Sunday, October 28, 2007

Calvary Baptist Church Misawa, Japan

I went to church in Japan for the first time today. It was definitely a bit of a weird experience, and it made me realize a few things:

1) becoming part of an established faith community takes work and perseverance
2) one friendly face/one person acknowledging that you're new and welcoming you makes a HUGE difference
3) a written order of service can be very comforting/help ease the feeling of disorientation
4) ultimately, worship isn't about me, but GOD

So that's the summary. Feel free to stop reading here. The rest of this post is going to be my recollection of and musings on the experience.

Thank goodness I spent a good hour online yesterday afternoon/evening looking up Misawa maps and plotting my route to the church! The Calvary Baptist Church (CBCM) website had what has got to be one of the most useless set of directions and map that I have encountered:

DRIVING DIRECTIONS:
From the main gate, go straight.
At the third stoplight, make a LEFT turn.
At the next stoplight, make a RIGHT turn.
The church will be on your LEFT.

And that was it!! They didn't give any landmarks, plus they didn't even orient the map properly (i.e. north-east-south-west)!

Luckily I found a map online that showed stoplights, landmarks, and major and small roads, because I overshot the main gate and had to go back. Considering how directionally-challenged I am, I was quite proud of the fact that my little detour only took about five minutes to correct. (Okay, I actually also missed the left turn at the stoplight because I forgot to count the main gate stoplight, but I didn't have to turn back to find the church, so I'm not counting that mistake!)

And even though I had to take a different route going home (the road I took going up was a one-way street up to the main gate), I didn't get lost at all on the way back! (God was definitely at work there! =P)

Anyway, I made it to the church with a couple of minutes to spare before the service was scheduled to start and in the foyer there was a sign that said "Visitors please sign in here." So I walked up to the table--still kind of looking at the sign, but the lady there didn't say anything, just gave me a quizzical smile, so I didn't say anything and just turned to go into the sanctuary.

Apparently I should've said something because they give a bag of cookies to first-time visitors, but I've always been the type to avoid asking for help/things, so that's kind of where #2 (in my list of realizations) comes into play.

When the guy leading the service explained about the bag of cookies (and I noticed that the couple in front of me had a key chain that said "visitor 20") I felt pretty dumb for not signing in, but at the same time, I was kind of thinking that if the lady had even said "hello" I would've felt more comfortable about identifying myself as a visitor. So that was my negative experience of #2.

As a positive experience, of #2, however, during the "let's stand up and greet each other" time, a woman came up and introduced herself to me. She asked me if it was my first time at the church, and briefly mentioned that the church's pastor had fallen ill and had to return to the US, so they were currently without a pastor, but she hoped that I would join in some of the many activities the church had to offer. Up to that point, I had been wondering if I really wanted to make the drive out to Misawa for church in English every week.

Even though I was among people who could speak English, I felt out of place. (It didn't help that almost everyone there seemed to be part of a family from the American base.) I wondered if it would be better for me to go to a Japanese speaking church in Towada. I might not understand the songs or the messages (or anything, really), but at least there would be with people from my local community. And who knows, maybe I could make some friends and/or improve my Japanese!

I'm actually still thinking about it (I've found the address for a baptist church in Towada), but thanks in large part to that friendly woman, I'm feeling more like I should give CBCM a few more tries before going to the Towada church.

Actually, I think I'm coming to a fifth realization here. The hardest thing about the service today was the wave of homesickness that struck me as I sat in the pew, waiting for service to begin. As I looked around, I wasn't thinking "I'm glad to be back at a church after all these months," but "I wish I was back at MCBC." And I can't help but wonder if that feeling isn't part of the reason I put off looking for a church until I had my car and could drive to an English-speaking church in Misawa. I mean, I sort of knew there was a baptist church in Towada, so if I had wanted to, I could've looked it up online and ridden my bike there. Maybe I knew, subconsciously, that going to church in Japan would be the thing to make me feel the most homesick, so I wanted to avoid that?

