Interview with Pastor Fujiwara

Rev. Fujiwara (Ph.D) pastors Covenant of Grace Church in Tokyo and is Professor of Theology at Seigakuin University General Research Institute. Last month he came to CRASH Japan HQ in Tokyo and gave an encouraging message for our morning chapel time. Afterwards we interviewed him about his experiences and thoughts on relief, Japan, and faith. A respected scholar, Dr. Fujiwara has written an important book called "Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context".

How does volunteering in Tohoku relate to the life and teaching of Jesus?
Jesus told us to do good work. So there is no question that we should participate in volunteer work within Tohoku -- as well as in other places.

And what do you mean by good work?
Any kind of good work. In the beatitudes he said that we do good work so that the name of the Father will be glorified. So we have to. We have no choice. We cannot serve God without serving people.

I am part of the Purpose Driven Fellowship Japan Committee. Saddleback Church sent two or three pastors right after the earthquake. On the 22nd of March, 2011, we held a networking meeting. Pastor Hari (of the CB church in Tokyo) came and spoke for CRASH. Purpose Driven Fellowship Japan held a counseling seminar the second week of April in Tokyo and Nagoya about what we can do when disaster strikes. We held three retreats, inviting pastors to come. We do that kind of work as well.

It has been more than 150 years since the Protestant mission started in Japan. But fewer than 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. And there is much conflict within the one percent, with little cooperation. But now we realize that we must work together, because people see us as Christian. We are Christians. We need to give the same voice.

How do you think our disaster relief work has affected the reputation of the Church in Japan?
Very positively. One reason is the volunteer work that started immediately after the earthquake. And the volunteers have been very patient; they didn't go out and overtly evangelize. They just served people. The disaster-affected people knew that the Christians wanted to evangelize but chose not to. The church has gained a positive reputation by patience, humility, and good works; we have gained lots of trust from the people.

And what does it mean to gain trust? Why is that important? The people in northern Japan are really reserved. They don't accept newcomers unless they start to trust them. It takes lots of time and patience. Especially in the rural areas of Japan; you need lots of trust before doing anything. If it's a business, like starting a convenience store, it's easier. Opening the heart of an individual is much, much harder.

What does it mean to you personally to be involved in this work? You could be doing a lot of other things.
Human life, on average, is something like eighty years. My eighty years happens to be at this time. This is a major, major event for Japan. This is the kairos in which God is doing something. This is the kairos that churches need to grasp to encourage people to hear the voice of our shepherd. For my Ph.D I studied theologians such as H. Richard Niebuhr. In his theology he says: "God is working already here and now; and we need to respond to God." God is working in international relations, God is working at home, God is working in the north after the earthquake. This is our opportunity to respond.

How is God working in Japan right now?
Right now, everyone is open to coming closer to each other, at least to cooperate.

Everyone? You mean, pastors and denominational leaders?
Yes. On the 23 of March this year we held an international symposium with Fuller seminary. Twenty-nine organizations -- including Fuller, United Church of Christ (Nihon Kirisuto Kyoudan), JEA (Japan Evangelical Association), Aoyama University, Kanto Gakuin, Tokyo Christian University, and Seigakuin University -- came together for this event. Evangelicals and mainline leaders worked together perhaps for the first time since the war.

You must be getting some criticism.
Well, always.

How do you deal with that?
Well... I get hurt. I cry over it, and then I get over it. Because we know that this is what we need to do. I have a report from that meeting that 86% of those there were positive about the lectures, and 12% were neutral. So only 2% were critical. I was very happy with that. Fuller encouraged us.

What did that symposium mean to you and to the people there?
A lot. This was a symbolic beginning. I see three things that need to happen now: having vision, connection, and alternatives. Vision: How can we start again? We are destroyed, but we are going to stand up. Think about where we are going one hundred years from now. We need to work together. So we need to have a vision as a church, and also as a nation. Connection: we need to see peoples' faces. We need to talk; go to Starbucks and drink coffee. We need this kind of relationship. We need to see people and have trusting relationships. Alternatives: People criticize things. I don't like that. Criticism is fine as long as it is positive. We always need an alternative. If "this" is not good enough, we need to have something better. So vision, connection, and alternatives.

I started a theology discussion group after the symposium inviting young leaders, in their forties, from a mainline denomination, from a baptist, and evangelical. Five of us got together and we invited more people just to talk about how we have been dealing with disaster relief and our future. Those young leaders are friends, and we are making connections. I think that's very important. We come up with alternatives -- we don't just stop at criticism. We don't just stop at "you're bad, you're not good enough", but we bring alternatives to serve people better.

You mentioned connecting with churches around the world. At this time, how can churches around the world support Japan?
First of all, they need to know what we are doing. And the easiest way is to come and visit.

Come and visit as volunteers?
Yes, I think that would be the best way. I hear some of my friends that are thinking about coming this summer from Seattle. I think that's a good way. Saddleback Church immediately responded.

We've hosted several teams from Saddleback Church. They were in Sendai.
They are coming back, I think this year.

Anything else you would like to say?
People are forgetting about the disaster already. There are many different news reports happening in the EU, Egypt, and so forth. So for the churches, we need to remember. Japanese church also needs to tell the world what is happening. One contribution that we possibly can make is having different denominations working together; that can be a contribution to Christianity around the world. Christianity is very small in this country and has been divided for many, many years. Now we are trying to work together. If we can work together, along with other churches with one spirit, that could be a contribution to Protestant churches around the world.

I'm personally interested in aesthetics and its connection with Japanese culture and faith. What are your thoughts about how we can tie the Gospel in with the Japanese culture in positive ways?
Good question. Actually, I have written a book that will be coming out this year in America. I'm finishing the index which is the final part to be written. The book is called The Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context. This was my Ph.D thesis. It has taken a long time for me to publish it. It's from the Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Indeed I should be working on it today. They plan to publish it this year.

Your story this morning was fantastic, about your family. That's the kind of story we need to tell.
When I found out how God has been at work in my family over the years, I was really touched. God is so faithful. I realized I was just a branch, and that lots of people, prayers, and support had started from many centuries ago.

God has been at work all along in Japanese culture.

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