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Japan: The Reason Why

With four trips to Japan under our belt now since the 2011 tsunami, what an incredible privilege is has been for teams from the Christ Church Choir to represent our church and the State of Tennessee to the wonderful people of Japan! Of course, we love singing and playing gospel music, and thankfully, the people we have met in Japan share our affection for this wonderfully spirited art form.

There are hundreds of gospel choirs throughout Japan, and we have been fortunate to form relationships with some of them. Almost all of these groups sing American gospel songs in English, but most of the members don’t understand the words. They just like the music. A big part of our trips to Japan is forming relationships with these choir members and along the way explaining the song lyrics to our friends who love this music but don’t understand the meaning.

There are many stories I could share with you, but today I’d like to share this one. One of our friends is Masashi. He’s a student at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and he plays drums for Miracles Choir. We met Masashi at a music camp we led in Kyoto in September 2012. Later Masashi came to Nashville with a group of college students on a trip led by Yasunori Aoki.

Masashi

In September 2013, while we were hosting another music camp for college students at Doshisha Biwako Retreat Center, Masashi shared publicly his testimony of how this exchange with Christ Church members led to him becoming a follower of Christ. This is an English translation of his words to us there:

I attended church the first time because my friend from college, Yakeoka, called and invited me. Naohiro, whom you all know, is also a friends with Yakeoka. I’m a drummer, and so Yakeoka invited me to play with him in the band at Kyoto Central Chapel. So, I attended a Sunday service for the first time to play music. Just like most Japanese, I felt a little strange and uncomfortable around this religion. My first time in the service, the strangest thing to me was everyone’s “dadadadadadada” [Pentecostal worship expressions].

My heart changed toward religion when the Christ Church Choir came to Kyoto last September [2012]. My first attraction to the Christ Church Choir was my interest in their professional musicians. When I went to Nashville last September, little by little my heart was changed. I found out that Christians are very good people. They were very, very friendly toward me even though I had only met some of the choir just once in Japan, but when I went to Nashville I was so surprised by their kindness to me. I’m Japanese, and they were Americans. They didn’t know me, so I was so surprised by their warm hospitality.

There are three main reasons I decided to become a Christian:

1. The hospitality from Tommy and Becky Scott, my Nashville host family, was so impressive. They treated me like part of their family — like one of their own kids — even though I’d never seen them before. Becky cooked so many delicious breakfasts and dinners for us. A few nights, when I was out and came home very late, Becky left chocolates by our bed. Even more, she left a handwritten letter to “her son” each night. I felt such great kindness from such a very beautiful person. One of the most important characteristics of Christianity is kindness.

2. The story of Chelsea Smith also left a powerful impression on me. A girl I had never met, Chelsea, had suffered a brain aneurysm, and when we were in Nashville, I heard that many Christ Church members were praying for her. I didn’t think I had much to offer this person so in need, but nevertheless, Yasunori took us, a group of Japanese students, to the hospital to pray for her. When we got to the hospital, Chelsea’s parents met us, and they were so polite to us. We all formed a circle, and Pastor Daniel Bell led us in a prayer for Chelsea. That prayer was very significant to me. For me, prayer is a most beautiful act.

3. Finally, attending the Sunday morning services at Christ Church was transformative for me. At the time I attended that service, I was a non-Christian, but Christopher Phillips and Christ Church Choir received us and allowed me and Naohiro (also a non-Christian at the time) to play music with them in the Sunday services. What I saw through that act was that Christians are not discriminatory. That day they didn’t make a wall and separate Christians and non-Christians; no, all people became friends in Jesus. I was very impressed by the lives of these Christians, and that’s why I decided to become a Christian. I too wanted to give this kind of affection to other people.

When we got back to Japan, in the airport, I officially decided to follow Jesus Christ. Now, both Japanese and American Christians are my family. I am so very happy to be a Christian. I’m so thankful to the Christ Church members, to Pastor Yasunori Aoki, to my friend Naohiro, and to all the people who connected with me. I’m thankful they’re all my family now.

Masashi’s story is a great example of how powerful cultural exchange is. Also, I think it’s a reminder to us that our priority is being kind to everyone we meet and living lives that look like Christ. It’s really simple. We needn’t be about cramming Jesus down anyone’s throats, but instead we must realize that our kindness, i.e., Christ’s kindness in us, and the power of the Holy Spirit are an incredibly powerful combination. Mother Teresa said,

Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God; the rest will be given.

As we’re faithful to these Christlike tenets, I believe God will continue lead us.

For us, these trips are all about building relationships. We’ve found the Japanese people to be so incredibly kind. We’re from a part of America known for its great “southern hospitality,” but the people we’ve met in Japan sure give the American South a run for its money when it comes to hospitality and kindness.

I think these four trips we’ve taken to Japan so far — and the trips Yasunori has led to Nashville — are just the beginning of a wonderfully powerful cultural exchange for us between two extraordinarily rich nations.

 

-Christopher Phillips