Reaching Out in Faith & Friendship:
Dohoku, Japan

In May, 2009 a group of 7 people from the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick flew to Japan to participate in an intercultural learning opportunity arranged through Calling Lakes Centre and the Dohoku Christian Centre and Northern Hokkaido Sub-District

As we visited 10 United Church of Christ congregations and the Dohoku Centre we experienced hospitality unlike anything we had ever encountered before. There was a strong sense of joy and enthusiasm as we were greeted, hosted, served tea and wonderful feasts, attended gatherings for peace and witnessed the building of relationships with Ainu people. 

As we visited churches we also experienced creative use of space and a strong spirit of cooperation. Within moments worship spaces were transformed into settings for communal meals or meetings, and when a church with 2 members needed a new building, all the churches contributed financially to make it happen.

In Japan where 1% of the population is Christian, we quickly realized that the focus was on being a Christian presence in the community and the movement of the Spirit was not hampered by concern for numbers in the pews. These experiences left us imagining new ways of becoming more welcoming to people and supportive of small congregations back home. We also came to realize how much we have to learn from the work that our overseas personnel and Christian brothers and sisters are doing in Japan as we now face the challenges of depopulation and decreasing church attendance.

The work of the United Church of Christ in Northern Hokkaido is also  supportive of the efforts of the Ainu people as they form partnerships and offer friendship and respect. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido who are struggling to reclaim their language, history, culture and rights. The church district supports the Ainu Peoples Resource Centre and one of the ministers we met devotes half his time to working with the Ainu people. They see helping to educate people about the Ainu history and way of life, putting an end to all discrimination and restoring Ainu rights as part of living out Godís love and the congregation fully supports their minister in this work. The experiences of the Ainu people have many parallels to the experiences of First Nations people in Canada and we found ourselves further reflecting upon ways to be a supportive presence and build deeper relationships of trust and reconciliation in the locations that we live in.

Another highlight of our trip was spending time at the Dohoku Centre where Rob Witmer and his partner Keiko serve as Overseas Personnel. We saw Rob and Keiko, along with co-worker Kuriko Fujiyoshi focusing their work on offering support to farm families through weekly visits and Three Love Seminars (a movement focusing on loving God, Humanity and the Soil which provides farm families with opportunities to talk about issues, offer support and assistance to each other and connects people to a very important social network) as well as operating an English School, visiting churches regularly, organizing peace gatherings and reaching out to provide meals for people living in a neighborhood Psychiatric Centre. The staffís intentionality in moving out from the center to offer support and build connections with the broader community left us reflecting upon another model for our own ministry.

During our time in Japan it also became clear how much the work to maintain Japanís peace constitution was at the centre of the hearts and minds of the people we met. Posters promoting love without war were visible on the classroom walls at the English School in Nayoro; groups of school children greeted us with the sign of peace; we attended prayer meetings petitioning for peace and we met a group of adults at a Peace Meeting who were part of a network concentrating their efforts on maintaining Japan as a peaceful country. We returned home with a renewed sense of responsibility as Canadian citizens to pray; to speak out to our government, to maintain Canada's peacekeeping role" and to live with the intentionality of keeping a peaceful world. 

When it was time for us to depart and head for home we were moved beyond words once again as these awe inspiring people stood waving goodbye until we were out of sight. Now that we are home our new found friends continue to remain in our hearts and prayers and we will be ever grateful for the many new insights we were blessed with by a faith-filled people who have always known what it is to be a minority church. 

May we give thanks for the work that our overseas personnel are doing and continue to find ways to offer our support and solidarity through our prayers, words of gratitude and financial support through our Mission and Service Fund.

Other articles from this Echo:

Letter from Linda Anderson, Executive Director of Calling Lakes Centre

Intercultural Discovery....

Treaty Days at Fort Qu'Appelle: New Understandings

Centre News...

DLM Update

Staff Changes

Calling Lakes and rEvolve: the Tour

Thank You for Your Generous Support...

Special Thank You's




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Phone: 306-332-5691 Fax:306-332-5264
Email: office@callinglakes.ca