For those of you awaiting more post-Karis Japan reflections, this post is decidedly belated. After our whirlwind tour of Japan, I headed for 9 days to Louisville, KY to grade AP US History tests, and that—along with myriad other major and minor hindrances—kept me from posting this material. It did not however, keep me from talking, reading, praying, and thinking (hopefully deeply) about Japan.
Once I finally was ready to write my Japan reflections, quill in hand, the ink kept flowing (well, the ASCII characters, anyway), and I soon had document far too long for a blog. Hence, over the next week or two, I aim to post material every other day or so, in nice and easily-digestible bite-sizes. I will continue until I have deposited here all the contents from the swelling KarisJapan.doc file that is currently engaged in a sit-in on my desktop.
Hence, the aim of this first post (besides apologizing for my tardiness) is to explain my own mindset and aims going into the trip. This is important, because it will help highlight some of the new passions and desires God has put on my heart—to understand the development of the narrative, we must start at the origin, after all. This is necessarily autobiographical, but future posts will be more Japan broadly.
For those of you who wanted a report/reflection/wrap-up/debriefing, therefore, I give you not an ending, but the beginning of my thoughts on Japan and the opportunities for the gospel there.
My intentions for the Karis Japan mission were fairly straightforward. I went on the mission trip in large part because of the prompting, prodding, and zealous joy of my buddy, Daniel Glosson.
Dan’s constant prayer for several years has been that the love of Christ would be felt in Japan, and that he would perhaps be called there as a missionary (that is his story to tell, of course!). Dan poured all that passion into the Karis Japan project, orchestrating a vision trip that was designed to explore if God might call Karis to a special investment in Japan, much as Karis is uniquely connected to the favellas of Rio de Janeiro.
Hence, when Dan went about building his missionary team, he asked me to serve as something of a social scientist or cultural critic for the group. My task was, put simply, watchfulness. Along with an invitation to join the mission, Dan gave me several books about Japan which I supplemented with a few more. My task was to connect what I had learned about Japan to the experiences of our group; and above all, to keep a close eye on the progress of the gospel in Japan (or lack thereof), and to consider the gospel opportunities there.
For the last two years or so, I had been praying for a new avenue to share my faith and use my gifts for the Kingdom. For those who don’t know me, I am a graduate student and adjunct lecturer in American history at the University of Missouri. This puts me in the awkward spot where I am around tons of young people, but, because of the restraints of authority, and the secularity at a state university, I am rarely in a place where I can share my faith.
The bizarre reality is that I talk about religion nearly daily in courses or sections I teach, but I have to cultivate an air of detachment about it in the classroom. The only times I am at liberty to share my faith on campus are when I see former students around campus (which happens rarely), or if a student in my office hours brings up a religious or moral matter in a personal way (and students almost never come to office hours). Graduate students are another group to reach, but—at least in the humanities—most grad students have strongly anti-Christian ideological commitments, and prefer to pillory Christianity (which they often conflate with the US Republican Party) rather than seriously consider it. Hence, as I look around campus, and consider the faculty job I might one day get, the sad fact is that my vocation seems more like a route to a paycheck than opportunities to share the gospel.
I have wrestled with this state of affairs for the last two years. So, when Dan encouraged me to get involved in the Japan trip as a social scientist, specifically plying my gifts as a means to advance the Kingom, I was elated. After all the reading and thinking I have done about Christian history and the intersection of culture and the gospel, here was a chance to actually have it be useful for the gospel! A number of brothers helped push me towards the Japan trip; along with Dan, particularly encouraging was my pastor Kevin Larsen, c-group leader Ryan Worley, and Porterbrook buddy Billy Glosson (note the relation—good things come with the Glosson label!).
So, I chose to join the Karis Japan trip because I wanted to help out Dan by aiding him in his quest to understand and reach Japan, and I wanted to serve God with the skills and talents that are ultimately His anyway. But, even within the first few days of the trip, my intentions were dramatically altered. Just two months ago, my main aim was to finish my PhD and get a job teaching history at a college somewhere in the Pacific Northwest—my beloved stomping ground. Yet, as I desired to serve God on the Japan trip, I feel that he has planted Japan on my heart in a special way, perhaps as a calling towards tangible Kingdom work there.
On the Karis Japan trip, I saw a tragically broken culture with a beautiful exterior. I watched thousands of tired faces and forced smiles on the subway. I felt the weight of spiritual oppression at a Japanese temple, and I worshipped anew the risen Christ with Japanese believers on a bright Sunday morning. Perhaps one final story will convince you of the beauty of what God is doing in Japan, and why I want to go back.
One late afternoon, I was returning to the church in Honda with Bob Drews. We were walking down a small backroad shaded by trees, with a bamboo forest that dropped down to the valley below. We turned as we neared the end of the road, and could hear the sounds of one of the church’s outreach programs drifting through the air: the Honda community gospel choir (the Japanese love gospel music). The lazy breeze carried their voices out the open church windows, with the clear refrain in broken English: “He reigns forever!” They were praising one whom they did not yet know—yet, even now God is calling his covenant people—from Japan too!
We can cheer with the Psalmist (chap. 22): “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations….Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”
Even as the task in Japan looks hopeless, I pray audaciously, because the power of Christ’s death and resurrection is at work, saving all whom the Father has chosen—He has done it!