05 December 2014

If I just keep saying it

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Tonight’s Bible study was pretty great. We talked about idolatry and I realized that I've never talked to someone who honestly worships an idol. The conversation was really encouraging because we got to talk about some of the things that Japanese think about Christianity and life in general. Sensei told us a little bit about the history of Christianity in Japan and how Buddhist monks persecuted early converts. Hagino san cried. Anyway, it looks like we may be making headway with at least one of our students. Sensei said that things look like they are improving with her and she seems to be a little bit less hostile. That would be great. I'm excited about it now.
When Christmas came to Fukuoka in 2003, when I was a missionary, my mission partner and I had just arrived. I was feeling, as you do when you land somewhere so disorienting, tired and fat and displaced. I had come to share my Christian faith in the darkness of the East, but the metaphor wasn't really holding — Fukuoka pulsated with electricity. The white missionaries were out of place, as fat and awkward as me, but I did my best to pray and persevere. Of course there would be challenges. The walls of our apartment in Susenji were thin and I could never relax, lying on the futon, trying to sleep hours away on the weekend. There was no money and going out meant spending money. I walked and rode my red bicycle. I tried to grow a moustache. 

My father came with the video camera that December and I remember being so self conscious: he sat us down and had an interview to show at church, a video I'm sure no one ever watched, but it documented, as I remember it, how scared I was and how It seemed I might blurt out, 'Something is wrong.' That wrongness was blossoming in a way that I couldn't really say.
We (Sensei and Hagino san and I) dropped him off at the airport at the crack of dawn this morning. In true Japanese fashion, it was much more difficult than it needed to be and we ended up following him into the airport and watching him go through security. We prayed before he left, a very awkward moment where we held hands. It was just weird. I ended up talking Hagino san and Sensei out of having us stay and watch his flight leave. I got home around 7:30 and just went back to bed. When I woke up, it was like I had been asleep all weekend. Mom called and I didn't really have anything to say to her. I pretended that the weekend didn't really happen until I went to work tonight. Now, it seems like I have enough distance. 
At some point during that year, I stopped praying. The missionaries would go on about the darkness, like they were in a different world. I wanted to apologise, to say that I had made a mistake. I told a story to myself and everyone around me that allowed me to escape: I wanted to be in the world of the Japanese, not the church. That's where I could make an impact. I told myself and everyone around me the same thing: I believed it even though I didn't. I wanted to believe it, even if I didn't. I went through the motions, until I was sleeping on the shinkansen on my way through the mountains to Niigata City. I got off the train: my huge suitcase was broken and someone from the company had come to pick me up. I didn't have a bank account or mobile phone — only a bit of cash.

I remember the smell of the woman's car who picked me up: she took care of me that year, but I don't remember her name. She was shocked that I didn't have a phone. I went to open a bank account directly from the station and she said, 'You need to deposit something.' What was the minimum, I asked. I had two one hundred yen coins. Was that enough? She took it from me, and they printed it in my first Japanese bank account book: 200円. There it was.

She took me to my one room apartment — Nunogawa san, I just remembered her name. She had some bedding for me, that she had from a friend. She would pick me up the next day again and take me to visit the schools I would teach at. Was that okay? Did I need anything? I didn't, no: I thanked her and she left me her number, although she laughed because I had no way to contact her. We'd have to go to the shop first thing tomorrow.

That apartment was like a cell — the company had only set me up there because you didn't need key money or a deposit, and it had some basic amenities. It didn't matter: it was a beginning. I set up my computer and looked out the window at Matsuhama, where I had landed. In this world, no one told me that I was surrounded by darkness. I e-mailed my parents to say I had arrived, made cup ramen, and went to bed alone. Whatever it was, it was different and that was something, some place to start, at least.

My apartment
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