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Christianity, a foreign religion in two foreign countries

Ryōan-ji ("Rock Garden Temple")

Christianity is a minority religion in Taiwan, where the House of Bishops met for a week in late September. Christians make up about 5% of a population of 23 million, and Taiwanese Episcopalians make up a fraction of that. In spite of their small size, the impact of the Taiwan diocese is formidable. It was important for us to be there - to show solidarity, and to learn about the extraordinary Asian hospitality, and what it means to engage in ministry in a non-Christian country.

From Taiwan, my wife Marilyn and I traveled to Kyoto, Japan, where I lived for two years – 40 years ago. It was my first time back in a city and country that had such a formative impact on my life. It was important for me to be there.

We stayed in the university guest house where I had lived. We were hosted by the Japanese students whom I lived with, in a community with a heritage that went back to 1922. Despite not seeing one another for four decades, our memories and friendships were rekindled. It was wonderful.

My friends were somewhat curious about my vocation. Christianity is an even smaller minority in Japan than Taiwan: Christians make up about 1% of the Japanese population. Some of my former dorm mates are Christians; one whom I have kept in touch with went to seminary in the U.S., got ordained and has served in a variety of ministry capacities in Japan. But for the most part, Christianity in Japan goes unnoticed. Most Japanese would identify with one of the many sects of Buddhism, but religious practice tends to be very limited. The Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in Japan, who addressed us in Taiwan, lamented the state of the Japanese Christian presence in general, and the Anglican Church in particular.

Both the Japanese and Taiwanese Church are struggling with issues of evangelism. In Taiwan, Christianity can be received with hostility within the family, because of a perceived threat to the honoring of ancestors; in Japan, Christianity is met with indifference. There are no end of historical and cultural issues to consider – and honor, in each country, as The Episcopal Church in Taiwan and the Anglican Church in Japan discern how best to present their witness in the years ahead.

The cultural dynamics in these two non-Christian Asian countries are profoundly different from those we have in America, which has been intensely exposed – and connected, to various forms of Christian expression since the founding of our country. But evangelism and mission pose similar challenges in all three countries.

We have much to learn from each other.

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