Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rich LIttle Comes to Japan

"If all those who shower me with so much attention could see me and know me in my innermost self, would they still love me? That agonizing question, rooted in my inner shadow, kept persecuting me and made me run away from the very place where that quiet voice calling me the Beloved could be heard" (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved).


A couple weeks ago, Rich Little came to visit Mito, Japan. Rich is originally from Australia, currently serves at Pepperdine as a professor and Chaplain. He also serves on the Wheaton College board. He routinely speaks around the world. He's been to Mito, Japan a few times. While studying as an undergrad at Harding University he roomed with Atsushi Tsuneki, the preacher at the church I attend in Mito.

You may be wondering why I'm blogging about some random preacher who came to Japan. Rich's time in Japan was a tremendous blessing and I'll do my best to convey his influence on me. This blog was the most difficult for me to write. I felt I needed to get everything down perfectly, but at last, this blog post has many flaws, I hope you'll bear with me.

Growing up in the Church of Christ my entire life and going to a Church of Christ college, it's not hard to know of Rich Little. Rich had been to the Northwest a few times. Recently, my Dad was explaining Rich's dynamic ability to speak to a 1,000 people or deeply connect with someone in a conversation, something very few can do. One former English teacher here in Mito, Kendon, who I admire told me Rich's last visit helped turn around his outlook on life. So I was really excited to be blessed with the opportunity to meet Rich.

When I first met Rich on a train ride to an onsen (public japanese bath) it was apparent I would want to get to know this man as best as I could. He had a sincere interest in all four of us young, single, English school teachers.

Rich has a love, a vigor for life and for people which makes it so easy to see the Spirit in him. It's rare people so talented, so dynamic, do not become jaded. Even more so, with these talents, it's quite rare to carry such a love for life and people which Rich has, to look less at oneself, and more to the needs of the people around you. It's a magnetic pull evident of the Spirit in him and you just know you'll be better off spending as much time as you can with him.

Rich met people where they were, (and within this community, we're all over the map). I saw Rich impact every different type of person at our international church; westerners, Japanese, non Christians, people finding their way in their faith, and people dedicated to the Gospel. One night, I went out with Rich to have dinner with some men active in the church, and in the next hour I tagged along with Rich to meet some guys at a bar, with deep and foundational questions concerning Christianity. These guys knew they could trust Rich because everyone knows they can trust Rich. He's constantly looking for the good, he constantly in search of the truth, for God's truth. In each encounter I saw, Rich met people where they were and connected deeply with them because he has a heart for all people.

In individual conversation, Rich spoke of the seeing God in cultural truth. All the good in this culture, all that I appreciate about the Japanese culture is from God. Sometimes, in such a homogenous culture, it's easy for me to see the weaknesses of the culture and become cynical. Talking to Rich about this, it made me realize all the good of this place is God's light, God's truth shining down on this place. In the last few weeks, this has made a noticeable difference in how I see my teachers and people I come in contact with. Being a Christian means your love is opened up to everyone you come across. Obvious differences between an American Christian and a Japanese non Christian are blown away by the love God has for both people. I think Rich's encouragement has helped me love the Japanese more.

On Sunday afternoon, Rich joined the annual one night church retreat. At the retreat center, me and a couple friends were blessed with the opportunity to room with Rich. We had some great conversations in that room. One friend noted he felt he should be paying a premium price on top of the regular price to room with Rich. I definitely would have paid that premium price :)

Speaking at the church retreat, Rich noted this Japanese culture will never open up the Bible on their own, but they will read us. We are the 67th book of the Bible, the book they can read. It's a great reminder. Because we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we are empowered to bless others with our lives, and be God's love to those in our lives. I think that's pretty exciting; the Great God in-trusted me and you to show his love to others. Sometimes, it feels like God must have made a mistake. How could he take such a broken man and use that broken man to bless others and demonstrate the love of a perfect and Holy God? But when I look to the cross, it's quite evident God made no mistakes. We are here to bless others, to pour out our blessings onto others.

It actually reminds me of something Rich shared a few days ago: "I had thought for a long time that salvation was only about going to heaven. What if the salvation Jesus taught wasn't about the idol of heaven after death, but being saved from the idols of life before death. Salvation for the here and now, not the there and then. Saved for the blessing of others, not the blessing of me."

A little while after Rich returned, he sent me a book he had promised, a book which has meant a lot to him and a book I now treasure. It's a thin book by Henri J.M Nouwen called Life of the Beloved. The book is actually a letter to a close secular friend. Nouwen depicts the dark, empty, lonely voices we all hear, voices which sometimes could not appear to be any more true. Nouwen then introduces the quiet voice which calls us the Beloved, which has called us His Beloved from the very beginning and how this voice flips around our entire worldview. It's a book I have come to love because I can identify so well with these conflicting voices and often the dominating voice, the loud voice, is not the Beloved voice.

I thank Rich for coming and being the Beloved to me. I thank Rich for wanting to intimately get to know me despite my flaws and seeing God's astonishing grace and goodness within me. I hope I can do the same for those put in my life, specifically those here in Japan. I thank RIch for encouraging me with God's light and and God's truth, I hope I can do the same for those in my life. 

Thanks for your friendship Rich.

Love you all!
Can't wait to see as many of you as possible in Oregon! I'll be there December 20th through the 5th of January before coming back to Japan.

The entire group at the Church retreat

Dinner at the Church retreat with Rich and the crew

Great friends (from left to right): Stewart, me, Jordan, Austin, Rich and Mason