Breath of God

Macau_cathedral_facade_400Two weeks ago Laura and I took part in the annual CBF China-Japan team meeting in Macau, China. As part of our gathering, we did a tour of the city with our teammates and the Macau team members’ English students. We visited many beautiful sites, but the most famous and awe-inspiring were the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a historic Portuguese church near the center of town. Little did I know that a visit to this tourist site in China would not only provide a direct link to my work in Japan, but also shed new light upon the vision of the valley of dry bones described by the prophet Ezekiel.

Though some scholars believe that Christianity may have come to Japan as early as the year 199, it is widely agreed upon that in 1549 Jesuit priest Francis of Xavier landed in a Portuguese ship in Japan to begin Christian mission work in the country. Portugal brought the Christian faith to East Asia as part of its expansion of trade and power in the region. St. Francis began what historians have deemed as “the Christian century” in Japan in which the Church saw great growth. The Jesuit priests had decided to begin their preaching and teaching to the leaders in Japanese society, starting at the top and praying that it would move down to the rest of the people. The shoguns, military commanders of the day, became convinced that these foreign Christians were softening up the Japanese people for a European takeover and thus retaliated. An edict was created banning Christianity from the country, forcing foreign missionaries to leave and Japanese Christians to recant, both under threat of death. On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians including missionaries, Japanese Jesuits, and Japanese laypeople were killed with spears by soldiers and left hanging on crosses for nine months to serve as examples. Some went underground with their beliefs, while many Japanese Christians and foreign missionaries fled to locations across Asia, including the great Portuguese port city of Macau. Terrified and homesick, those who fled to Macau also took with them the bones of their brothers martyred in Nagasaki.

The prophet Ezekiel describes a similarly desolate situation for the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Their livelihoods had been taken away and they became foreigners in a distant land, lost and empty. In their confusion and frustration, they strayed further from their God to a place of spiritual drought. Ezekiel becomes both a mouthpiece and active participant as an exile in the situation; God reveals to Israel the reality of their distant relationship, but also the potential of a brighter future. The brittle bones are called to join together and skin once again grows upon them, leaving corpses lying across the valley. Most importantly, God breathes into the lifeless bodies and provides God’s spirit within the House of Israel. The valley of dry bones goes from a scene out of a scary Halloween film to a beautiful moment of unity between God and God’s people. The breath of God brings new life to those in spiritual poverty through great provision and a promise of purpose for the people.

The Japanese Christians in Macau were far across the sea from their homeland and lacked hope of return. These Christ followers too were lost and looking for purpose, a way to overcome the devastation of the persecution and executions they had witnessed in Japan. They literally held the dry bones of their martyred brothers, yet were also spiritually dry themselves. Amidst the darkness of their circumstance, God breathed new life into the exiles and filled them with God’s spirit. Many of the Japanese Christians were artisans. They joined the larger Christian community in Macau to build St. Paul’s Cathedral in the early 17th century. Using the designs of an Italian Jesuit, they helped to carve intricate details and lay stones for what would become one of Asia’s largest cathedrals. With Chinese artists, they created not only Christian images, but also added Japanese and Chinese themes to the great house of worship. There are Chinese lions and Japanese chrysanthemums carved alongside crosses, angels, and saints still visible on the stone facade of St. Paul’s. They also helped to create a final resting place for their martyred brothers, placing their bones in the crypt, the church’s foundation. Some of these exiled Christians stayed in Macau and assisted the church’s growth. Some went to serve other missions around the continent. Some even returned to Japan against the fear of death to build up the church in their homeland, a country that would not reintroduce religious freedom until 1871.

St. Paul’s burned and was repaired several times after its construction. A major fire intensified by typhoon winds in 1835 finally brought the building to ruin, leaving only the beautiful facade and foundation. Due to political changes in Portugal, the cathedral was never rebuilt, however what does remain stands as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an iconic symbol of Macau.

What a great God we have who brings our dry and broken bones together, breathes new life into us, and provides an incredible spirit to share with the world.

Carson_Laura_Foushee_c_sm_for webCarson and Laura Foushee are Cooperative Baptist Field Personnel living in Kanazawa, Japan. Both natives of North Carolina, Carson and Laura met at McAfee School of Theology after graduating from Elon University (Carson) and N.C. State University (Laura). Carson’s passion for global missions and Laura’s passion for the local church have blended together as they serve in Japan through English language education and through Kanazawa Baptist Church as co-pastors of its international congregation.

They can be reached by email at Feel free to also to check out their website and the Kanazawa International Baptist Church website.

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