My junior companion kept coming up with excuses why he didn’t talk to the people he passed on the street. “He’s not looking at me.” “He looked busy.” “He was looking at his watch.” As a missionary in Tokyo, if you wanted to talk to men, you didn’t knock on doors, since the only people at home were harried housewives and little old ladies. You went down to the train station and waved people down. Streeting, we called it. It required a little more initiative than going door-to-door, because your next target wasn’t as well defined, but you were always assured of being able to talk to someone face-to-face if you were willing to make the effort to open your mouth in the first place.
“Why didn’t you stop that guy? He walked right by you!”
“He was wearing headphones. He wasn’t going to stop to talk to me.”
Arrant nonsense. If he didn’t know it, at least I did, and I was going to prove it to him.
A few minutes later, a young man connected by his ears to his backpack by a pair of earbuds approached us at a brisk pace, his gaze firmly in front of him. If he had noticed us, he gave no sign of it. I nudged my companion. “Watch this.” I turned slightly towards the oncoming walker, took a small step towards him, and gave a slight bow. “Sumimasen….“
The man had passed by me before he realized I was addressing him. He wheeled around, took a few steps back towards me until he was standing squarely before me, pulled the buds out of his ears, and asked me politely what I wanted. I explained that my friend and I were missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and were sharing a message that was important to us. “And”, I added, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were listening to something. Do you mind my asking what it is?”
“I’m listening to the Bible,” the man responded matter-of-factly.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. In all my months of teaching the gospel in Japan, I could have counted on my fingers the number of people I had talked to who had ever opened a Bible, let alone walked around town listening to it on their Walkmen. Surely this was the golden investigator who would help my companion learn a lesson about the value of opening his mouth.
The ensuing discussion was fascinating. Our new acquaintance not only listened to the Bible, he understood it better than anyone I had ever met. You know that talk that circulates around Sunday Schools in the church about the guy who makes a list of the 17 points of the true church based on his study of the Bible, then finds the LDS Church and discovers that he’s found what he’s looking for? This guy was even better. He didn’t just have an assorted list of teachings found in the Bible; he had managed to derive most of the foundational principles of LDS theology through his study. I spent most of the conversation nodding my head in agreement and wondering when we would be able to schedule him for baptism.
He had gotten through the Atonement, faith, repentance, baptism by immersion by authority, tithing, the prohibition parts of the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity when the discussion finally got around to the gift of the Holy Ghost. I shared with him my conviction that the testimony of the Holy Ghost was available to all who desired and asked for it with a sincere heart, and he fully agreed with me. “In fact, I’m beginning preparations now so I can fast for forty days so that I can receive the witness of the Holy Ghost, just as Moses and Jesus did.”
The other day, I was walking down the stairs, and somehow I thought that I had reached the bottom of the flight when in fact there was one more step to go. Instead of landing on solid ground, my foot tried to gain traction on nothing but air, and I ended up falling to the ground. I wasn’t seriously hurt, but very confused, dazed, and upset, kind of like I felt at that moment when I realized that our golden streeting contact was not, in fact, going to be baptized into our church, but was instead probably going to end up hospitalized for severe dehydration and malnourishment at some point in the not-too-distant future. I tried to find common ground by expressing my belief in the spiritual power to be gained through fasting, even for periods as short as 48 or even 24 hours. No, I was told, a true testimony only comes through denying oneself food and drink for the same amount of time that it took God to flood the earth.
We never saw our Bible-listening friend again. I still think of him every time I read of someone in the scriptures fasting for 40 days, and wonder if he ever accomplished what he had hoped to do. And I thought of him last month when in missionary correlation meeting one of the sister missionaries suggested that we fast for 40 days in our ward for missionary work.
Unlike the man who I had stopped on the street, Sister Ray, the missionary who proposed the idea, understood that generally it is not wisdom for any one person to fast for 40 days, even if he or she is trying to lose holiday weight. Instead, we fast as a ward. Every day for 40 consecutive days, at least one family in the ward volunteers to fast, specifically for missionary work in the ward. This includes, but is not limited to, fasting to receive strength and guidance in one’s own missionary efforts, fasting on behalf of the ward and full-time missionaries in the ward, and fasting for a specific investigator, less-active, or part-member family. It’s a goal that almost anyone can set and achieve and receive benefits from. It keeps the ward focused on missionary work for an extended period of time, and unites us in a common cause and action in which we depend on each other to accomplish our collective goal, and reap the benefits both collectively as a ward and individually as we fast.
Our bishop endorsed the idea, and the calendar has been pretty much filled. We’re starting on January 24th, and ending on fast Sunday in March, when we will fast together as a ward. for missionary work in our area. I may not be able to fast for 40 days on my own, but working together with my family and friends, we can accomplish many great and marvelous things.