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Easter baptisms 13 years in the making

   
 


Mayumi Noto (seated, right) was baptized on Easter Sunday along with her husband, Hideo. Mary Beyler, Mission Network worker, stands behind her. Photo by Miyoko Kanno

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April 19, 2005
-by Laura Kraybill

Obihiro, Japan — Following the funeral of a church member and friend last September, Mayumi Noto told her husband, Hideo, that she wished she could have seen their friend off as a member herself, and not just an outsider.

After 13 years of faithful attendance at Obihiro Mennonite Church, this death triggered something in the Notos. Hideo and Mayumi Noto finally realized the extent of their commitment to the church and to Christ and decided it was time to make that commitment public.

Together, the Notos were baptized on Easter Sunday at Obihiro Mennonite church.

The Notos first came in contact with Obihiro Mennonite Church when an old friend from work, now a member at Obihiro, invited them to hear him preach. In a recent interview, the Notos said they had held back from baptism because they were more comfortable investing themselves in their organic farm, which they had run for 26 years, than in church organization and the human relationships it required.

As a child, Hideo Noto attended Sunday school at a church in his neighborhood. When their own children were elementary school age, the Notos took them to Sunday school as well. Hideo Noto said that although he was not ready to commit to attending church himself, his own children helped keep him in touch with Jesus.

“There is some understanding that to be a Christian—to be baptized and to be an active member of a church—takes time and effort as well as just ‘belief,’” said Mary Beyler, a member at Obihiro and missionary in Japan for Mennonite Church Canada Witness and its partner, Mennonite Mission Network. “I have friends who think well of the Christian faith but say that they do not have enough time to become Christians now,” adds Beyler, who has served in Japan since 1974.

Aside from time commitment, accepting the Lord is rarely a quick decision in Japan. “To come to Christian faith in Japan usually means starting from scratch, from zero knowledge of God and Jesus that are revealed in the Bible,” said Beyler, referring to a culture where Buddhism is the dominant religion though few actually practice.

“I think by the time of the funeral, Mayumi was beginning to recognize the depth of her own faith; she was becoming willing to tie herself up in the human relationships of the church, including death, in a more formal way and not just relate on the fringes or as an outsider,” continued Beyler. “[The Notos], who felt that they didn’t want to bother or commit themselves to relationships within the church, had actually become committed.”

The Notos announced their decision in February, following the death of another church member, this time in a neighboring town. Hideo Noto, tired of waiting for his wife to find the right time, announced their decision to a church leader during a meal following the church service. Mayumi Noto, unaware that her husband had already spoken, leaned over to Beyler as they washed dishes from the meal and whispered, “I want to be baptized.”

Beyler, not believing her ears, asked Noto to repeat what she had just said. After Noto re-stated her desire, Beyler turned in awe to the others gathered in the room.

“Listen to this,” Beyler exclaimed. Once again, Noto stated “I want to be baptized.”

Everyone burst into applause. “We were beside ourselves with astonishment and joy,” said church member Ryoko Sawada.

After the Notos made that commitment public, they asked for baptismal preparation, even though they had attended church for many years. A church leader led them in 12 study sessions during February and March. Through those sessions, Mayumi Noto realized it was not only time and commitment that had been holding her back from baptism.

“I learned through the baptismal preparation that I had been too indulgent on myself. I had been stubborn. The entrance to salvation was nearby all this time, but I was too stubborn to pass through it,” she said.

Beyler believes Mayumi Noto’s stubbornness may have been a good thing. “I think that [the Notos’] slow and deliberate decision speaks well of the Mennonite emphasis on the discipleship that goes along with faith,” said Beyler. “Baptism is not something that is requested or done lightly at the first profession of belief, but rather an expression of willingness to enter into correct relationship not only with God but also with sisters and brothers within the church."