Seeing China and Japan from a Third Place

Yukari Hata lives in her native Japan where she teaches and ministers at Shukugawa Christian Center. She completed her seminary education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. While studying, she worked with Park Street Church in downtown Boston ministering to international students.

I had never imagined that I would be involved in a ministry to Mainland Chinese. As I look back, I still get surprised at this drastic change of my attitude from four years ago toward Chinese ministry. God does not always give us a passion for people first before reaching out to them. So it is okay if you are still not quite passionate about Chinese ministry. God might place you in a situation where you are unaware, but there are simply plenty of opportunities for reaching out, and you come to realize one day how much you love Chinese people, just like I do today.

I came for my seminary education in Boston from Japan. During my second year I joined an international ministry through my church called Park Street International Fellowship (PSIF). This has been my family and home away from home over the last four years. When I went for the first time, I did not know that I would do any ministry to Chinese people. At first, I saw a group of Japanese international students there, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to reach out to them outside Japan, because they are away from their own cultural and the familial baggage that usually makes it difficult to make personal decisions of faith in Japan. Japanese members of PSIF were only a tiny group compared to the Chinese body – the fellowship had about 70% Chinese speakers, and 80% of them were from Mainland china. So in order to reach out to these Japanese students, I had no choice to associate with Chinese students as well. That is how I started getting to know Mainland Chinese people.

I did not mean to avoid Chinese students, but I was not particularly interested in them in the beginning. I had two reasons. First, I just did not have any experiences with them. I did not know who they were or how to reach out to them. I had my own Japanese people there, so it was easy to prioritize them higher than the Chinese students. But the second reason – the bigger reason – was the real issue. I had difficulties in loving Chinese people in general. As someone who was born and grew up in Japan, China had not been recognized as a lovable partner; we are always stuck with historical and ethnic issues, and media does not introduce China as our positive and encouraging neighbor. It was not only me – Chinese students also carry the same thoughts toward Japanese through their education and history studies. Since I knew the difficulties in our relationships on the national level, I was not very eager to step into this area, even though there was a significant ministry going on in the same fellowship.

It did not attract me at first, but the situation changed when I first met actual Chinese seekers. One of them, Chen from Beijing, became my first Mainland Chinese friend. She was not the Chinese I knew in my mind – she was sweet and polite, generous, and so fun to hang out with. She was very open to faith, and eventually accepted Christ as her savior not long after we met. She was happy to grow with us, and often invited us over for dinner at her place. This friendship and the process of her growth was very eye opening for me. I learned that I was generalizing who Chinese are with my stereotypes. By having actual Chinese friends, I realized that they are the same people as I am, and they also struggle with the same matters in life. Furthermore, compared to my western friends, their mindset and values were very similar to mine. They understood what the language of honor and shame means; they had a decision making process that was not individualistic, but centered around corporate identity; and their struggles with religious historical culture and society back home was familar. By sharing our lives together, I found that we have more in common than the differences between us, and that would be very effective for reaching out to them. 

Being in the midst of a Chinese group itself sends a message to them as a Japanese. I usually had Chinese Christian friends who helped me connect with the seekers. So I was usually introduced to the newcomers as someone who already has Chinese friends. I don’t know how much it helps, but at least they don’t see me as an enemy. No matter the levels of negativeness, Japanese people usually have to start somewhere negative in Chinese eyes. This negative starting line actually is a great quality. It helps them to see Christian values in me more vividly. When a Chinese seeker sees me and finds me attractive, they are usually not seeing me as a Japanese, but as a Christian. My friend D.D. honestly told me that she did not like me when she first learned that I was Japanese. Her education in China made her expectations for Japanese low and negative. So when she found that I showed her respect and loved her as she was, she was more sensitive to finding those qualities in me.

This personal relationship building is much easier in the United States. It is much more difficult if we meet in either China or Japan, because we are surrounded by the biased culture, and we cannot interact as fellows. But since we are both foreigners here in the US, we can stand at the same place and see each other as fellows – just like someone walking side by side, and walking towards the same direction. Since we are both guests in the country, we both have no advantage. And we don’t have to see each other face to face and be critical of the other. We are both not in our own cultures and environments that support our ideas. Therefore, we can see our own countries together from a third place and start with somewhere new. We are both looking for family and home in this foreign country.

For Christians, being in this world is being in a home away from home. Christian community outside their own country can be a home away home for both Christians and non-Christians. Non-Christian internationals are seeking for home everywhere they go, and it is extremely difficult, especially outside of the church, in another country. If the church is ready to give them a home, they will also find their spiritual home very naturally along the way. Christian internationals are also looking for a home to walk with and to serve with in the local body. They will find in the church a home immediately, because it is the same family of Christ wherever they are. Thus, both non-Christians and Christians are looking for the same home, wanting to find a peaceful and joyful community. Therefore, they both appreciate local Christian members who commit their hearts to internationals.  

I wish there were more American churches that offered opportunities to internationals to let them experience this home away from home. Ministry to Mainland Chinese in the US is not only the role of Chinese churches – the American church can play a significant role, particularly connecting them to other internationals and helping restore relationships. American churches have the potential to bless China and beyond. Through this ministry, American churches have a chance to join internationals on their journey and experience a further blessing than they would have had without them.

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