On a cold Tuesday morning in February, an unassuming Toyota Prius pulled into the parking lot outside of our church and a very special guest stepped out. Mrs. Akie Abe, the First Lady of Japan, was there to visit Wheelchairs of Hope, one of the many ministries using our church facilities.
Mrs. Abe had come to learn about Wheelchairs of Hope because she was delivering some wheelchairs from them on an upcoming trip to Cambodia. She had learned about the ministry from another event and it had piqued her interest. So here she was, spending over an hour with the mostly volunteer staff of the ministry, listening to their passions for the work and seeing how broken wheelchairs were lovingly brought back to life by the staff.
The low key event was covered by two of her own media people and a few of us representing Wheelchairs of Hope and the church. There was no secret service detail or entourage of helpers waiting on her. It was just her and her aide and her genuine interest in the ministry. One could hardly imagine the same casual level if Mrs. Obama or the First Lady of any other world power were out on her own in public.
When she finished learning about the Wheelchairs of Hope ministry (and graciously taking photos and talking with many of the volunteers), she asked if she could see the church sanctuary. Our pastors were caught a little off guard as they had gone back downstairs to the lobby to see her off. But they rushed back up in the elevator and showed her into the sanctuary.
Mrs. Abe had attended Sacred Heart Catholic school in Tokyo from middle school through university. She told our pastor that though she was not a Christian, she was interested in the Christian worldview. Fortunately, our pastor was the person who had translated “The Purpose Driven Life” into Japanese for Rick Warren, and he was able to give her a copy of the book.
It was a blessing to have Mrs. Abe visit our church. Not only is she an important and influential person, she is also a warm, caring person with a heart for the less fortunate. In some ways, she already understands God’s heart for the people of the world, that God stands for the poor, oppressed and hungry and asks us to do the same. We pray for her to receive an understanding of Christ through “The Purpose Driven Life” and to know the heart of God more and more.
UPDATE: Paul Nethercott wrote an even more detailed account with an interview from Mary Esther Penner, founder of Wheelchairs of Hope and information about our church as well. Read the article at his blog, JapanCan.