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Tokyo Mennonites weave Christian color into tapestry of life
Dec 28, 2004
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119: 104 NRSV
Tokyo — Loneliness and desperation drove Kanako Aizawa to church. Knowing little English, she had left the security of her native Japan and followed her husband to California where he was studying. Her young daughter, Mana, cranky with chronic ear infections, also struggled with a developmental disability. Mana’s babysitter told Kanako that she could find hope in Jesus and invited her to the church where the babysitter’s father served as pastor.
In church, Kanako found comfort in the words of Psalm 119. She longed to lay down her heavy burdens and experience the rest the Christians described. She decided to follow Jesus and received baptism during her two-year stay in the United States.
As Kanako and her banker husband prepared to return to Japan with Mana, the California pastor told her about the Yayoidai Christian Church, a congregation begun by Brethren in Christ missionaries in 1975.
Today, Kanako, a mature believer, shares a dream with other Yayoidai church members. They want to rebuild their sagging, peeling meeting place that was constructed after World War II with cheap materials. Rebuilding the church is part of the Yayoidai congregation’s larger dream to provide a space that will make the world a better place for children to live.
Mana, now 17 years old, learned the art of saori. In the late 1960s, a Japanese woman named Misao Jo pioneered a weaving style that expresses the heart’s yearnings and crosses traditional boundaries of physical, mental and artistic abilities.
Lois Enomoto, a Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mission Network worker, explained that the first syllable of saori, sai, originates in Zen vocabulary and means that everything has its own individual dignity. Ori is the Japanese word for weaving.
No two saori pieces are alike. Because the artist doesn’t strive to avoid “mistakes,” colors and designs emerge from the unique spirit of each individual working in organic harmony with her loom, thread and the inspiration of the moment. Although saori reveals a profound inner journey, it also opens doors of communication and is often a social event with artists working alongside each other.
“All flowers are beautiful. Even though each individual flower is different in form and color, all are good,” Enomoto said, quoting Misao. “Everything has the same life that cannot be measured with a yardstick. It is this individuality that makes everything meaningful and the uniqueness of each thread creates the tapestry of life.”
The Yayoidai congregation hopes to create a boutique in its new building that would sell clothing, tapestries, pillow covers and purses made from Mana’s weaving. The congregation envisages a coffee shop that would also sell Ten Thousand Villages’ products and serve as a place where justice concerns could be discussed.
Enomoto and her husband, Kazuhiro, have served as mission workers in Tokyo since 1998.
Lois Enomoto participates in a women’s fellowship group, teaches English and Sunday school and relates to women in cross-cultural marriages. “I love my job because I get to do what I believe in the most -- building a Christ-centered community,” Enomoto said. “I’m very much a people person, so it’s a pleasure to make new friends and help people connect in ways that make for more wholeness.
“The most challenging obstacle to my ministry is that fathers in Japan have such long hours at work," she said. "This makes family time a high priority on weekends. Sunday may be the only time a family has together. Also, many families move every two to three years for their companies. This weakens community feelings.
“But on the other hand, this makes the role of the church all that much more important as people look for a community of caring and hope. I would like to see the church develop past the point of survival toward a fuller community that is able to reach out to all different kinds of people with all their various needs and gifts,” Enonmoto said.
Kaz Enomoto, a theologian, teaches and preaches in the six Tokyo-area Mennonite churches. He is also developing a leadership-training program for the Anabaptist Mennonite Education Network. “Teaching and preaching are the most fulfilling aspects of my ministry,” Kaz Enomoto said. “I enjoy keeping a close eye on world affairs and being able to relate Christian teaching to what’s happening in the world around us.”
Although Japan is a major actor on the world stage, the church plays a minor role in Japanese culture. “Many people think of Japan as a powerful and rich nation, so they think the [Japanese] church should be the same,” Kaz Enomoto said. “Since [Japanese society is] only one percent Christian, there is always a struggle with having enough money and people to launch new efforts or to keep old ones going.
“My dream is that each local [congregation] would mature and grow qualitatively and quantitatively," he said. "I wish ties between Mennonite churches throughout Japan would develop into more meaningful relationships and that Japanese churches would then start to network with other church conferences in Asia.”
The Enomotos are members of Mennonite Brethren Church in Fairview, Okla.
Japan — Gerald and Rie Neufeld (Poole MC, Milverton, Ont.) are Mennonite Church Canada Witness Tentmakers in Japan (Tentmakers are largely self supporting ministry workers). In a recent report, Gerald shared his dream of rejuvenating a camp ministry near the city of Miyazaki, where they work and live.
There already is a property with buildings, but it has fallen in disrepair over several years of disuse. Gerald writes, “The big question is ‘If we [re]build it will they come?’” Ageing church members have expressed a desire to sell the property. Neufeld adds, “We feel it could be a place for much needed spiritual renewal for many who are stressed out in this fast-paced society. It could also be a place for any young people to become more involved in Christian programs.”
The Neufelds welcome prayers as the church in Japan discerns how to move forward.