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December 1, 2017
from “The White Dove I” written by Mitsuko
Emi, who had invited me to the Bible study, said, “I wish you could come again next month, because Pastor Peter Shimada is coming.” I had a hard time declining her invitation, because she had treated me three times to Japanese lunch. So I went with a firm determination that it would truly be my last. Incredibly as other times, my scheduled appointments were all postponed, and I became available. I never imagined, however, that only a few words from the gathering would forever change my life.
“Do you think God exists? God does exist. If you want to know, why don’t you try God.”
That was what Pastor Peter said in the gathering. I was surprised to hear, “Try God.” My grandmother used to offer a bunch of flowers and a bowl of rice on a household Shinto altar, though I was not sure if she had so-called faith or not. She often said to me, “Heaven will punish.” I had been taught not to try God or Buddha, or I would be punished. Therefore, I was astonished to hear the clergyman saying, “Try God.”
And the story he shared with us was enough to surprise and excite me. Here is Pastor Peter’s story:
The time came when I quit my job at an oil company and became an independent evangelist. Three months later, our savings hit rock bottom. I had no money to support my wife and our newborn baby. If I did not have money for rent by the end of the coming week, we would be homeless the next month.
I believed that God would take care not only of our spiritual needs, but also of our daily bread. So, I prayed:
“Dear God, please provide me with 150 dollars for rent and 50 dollars for my family’s living expenses for a week, 200 dollars in total by next week. Otherwise I will quit the ministry.”
On the first day of the following week, nothing happened. But on the second day, two letters arrived from my American friends whom I had not seen for a long time.
The first letter said, “Dear Peter, how are you? While I was praying this morning, you came to my mind. I hear that you got married and now have a baby. Please accept this if necessary,” and a 150-dollar check was enclosed. The second letter was similar and a 50-dollar check was enclosed. I received a total of 200 dollars, the exact amount that I had prayed for.
Do you call this a miracle? If this is a miracle, I have experienced hundreds and thousands of miracles in my life. Why don’t you try God?
His story was very persuasive because it was his real-life story. I came home so excited that I could not stop talking about it to everyone in my family. My husband simply said, “It could happen.” As for me I was moved as if peeping into an unknown world which I had never known before.
By the way, I found out later that other people at the gathering remembered his words as, “Try praying, because God will answer your prayers.” However, I could not have heard him wrong. I did hear him saying, “Try God,” otherwise I would not have been so moved.
It was at the end of June, 1987, the following weekend or possibly two weekends later, which was the cherry picking season. We planned to go cherry picking and were looking forward to this last chance in the States, because we were to return to Japan the next spring for our son’s high school. Some Japanese families, who had never experienced it in spite of their long stay in the States, joined us, as well as those who had just arrived for new assignments, and some of our American friends.
It was cloudy in the morning. We phoned the orchard, and were assured that the weather would hold. So we decided to start off, and a caravan of five cars headed for the orchard in upstate New York, which was about an hour and a half drive from Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Shortly after we got on the New York throughway, the rain started to come down heavily. We could not see anything ahead, and had to drive at a snail’s pace. When I looked back, I could barely see the headlights of the car behind. The pouring rain made my heart heavy, and I asked my husband:
“Should we still go?”
“I don’t think we have a choice. Once we get there, we may be able to buy cherries,” he responded. We kept driving very slowly.
How disappointing! We were looking forward to this cherry picking. In addition, there was a girl who was not feeling well in the last car. She came with us because she could not stay home alone. “Can’t we do anything?” I wondered, and at that precise moment, what Pastor Peter had said came up to my mind:
I thought I would try. I had never done anything so irrational in my life. Turning my face toward the window so as not to be noticed by my husband driving next to me and our children sitting behind, I secretly tried praying in my heart:
“God, are You there? If You are, please stop the rain for an hour or an hour and a half while we pick cherries.”
I did not mean to believe, but I was curious about what would actually happen after my prayer.
The rain eased gradually, and it was drizzling when we arrived at the orchard. We got into small carts and drove through the orchard. When we came before the huge cherry trees and got off the carts, the rain stopped completely. Moreover, the blue sky opened up and the bright sun came out, making the raindrops sparkle and the red cherries shine.
Wow! It cleared up.
The sick girl also came out of the car and picked cherries. We picked large basketfuls of cherries just being washed by the rain. We also ate as many fresh cherries as we wanted. How delicious they were!
We paid for the cherries, packed them into our trunks, arranged where to meet on our way back home, and got ready to leave. The very moment when we all turned on the engines, it started pouring down again. Wow! It did stop raining only while we were picking cherries! “Can this be true? No, it cannot be. The weather in upstate New York changes all the time,” I tried to persuade myself, and forgot this strange incident.
The weather in the States changes constantly, though I do not know much about other parts of the States. Clear weather would suddenly turn into pouring rain, and it would soon stop raining and clear up again. It changes drastically.
