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Friendship message brushed in calligraphy


Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers Mike and Teresa Sherrill brought Japanese shikishi boards with Scripture verses written in traditional Japanese calligraphy to their supporting congregations as a symbol of friendship between Christians.

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August 22, 2005
-by Bethany Keener

Elkhart, Ind. — A high school math teacher, Igarashi-san was in his 40s when a massive stroke left his right arm useless. As therapy, he began to learn traditional Japanese calligraphy writing with his left hand.

“As part of his Christian formation he wanted to do Scripture,” said Teresa Sherrill, long-term Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network worker in Sapporo, Japan. She said the practice was spiritually “enriching in a dark and bleak time” of Igarashi-san’s life.

Igarashi-san’s art will now get church exposure in North America. This summer, Teresa Sherrill, with husband Mike and children Isaiah, Jeremiah and Sophia and Grandma Juanita, returned from Japan to North America to visit their supporting congregations. As a gift, they’ll leave behind a wall hanging sent by Igarashi-san as a reminder of an ongoing friendship and partnership between believers in two very different parts of the world.

Though Igarashi-san has returned to teaching, he continues calligraphy as a ministry to the Shiroishi Mennonite Christ Church. He frequently brushes Scripture onto washi paper that is hung where churchgoers can read and meditate on the words.

Just as North American congregations have commissioned the Sherrills for their work in Japan, the 19 congregations in the Hokkaido Mennonite Conference sent them back across the Pacific to share stories of God’s work in Asia. The calligraphy Igarashi-san gave to the Sherrills featured Isaiah 6:8: "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me!'"

Equipped with a map that highlights each of the Sherrill’s stops, Japanese Mennonites who gather for Wednesday prayer meetings will remember the Sherrill family and each congregation they’ll be visiting.

“There was really a sense that they were trying to come alongside and support and encourage and pray for us as we minister in congregations,” Teresa Sherrill said.

Mike Sherrill said wall hangings are a window into Japan’s history and culture, and tie into “the biblical story and power of Scripture.” The Japanese churches hope their message comes through: they desire a spiritual partnership with their fellow believers in North America.

The couple has focused on storytelling during their congregational visits so their supporters can see Japanese believers as “very real people, quite a bit like us,” Teresa Sherrill said.

“Culturally we’re very different,” Mike Sherrill said. “But we’re part of a global Christian family.”