House of Hope
It was over 25 years ago, but I remember the occasion well. We were sitting in the office of a Japanese pastor who was older and much wiser. Being new to Japan and its ways—having arrived just a few months earlier—we were in despair over a situation that had plagued us since our arrival. Seeing our distraught faces, the pastor sighed and said. “In Japan, patience is a virtue.”
At the time it would have been extremely optimistic to think we were finished learning that lesson. Through the years those famous words have proven themselves more times than I can count.
It has already been a whole year since we moved to Ishinomaki. (That too was a very long process requiring a lot of patience.) Soon after moving, we began searching for another house or building that we could use as a community center, housing for volunteers, and eventually a church. My husband, always attracted to anything resembling a construction project, soon became friends with the carpenter across the street. The man was hard at work on his father-in-law’s family home, and began talking to Dean every day.
“Grandma and grandpa were at the house when the tsunami wave crashed over the wall and through their living room window,” the young carpenter said. “The wall blocked their view so they could not see the wave. Somehow grandpa managed to escape, but grandma did not.” Understandably, the rest of the family did not want to live in the house anymore and were planning to rent it out after it was restored. “As far as I know they don’t have anyone in mind to rent it. Maybe you could rent it?” the carpenter suggested as he showed Dean the inside. Not long after this, the friendly carpenter disappeared. He had regular employment in a different city and promised to come back several months later.
In early December we were finally connected with the owner. A meeting date was set and the owner said he would bring a real estate agent with him. “Hmmm… things are moving ahead,” we thought.
On December 17, 2013 we stood in the half-constructed living room discussing the contract. The owner explained to the real estate agent that we would be using the house as a center but not for religious purposes. “Hmmm… let’s go across the street where it’s warmer to talk about this,” said Dean.
Three hours later we had listened to the owner’s life story. “I really don’t like Ishinomaki!” he confided in us. “I can’t stand how people talk behind your back, and someday down the road I don’t want people talking about my house as that Christian house where people are always praying. I don’t want the family who rents it after you to have trouble because of rumors. I don’t want their kids shunned at school. I’d love to have it be a community center, but I don’t want any religious stuff going on here.”
“We need time to think about this,” said the people still learning patience.
Several months later we met again. We knew that, unless God miraculously changed the owner’s heart, our discussion about this particular building was finished. This time our Japanese co-worker was also present and he tried to reassure the owner that things would be OK. The owner was not convinced. He pointed out the window at several neighbors standing in the street talking and said, “See that? That is what I’m afraid of!”
He turned from the window and our conversation continued, but we had little hope that he would change his mind. Imagine our surprise a few minutes later when he said, “What do you think is a fair price for rent?”
“What?” “It’s OK. I have decided I want to rent to you, as long as we can get the contract details worked out,” he said.
Eleven months of waiting, and a complete change of heart in five minutes. In Japan, patience is a virtue. Yes, it certainly is.
Dean and Linda Bengston are currently serving with Lutheran Brethren International Mission in Ishinomaki, Japan.