by Yamazaki Masato, participant
Student Christian Fellowship, Tokyo
I take part in the activities at SCF, but I am not a Christian. At the moment I am not thinking of being baptized. Nor do I attend church services on a regular basis. Yet, I love Christianity. To be more precise, I love the values I have come to know through Christianity: to trust and love people, to be kind, and to respect one another. These are some of the many values that I have learned from the Christians I have encountered. And yet, at the same time, there is something about Christianity that keeps me at a distance. At present, I maintain a healthy distance in my relationship with Christianity.
I had my first encounter with Christianity in kindergarten. Even after I entered elementary school, I continued to attend church school services on Sunday mornings. As I grew older I gradually stopped going. The main reasons were that I did not want to get up early on Sunday and I preferred to play with my friends. I think many young people go through a similar phase.
For most people the relationship with Christianity might end at this point. However, in my case, I just happened to attend a Christmas worship service when I was a high school student. After worship I met a friend of my older brother who invited me to the Student Christian Fellowship (SCF). Through SCF I also came to know about the Nishi Tokyo District Youth Group for teenagers. Through both of these groups, I was afforded wonderful new encounters with people. I discovered friends to whom I could confide my deepest doubts and friends who would open their hearts to me in trust. There were pastors and church women who prayed for me. Even to this day I am in touch with many of the people I came to know through the district youth group. After taking part in the activities of the youth group, and following graduation from high school, I again started to go to SCF.
Just recently I have come to understand the Christian faith that is at the center of SCF’s activities. At first I joined the activities at SCF because they were fun. I would not say that I am pursuing Christianity in a conscientious manner. It is much more natural for me to join fun events organized in the evenings, rather than to get up early on Sunday mornings. I think the reason I have come to think deeply about the Christian faith is precisely because of the “flexibility” of the Christian faith at SCF. At first glance, the Christian faith at SCF seems to be too easygoing and relaxed, and yet I would say that SCF is able to open the door wider, in a sense, for youth who are considering their relationship with the Christian faith.
Activities at SCF are quite different from those at local churches. In my mind, the greatest difference is that at church gatherings faith comes first, whereas at SCF there is no emphasis on the Christian faith – faith will follow later. At gatherings organized by SCF, besides occasional prayers and songs we sing from Taize, there is very little that directly concerns the Christian faith. Emphasis is placed on getting to know one another deeply, opening our hearts to one another, and trusting each other. Through this, we mature together. At times we shed tears together and walk closely with one another along life’s pathway. But the basis of all of those activities at SCF is the Christian philosophy of love for one another.
At the Bible study sessions on Thursday nights, sometimes our doubts and criticisms are expressed in a direct manner. At times our conversations go off on tangents, and at other times we express the kinds of questions we could never ask a local church pastor, such as, “Are we supposed to love the enemy even when our family is persecuted?” and “Do Buddhists go to hell?” But even when we express our deepest and most critical questions, our interaction is focused on what is at the core of the Bible message for us, and we discover finally a message that values life and calls for love. In this way, SCF is open to our criticisms and doubts. And in fact, this openness has provided me a way to come closer to Christianity.
I would not say that I have a deep understanding of Christianity. I have doubts and questions about many places in the Bible. Any yet I am committed to following something that I have come to know as good. Whatever is not good, I will doubt. By so doing I want to persevere until I know in my own way what it means to believe in God. Faith is not something that can be forced on others; nor is it something that you brainwash yourself into. In my searching I may one day be baptized, or maybe not. As I said in the beginning, “I love the way Christians think.” At this point, that is the one sure thing I can say. (Tr. JM)
Ed. note: Student Christian Fellowship is a Kyodan-related youth center where many of the young people who have come to study or work in the large metropolis of Tokyo gather, irrespective of the status of their faith. Here they learn to respect and care for one another, and through these encounters, some are led to read the Bible. As a faith-based community for young people, SCF serves to connect the young people to the local churches. The author, a 23 year-old first-year employee of a company, is among the participants at SCF.