SENDAI, Japan (BP) — Makoto Sato looked at me fearfully as he took off his shoes and stepped into our house. My 6-year-old son Trevor had met this boy at our church in Japan and invited him home to play. From the look on Makoto’s face, it was clear he was scared of this American mother.
Trevor hurried Makoto into my sons’ shared room, pushing his little brother Nathan out the door. Usually I was against secrets behind closed doors, especially if it excluded little brothers, but I didn’t want to frighten Makoto any further.
So began a lifelong friendship between my son and Makoto in the country we served as missionaries. Once it was established that I wasn’t really that scary, Makoto relaxed and soon was sleeping over at the house frequently.
After a fun-filled Saturday of war, reading manga (cartoons), watching TV and eating every snack they could find, Sunday would arrive. The four nakamas (best buds), Trevor, Makoto, Jun and Katsuya, would meander their way several blocks to Sunday School, arriving mostly on time. Because Japan is such a safe place, no one worried or raised an eyebrow.
One afternoon, I came home from where we had been ministering to find four sad faces. As the story unfolded, I learned that the boys had been skateboarding home from church when Trevor lost control of his board. It crashed into a storefront window, cracking it rather significantly. As expected, the store manager leveled quite a tirade at the lads.
Upon hearing this, my husband Tony jumped in the van, took the other boys home and drove Trevor to face the wrath of the manager once more. All Trevor talked about in the van was his friends’ loyalty. “They didn’t run away from me. They stayed with me!” That’s the meaning of friendship to a 7-year-old.
Another memorable time was when I met Makoto’s mother, Mrs. Sato, one afternoon while riding home on a bus. Because she looked tired, I asked her what she’d been doing. “I’ve been to the temple in Ishinomaki (quite a distance by bus) because I heard they sell car blessings for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, they’re closed on Mondays, so my trip was wasted.”
I was stuck on “car blessing.” What in the world did she mean?
“Everybody has to get their car blessed by a Buddhist monk so that it’s safe.” She beamed, glad to share her culture. I was shocked. “Do you believe that?” I asked.
“Oh heavens, no! But I just wouldn’t feel right about not doing it.”
Some weeks later, Makoto’s mother and her three boys were due to visit relatives for spring holidays. As Makoto’s father went off to work, he said to his wife, “I don’t care where you go, but don’t get on the highway without a blessing!”
“Mom,” 8-year-old Makoto said, “Jesus lives in my heart, and He’s GOD. Is it all right if I bless the car for Him?” She nodded in disbelief, and within minutes he hurried back out of his room with a hastily scribbled picture with some writing on it. His two older brothers lined up along the car with an appropriate degree of solemn respect while Makoto read Scripture and prayed over the car. They left on their trip with hearts full of relief.
In the spring of 1991, 15-year-old Makoto stepped off a plane in California, with the wide-eyed wonder of a little boy. He spent a week with us while we were on furlough in San Francisco at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. We had an unbelievably fun trip: sightseeing, camping, letting Makoto drive on the seminary campus while we laughed and screamed in terror, and generally enjoying each other. Before we knew it, he was back on the plane to Japan, bags loaded with souvenirs.
That was the last time Makoto ever saw Trevor. Two months later, Trevor contracted leukemia and died within eight months.
When Trevor had learned of his diagnosis from the doctor, he said, “I’m not afraid to die, but I want to be in Japan.”
Unfortunately, he went too fast and we couldn’t get him home to Japan in time. The night he died, Trevor had been in a coma for days. His heart rate had been racing at 140 the entire day. I asked the doctor why he seemed to be hanging on.
“He’s waiting for something,” she suggested.
Then the penny dropped. Of course, his friends! Trevor already had his mother, father and brother present with him. What 16-year-old wouldn’t want his friends near him too?
I made the call. When Makoto answered the phone, I said, “Get the boys together and I’ll call back in 30 minutes.”
In 30 minutes, I rang the number and held the phone to Trevor’s ear. Then I heard screaming, which I thought was odd. It was Makoto’s mother, who had become a good friend of mine over the years. Inconsolable, she screamed, “Trevor, no, you can’t die, oh no!”
I said calmly, “Now, Sato san, I understand, but do as I ask and put the boys on the phone.” Then I lowered the phone to Trevor’s unconscious ear, relieved to hear the strong voices of young men.
I listened in as they said, “Trevor, you hang in there! We’ll see you in heaven. Thanks so much for your life. We’ll see you again!”
Just a few minutes after their goodbyes, Trevor’s pulse slowed and he was gone.
We returned to Japan carrying Trevor’s ashes. At the funeral, his three best friends, Makoto, Jun and Katsuya, shuffled to the front of the church, dragging an assortment of musical instruments. In their best English, they sang the anthem of their shared youth, that classic song, “Stand by Me.”
Now, as this story is being written, Makoto is a grown man with a wife and child. He went to college, then to seminary. His childhood friendship with Trevor yielded more fruit than either boy could have known.
Friendships this strong don’t happen every day. Much later, Makoto’s mother, Mrs. Sato, trusted Jesus as her Savior. The other boys are church musicians and college professors.
Today, Makoto is being ordained and installed as the pastor of the very church he first stepped into when he was 6 years old.
Marsha Woods has served with the International Mission Board for nearly 35 years.