So as I try to prepare a little in these last 7 weeks before I land in Japan, I’ve been thinking about different ways to communicate the Gospel and the reality of Jesus, through language and mediums that are culturally relevant in the East.
Because I love talking about Jesus.
And I love how Jesus used parables and stories to reveal Himself to those who listened to His message.
I love the example He gave.
I’ve been thinking about when Paul arrived in Athens in Acts 17.
The Bible tells us that he was distressed to see the city was full of idols, and began to talk about the real God of the universe in the marketplace and the meeting of the Areopagus.
But we are told He used the cultural context of Athens to explain God in a way that people could literally get their heads around.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an alter with this inscription: To an unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you’.
So Paul explains the reality of who God is, in the societal context of the people, in a language that is meaningful to them.
Because just as Holy Spirit anoints and waters and enables the seeds of the Gospel to grow, so God also inspires us and equips us and guides our words.
That God would choose to use us.
So, as these thoughts have been in my mind and my heart and my spirit this week, I’ve also been at a point in my Japanese listening and reading practice where I’ve been studying traditional stories or fairytales.
‘Once upon a time’ stories would be the equivalent translation.
And these stories are great to hear conversational Japanese, but also great to understand some of the cultural influences that influence Japanese culture.
And the story I was listening to today, reminded me a little of Paul’s trip to Athens. Because, there are many gods in the Eastern religions of Asia.
But this story talks about the ‘God of mercy’.
And for me, that description is a big in-road to describe the way that I believe the true God of true mercy is Sovereign King and guide and friend.
Let me share the story of ‘The Straw Millionaire’ with you…
Mukashi Banashi…. (Not really, we’ll do this in English :-))
Once upon a time there was a very honest but very unfortunate man who lived in a small village. He worked and worked and worked from morning until night but he was always poor no matter how hard he worked and could never seem to escape his poverty.
One day, in absolute desperation, and without food or water, he prayed to the God of mercy for blessing on his future. He said, ‘Oh God of mercy, I know I have never prayed to you before, but I cannot do this by myself, and I am in need of your help. I will do whatever you ask of me and trust what you say’.The man believed this was his last chance.
That night as it grew dark, the man heard the voice of the God of mercy. The voice said, ‘As you leave this place, you will catch something. You should go toward the West with it’.
The man did not understand, but in his desperation, he chose to be obedient. He left the place he was sitting and walked outside. On leaving, he fell down and caught something. It was a straw. Though he thought it was completely useless and he didn’t understand, he began to walk West with the straw in his hand.
As he walked, a horsefly flew into him. He caught it and tied it to the end of the straw and carried on walking in obedience.
When he arrived at the first town, he came across a young mother with a crying son. As the small child caught sight of the horsefly tied to the straw, he stopped crying. Upon seeing the joy that this brought to the child, the man lent over and gave him the straw. The mother, being incredibly thankful, gave him all she had with her: three oranges.
So the man took the oranges and carried on his journey. He began to walk down a long road and as did, he noticed a young woman sitting on the grass verge who was suffering from dehydration. She was unable to move very far and was in need of water. The man gave her the three oranges to bring her refreshing, and as she recovered, she thanked him by giving him some beautiful silk cloth.
The man carried on towards the West with his cloth. He next met a samurai who had a weak and sick horse that he could not nurse back to health. On seeing the beautiful cloth, the samurai asked if the man would exchange it for his horse. So the samurai took the cloth and went East, whilst the poor man nursed the horse back to health through the night. The horse got well the next morning.
He walked West again with the horse, and arrived in a castle town. When he arrived there, a Choja, or rich man, saw the horse and liked it very much. The poor man was invited to the Choja’s house, where his daughter brought two cups of tea to them. To his surprise, it was the young lady that he had given the oranges to.
The Choja was so moved at the strange meeting and the gentle and compassionate nature of the poor man, that he decided to allow him to marry his daughter.
And thus, the poor man became rich in many ways, through being obedient to the instructions of the God of mercy.
He never forgot to take care of even a single straw for the rest of his life, and so he was called ‘Wara Choja’ (a straw millionaire) by villagers.
You see. It’s just a story. But it’s a well known story. And it’s a route into explaining about God being merciful, and speaking, and us being obedient, and the way that the plans and thoughts of God are above our plans and thoughts.
And from there, Jesus being the merciful son of God and the way that we can be adopted into God’s family flows.
And mukashi banashi can give an opening to explain the Gospel.
I love talking about Jesus. I really do.