To catch you up, if we haven't talked in a while, Keith and I now work at COEN Life, among various other commitments. Now that we are through our initial transition period, I am finding that I have more time to write, and more to write about, so here's hoping for more blog posts in the near future! Here is a story from Christmas Eve last year.
“Why don’t you come to one of our Christmas events?” Keith handed a flier to a regular café customer. She sneered at it. “I’m not a Christian.” Keith related this exchange to Dale, our boss, later; he shook his head. “I don’t think we can expect many people to come.” Suddenly the hundreds of fliers we had printed seemed like overkill.
|The sneered-at flier|
For Christmas Eve, I put together a Lessons and Carols service with well-known Christmas carols and readings from the beautifully translated Japanese edition of the Jesus Storybook Bible. I also designed the aforementioned sneered-at fliers; I think they were rather nice looking, but they honestly let the guests know that they were in for something religious.
Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday, a busy day at the café. We hoped that people would stick around for the Christmas Eve service, but maybe it would just be us. Maybe it would have been better to do “candle service,” as it’s called in Japanese, on a different day, we fretted, since Japanese people likely want to spend Christmas Eve with their families or their lovers, not at a religious event. Still, we pushed the three big tables together and began to set up. Karen fitted the candles in their holders. Keith checked to make sure he had all ten songs marked in his hymnbook. Hiromi, tasked with reading the stories, made a few last minute edits to her manuscript. I sang through the archaic Japanese translation of the carol I would sing solo. I confirmed with Dale and Karen when I wanted lights and candles lit and extinguished for dramatic (and theological) effect.
A few minutes before the café closed, Hiromi and I took our places at the head of the table, Karen sat by the advent wreath, and Keith at the piano. A few café guests lingered at the table, while others headed home. Then, to our surprise, people started coming in. A few had gone home after their English classes but had decided to come back! The seats around table started to fill up. Eighteen people, nineteen… I started the service with greetings and an explanation of the Lessons and Carols tradition. Then the twentieth person came in and took the last seat at the table. I prayed for God to reveal himself to us in the telling of his story.
We sang “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Dale turned off the lights, and a hush came over the room as Hiromi began to read the creation story. A world came into being in our minds in the darkened room. We alternated carols and stories, with the prelude from Bach’s 3rd cello suite and my debut at accompanying my own singing on the ukulele thrown in.
Karen lit the Christ candle as Hiromi read the story of Jesus’ birth. At the end of the service, Karen lit her own candle from the Christ candle and we passed the light around from one person to the next, until each person held a burning candle—powerful symbolism of the power of God to change lives and turn darkness into light as each person welcomes his presence in their lives.
After the service, as we feasted on Christmas cookies and hot apple cider, I talked to some of Hiromi’s English students. “I could see the story happening,” said one of them. “It was beautiful—and it was so real.”
I have learned not to judge the success of an event by how many people come, but rather by whether those attending have become more interested, more curious, a little closer. A person who has been given something beautiful, and who feels loved and accepted, will certainly remember, even if they don’t come back.
Want to read another story from our work at COEN? I wrote one for the OMF Japan blog.