Finding comfort in a foreign land

By  Dylan Robertson, Youth Speak News
  • October 5, 2007
{mosimage}This summer I spent six weeks living as an exchange student in Japan. The experience was amazing and life-changing for me, but it wasn’t always easy.
In a country with a rate of Christianity of less than one per cent, I was lucky to find a church right in my host family’s city. After spending a week, I asked my host family to drop me off at the local parish on Sunday morning.

I remember stepping into the church; it looked familiar enough, but with some Japanese touches. I walked in, blessed myself with holy water, took a prayer book and sat in a pew.

A rush of emotion came over me. I missed Mass the week before because of the pre-departure orientation, and after a week of everything being new and foreign to me, it was comforting to feel back home. There was a powerful, comforting presence around me, and I can only describe it as divine.

After a few moments of gathering my thoughts and realizing just how different my life would be for the next five weeks, the bell rang and Mass began.

I had some trouble understanding what was being said, the music was different and so were some customs (e.g., bowing instead of shaking hands as the sign of peace). But despite the small differences, it was easy to adjust to the same Mass.

{sidebar id=2}I came every week to Mass, and even started to pick up some prayers and church songs in Japanese. More than ever, I found myself looking forward to going to church; even if it meant getting up really early in the morning so I could still go places with my host family on weekends.

The whole experience made me think of what it must be like to have a set of values and beliefs that is foreign to almost everyone else. Wouldn’t it be a struggle to make friends and to live life according to religious beliefs?

In a country where a cross on the neck is simply trendy, Christmas is all about cake and tradition is seen as more important than theology, it all seemed puzzling for me. I started to seriously question one of my major goals: teaching English in Japan for a few years; not because of the teaching, but because of living in a place that seemed so religiously different to me.

But what I came to realize is that this is how the church was started. When speaking of church history, many often reference the secret Masses in the catacombs and how the apostles lived in predominately pagan societies. It was faith that kept Christians together, right from day one. And I came to see this myself with time, as I looked back on the friends I made at that church the way everyone knew each other the way they accepted me and any other visitors into their parish family.

At home, I have a book that was given to me about the small parish I was part of for six weeks. It continues to remind me that it is through Christ that we are united despite language, culture and distance.

(Robertson, 17, is in Grade 12 at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont.)

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