Faith Lines

Back in the 60’s, we used the word “trip” in different ways than we might use them now. The drug culture was ramping up, and before the disastrous consequences were fully known, young people just referred to it as “tripping”, as if it were nothing more than a ride in the country. Today, the young folks have moved on to a different set of vocabulary, but some of those old descriptions have taken on newer meanings. One of those expressions is called a “mind trip”, or a time when your senses tell you one thing but reality shows you another.

While we were at the Japan church conference last week, we experienced one of those “mind trips”. Let tell you about it. As I mentioned, there were over 180 people there, many strangers, but we were amazed at the number of connections that we were able to make, either from shared experiences, or from people who just ‘knew’ about us or knew someone close to us.  It was heavenly, discovering relationships both new and old and re-living together so many memories from our time in Japan. One day I was talking to a young pastor, and, just making conversation I asked him where he was from.

“Yamagata,” he beamed.

Even many Japanese would only have a vague idea where that was, and practically no one outside Japan would know it, unless of course they had seen the movie, “Departures”. It a great movie, by the way, and I highly recommend it. After just a few minutes, you forget that it’s in Japanese and you have to depend on the subtitles, the plot is so gripping and relatable. The Japanese title is “Okuribito”, and I won’t say more so I don’t ruin it for you.

Anyway, Yamagata is right over the hill from our “home town” of Sendai, and we have a whole basket full of memories from there. I really perked up.
“So do you know the Penners?” I asked. They are our missionary friends who work with the deaf and are second generation missionaries, both of their parents being missionaries themselves.  Such a question is like finding someone from Boston and insisting that they must know your sister who lives there, but I figured it was worth a shot.

He scratched his chin for a moment and then said, “Uhm, yes, I think they’re the ones who led my grandfather to the Lord.”

Well, now we certainly had something to talk about!

“So you’re a third generation Christian!” I beamed at him.  Unfortunately it’s pretty rare in Japan where families are generational, passing down the Christian life to their kids and grandkids. I was excited to hear about his long history of Christianity in his family.

“No,” he answered.  “I went to school in America as a high school boy and that’s when I discovered Christianity and became a Christian.”

Now I’m confused.  I tried to work out this puzzle in my mind and finally I thought I had it,

“So your granddaddy was a Christian and then we skipped a generation and you became a Christian in America?” I asked.

“No,” he answered again.

This was getting complicated. Maybe he wasn’t understanding my Japanese.  I know things can get tricky with grammar and tense, but you’d think by now I could communicate basic ideas.

He saw my confusion and smiled.

‘I was not ever exposed to Christianity growing up and when I came home from America a new Christian, I couldn’t wait to share it with my grandpa.  He listened and said, “Oh!  I’ve got a friend who’s a foreigner and he always tells me about this, I’ll go see him now!”

That was the Elder Penner missionary, who had been faithfully witnessing to him for years.  Thanks to grandson’s encouragement, the grandfather became a Christian and within a few years, almost the whole family had followed in believing.

But there’s more!  First we have the grandson, then the grandfather and most of the family but what about our younger Penner friends who also know of this surname (which is quite unusual)?

During the meeting I’m texting the Penners back and forth, and they answered,  “Yes, we heard from our parents about the grandfather but we remember someone else of that name who’s deaf and has done some translating for us years ago……..who’s that?”

I had to text back, “How do you say ‘deaf’ in Japanese?”   I didn’t think my ‘go to’ expression, “His ears are far away” would be politically correct and I was right.

The proper word came back and during the break I was able to ask, “Who in his family is deaf?”

“Oh!” the pastor said, “That’s my uncle! And he’s very near to making a decision as well!”

What a crazy world we live in.  God knows not only the ups and downs of generations and time but also side-to-side when it comes to loving us and leading us to Him.

If you’re as confused as I was, get a paper and pencil and work it out.  You’ll be amazed at God’s faithfulness to his children.

And while you’re at it, try mapping out your own “faith line”. Who was responsible for bringing to faith the one who led you? How many steps back can you take? It’s like weaving a tapestry, with no idea how the picture is going to turn out until the job is finished. For that matter, it’s not finished yet, is it? What do you suppose the Master Weaver is working into your life right now?


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