Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life in Tokyo has its Ups and Downs

I have a new appreciation for Japanese engineering. Engineering that uses vertical space UP and DOWN in such dramatic ways:

On a recent trip through Tokyo I went deeper underground than I've probably ever been before. The newly completed shortcut through the heart of the city involves driving your vehicle down an extended corkscrew tunnel that winds you a dozen or so stories underground before straightening out. Only at that level could the engineers circumvent the cobweb of subway lines and underground structures that crisscross Tokyo. Entering the tunnel is like entering a future spaceport. And the ride down not unlike Space Mountain at Disneyland. I think my ears popped a few times on this "journey to the center of the earth." Wow, here is another place I want to avoid being during an earthquake. Not a good idea to run out of gas down there either.

The flipside to this dramatic DOWN is the up, Up, UP of the Sky Tree. This will be a radio tower and observatory some 2080feet tall upon completion sometime in 2012. We recently saw a scale model. Even at 1/25th of the actual size, it soared above us. For comparison's sake, you can see it next to the Empire State Building in the photo above. My list of places not to be in an earthquake keeps growing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Our God, Eager to Save

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded him to the hurt he was causing his family. His drinking and infidelity broke his wife’s heart and alienated his daughter. Eventually it took a toll on his body as well. He developed terminal liver cancer.

For the daughter, Takako, it was a long journey from pain and resentment to grace and forgiveness. Healing began when she found her Savior, Jesus Christ, and was filled by the power of his Spirit. My joy was baptizing Takako and seeing her grow in her new faith. She was faithfully by his side when her father became bedridden in the final stages of the cancer. “My only desire now is for his salvation,” she told me. We prayed and asked God to break down the spiritual resistance in his heart. I wondered to myself, however, whether there was enough time. Tomohisa’s prognosis was not good: a few weeks at best. God would have to be pretty eager to save.

The following week a meeting in Tokyo brought me close to his hospital. I considered a visit, but hesitated. Takako told me that Tomohisa didn’t want to see any Christian pastors. “What good could my foreigner presence and stumbling about in Japanese do but frustrate him more?” I reasoned. “Besides, if the family wanted me there they’d have called.” So, I shoved into the subway train and headed home. Three stations later I felt strongly shoved out. God was doing the pushing, but I couldn’t understand why.

Stepping out onto platform, I wondered what to do next. The answer seemed to come: “Find a place to make a call.” I wandered near the subway station exit, climbing the exit stairs to ground level where I could get a good signal. I scrolled through my address book. Wouldn’t you know it! I didn’t have Takako’s number. For me that was as good a reason as any to get back on the train home. That’s when the phone in my hand rang.

“Pastor Kevin?” It was the son-in-law. “My wife and I are here at the hospital. Tomohisa’s situation is bad. He’s crying for help. I don’t know what to do. I’m not a priest. I’m not even a Christian. I don’t know anything about the Bible. Can you come?” “Of course,” I replied. “I’m not far away now. I can be there soon.” Hanging up, I was stunned at the timing of the call.

But now it dawned on me how unprepared I was. I had no Bible with me, not even a pocket NT or portion of Psalms. What could I share with him? Of all the times for a missionary to be without this critical gear, why now? That’s when I heard it.

Hymns! The wonderful sound was flooding out from a newsstand just up the street from me. This didn’t fit into the local scene. We have hamburgers and hiphop on the streets of Tokyo, but not hymns! Walking up, I was dumbfounded to see a cross and the logo for the Salvation Army. A uniformed woman greeted me, “We only have a few things in English. Are you interested in some Christian material?” “Actually, I’m a missionary. I need a Japanese Bible for a hospital call,” I answered. Smiling, she said,“I just knew you were a missionary. I could tell by your smell.” (NOTE: I’ve been told American missionaries do smell different. But I have to assume she meant it in the ‘spiritual fragrance’ sense.) “Go to the second floor of the building behind us. The man up there will have a Bible for you,” she said. I went. Sure enough, he did.

At this point if God had revealed to me that the woman and man were angels and the newsstand only existed in a spiritual dimension, I would have found the idea quite reasonable. As I reboarded the train for the hospital, I was filled with awe at how God had been leading my steps.

The family was waiting for me at the hospital when I arrived. Tomohisa was doubled up on the bed in obvious discomfort. His estranged wife was seated beside him. The doctor had just come to administer pain medication. I sat near him and softly sang a verse of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” then opened the Bible and read from Psalm 23 and John 14. “Do you want me to read more?” I asked. He nodded. “Tomohisa, God wants to forgive your sin and has made a way for you to be with Him forever. Listen.” I read from John 3, ending at verse 17. “Do you believe these things?” He nodded again. In his pain, he was almost beyond verbal expression. “Why don’t we pray together and ask God’s forgiveness in Jesus,” I suggested. He surprised me by stretching out his hand to mine, bringing it to himself. As I prayed he moved his lips along with me. When I ended with “Amen” his face relaxed. He sighed softly and drifted off to sleep. The medication had eased his pain, but God had eased his soul. He may have been a respected doctor, an alcoholic, a womanizer, but now he was a child of God.

Tomohisa never fully regained consciousness after that afternoon, four days later passing into eternity, and into the arms of our Lord. I helped with the funeral arrangements, speaking at the wake and funeral. Done in a Christian way (not Buddhist tradition), it was the powerful testimony to the family and relatives. God received much glory for his work of salvation.

I left the Bible I read to Tomohisa in the hands of his wife. She is reading it now. I’ve no doubt that she, too, will soon find the grace in Christ that he experienced in the last moments of life. Why? Because God is moving heaven and earth to accomplish his salvation plan. Trains, missionaries, cell phones, newsstands and people might all be but small parts of it. Let’s not forget that salvation is his business. God IS very eager to save!