Anne and I
September 30, 2019 • Tokyo, Japan
“I see that you are a missionary on a religious activities visa. I’m sorry to ask this but do you understand there is no proselytizing at the school allowed?” It was right after my Japanese placement test, a week before language school started. The head teacher talked his way around and finally up to this question, clearly even more uncomfortable with the conversation than I.
I smiled and assured him I was there to learn, and he delicately asked, “So…which kind of Christian are you?”
“Presbyterian…” I replied hesitantly, thinking surely he would have no idea what that was. As I started to explain, “one of the Protestant denominations…” he was already smiling with relief. “Oh, like Anne of Green Gables!” All the tension in the interview melted away as he connected me to this beloved series of novels.
L. M. Montgomery, the author of the novels, grew up in a Presbyterian household and married a Presbyterian minister. Afterward, the young Japanese woman who translated the books became a Christian through the work of Canadian missionaries. Now through this fictional work of literature, fear of an unknown foreign religion was replaced with familiarity and openness. “Anne” gave me the best first impression I could have possibly had.
In another instance, a woman from my neighborhood in Tokyo, after learning I was a Christian, asked if I had read any of Ayako Miura’s novels. When I told her I hadn’t, she was shocked. “Those novels were my first encounters with Japanese Christians,” she told me. Miura’s novels wrestle with sin and forgiveness, often based on real life Christian characters.
Since these conversations, I have a rekindled thankfulness for great works of art by Christians. The arts can share gospel truths naturally and winsomely through wonderful stories and characters, long after their creators are dead.
Who will be the Montgomerys and Miuras of our generation? What gifts and works will God use to make his name great and open doors to gospel conversations a hundred years from now? May my fellow soft-spoken literature-loving Christians be encouraged for “in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). May we write, sing, act, film, dance, sculpt, cook, direct, organize, and edit with all the creativity he has endowed upon us.