The Sea of Trees

Disclaimer: This story was found in an earlier newsletter of ours, but some were not getting them yet and wanted to share it, so here it is.

The Aokigahara, or better known as the “Sea of Trees”, is a beautiful forest at the base of Mt. Fuji that got its name from the illusion it gives of waves in the ocean. However, these "waves" of leaves hide a very sad secret in their depths, leaving this location to be more infamous than famous. Nearly 100 years ago, a Buddhist monk traveled to this forest on a journey to reach a higher plane of enlightenment through fasting and seclusion. The lack of food actually resulted in his death, which started a trend for other monks who believed that the first must have achieved one of the highest states a Buddhist could aspire to. While monks are no longer found going here, the trend of death continues. Kuroi Jukai (translated ‘Sea of Trees’) is a 1960's Japanese novel in which a pair of young lovers take their lives together in the forest. Later in 1993, a handbook was written for the suicidal called The Complete Suicide Manual. The guide praises hanging (the most common method for those who perish among the Sea of Trees) as a “work of art” and called Aokigahara the ideal place to die because your body will be impossible to find and “You will become a missing person and slowly disappear from people’s memory.”

aokigahara sign.jpg

Today, an average of 100 bodies are removed from this ominous location each year, and that’s only counting the ones private parties find in this vast and dense 14 square mile area. It got so bad that since the early 2000’s the government doesn’t even report the number of deaths there. Rather, their solution is to post signs like the ones on the right and scatter phone boxes that connect to free helplines.

Given that over 24,000 people committed suicide just last year, there is still a lot of work to do; more is needed than a couple metal framed signs. The Japanese are losing a person to suicide every 15 minutes. Many of these same people have never heard the Gospel, and with less than 0.5% of Christians in Japan, there is almost no one to share this hope with them. It breaks our hearts to know people are leaving this world without knowing Jesus, and we know it breaks God’s heart as well.

To Those Who Go Before Us

You might think I’m referencing other missionaries already in the field, but this time I'm referring to those we’ve lost and have gone on ahead of us. They go on ahead to see the glory of the Father and to be in His presence. Though this isn’t always the case (because sometimes even our closest loved ones may not have yet received the free gift of Grace), we are left wondering, will we meet again?

I’ve spent the last couple days on the road, traveling back out to the place I was born in Oklahoma to be with a family member who may begin that journey soon. For many of us, not to sound too cliché, death is only just the beginning and not at all the “end”. We go to spend an eternity with the God who loves us in worship of Him. I’m very grateful to rest in the fact that this family member is without a doubt a strong believer in Christ, though I’m saddened that I have to fear that it may not be the case with others.

The death of others close to us is the time that causes many people to contemplate their own passing away as the sudden reality of it, once so removed, is undeniably right in front of them. When we are teenagers, the end of life seems like it comes at the age of 30 (I’m nearly there, what will I do?!?!) While I certainly don’t think that way anymore, I do realize that for many (non-believers) the end of life is just that, the end with nothing else to look forward too beyond a black abyss of nothingness. How can someone push on without some kind of hope?

Woody Allen sums up this way of thinking the best, “…Because in the end it has no meaning. We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life, and everything you create in your life or do is going to vanish…”. His solution to the matter? “Turn on a baseball game or watch a Fred Astaire movie or do something that distracts you.” I can’t fault the logic: if you don’t believe in God and life after death, there doesn’t seem to be much point in preparing for it, is there? Many buy into this form of thinking, and their pursuits end up being focused on materialistic things. Money, prestige, etc… They seek to fill a gaping void in the core of their being with something so temporary and incapable of truly filling it. During several years of my life, I found myself trying to do much the same. It took losing those temporary, material things for me to see the true hope. Now I just want to share that hope with anyone and everyone, though I realize they don’t often want to hear it. I know I didn't.

Even for all that pursuit, when asked, did you know only 10% of people say they actually find their happiness in material things? Relationships and achievements (work, education, etc…) held about 60 and 30 percent respectively. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t often heard people say that their pursuit in life has to do with relationships. But it should, and apparently we know it, but I suspect many of those people didn’t have God in mind when they checked that box off in the survey. Regardless, it points to a core point of our being that the Creator designed in us with a need for relationship.

That is what makes relationships beautiful things yet so hard when they must be broken. Sometimes the break comes from disagreements, death, misunderstandings, or distance (emotionally or otherwise) but each results in an emotional pain, and this can be a good thing as we learn to grow from them. However, we must focus on the joy and goodness relationships bring as well. It brings us happiness to spend time with our loved ones, it gives us strength to be encouraged by our spouses, it provides us growth when we work through conflict with a friend, and it gives us hope and life when we have a relationship with God.

To those that go on ahead with the work of Christ leading the way, they take their relationships with them. The earthly physical components may end for the time but the impact their lives have had on us live on fully through us and to others. If a person’s legacy only consists of relationships they’ve had with people that God used to His glory, I think Jesus will welcome them with the phrase any of us would long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”