We were walking through a local mall one evening last month when I noticed a new store: a spa. I suddenly had a completely irrational desire to go in and see if they offered reflexology (foot massages). It was completely irrational because we already have someone who does reflexology, who (a) we’re completely satisfied with, (b) is much closer to our home, and (c) is cheaper than anyone else. Still, we went in.
The shopkeeper was named Dana*. We soon found out that she’d been to Canada once before, and that she wants to return someday. We showed her pictures on our phones of places she might go next. We must have spent 20 minutes talking with her. At the end, as is our custom, I gave her our card, which includes our information as well as the church’s. Nothing usually comes of encounters like this one, but I always try to give people the option for more.
Two weeks later, I received a phone call. “I want to come to your church tomorrow,” Dana said.
I’d planned a bunch of administrative tasks for the following day, but they now took a back seat. “Um, ok. There’s nothing really going on at church that day, but I can show you around, and then if you like we can go out for lunch.”
She seemed happily surprised by my offer of going for lunch. We arranged to meet at 11 am.
When she arrived, I showed her around the building and introduced her to Higa sensei. He sat down with us for a few minutes over hot drinks, and then went back to his own work.
Then the questions started. She seemed barely able to contain her desire, and queries poured out of her for more than two hours. We talked about what it means to be a Christian; how to become a Christian; what the difference is between different denominations; her sense that there was someone out there, but she didn’t know who to pray to; the Trinity; how God interacts with His people; and many other things. At one point, I realized that several of her questions could be answered by reading Acts 17:22-31, so I had her read that section in Japanese.
As she read, I prayed. God, how do I make this situation less awkward? She’s reading, and my sitting here silently and staring at her might make her uncomfortable. Getting out my phone and playing on it might signal indifference. What can I do that won’t seem contrived?
Within seconds, I choked on my hot drink and had to get up for some water.
Thank you, God!
After two hours, the discussion was winding down.
What should I do next? I prayed. Should I give her a Bible now?
Wait, God replied.
Maybe we’ll meet again and I can give her a Bible then, I thought.
By this time, we were both famished. We made our way towards the exit. Higa sensei had just come out of his office and happened to be standing along our path.
Dana asked him a question, and then another, and another. The three of us talked together for an additional 20 minutes. At the end, Dana asked for a Bible.
I see what you did there, I said to God. If I had given her a Bible without her asking for it, she would have politely accepted it. But now that she’s requested one, she’s much more likely to actually read it.
Afterward, we headed off for lunch, Dana proudly carrying her new Bible. Over our meal, we realized quite a number of commonalities between us. Most importantly, we were born in the exact same year. This might not seem like a big deal to North Americans, but it is incredibly meaningful in Japan. People born in the same year have automatic social bonds that can bypass months of relationship building. For instance, people often choose spouses born in the same year, and it’s much easier to become close friends with someone of the same age.
But the commonalities didn’t end there. We both have only one sibling...a younger sister...who lives far away from us...who’s a nurse!
At the end of our four-hour conversation, Dana looked self-conscious. “I don’t usually call up people I’ve only met once.”
“I’m so glad you did,” I smiled into her eyes. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you better.”
Dana is now interested in coming to cooking clubs, to our Friday night English practice that will start again in April, and to any number of church outreach events. What an amazing new friendship—and it all started with an irrational desire to check out foot massages!