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Missionary Spotlight-Japan

December 2000 | by Kiichi Ariga

From Buddha to Jesus

I was born into a staunchly Buddhist and Shinto family. When I was three years old, my mother tried to teach me a long Buddhist prayer, but I made so many mistakes that she often scolded me and punished me by making me go without breakfast.

Once a year in the winter my father, a stonemason, went up a mountain to a hot spring and sometimes took me with him. After warming up, we would go to the waterfall, with little clothing on, and recite Buddhist prayers under the icy-cold water.

When I was 12 years old, my best friend suddenly died. With deep sorrow, I asked him three times, ‘Where are you going?’ But he did not reply because he was already dead!

‘Where will you go when you die?’ a voice inside me asked. ‘Of course, I will go to Buddhist heaven!’ But the voice persisted: ‘Have you never told a lie? Have you been a perfect boy?’ My reply was, ‘No, of course not!’ ‘In that case, you will go to hell’, the inner voice stated.

Suicide attempt

I did not want to go to hell, so the following day I got up at 4.30 a.m., took a bamboo broom with me and cleaned up the yard of the local shrine. After that, I went into the inner chamber to pray.

‘Please cleanse my heart!’ I cried with a loud voice to the eight million gods of Japan.

I continued doing this for two years, going to school during the day and in the evenings to the temple to practise Buddhist meditation. After two years of meditation, I asked the priests to give me a word of acknowledgement for my dedication. They replied, ‘Sorry, you have to die before you can see the result of your efforts’.

Die first! I just could not believe it and was utterly discouraged. Obviously, then, the best thing to do was to commit suicide. So I wrote a farewell note to my parents: ‘Please forgive me, but for two years I strove in vain to become enlightened’.

I then went to a railway line and waited for the last train that night. When it came, I threw myself on the line, bracing myself for death. But, when it had passed over me, to my utter amazement, I was unhurt. I had fallen between the two tracks! I went back home, utterly discouraged, concluding that even the god of death disliked me.

A better place

On 31 December 1947 I was desperate, and made my way to a large temple, wanting so much to receive the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. On the way there I met a Christian friend and told him where I was going.

‘What are you going to the temple for?’ he enquired. ‘I am going to pray to receive forgiveness for my sins and eternal life’, I replied. ‘In that case I know a better place than the temple’, he said.

‘Where?’ I asked. ‘Church’, he said. ‘Church?’ I shouted, ‘Never!’

‘You must come with me to church’, he insisted.

‘I don’t want to go to church, I am going to the temple!’ I said.

We kept arguing, louder and louder. Eventually, he twisted my arm behind me and, against my will, dragged me to church.

That day in church, for the first time in my life, I saw a Japanese Bible and I heard the gospel through a Swedish missionary. With power he proclaimed: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3) and followed it up with the words, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved and your household’ (Acts 16:31).

Only one God

I learnt four things that changed my life : that there are not eight million gods, but only one true living God; that I was a sinner and needed to repent; that Jesus Christ died so that I could know the forgiveness of my sins and receive eternal life; and that, contrary to the Buddhist teaching that salvation is obtained by doing one’s best, I could receive Jesus Christ as my Saviour in simple faith, and have peace with God.

I discovered the marvellous truth that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). I was born again.

Persecution

When I told my family that I had become a Christian, they were horrified and started to persecute me. This went on for seven years. Two nights every week, when I returned home from the evening meetings at church, all the doors were locked. I would knock and knock. ‘Who are you?’ a voice from inside enquired.

‘Your son, Kiichi’, I replied.

‘You are no longer my son!’ the answer came. ‘Only if you renounce your faith in Jesus and stop going to church, will I let you in’.

Having nowhere else to go, I went to sleep with my pet rabbits outside. But after seven years my mother also became a Christian. After another seven years, my father, my brother, my sister-in-law, two sisters and two brothers-in-law found the Lord. Today, 55 members of my family are Christians. Praise God; he is faithful and he answers prayer!’

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Japan