As a child, I was surrounded by the word of God and the gospel message. My parents were both Christian and brought my brother and I to church every week without fail. There, I learned about God created man, how sin was brought into the world, and Jesus’s sacrifice to save us from Hell. As kids, we were constantly reminded about eternal life and eternal suffering. A big phrase all the elders used was “if you died tonight, where would you be?” and I knew that I would be going to Hell, but death for a small child seemed like a very abstract concept so I never thought about it too much. My mom worked as a pharmacist in the hospital, so there were many nights when she was not home. Every time my dad drove us past the hospital where she worked, he would always say “wave to mom!” One day, when we drove past her hospital, instead of thinking “this is where mom works,” I thought, “this is where sick people live.” My grandfather passed away a few years before and a few days before he died, my parents brought me to the hospital to see him one more time. I still have a very distinct memory of seeing my grandpa sleeping in the bed and wondering why he wasn’t waking up and talking to us like he always does. I did not recognize him at the time. So in the car, on the way home, these memories and thoughts ran through my head and then did I realize that death was a very real and scary thing. I remembered that in Sunday School, the teacher would say that the only way to go to Heaven is to believe in Jesus Christ who died on the cross to bear all your sins. My parents would yell at me everyday so I knew that I was a sinner, and just like I repent to my parents many times, I had to repent to God that I was a sinner and could do nothing to help myself. I received Christ that night and was felt very happy. I was only 8 years old at the time, but I was able to enjoy the joys of salvation even at a young age.
This testimony of how I came to Christ but honestly, nothing life altering to my lifestyle and I did not have to face any trials a child to believe in Jesus. This comes with the privilege of growing up in a God-centered household, however, it was the time after I received Christ where my trials began. I told my parents right away that I became a Christian, but they were skeptical because my behavior didn’t change and it seemed too easy. This hurt me very much and I would go through my school days just keeping it to myself that I was Christian. My classmates knew the church I went through was very strict compared to other churches so they always pictured me as “the good Christian girl” or that I didn’t know how to have fun or I was very stuck up. This made me shameful and embarrassed that I was part of this church and that being a Christian would mean that my life would be boring because I must stick to the rules all the time. In addition to that, I was one of the only Asian students in my school so I didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy my culture either. As I went through school, in order to fit in, I would try to talk like my classmates and be interested in the same music and TV shows as my classmates so I could be seen as a “cool American girl.” When I went to college, things changed again. I joined as an official member at my church so the rules became more strict, but instead of following, I decided to live in the complete opposite way. Some rules were that women had to wear a skirt and head covering at all times, no dating non-Christians, no instruments during worship (everything was acapella), and you must attend Sunday worship without exception in order to be seen as devoted Christian. I did not agree with many of these teachings and went through a rebellious stage because there were no explanations to these rules in the Bible. In college, I did whatever I wanted and chose to do whatever I felt right to do, even if it was against the teachings of the church. I realized that I craved a sense of community and experience love with no judgement or conditions. I have made friends who come from different spiritual and cultural backgrounds than me, but they have shown me more kindness than people I have known for my whole life in the church. As sad as it sounds, at this time, I created a belief that Christians with strong beliefs lack heart for others created differently from them, so I started to push myself away from God because I did not want to become that person of a “good Christian.” I was very conflicted living this double life, one for church and one for school. My parents, especially my dad, could see that I was unhappy and struggling with my spiritual growth during this time. Our family as a whole, were having a difficult time accepting the same values the church did and feeling like we were trapped. This progressed for 4 years until we decided as a family to leave that church.
My brother, went to a Japanese Christian summer camp in New York called Discovery Camp every year when growing up. There, he met many friends who were also Japanese and we found that many of these friends live close to us. One camper who was particularly close with my brother offered him to come visit his church in Maywood, New Jersey. My brother and dad visited the Japanese Christian Church (JCC) of New Jersey in November 2017. My dad was very pleased with the welcoming atmosphere and fellowship at JCC and brought my mother and myself weeks later. It took a long time for me to agree with my father to leave our church. We argued and I cried for 3 days thinking about leaving certain friendships. But it was what my dad said that gave me the determination to leave – “Are you happy? If you are, you can stay, but God gave you a gift and you will not be able to use your gift staying here. I believe God is telling us that we need to leave in order to grow.” A month later, I went to my first JCC worship. I was very stubborn to accept JCC in the beginning because everything was so different from the church I grew up in. Slowly, though, I have come to love the Japanese church more than I could every imagine. Coming to JCC has really given me a huge breath of fresh air. I was able to be myself happily and relearn God’s love through the relationships He gave me. In Jeremiah 29:11 it says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” These experiences of my life really affirmed my belief that God has a wonderful future waiting for me that is far beyond my imagination! I have made lifelong friends and for the first time in my life, I want to incorporate God into my whole life, not just at church. Now I live with certainty that God has blessed my life with family, work, and friends and I can declare my love for Jesus with joy from my heart!! Amen!