It doesn’t matter where you go, or where you hide. From your home, to the ends of the earth they will come for you. Even in a predominantly buddhist country they’ll find a way. You won’t ever see them until it’s too late. Until they’re behind your front door. Until they’re ready to pounce. They go by many names, these relentless missionaries. Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelicals. And they want you to join them. But in Japan, they really want you to join them.
It’s not uncommon to see; two or three people smartly dressed in the street handing out flyers with a happy-go-lucky pastel drawing of Jesus smiling at you on the front. Or at least it’s not uncommon to see in the UK. Japan similarly has these people too, smiling like pastel Jesus at everyone as they gently try to recruit. Like in the UK, they mostly maintain a healthy respect for people’s disinterest (in other words, they don’t chase you down the road crying out blasphemy, which is nice because crazy can really put a damper on the day). But unlike the UK, if these Japanese christians see anyone who happens to be caucasian, like myself, they show far more eagerness. The smiles get wider, the thrusting flyers more insistent. You’re not Buddhist they silently cry out.
Maybe it’s divine karma that after years of christian missionaries pestering the Japanese, from about 500 years ago (in spite of the boilings and mass slaughters. Hey, I just say ‘no thank you’ when they come to me), that Japanese christians would choose to keep bothering a foreigner like myself. On the street I can smile politely back and move on. But that’s harder at home. Yes, they know where I live. I don’t know how they found me, but they did. And it doesn’t matter how many times I say, ‘sorry, I’m not christian, and I’m not interested in converting either’, they still keep coming to knock on my door. Maybe the message can’t come across; it could be they believe all caucasian people are Christian because we celebrate christmas and eat chocolate at easter (damn, they probably saw my christmas tree from the window. This is why you should take down the decorations on the 2nd of January!). Regardless, the same set of five Japanese elderly christians come by my apartment on a weekly basis to talk to me and no amount of disinterest can dissuade them. I’m a foreigner after all; I just must be a christian.
I get many unwanted messages and even gifts from them. Last Saturday they woke me up at 10am (it was Saturday!) to give me a sponge. A pink sponge, still wrapped in plastic from the store. I was too bewildered and half asleep to fully comprehend why they gave me a sponge, and I sincerely regret that because I have no Godly clue why they gave me a pink sponge. I didn’t even have time to refuse because they thrusted it into my hands before rushing away like a group of teenagers being caught at a prank.
The week before they gave me a set of instructions for a helpline. If I’m ever lonely, or having difficulties, or I’m a child with abusive parents, I could call them for a chat. Nothing like a chat about God to keep abusive parents at bay, and who needs company when you have prayer. At first I thought, wow this is sweet in a way. Believing that it might be my first visit to Japan and that I might be having a hard time. How thoughtful. Except everything was written in Japanese for Japanese audiences, and it was purely another means to try and convert me.
I’ve been invited to church, to church events, to church parties. I’ve been asked if I’ve started practicing again, even though I’ve never practiced before. I’ve been asked how much I love pastel Jesus (he’s much more suave and healthier looking than crucified Jesus). After a while I tried to avoid talking to them, by not coming to the door. That’s acceptable isn’t it? I could be out, or in the shower or getting on with my life. But if I’ve ordered something off Amazon, that knock could be the postman. That thing I spent far too much money on, that I want very much but don’t exactly need. More than once I’ve rushed to open the door and found Christian instead of my package (no windows to check. Apartment troubles). Sometimes I’ll hide and kneel on the floor (somehow I think this will reduce the sound I make as well as my visibility despite the fact that there are no windows at my front door). But then the game I was playing on the playstation will suddenly explode with simulated gunfire, killing my character, and forcing me to go open the door (because they probably heard it and I couldn’t bear to let them think I was avoiding answering them at the door. Damn politeness).
Being relentless is not their only skill. They have their ways. While in Yokohama at the dormitory, two Korean students knocked on everyone’s door to recruit people to come to church with them (more than once with me. My fault for explaining that my father’s Catholic). But not only that, but they proved adept in the arts of espionage and spying. Kara found this out first hand when they knocked on her door again to offer her a can of cola. When she asked why they had brought it to her, they explained that they had been looking through her window and noticed that her glass was empty, or something like this. The main point Kara and many of us took away was that they were kind of creepy (and now it makes me wonder about that sponge. Did they see I had left my glass unwashed in my sink!? As I type this my curtains are drawn tightly closed, lest they are watching me even now).
But I can handle it. It’s a nuisance for sure, but nothing so terrible and at least it’s only once a week. Until they came to work too. Every morning when I walked into school, two of them waited outside the school gates, offering pamphlets and pocket bibles to the students as they tried to go inside. The UK is a little different to The United States in the sense that people don’t freak out so much (so I’ve been told at least) at the prospect of children being exposed to religion. British schools have religious studies lessons, where the world’s most prevalent religions are covered and explained. That is ‘in’ school, under educational supervision. Targeting children outside of school without parental or adult supervision, seems a little off to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with being converted Christian, but there’s plenty wrong with strangers bothering small children and advertising to them knowing full well that they lack the maturity and knowledge to make a real decision. If Japanese christian churches want to make themselves known to students, then they can talk to the school directly to arrange an audience. I can’t believe I’m saying this but, come bother me instead Japanese Christians! I have a Catholic father and a front door without any windows; I can match you.