Dana Dutcher is an ELCA missionary stationed in Tokyo. She teaches conversational English and works with several ministries of two congregations, Koishikawa Lutheran Church and Hongo Lutheran Church. To support Dana, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.
One biggest hindrances to developing the Christian church in Japan is the sense of “community.”
Japanese people tend to be like coconuts, hard on the outside, layer upon layer of hard exterior, taking forever to crack into. And I have cracked a coconut before — trust me, it’s hard. But once you finally get through all the exterior hardness there is a soft fruit and milk on the inside where a friendship can form.
Americans on the other hand tend to be like peaches. Soft and easy to penetrate on the outside, but once you get into the core, we get harder to crack. Americans easily open up their group and accept you in, instant friends. I have met people on airplanes and heard their life stories before takeoff. But Japanese people on the other hand , it takes years to really get to know someone. They are guarded and careful with what they share. This characteristic can make it difficult when trying to integrate people into new groups, as in bringing people into the church.
Many of you reading this have been Christians your whole life. We’ve been surrounded by Christianity our whole life, so for us being a Christian is easy. I didn’t lose anything by being a Christian. My family didn’t disown me; my friends didn’t leave me. I didn’t bring shame upon my ancestors. But for a Japanese person who converts, these are some of the issues that they face. Turning your back on hundreds of years of tradition to become a Christian isn’t easy. Leaving the community of your old friends and family to join a new community of Christians is not something that happens over night here. It can take years, even decades, before someone feels their ties are strong enough to a new group to commit themselves. This is where the challenges for the church in Japan arise.
You can read more from Dana at her blog, The Land of the Rising Son.