But back to my experience today. As I mentioned, I felt really homesick as I was sitting (by myself) in the pew, waiting for the service to start--so much so that I could actually feel tears welling up. Whirling around in my mind were all these thoughts of how uncomfortable I felt. As the service started, however, I caught myself and had to remind myself that being at church wasn't supposed to be all about me, it was about worshipping GOD (realization #4).

That thought helped a lot. When I caught myself focusing on minor differences between CBCM and MCBC, I reminded myself "it's about God" and that helped me to stop nit-picking. That said, some of the differences made me appreciate the small things MCBC does, for example:

1) printing the order of service on the bulletin (realization #3): even though we don't always follow it as it's printed, I think it does help ease a newcomer's feeling of disorientation; I especially missed having the scripture passage for the message printed because I didn't catch the full scripture reference, so I had to flip through all of 2 Corinthians to find the passage while it was being read--and to make it harder, the person doing the reading wasn't reading directly from the NIV Bible or the translation they had in the pews, but was kind of doing his own thing.

2) passing the offering bag through all rows: I actually planned on giving offering, but the ushers (or whatever you want to call the people collecting the offering) didn't pass the plate down my pew (I was at the side and they were going down the middle) because I didn't know to make a gesture to indicate that I wanted to give something (like flashing an envelope or nodding my head, or something); I guess they don't want people to feel obligated, but at the same time, it made it awkward for me as a person who did want to give an offering

3) ask for newcomers to identify themselves and to fill out a card: according to guy chairing the service, there were supposed to be cards for newcomers to fill out in the pews, but I didn't see any, so since I missed signing in, there wasn't any way for me to identify myself as a visitor to the church; it wouldn't be a big deal if I wasn't planning on coming back, but since I want to try to become a part of the community, I would've like'd to have been able to make myself known without having to go up and start talking to someone randomly (and how would I know who was a regular member and who wasn't, anyway?)

I know I'm complaining/criticizing a lot, but it wasn't all discomfort and awkwardness. Apart from the song for the call to worship and the song of response, I knew all the songs. And I don't think I've belted out songs like that in a long time (last Sunday at MCBC I was too tired to really put everything into my singing). Not knowing anyone made me feel a little freer to focus on singing to God (I wasn't thinking about what to do after service, who I needed to talk to, etc.).

Plus I actually took notes on the message (I haven't done that in a LONG time)! Objectively the message was more self-helpish and less Bible-based than I would've liked, but the speaker did have some interesting illustrations and good points. He was talking about problems and troubles. The distinction he made between the two is that problems have a solution, but troubles require rescue.

An example he gave was some firefighters in California. They needed to find a way to stop a large fire from jumping a road and spreading. That was a problem that they were trained to deal with. But while they were working on that, a big wind came and suddenly they were surrounded by flames. That was trouble that required a helicopter to come and spread some fire retardant and to rescue them.

He talked about how our responses to problems and troubles need to be different. For problems, we should pray for strength and wisdom to solve them, but for troubles, we should pray for weakness so that we can allow God to be our strength and to save us.

Another point he made was that the root problem is sin. As a problem, it has a solution, but it is also a trouble because the solution requires/required rescue through Jesus's salvation.

As you can probably tell from my ability to recollect the message, I found it pretty interesting, and it reminded me that I do need to take time to listen to and reflect on God's word.

3 comments:

ceci said...

Yay. :)

Proud that you got to and from church! Your navigational sense shall improve a lot, eh? hehe...

That's a good message indeed. Thanks for sharing. :)

love+prayers,
ceci

jen said...

happy about this post :)

I'm glad you finally made it to that church! you are definitely missed here (@ mcbc) but i know you're being stretched where you are and that's such a good thing. I hope you find a community that makes you comfortable. looking forward to more stories!

Duncan said...

Hello! I read with interest of your experiences at Calvary Baptist in Misawa. I was stationed at Misawa Air Base from 77-80 and came accept Christ at that church while serving there.

Interestingly, I also experienced my first cherry blossom festival at Towada City. Those were fun times.

Thanks for posting (even tho it seems I resurrected this post, eh?)

Yours in Christ,

Duncan