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In quake-torn Japan, a baptism is celebrated

TOKYO (BP)–Excitement and happiness fill the air. Smiles and laughter abound and, for some, tears of joy.

One week after the onset of Japan’s triple disaster, everyone is ready for something to celebrate. For a small group of Japanese Christians, it was a double baptism.

When Shinichi Saito bobs up out of the water, everyone breaks out in applause. The new believer immediately reaches out to missionary Mark Busby with a radiating smile. It’s hard to tell who is happier — Busby or Shinichi Saito.

No one was sure this day would ever take place for Saito and his wife Yoshiko. The baptism was originally scheduled March 12 but didn’t happen because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Busby met with the Saitos to reschedule and quickly realized the couple was not going to be deterred by earthquake, tsunami or even the threat of nuclear disaster.

Even though Shinichi Saito’s government job kept him busy with disaster response, the couple’s first question was, “When can we be baptized?”

They did not want to wait any longer. The baptism was rescheduled for the following week.

Then the nuclear crisis forced International Mission Board leadership to order the relocation of missionaries to the southern part of Japan March 19 — the day the baptism was to be held.

“We were pretty disappointed that we were not able to baptize them last week. Then, we were told that we had to be out of Tokyo today and relocate down south,” Busby recounted. “I thought that might mean we couldn’t be here today. I was discouraged and prayed, asking that we’d be able to do it.”

The Saitos were adamant about being baptized, so it was scheduled just before the Busby family’s departure.

“It’s the only day I could do it,” Shinichi Saito said of the urgency he felt. “If we didn’t do it today, I don’t know if I could be spiritually prepared in my heart for all that my work duties demand in the midst of this disaster.”

Saito is a city councilman and works primarily in the volunteer office and with the physically disabled. The day of the earthquake, it was his job to find ways home for the physically disabled because the trains had stopped running. Since the quake, Saito’s job has shifted to organizing volunteer efforts.

Saito pointed out that God is a “God of timing,” recounting that it was providence for him to be rolling his wheelchair through the lobby of city hall at the same moment Busby was prayerwalking the building a few short months ago. Saito stopped to find out what the foreigner needed and from there a friendship blossomed that led to a Bible study, a church start and now two baptisms.

Saito said he believes the timing of everything, including his baptism, entails God preparing him for his upcoming duties in Japan’s disaster.

“God has put me in a position to help people using resources that most do not have access to,” Saito said. “Now that I am part of the family of God, I have brothers and sisters to call on as volunteers.

“Without even thinking, I can trust the Christian volunteers,” he said, adding that trust and relationships are important in Japanese society. “I can do this because I sense that we are a family. Being a Christian isn’t just a job, we are actually a family, so there’s a level of trust that will help this country rebuild.”

Saito reaches out from his wheelchair and hugs Busby, as if reiterating the fact that they are now “Christian brothers.” They exit the borrowed church sanctuary, smiling and talking and exchanging information quickly. Busby has to leave immediately to drive his family south.

The two men make plans to meet up when the missionary can return to Tokyo. Busby encourages the city councilman in his new role as a Christian and reminds him that the Busby family will pray every day for him to allow God to lead the way.
Susie Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Asia. IMB has established a relief fund for the Japan crisis. Donations may be sent to Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the memo line write “Japan Response Fund.” Or you can give online by going to www.imb.org and clicking on the “Japan response” button. For further information call IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.

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  • Susie Rain