New Friends in New Places

Author: Michael Babienco

May 2024

“Are you sure we’re ready for this?” I asked Caitlyn as we peered at the small house before us.

“Not really,” she replied.

“Okay. Great. Let’s go.” We walked toward the house.

The Sabbath adventure began before we even reached the door. An older man saw us through the front window and quickly began calling to his wife. We heard her reply, and we waited at the front door. It slowly opened, and out peered an older lady in her 70s. After a few minutes of talking back and forth, we were finally able to assure the woman that we were, in fact, Adventists and were here for church. There was a Seventh-day Adventist Church sign out front, after all.

The couple invited us in and began clearing out their front room. It was clear they had not been expecting anyone. They brought some slippers, invited us into their front room, made sure we had a place to sit and turned on the heater. A few minutes later, they joined us and pulled out Japanese hymnals. The service then began: two Japanese, two Americans, and one simple house church.

The elderly man led the service. We sang a song, and he read a Bible text before speaking. His words came out rapidly, ran together, and sounded like the King James version of Japanese. It was amazing to listen to, but we understood almost none of it. A few minutes in, his wife looked up, noticed our looks of confusion, and beckoned for her husband to stop. She then began retelling his entire speech in simple Japanese. The service continued: a few sentences from the man, then a few from his wife in basic Japanese. Amazingly, we could just barely follow along as the man shared a personal testimony of answered prayer.

After he finished sharing, we mustered up the courage to ask if we, too, could share a story of answered prayer. I had my laptop with me, and on it was a translated children’s story from my time in Cambodia that I was preparing to share at a church the next Sabbath. They agreed, and I slowly read through the story. They seemed to enjoy hearing the story as much as I enjoyed giving it.

When the stories were finished, we sang a couple more songs, gave offerings in a small bag labeled for Sabbath school, and ended the service. Whew! We had eventually pulled out a smartphone for help translating more difficult Japanese phrases, but it was still a lot to take in. Our Japanese skills had been pushed to the limit — and then some.

The older lady asked, “Will you join us for lunch?” How could we refuse?

As she bustled off to the kitchen to warm up some food, we spoke to the older man, who was willing to offer us advice on church planting in Japan. When the food was ready, we enjoyed an incredibly scrumptious meal of noodles, miso soup, inari (a thin tofu wrapping filled with rice) and oranges. We had small talk throughout the meal and got to know the couple a little better.

As Caitlyn and I prepared to leave after the meal, the older lady invited Caitlyn to come back to learn how to make homemade udon noodles. What an amazing opportunity! Caitlyn accepted, and they gave us their phone number. Then, the couple walked us as far as they could on our way home. Several minutes after we parted ways, we looked back — the couple was still watching us and still waving goodbye.

God had truly blessed our time with this lovely couple. Despite the language barrier, Caitlyn and I were incredibly thankful to spend time with them, and we plan to return. We are also very thankful for God’s help in our language-learning process. A few months of language school has gone a long way in helping us understand and communicate in this new culture. We still have many language-learning mountains to climb, but we know God will continue to bless our efforts.

Please keep this elderly couple in your prayers. They have run their house church for thirteen years, doing their best to reach out to their neighborhood with the love of Christ. Please pray that they will continue to find ways to minister to their community and grow their small house church.