Here at Torchbearers Yamanakako, we brought in the new year by hosting our 28th Annual New Years Conference.
At first glance our New Years Conference looked like any other Christian conference. Times of worship, teaching from God’s Word, refreshment, fellowship, food, activities, the “usual” conference stuff (ok…so maybe the scheduled trips to the public bathhouse wouldn’t be standard in North America!). But the cultural backdrop for our conference is quite different than the average North American setting.
New Years in Japan
Here in Japan, New Years is the most important holiday of the year. At midnight, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their ceremonial bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human defilements (sins) in Buddhist belief. Buddhists believe that ringing the bell will wipe all these bad behaviors clean from their personal history.
Meanwhile, at Shinto shrines across the country, millions of people flock for their “first visit of the year” (Hatsumōde). There they pray for success and happiness, and they purchase charms that are believed to provide luck or protection. They bring back the charms that they purchased the previous year and burn them. Fortune-telling papers are available for a donation, or they can write and display their hopes and dreams on a purchased wooden plaque.
It’s a sad scene: people grasping for prosperity, hope, and forgiveness and leaving their future in the hand of “luck” or with a hand-carved statue of Buddha. The longings of the Japanese heart for purpose, meaning, cleansing, and relationship are placed there by God Himself (Ecclesiastes 3:11). They were put there in order to draw the Japanese, and all of us, to His Heart and into satisfying relationship with Him.
Pray for Japan this New Year
Please pray Acts 17:27 for the Japanese this new year. Please pray that Jesus would reveal Himself even at the shines and temples so that people can “reach out for Him and find Him.” Please pray that they will see that He, and not a bell, can wash away our sins and provide everlasting hope and peace that could never be found in a trinket or a scrap of paper with a fortune on it.
Praise God together with us for a fabulous New Years conference. Our guests were delightful. We really enjoyed playing, resting, and praising together with this great group. We thank God for bringing Chris Thomas, the International Director of Torchbearers, to us, and for the teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit that he challenged us with. We praise God for our terrific team of volunteers who cheerfully and tirelessly served us and our guests. We couldn't have done it without such a great staff team!
We are already looking forward to what God will do in our midst at next year’s conference. We hope that we will see you there!