On our way home from cherry picking, we got together at a restaurant. There, our conversation turned to fishing. “Mitsuko, we hear you like fishing. We’ve never experienced it. Could you take us fishing?” My husband agreed immediately.
For me there is nothing more enjoyable than fishing. I like to dive and pick shells in the ocean too, but I gave up the idea because I did not know where to pick shells around New Jersey. I love fishing, but I do not know much about it. I cannot even unhook a fish when it deeply swallows the hook.
Yet, somehow I was good at fishing. American fish must prefer an amateur angler! I caught more fish than experts. Incidentally, after returning to Japan I went sea fishing three times, but caught only a few to my disappointment. I would be so surprised if it was God’s trick that I could catch so many fish in the States.
The following weekend, we went fishing with the same Japanese families to southern New Jersey. There was a fishing port, where they offered two excursions on a fishing boat: a half day and a full day. Since we had small children, we took a half-day course. They provided everything from fishing poles to bait. They would clean the fish if we requested on the way back to the port. There was also a prize for a person who caught the largest fish. A half-day course took six hours: an hour and a half to go offshore, three hours for fishing, and an hour and a half to return to the port. The boat was equipped with a device to detect fish, and moved from one spot to another.
The season was just under way for flounders. I was enthusiastic. I had a good reason to be eager for flounder fishing. I caught many fish of other kinds even to amaze the crew, but I had not yet had luck to catch a single flounder. I had challenged flounders a few times before. At one time when I took my English class students for fishing, I caught so many fish that a student asked me to exchange fishing poles. With the exchanged pole I still caught more fish, but I could not catch even one flounder.
I was to return to Japan in the coming spring, and this would probably be my last chance to catch flounders in the States and to overcome my growing frustration with flounders. I selected the bait carefully and dropped my line into the water.
There were fifty to sixty people on our boat. I saw some people catching fish here and there, but I had no pull. Even after two hours, I caught none. There was only one hour left. One hour on the boat could pass away very quickly. “Oh well, I have no luck again. I will have no other chance.” When I was about to get discouraged, I suddenly remembered the voice, “Try God.”
Yes, let me try. Looking at my right and left to make sure that no one would notice what I was doing, I prayed in my heart:
“God, are You there? If You are, please let me catch just one flounder.”
Right at the moment, even before completing my sentence, I felt a strong pull on my fish line, an exciting sign.
I pulled up the pole. There came a large flounder, my first flounder in the States! It was as large as 40 cm (about 16 inches) in length. I did it! I finally did it!
I then remembered that I had prayed to God, but I tried not to think about it, saying, “This is a mere coincidence. I had the best bait, and the flounder simply came to bite it.” Then the gong clanged. The fishing excursion was over and our boat started going back to the port.
In a short while, however, the boat suddenly stopped. What happened? It was supposed to be over. Another gong clanged, and the captain said through a loudspeaker, “You may fish here for another fifteen minutes.” All the anglers, including myself of course, threw lines back into the water. I will never forget the captain’s announcement, “another fifteen minutes.”
While dropping the line, I decided to try God once again. This time I prayed with reverence.
“Dear God, are You there? I may be asking too much because I’ve already asked You for just one flounder, but if You are there, would You please let me catch one more flounder?”
The moment I said my last word, I once again felt a strong pull on my pole. There came another large flounder, the second largest on the boat!
Putting it in an icebox and placing its cover, I kept staring at the icebox. Instead of being excited to catch not only one but two flounders, I had an uneasy feeling while sailing back to the port, walking to the car, and even on the way home in the car.
Is each one of these really a coincidence? It happened too consecutively to be a coincidence. What is going on?
I started to feel frightened rather than strange. This feeling kept on coming back no matter how hard I tried to shake it off. I wanted to deny the whole thing as a series of coincidences, but I could not. I had never been involved in irrational things before, no matter how much I was interested in them. There might be things that science could not explain, but as far as I was concerned, I had made up my mind not to be involved in any of them.
I could not help feeling that something had happened, or was happening. My heart trembled in anticipation and fear. I must have sensed, however unconsciously, that the base on which I had built my philosophy was on the brink of collapse.
I began to question, “Is there God? He cannot be.” I then gradually wondered, “He may be,” and finally came to a conclusion, “He must be.” There must be some inexplicable power beyond human intellect and science, and people call this God . . . The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced of God’s existence.
However, I was so frightened that I could not tell anyone about it. Even to my husband with whom I could talk about almost anything, I could not confide that I had “tried God.”
From this time on, I began to look forward to attending the Bible study in Fort Lee where Pastor Peter came. After each gathering he had an individual counseling and prayer in a separate room, but I never got close to him, nor wanted to speak with him.
During a gathering I sat behind a pillar to avoid his eye contact, and at lunchtime I managed to evade him when he came near me. I was somehow afraid to speak with him.
“Something” is going to happen. No, it should not happen . . . I was struggling inside. If this had been all, my story would have ended with my having strange experiences. However, things did not end there.
（…to be continued to the next issue.）