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Being faithful from Japan | Joan Bay Klope

The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you

as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself;

for you were strangers in the land of Eqypt:

I am the LORD your God.

—Leviticus 19:34

During any given week you’ll find me sitting before my computer in my den, writing Faithful Living. I prefer to work early in the day because I’m most productive after a good night’s rest and a steaming cup of coffee. It’s a writing assignment I dive into with immense joy.

This week I sit in front of a computer in my room at the Kintai Inn at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. I’ve opened the curtains beside me and the bright orange sun is breaking through a bank of clouds. Yesterday thunderheads produced an amazing show of lightning, thunder, and raindrops so big I stood inside a store and didn’t dare make a break for our rental car until there was a brief lull in the storm. I didn’t care that we got completely drenched when we finally gathered the courage to make a run for it; all I could think about was the fact that an Iwakuni native told me 50 people die each year from being struck by lightning.

Needless to say we reached the car and the hothouse-like weather cooled considerably. Later that evening, treated by a delightful breeze blowing off the Sea of Japan, my husband and I ventured outside and he introduced me to Asian birds who fed themselves, soared above us upon invisible drafts of air, and hunted for places to roost for the night.

My heart soared with the birds. Never could I have imagined being here. My thoughts traveled back to the early 70s when the boy up the street came down to my house see what we were doing about our pet chicken, sickened with cold-like symptoms. He wore cut-off jeans, Converse high top tennis shoes, and a white T-shirt. He was covered with freckles pronounced by exposure to the summer Southern California sun. He recalls seeing a slightly shy girl, teeth covered in braces, concerned about her pet as she bent over a box lined in newspaper and warmed with a light.

There in the corner sat Henny Penny. Weak and gasping for air.

As I watched this same boy, now half a century old, grab binoculars and urge me to look up a particular bird in his book that classifies Asian bird species, I thought back to that chicken. We gave her a few drops of turpentine because my dad thought he remembered his mother offering such a hideous elixir to one of her sick chickens. It seemed to have burned away the congestion and she recovered. Some time later a rooster provided momentarily by a friend gifted Henny with fertile eggs and she became a wonderful mother to a handful of chicks.

It’s now three decades later and birds are still a part of our everyday lives. Only today this same “boy up the street” travels to bases around the world to help Navy and Marine Corps commands lower the chances of birds and aircraft coming in contact with each other, causing equipment damage, failure, and sometimes loss of life. As I write I hear troops in a nearby field chant as they exercise before the sun burns down with an intensity that precludes strenuous midday activity. It was here at the base, in a headquarters building still used today by military and civilian personnel, that Japanese commanders in 1941 planned the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is just 12 train stops away, in the city of Hiroshima, that the first atomic bomb blew up in the sky above the city in 1945, eventually killing over 200,000 residents.

I’ve contemplated such intense suffering out on the beaches as my husband documents bird activity. I’ve thought about our forays off the base and into nearby cities where people drive on the opposite side of the road and race through intersections when traffic lights turn red. Where food samples include raw octopus marinated in wasabi and women carry umbrellas to shield themselves from the burning rays of the sun. Where in spite of the suffering of war still recalled by some residents, in spite of our enemy status over half a century ago, we are treated today with smiles, gentleness, respect, kindness, and genuine friendship.

This is a nation filled with lovely people, enticing natural sights, customs enjoyable to observe, amazing architecture, memorable summer weather, and food I can’t seem to get enough of.

Most importantly, we are strangers in a land of friends. It is my prayer that those who vacation in our region of the world or move into our neighborhoods, schools, offices, churches, community groups and communities will feel as warmly welcomed as we have been here.

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