22 May, 2012

Missionaries being cultivated

So, we're two days into a five day training week. They've titled it "Missionaries Under Cultivation". I certainly feel as if my brain is under cultivation. There is a lot to take in and think about.

Here's a short, and slightly random glimpse:

Yesterday we had quite a bit of history, which was great. I love history. It was history of the church in Japan as well as some reflection of OMF's work in Japan. We also had a very experienced Japanese pastor talk about how to prepare a missionary-led church for the big change to a Japanese pastor. It is a time when many churches in this country have floundered, but this pastor had some great things to say that will hopefully help ease this transition in years to come.

Today was harder. We heard about Japanese religion and its impact on mission. Difficult. Even the word "religion" isn't a terribly helpful word in Japan, it was made up to accommodate foreigners who wished protection to follow their own religions in the mid 1800s. Japanese "religion" is largely "functional religion", meaning: "religion primarily in terms of what it does, that is, what it does for its adherents or society at large". Christianity is a "substantive" religion: a religion embodied in a formal set of beliefs and doctrines relating to the spiritual realm".

We spent quite a bit of time on contextualisation. This is something that continues to come up in missionary discussion. It basically means, planting churches that are not just imported from overseas, but are, hopefully, seeking ways of planting churches that are indigenous to the culture. That is an issue with the Japanese church that most visitors to Japan notice pretty quickly: that most churches here look pretty much like their Western counterparts, and the service styles are too. It is a challenging issue for many, many reasons. A couple of reasons are that Japanese actually love to import foreign ideas, and that once they start doing something one way, it isn't easy to change it. So for most Japanese Christians, this is how you "do church". Suggesting making it "more Japanese" is hard.

The last session was on Japanese ancestral rites and was interesting, but I'm afraid that with all that had gone before it, it didn't all make it safely into my head!

It's been fun seeing people I haven't seen for several years. Many were surprised to see me. You see, OMF Japan is a field divided. We have two regions, basically Hokkaido and everyone else (who are in Yokohama and north on the island of Honshu). Only once every three years do we all get together at a National Conference. On the other two years we have regional conferences. If you aren't in leadership, it isn't often that you go to the other region. So, I haven't been up here since the last National Conference we went to, which was five years ago (we missed the last one while we were on Home Assignment in '09-'10).

It is both exciting and slightly daunting when you see how many new faces there are up here. OMF Japan has a lot of new missionaries come in in recent years, and they just keep coming. Compared to the language school when we attended (when we were two of only three students for about a year), it is so large. 15 or more students! The extrovert in me wants to go and meet them all, the shy side of me holds back. I'm hoping I'll meet some more of them, though on Thursday at the weekly prayer meeting that this region holds. At that time those of us from down south get a short time to at least put a name to our faces and small summary of our ministries for the benefit of everyone else.

But now I must give up and go to bed. I'm tired. New beds don't help me much — I'm hoping that the third night in this bed will be better!

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