“No one will know,” I thought. Living alone and far from home in Tokyo about 25 years ago, I was trying to decide whether or not to sleep in or get up and go to church. Who would care? How could it matter?
It’s easy to think that you can get away with certain things when you feel alone or far from home. Stay up late? Eat too much ice cream? Use bad language? Who would know? How could it matter? Hundreds of years ago, ships carried sailors, whaling captains, traders, and priests to those same distant Japanese shores. Mulling over some ideas for a new novel, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Japan in the 1600s to mid-1800s. It has struck me over and over again that the people in these historical stories must have asked themselves the same questions that I did–who would know? How could it matter?
Many of them, like me, would have called themselves Christian, but their behavior was pretty awful. Some of them married Japanese women even though they had wives and families waiting for them back home. Traders and priests from one country lied to Japanese officials about the motives of traders or priests from another country to try to gain favor for themselves. I’m sure the reasons behind Japan’s decision to finally say, “Enough!” and shut their doors to all foreigners are many and complex, but I couldn’t help think as I was reading and cringing from all the bad behavior that if all of those “Christians” had shown more integrity, Japan’s doors might not have closed.
The fact is, their behavior mattered a lot. Unsure who to trust, the Japanese sent the foreigners packing and spent the next two hundred years or so persecuting all the Christians they could find. Japanese Christians suffered terribly and were tortured and killed, forced to revoke their faith by stepping on a picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, or chased into hiding. Margi Preus’ wonderful book for kids, Heart of a Samurai, tells of shipwrecked and destitute Japanese fishermen, some of whom were just boys, who were unable to return to Japan just because they had been rescued by a foreign ship. Some shipwrecked sailors were used as pawns by foreign governments, who hoped that they could exchange the sailors for the right to trade with Japan. In Heart of a Samurai, I was encouraged to read about a good whaling captain who took one of these shipwrecked fishermen, a teenager named Manjiro, into his family and raised him as a son. I was sad, however, to read that the captain had to take him to three different churches before he found one that allowed Manjiro to worship there. What a missed opportunity by those other churches to show the love of Christ to a young foreigner! So many stories about these rare and early contacts between people from Christian countries and accidental visitors from Japan reveal missed opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love. Hundreds of years later, I grieve for what might have been.
Which gets me thinking. What opportunities am I missing today? Os Guinness, in his new book, The Global Public Square, speaks of social media as a force that, whether intended or not, lets “everyone be everywhere.” It’s true. Even in the month or so since setting up this blog, I’ve had people in China, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, India, and the US click on some element of my website or the Soundcloud website that I use to “store” the Wednesday’s Word audio clips. Everyone is everywhere.
Here at home, kids at my school are from all over the world and from many different cultural traditions. What do they see of Christ when they observe my behavior, whether they know I’m a Christian or not? Because the reality is, people are always watching. Unlike the whaling ships that were gone from home for years during the days of Japan’s closed borders, now it would only take one email or letter or Facebook post or phone call from one of these immigrants to their home country to share either the good or the bad of what they see. When I thought “no one” was watching me that Sunday morning in Tokyo, it only meant that my closest family and friends weren’t watching me. All the new people around me were watching me, just like the Japanese people were watching the foreigners before the government shut the door on them, and just like Manjiro watched the foreigners he lived with and went to church with.
Who is watching you? What message are they getting? The Bible (Matthew 1:23) tells us that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us–no matter where we are and who we are with. What we do and say matters, not only to the people around us–all over the world–but to God Himself. It all matters!