Japan – Masaaki Toge
As a mortician in Japan, I am surrounded by death every day as I prepare bodies for burial and direct funerals. For years I have watched people mourn the death of a loved one and go through the ceremonies their religion requires in order to assure that the deceased have a peaceful and speedy journey from this life to the next.
Japan is largely secular, but most people honor their ancestors by prayers, elaborate ceremonies, and worship rituals. At certain times during the year families visit their ancestral burial sites and offer gifts and prayers. My family was no different; we prayed to our ancestors.
As I watched leaders of various religions conduct funeral ceremonies, I noticed that most funerals involved great sadness and much weeping. But I noticed that during Christian funerals, sorrow was tempered with hope. They seemed to have faith that they would see their loved ones again. No such hope existed for most people. I began to wonder whose beliefs were correct. Just where did the spirit go after a person died?
I began watching Christians more closely to examine the differences between their beliefs and those I had known since childhood. Christians, I quickly saw, faced death with a deep-rooted faith in their God. Their pastors showed great compassion toward the grieving family and spoke of their hope to see their loved one again.
One day I was in charge of a funeral in an Adventist church. After my preparations were completed, I sat down alone in the empty church and let the peacefulness of the sanctuary wrap around me. I thought about the times when death came close to me, the time when I almost drowned in the ocean, and the time I should have died in a terrible motorcycle accident. As I remembered these near-death experiences, I was surprised that instead of feeling fear, I felt a deep peace. I sensed at that moment that I was not alone.
The next morning I visited the pastor of the Adventist church. We talked about God for quite some time, and he assured me that Jesus wanted to be part of my life. I asked the pastor to help me learn the principles of Christianity. I was eager to know how the Christian faith could give its followers such hope.
I studied with the pastor for several months and learned a lot about the God who not only created us but came to earth to live and die so that sinful human beings could live with Him forever. I had never heard of such love!
I thought of the sinful things I had done, and I rejoiced when I realized that all I had to do was to ask Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and accept me as His child. I prayed my first prayer to the God of Creation, and He filled my heart with a peace and joy I had never known.
I was not sure how to tell my family about my new faith, so at first I said nothing. But soon I realized that I did not have to tell them; they saw the changes in my life, the happiness that shone on my face and in my expressions. My colleagues and friends noticed the differences too and asked me what had happened. I told them that I had met the living God, Jesus Christ, and had accepted His gift of salvation. I had become a Christian.
Now when I conduct a funeral for someone who is not a Christian, I want the grieving family to notice a difference in my life. I continue to study the Bible and learn about the love of God so I can answer people who ask about my faith and know how to encourage the sad families I meet every day.