One hot, humid day in the summer of 2003, I found myself standing alone in a second floor apartment on an island in Japan. I walked aimlessly around the room waiting for anyone from my group to return so I would have someone to talk to rather than just listening to the Japanese cartoons which were currently my only form of entertainment.
I heard the doorbell ring and I walked to the door to see who called. It was the sweet Japanese lady who had given us the apartment to use for the month. She had opened her home to my group. We were American college students connecting with the churches and students in her city for a summer mission trip.
She smiled and motioned to me. She spoke little English but I remembered instantly why she was there.
Several days ago, she had invited all of us in the apartment to a Japanese Tea Party. No one else remembered or perhaps, they did remember and so had chosen to be gone when she came, but I was there. I tried to motion a “no thanks” but either she didn’t understand me or wasn’t taking no for an answer. She swept me out of the door and toward the elevator to her apartment upstairs.
As we went up to her home, I wondered how long a Japanese Tea Party lasted. I would be there till the end as I had no afternoon commitments and no one to come to my rescue. I assumed hours of awkwardness among strangers was my inescapable plight.
Tea and New Friends
She walked to the entrance of the tea party room before me. She smiled and modeled the way I was to remove my shoes and get on my knees to bow before entering the room, then she waited for me to follow her lead. I did as her hand signals instructed me to do and entered the room.
It was carpeted with a thick bamboo mat and there were eight 50-something Japanese ladies sitting quite properly on the ground in an oval. They looked up at me, smiled, and all did their best to welcome me with facial expressions and hand gestures. I was given a spot to sit and shown proper posture with my legs and feet folded neatly under my body.
As I surveyed the group, I saw they were all dressed in their best yukata’s (a traditional Japanese outfit) with their hair pulled back. I looked down and blushed at my own outfit. I was wearing a pink tank top and jeans with my hair flopping down on either shoulder in white-blonde braids.
The ladies continued to welcome and smile at me. They overlooked my sloppy, inappropriate attire and helped me to fully experience the tea party. They noticed me shifting uncomfortably and rubbing at my legs under the weight of my body for such a long period of time. They touched my knee and motioned for me to sit more comfortably. One lady even explained in broken English that they had “more practice” at sitting like that and gave a smile.
The experience was amazing. It seemed I had been ushered into a secret, sacred space of these beautiful friends to witness their life and share it with them. They overlooked my appearance and my language to show me true hospitality and love.
The Good Samaritan
Fast-forward thirteen years to a rainy night in 2016. My daughter was just starting to transition out of Bible story books to reading the Bible. It was a bit thick for her to comprehend just yet on her own so we were lying in her bed working through it together.
As we read the story of “The Good Samaritan,” (Luke 10: 22-37) we stopped at the words spoken by the expert in the law in answer to Jesus about obtaining eternal life:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
My daughter nodded in understanding until the bit about neighbors. Her question was the same as asked by the man in the story, “Who is my neighbor?” She scrunched up her nose at the thought of having to “love” that neighbor boy down the street.
To answer her question, I read Jesus’ parable which was designed to do just that. Her body language changed from confusion and puzzlement to eager understanding of Jesus’ words.
She began to see that a neighbor isn’t just defined by those on our street, our family, or even our social circles. She began to understand that “neighbor” meant something much more broadly. A neighbor was anyone who needs our love, mercy, and compassion.
Jesus used a story that could awaken the interest and understanding of not only an expert in the law 2000 years ago but also to my eight-year-old girl listening on her knees with excitement. He got it, she got it, and I got it. That was the first step.
Good Samaritans and Tea Parties
Then we talked about the reality of living that out. My daughter looked a little daunted by the task and I felt the same. So, I told her the story of a moment of loneliness I experienced in a second story apartment in Japan and the little lady who found me wandering in wait.
What I feared would be an awkward lonely afternoon trapped with strangers at a tea party had turned into an experience where I was wrapped into the fold of love of a beautiful group of friends. They found a way to make me their neighbor at a Japanese Tea Party in the span of a few hours without even the benefit of sharing a language. That’s crazy amazing.
My daughter seemed to get it and I understood a little more too. Being a good neighbor felt daunting when we thought about all the people in this world who are in need. The Good Samaritan was going about his day and chose to open his eyes to see the need before him. Rather than pass by like the “righteous” travelers before him, he stopped when an opportunity presented itself to him.
My daughter and I discussed how we don’t often see people near death and bleeding on the side of the road. However, part of being a good neighbor is simply having our eyes open and being ready to give time and space to the needs of others around us.
It’s easy to walk quickly with our heads down but if we keep our heads up and look people in the eye when we go about our day, when we make space to stop for people who need a neighbor, we open ourselves up to be Jesus’ hands and feet, or perhaps even His listening ear.
- Read Luke 10:25-37 to explore more about Jesus’ Parable about The Good Samaritan.
- Have you had times where you needed a neighbor to be available to you? Consider thinking about how the presence or absence of a “neighbor” affected the way you proceeded through that time.
- What are some tangible practices/ideas you can put in place to be a good neighbor?
- What are some ways you can be prepared to take opportunities when they present themselves unexpectedly?