Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thoughts at Thanksgiving

My birth family, for whom I give thanks:
(front from left) John, Cheryl, Don Deena
and our parents, Donald and Betty Jo

Not that we celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan—at least not the variety that remembers the Pilgrims and Indians while eating turkey and all the trimmings topped off with pumpkin pie and football games. Japan’s celebration is November 23, a national holiday called Labor Thanksgiving Day. In this time of global recession where the national unemployment rate in America has now topped 10% (Japan’s rate as of September was 5.3%), having work and being grateful to those whose labor supports and makes life easier for us is definitely something to celebrate.

But today I’m thinking less of work and more of sacrifice. At this holiday season when—at least for Americans—gathering with family is tradition (a tradition Japanese follow more at New Years), I’m remembering a colleague who has given up his family. Rather, I should say his family has given him up. Kicked him out. Disowned him. Disavowed ever giving birth to him. I can’t imagine it, but it happens with frightening regularity in countries where Christians are persecuted for the crime of following Christ as Lord of their lives. (There are many such countries in Asia, including China, Indonesia, Bhutan, India, and North Korea.)

Here’s what our colleague wrote:

“Today I am going to share with you about my very sad news. Last month, my family called me and said that if I do not go back to the monastery, they will never accept me as their family member. Not only that, but my parents said to me strongly, ‘This is the time to say good-bye. Don’t think that you have us here as your family and we also won't think that you are there as our son.’ This means they have totally rejected me. When I heard these things from them, I [was so troubled in my spirit]. But I believe God has a purpose for this and someday he will give me peace in my heart.

“Of course it is very painful for me to think about [my parents’ words], but I cannot do anything except pray. You know already how many years I have been suffering, but there is no end. I think God still wants me to suffer more . . . . It is very difficult to handle these kinds of situations, but I am still hoping that God will help lessen my burden.

“I am writing this letter to you with tears because I [must] make decisions for my future [while I am feeling like this]. Please pray for me to get more wisdom from God and also pray for me to have my own family—my future life partner.”

These are the words of someone who has sacrificed everything—family, country, personal safety, livelihood, and freedom—everything except his faith in Christ. Unfalteringly, he holds onto Jesus as tightly as a drowning man desperately clutches a life preserver to his chest while stormy waves crash over his head.

At this special season of the year, I am thankful for my family, always supporting and praying for me, always believing in me, and always encouraging me. But I also give thanks for this exemplary young man whose faith challenges me to withhold nothing from God. After all, it was he who first modeled sacrifice when he gave Jesus, his only son, to ransom my life.