Christmas in Japan is seen as a children’s fun time so people are conscious of it, though quite thoughtless as to its meaning. However, it is an opportunity for outreach to friends and the non-Christian community. The churches make the most of it, often combining for a special outreach event. This year it will be low key, on account of COVID, so first we would like to share with you something from last year.

We had a break-up bring-a-plate party with the seniors’ English class, starting with an hour’s English lesson focusing on the Christmas theme. We worked through Matthew 2 in English, comparing it with the Japanese. I felt the presence of the Lord with us in an unusual way, sensing his touch on individuals as I looked at some of the faces and saw their reaction to the content. The role of prophecy, the significance of the gifts though unknown to the givers, the wickedness of Herod, the intervention of God in inexplicable ways, the pile up of evidence for the reliability of the Bible, and so on; they seemed to be taking it all on board with a sense of “This is true!” So far I have never seen it this way with them. I think that the previous several weeks spent studying the conversion experience of an ex-gangster was excellent preparation. Would they take it on from here? That is always the burning question.

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Within a week of Christmas is the highly idolatrous, overwhelming, all-consuming celebration of New Year! On New Year’s Eve the Buddhist temples toll away the 108 sins of the people with their huge one-tonne bells. Next morning, after a late special family breakfast, the Shinto temples are visited, to obtain good luck for the coming year. It is the Shinto temples that take centre stage at New Year, not Buddhism. The aim is to visit 1. the local Shinto temple, where each one was offered up to the Shinto spirit as a baby; 2. a temple that specialises in good luck for exams, healing of infertility, provision of a marriage partner, etc.; and, if possible, 3. a big famous Shinto temple where millions gather over the next few days. No wonder that the precious Christmas message is easily washed away in this flood.

Elaine and her pastor husband, Shuichi, serve with WEC in Japan.