Community Through Faith
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Connect.
Ilse du Plessis (Kagoshima)
Why is fellowship so important to me? I think of this famous story in the Bible where four friends are carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat and they’re trying to get him to Jesus to be healed. A large crowd was blocking their way and they decided to climb onto and make a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was. Through this hole, they lower down the paralyzed man on his mat right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their faith and determination, Jesus healed the man. In the same way, when you’re feeling spiritually weak, you need others to support you and get you to a place of healing again.
I have always been someone who prioritizes going to church and having fellowship with other people who share the same faith as me. From tagging along with my family when I was young, to attending two churches in high school and church hopping in university in order to find the right one.
After being accepted into the JET Programme and receiving my placement in Kagoshima City, I was curious about whether I’d still be able to attend a church while living in Japan. Online searches led me to mostly Catholic churches and very few with English options, so I gave up my search and hoped I could figure it out once I got to Japan.
Fortunately, through another new ALT who had previously done a church exchange trip to Kagoshima, I was introduced to Calvary Chapel Kagoshima, a bilingual community church. There are two English pastors and two Japanese translators. It’s the tiniest church I have ever been to, with under 20 members, and it has become home.
Let me take you on a little tour through our tiny church. When you first walk in, you’ll be introduced to four very energetic and mischievous kids playing in the kids’ room. One of the kind mothers greets you, and she’s noticeably excited about a new face. You’ll enter the main room and start singing in both English and Japanese—a unique experience that also improves your language skills. After the sermon there will be time to talk, and you’ll be introduced to all the wonderful characters that make up the church. And one thing is for certain—you will never leave the church building with an empty stomach, as great importance has been placed on feeding everyone! Additionally, every first Sunday of the month, there will also be a potluck, so everyone will bring a dish from home to share. You’ll meet Reiko—an enthusiastic busy bee, a 70-year-old French and mathematics tutor, part-time café server, and an assistant English teacher for Junior High School.. She loves traveling and meeting foreigners. There is Momoko and Brian, a couple who love baking. I have had so many delicious and creative treats as a result of this. You’ll also meet Kaori; she has a beautiful country home that she loves inviting people to for barbecues and karaoke. She is also great at doing hair and nails. After many conversations and prayers, you can join some of the church members as they venture out to enjoy the beach, park, or karaoke!
[[pull quote]]I have come to truly consider the people I have met as family. It’s been a privilege to get to know local Japanese people of different ages and backgrounds.[[pull quote]] I have been able to share cultural experiences with them, learn and understand the struggles they have, and share my own. It is a refreshing space where people have been allowed to be honest and vulnerable about themselves. I have also had the opportunity to become friends with other non-ALT foreigners from the Philippines, America, China, and Hong Kong.
Throughout my time on the JET Programme, I’ve encountered many spiritual lows and faced trials that include feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and identity-related struggles. In these moments, I have been able to find a lot of warmth, support, encouragement, and of course, delicious home-cooked meals at my local church. As I continue to navigate life in Japan, I am grateful for the relationships nurtured within this tight-knit community, which consistently remind me of the significance of shared beliefs and the beauty of “unity through diversity.”
[[pull quote]]I would encourage new ALTs to find ways to join their Japanese communities and to not just remain in an ALT bubble.[[pull quote]] It was easy to come here and have this feeling that everyone around me was a “non-player character,” but getting to know the people around me helped fill these characters with life. Religion was one way for me, but there are many other opportunities available to make connections. Most cities or towns have international exchange centres, sports clubs, language classes, and community events that can help with this. I also believe that knowing a bit of the language is a great confidence booster to help put yourself out there.
Wishing everyone the best in finding their own community!
Ilse is a second-year South African ALT in Kagoshima Prefecture. Previously an engineer in South Africa. She enjoys traveling, spending time with friends, and going to church. One her favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 5:17