Of Sardines, Trains in Japan, and Heaven
Google declares "packed like sardines" has been a part of our jargon since the 1880s. Or at least, in my own opinion, since the invention of the jam-packed Japanese railway car. The picture you see is one I took from the Ogikubo train station platform in Tokyo a few nights ago. It's rush hour. And decorous as Japanese crowds are noted for being, the packed-in occupants of this train have enough room to finger their ubiquitous cell phones—as the three gentlemen inside the window reveal. The two masked riders beside them who look like OR surgeons are wearing the popular medicated protective hygiene masks you see everywhere, especially in the flu-cold season of the year.
What you can't see is the mass of humanity squeezed in behind and between these taller riders. I remember as a boy watching the conductors shove passengers further into the railway car just so the electric doors could completely shut!
And I'll never forget what happened to me one morning riding the train to the missionary school (not far from the Ogikubo station) there in Tokyo. I'm still appalled my parents allowed me, as a nine year old third grader, to travel the world’s largest city (at that time and still so today) an hour and a half each way on packed city busses and trains unaccompanied and quite alone. But in those days (just after they invented electricity!) it never occurred to my mother or father that such travel would be dangerous, simply because it wasn’t. Back then.
This particular morning I was wearing my Christmas gift from my father, his old Benrus watch he had worn since college. I was quite proud of that timepiece on my wrist. But waiting for the next train, I spotted a barrel of rain water glistening with its contents, so I hurried over and innocently decided to test whether or not my new old watch was waterproof. I plunged my wrist into the water and out again. Several times. Until the next train came roaring into the station, and I raced to the doorway to join the grunting mass of riders pushing hard to get onboard. It was so tight inside my arms were pinned to my side by the crowd of business suits. When finally I was swept off the train and my arms could move, I checked the time on my watch. Only there was no time left. The crush of that ride had torn off the crystal, bent the hands of the watch, leaving the red second hand crazily pointing straight up into the air! (That's when I learned the watch wasn't waterproof.)
What's all this have to do with Heaven? Apparently the trains will be crowded there, too: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9). Last week I reflected on this prophetic glimpse of the saved in Heaven, wondering how many of that innumerable throng will be from Japan. With 128 million souls crowded onto that small island nation (the size of California), surely God will find a way to save as many of them as He divinely can. Surely Jesus' pouring out His life on the cross to save all of our lost souls is still sufficient enough to deliver the proud but gracious Japanese people, too.
"From Japan and China and India, from the still darkened lands of our own continent, from every quarter of this world of ours, comes the cry of sin-stricken hearts for a knowledge of the God of love" (Education 262).
Have you met this God of love? And if you have, are you willing to help Him meet the rest? The day of missionaries has only just begun—the best days for missions are straight ahead. "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8)