a “Person of Peace” or a person who introduces and leads others to us.  She was interested in Christianity and began coming to our church, which we felt was much better than coming to an English class anyway.  She spoke some English but was a Japanese Literature major, so it wasn’t English she was after, it was God.

A few weeks after meeting her and getting her introduced into church, we decided mutually that she would ride the bus to my house every Tuesday afternoon, and while our baby slept, we would “discuss” Christianity.  This benefitted both of our language quests, me trying my best in Japanese and she in her fledgling English.  Fortunately we had bi-lingual Bibles that could fill in the gaps.

Every week was a debate.  “Why this?”, and “How about that?” sort of repartee. She was a tough nut to crack.

And then after a few months, she came in one day and settled down at our low “kotatsu” table, arranging the warm comforter around her waist.  This is how we managed to get thru the winters with little or no heat. The kotatsu had a heat lamp under the table with a quilt between the frame and the table top.  Magnificent idea.  We still have that original table and have used it a time or two here.

But I digress.  On this particular day we opened our Bibles and I began by asking,  “So, what do you want to discuss today?”

She said nothing, and looking down for a moment, she finally whispered.  “Nothing.  I just want to ask Jesus into my heart.”

I guess you can call me a person with low expectations, but I was really surprised!  I thought for a minute and then jumped to my feet and grabbed the phone, calling our pastor, Noguchi Sensei.  You may remember him from previous blogs. He was an ex-kamikaze pilot who pastored his church just the way he would have piloted his plane: straight for the target.

“Can you get over here right NOW!” I practically shouted,  ”Yukiko wants to pray for salvation.”

Within minutes I heard the door open down the hall and the call came out, “Gomen Kudasai!” as he was taking off his shoes.  That phrase literally means “I’m coming in!” and it’s how Japanese always arrive, sometime much to my surprise, but this time I was very relieved.

He talked with Yukiko, prayed with her, and we rejoiced and took a few minutes to discuss where we would be headed from here.

I knew she was the firstborn daughter with only a little sister.  If there had been a son, no matter in which order, he would have been the heir, but in this case, she would have to be the heir, with all the responsibility for the family, the graves and the ancestor worship.  It would not be easy for her family to accept that she’d seemingly relinquished her duty to become a Christian.

Noguchi Sensei and I agreed that prayer was the only tool she needed.  God would tell her when to let her parents know; meanwhile she could continue to read her Bible and grow.  I added that God would also tell her when to get baptized, which is very important to Japanese.

And pray she did.  Within a few weeks she said something I’ll never forget.

“Marsha, when I used to come here, my goal was to know EVERYTHING and also to prove you wrong.  The Bible is hard to understand, but with your patience, you showed me that I just need to TRUST God and let go.  Now that I’ve done that, I realize that I either don’t care about what I can’t understand, but more importantly, a lot of things have become crystal clear!  I know now it is the Holy Spirit that led me and now is telling me about Himself.”

Thru the years, I’ve remembered often that I don’t need to know or understand everything…….because HE does.

Next week I’ll tell you what happened next…..stay tuned.

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