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Ralph glanced up just in time to see Shinri’s head disappear behind the door frame. Smiling, he looked back at his Bible and continued to read.
Not long ago, Ralph’s Bible study group had been gathering at a restaurant. During one of those meetings, a woman named Keeko received Jesus as her Savior. The restaurant closed unexpectedly, and Keeko was excited to welcome the group into her home. Several neighbors and friends, many of whom had never heard the gospel message before, came to listen.
Keeko’s husband, Shinri, didn’t mind having people in his house, but he mostly stayed in the other room while the group studied. But he seemed drawn to Ralph, and the two would often strike up a conversation afterward. They had a lot in common, including an interest in athletics and outdoor adventure. Even with Stage 4 throat cancer, Shinri had managed to remain active, and Ralph admired that.
When COVID-19 hit Japan, the group’s desire to continue was so strong that they begged Ralph to keep teaching. Ralph gladly agreed, making sure they followed social distancing guidelines.
One night, as Ralph opened his Bible to begin, Shinri wandered in, took a seat, and looked toward him expectantly. Ralph felt a shot of adrenaline—Shinri had never participated in the study, and the topic Ralph had felt led to prepare for that evening was salvation and eternal life.
During the lesson, Shinri interrupted him. “Eternal life?” he asked. “What is this, ‘eternal life’ thing you’re talking about?”
Did he really just ask me that? Eagerly, Ralph explained what eternal life is, what it means for Christians, and how they can receive that gift through Jesus Christ. “Eternal life isn’t just about someday,” he shared. “It starts if you receive Jesus today.”
“Yes, if you receive Jesus,” Ralph emphasized. “Is that something you think you want to do?”
Right then, in the middle of the Bible study, in front of the group, Shinri welcomed Jesus into his life. Ralph glanced at Keeko, who stared on in stunned silence.
As Ralph and Shinri started to connect regularly, discussing Jesus, Scripture, and even some deeper theological issues, Shinri wanted to know how he could overcome the fear of death. His cancer was growing worse and had metastasized. “If you die,” Ralph told him, “you’ll be way better off than the rest of us because you’re going to be with Jesus.”
When Ralph explained baptism, Shinri grew excited about how coming up from the water symbolizes new life. He wanted to identify with Jesus in this way, and as he was lifted out of the water during his own baptism, Shinri pumped his fist and shouted for joy.
Shinri’s health continued to decline, and he was soon in so much pain that he couldn’t get out of bed. But he refused his doctor’s orders to be readmitted to the hospital. “If I go, I will probably never make it home again. And if I’m in the hospital, I can’t be in the Bible studies.”
During the last study Shinri attended, he could no longer speak. Ralph ended that evening with Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Shinri squeezed Ralph’s hand, as if to communicate confidence that eternal life was his.
A few days later, Shinri went to be with Jesus. He leaves a testimony to the saving power of God, a testimony observed by many Japanese around him – a message that God may use to draw more souls to Himself.
In a land where less than 1% of its 125 million inhabitants know Jesus, a light like Shinri’s shines brightly in the darkness, even after he is gone.