For two and a half years my parents endured the forced removal at their final destination, a Relocation Center called Heart Mountain in northwest Wyoming. In total, 14,025 Japanese were sent to Heart Mountain where weather conditions were extremely harsh – hot summers and brutally cold winters. Families shared a small barrack so privacy was non-existent (and some of you know how much Japanese value privacy). It’s good for people to try and get their arms around a forced relocation where you leave all your possessions behind. Initially you aren’t sure where you are going and for how long. Then you find out that you will live for an indefinite period in a location where even today there is not much human population. They, many of whom were American citizens, endured this for two and a half years…
My parents were young when they were shipped off so they did a lot of things kids normally do to keep busy. For my father it was sports and for my mother it was dance and flower arrangement, and in the winter it was an ice rink built out in back of the barrack. Over the three nights we spent talking about their experience, the word racism never came up. As I mentioned earlier my parents rarely spoke about their experience. For sure, it was probably related to shikata ga nai but some, I think, was related to the fact that they pieced life together once they returned. Evidently, a Caucasian friend of the family on my father’s side watched over my grandmother’s possessions until she returned from Heart Mountain. Others returned to find out they lost everything. I have often wondered if my parents didn’t complain much because they thought they didn’t have it as bad as others.
While many of my relatives are/were Buddhist, it was my paternal grandmother whose Christian faith stood out. My parents told me that she was a Christian before she immigrated to the U.S. which is amazing in itself since the Protestant Christian population in Japan has been historically low.1 When she returned from Heart Mountain and found her home had been kept for her, she opened it up to Japanese families returning from relocation. Again, many people had lost everything so, despite the fear that she and others felt with racism still lingering, in Christian hospitality she invited others in when they didn’t have a place to stay.
One of the marks of the early church was the virtue of hospitality. However, in modern times the virtue has been relegated to some sort of Martha Stewart definition limited to decorating or entertaining people in your home. In most every instance the word or concept is used it refers to caring for strangers or the alienated person, the foreigner in need (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2). In fact, the word means “love of strangers”. The early church thought this was so important an outworking of the gospel that it’s listed as requirements for elders (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2). So we’re clear, it’s easy to be hospitable to people we already know and are similar to. But biblically the word means something closer to inviting in the immigrant or foreigner, people that are different than you!
Some people might think, “I’m just not that kind of person that opens up my home.” What’s important to understand is the hospitality in opening one’s home is simply a picture of one’s heart. In reality, one can be a hospitable person without opening up their home. Hospitality is the Christian virtue of creating space in your heart to invite people into your life that are closer to the foreigner or immigrant or someone who doesn’t fit your close group of friends.
There seems to be this underlying fear currently surrounding people that are foreign. In adopting “Make America Great Again” it’s easy to forget how much of the contribution to greatness was from immigrants. Hospitality, as a Christian virtue, invites us to be courageous to lean into our fear of the “other” or “stranger”. The good news is that God had enough space in His heart to invite us in to an eternal kind of life through Christ. He was shunned and shut out for our good, that through Him we would embrace His invitation to come in to feast with the Trinitarian community for eternity. For us then to embrace hospitality is one of the best marks of how well we understand the gospel.
1Estimates are the entirety of Christians in Japan currently less than 1% of the population. A very good article to read is Michael Hoffman’s article, “Christian Missionaries Find Japan A Tough Nut to Crack” at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/12/20/national/history/christian-missionaries-find-japan-tough-nut-crack/#.WKsoBxiZPMU