Noboru Nakajima was walking down Okubo Ave near busy Shinjuku on a Saturday and noticed the sign for Tokyo Lutheran Church. He made a mental note to come back for worship the next day.
On Sunday morning, however, he ended up loitering in front of the church, hesitant to come in. It was, after all, 50 years since he last set foot in a church. And while the English-language service time fit his work schedule the best out of three services, English was not his forte.
Indeed Nakajima had been baptized in 1950 by a Lutheran pastor. That pastor had signed a Bible for him, which he still held on to dearly. He attended church regularly until he moved away because of work. With the many life changes after that, Nakajima had lost touch with church.
Several years ago, his wife died of cancer and was found gripping a cross. It was only then that Nakajima realized his wife was a baptized Christian as well. In Japan, people often get baptized and don’t tell their families or loved ones for fear of being rejected.
Now was his chance to enter into the life of the church once more. But taking that step across the threshold of the church was difficult; it was shameful to admit his long absence from church. Fortunately, one of the members of the congregation saw him, took him by the arm, and brought him into church.
This was Ascension Sunday, and though he couldn’t understand all of the sermon, which was in English, he knew the message was that all of Jesus’ followers would be God’s witnesses. Indeed, the member who dragged Nakajima into church was a witness. The people who engaged him after church during fellowship were also witnesses. The old Bible in his hand, his wife’s cross in his pocket were witnesses.
And the Holy Spirit was a witness, as Nakajima came back the next Sunday, Pentecost, to celebrate, with all those gathered, the birthing of the church with a renewed faith.
–Y. Franklin Ishida
Director for Asia and the Pacific, ELCA Global Mission