by Ogasawara Akihiro, member Ofunato Church, Iwate Prefecture, Ou District
I entered Tohoku Gakuin University in 1980 and through God’s guidance joined the men’s glee club, where I had my first contact with hymns and religious music. I also studied the Bible, but only for class credit, without believing in God’s teaching; so as I approached graduation, I put my Bible and hymnal on the back of my bookshelf.
On March 11, 2011, the giant tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake descended on the Sanriku coast of Iwate Prefecture, and both the house in Kamishi where I grew up and my house in Rikuzen Takata were washed away. I could not even cry at the sight of the hellish scene before my eyes.
In the whirl of the first year-and-a-half afterwards, my body and mind did not function normally, and I continued to experience insomnia. Somehow I was able to do my job, though completely exhausted when I got home, so I distracted myself with alcohol. I commuted to Kyoto to pray at shrines and also prayed at temples, but even when I did that, after ten days or so, I felt the same as before.
One day, I went to Tsuchizawa Church in Hanamaki to pick up some relief supplies. My wife’s parents often performed ventriloquism there as volunteers. When I told the pastor that my Bible had been washed away, she gladly gave me one of the church’s Bibles and hymnals. When I got home I casually opened the Bible, and the first thing that jumped out at me were the words in Matthew 6:25-34 “do not worry.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (NRSV)
At that moment I heard the Word of God. I felt strongly, “I need to go to church!” and I could not stop crying. Ofunato Church warmly welcomed someone like me into their church. I started attending services with my wife, who had been baptized in her youth, and eventually I too was baptized.
A little more than a year later, a man with whom Ofunato Church Pastor Muraya Masahito had previously served as a volunteer probation officer started coming to church. With a record of more than 10 offenses, he was out of prison on parole. Pastor Muraya then asked my wife and me if we would help guide him as he prepared for baptism. It is the custom at Ofunato Church for members to take the lead in preparing others for baptism. Nevertheless, we were flabbergasted to receive this request when we had only been attending the church for a little over a year. However, if it is God’s mission, you cannot refuse, so we accepted.
This man had a home and a wife and children, but he was living in a room in the church. Pastor Muraya looked after him every day, and from time to time I would go to the church and talk about the Bible and other things with him. He was a hard worker, doing routine tasks around the church like cutting grass and clearing trees and bushes on the hill behind the church. He even helped at an NPO in the city. You would often see him reading the Bible, and at Christmas he made a detailed plan for the church illumination lights. I even bought a radio and gave it to him so he could listen to the Christian broadcast FEBC every evening. He deepened his understanding of the contents of the Bible, and his preparation for baptism seemed to be going smoothly. If he successfully completed his period of parole, his sentence would be complete. However, when he had only a few days left in his parole, he ran away with a woman he had met at his workplace. He was quickly found and sent back to prison. After that, he finished his sentence, but he never came back to the church.
What happened to the positive attitude he seemed to have had? My wife and I wondered if there had been something wrong with the guidance we gave him, and we spent our days questioning God about this. But this was not the end. Now the church is involved with a boy on temporary release from a juvenile correctional facility. At the same time, someone who had been shepherded through preparation for baptism by other church members was baptized on Pentecost Sunday in 2017.
Pastoral care or preparation for baptism are not only the job of the pastor. Ordinary members also have roles as laypersons, jobs that only laypersons can do. We are not transferred as pastors are, so we can continue to guide those who come to church for the first time. We are to become “the salt of the earth” and believe in God and that we are certain to bear fruit. With this in mind, I want to continue to reach out to new people who come to church. Amen. (Tr. DB)
From Shinto no Tomo (Believers' Friend),
October 2017 issue
Summarized by KNL Editor Kawakami Yoshiko