Robert & Roberta Adair



Stories from Robert & Roberta Adair

woman hiking in foggy mountains

As much as I’ve tried to process, ponder, and pick stuff apart, I’ll simply say for now that the last seven years or so have been disorienting. I won’t go as far as to say I’ve been deconstructing, as that word is a bit loaded and a lot dramatic compared to what I’ve been doing. At the same time, I don’t want to understate the amount of disappointment, confusion, shock, anger (occasionally bordering on rage), and deep sadness I have felt toward certain branches of the stream of Christianity I’m a part of. Perhaps detangling is a better term. But I’m not wanting to go into that a ton here. Not yet anyway. 

What I am wanting to do is practice being more of a noticer—seeing people who don’t seem to be flailing around in choppy waters like me but instead are more like anchors. People like my mom: a woman who is stable and steady, who sees similar things as me, yet keeps on watering her flowers, making food for people, playing the organ at church, showing up for her friends, and volunteering at a thrift store that employs people in the penitentiary system. She keeps on making music, meals, and memories, keeps on listening to Reactionary, Big Feeling Me, and keeps on being her steady self. 

Additionally, my wonder and gratitude continue to grow at the privilege I feel in getting to attend our Japanese church and worship with them regularly. Christians are in the lonely—well less than 1%—of Japan’s population, and the longer I’m here, I find them more and more remarkable. I hear buzz words like “grit” and “resilient”—and that’s who I get to worship with, week after week, year after year. 


The Anchormen 

For a couple of years, I have felt a particular fondness toward some of the ojiichan (the grandpas) at our church. I’ve mentioned these gents in other places because they really are important to me. They are also anchors for me, people providing stability to my faith, as they have walked with Jesus longer than me and haven’t yet lost their faith or their way.   


Mr. K 

My main interactions with Mr. K involve receiving bags of produce in the summer and fall: perfectly ripe grape tomatoes, dried persimmons (a lot of work and time), a bundle of beautiful sweet potatoes, or round Japanese pears the size of grapefruit. He hands them to me with his eyes twinkling and a shy smirk of a smile. Other than me babbling my thanks, we don’t really talk with each other much. But his unassuming presence and the few pieces of his story that I’ve seen personally and heard from others remind me of the beauty of Christ.  

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When I first moved here, I heard a story about when Mr. K felt convicted that he should show God’s love to the poor more than he already was. He sought out a homeless man and began caring for him in practical ways. Over time, the man became interested in coming to church, so Mr. K would take him to the public bath beforehand. Mr. K found this man a job and housing—and most importantly, he encouraged him to get reconnected to his estranged family.

Eventually, the man became a believer. Although he passed away shortly afterwards, he died with a home, a job, reunited with his family, and united with Christ. And Mr. K was simply trying to obey the literal words of Jesus—the bits about loving your neighbor and the Good Samaritan and practically caring for the least of these. There is so much about this story that I love, especially how only a handful of people know it.   

[I’m not including the years of post-disaster service to his neighbors and community—he lost his home, too—or the tender way he cared for his late granddaughter who was born with a profound developmental disability. He’s remarkable.]  


Mr. H 

A retired butcher who spent decades with food, Mr. H is now caring for vulnerable people in our community—through food (our church’s modest food bank ministry). Many times over our last 2+ terms in Japan, I have looked at his warm smile and consistent service and been humbled—he is a giant in faith and perseverance. I remember years ago complaining to him at a prayer meeting: “What difference are our prayers making? We pray, and we don’t see God answer…” He was so kind and gentle with me. While I don’t remember his exact response, I remember his eyes and smile—not rejecting me (“Um…we don’t want missionaries with faith as weak as yours.”)—or mansplaining me. (“Let’s read this passage and discuss what God thinks, and let me remind you about why you’re wrong.”). He listened to and accepted me, which was the teaching and soft rebuke I needed.  


Mr. O 

The other ojiichan, Mr. O, is kind of a big deal in Christian circles in Japan. He speaks at conferences, has written books, and is a pretty well-known pastor here. Yet what I most appreciate: he gladly accepts a role as parking lot supervisor for a kids outreach, he cancels a meeting so he can do a craft on the floor with a little girl who is particularly feisty, and he shows up to a beach outreach wearing nagagutsu (Japanese rain/work boots that are the least fancy kind of footwear).  

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Shortly after arriving in Japan, I saw him sitting in the sand next to a construction worker/surfer friend who was smoking a cigarette and covered in rather inappropriate tattoos, listening to him for an hour. More recently, he came to a little end-of-summer beach party I had with some friends, and he played with a gaggle of kids while talking with their parents. (I left him on the beach with a bunch of strangers so I could be the “Responsible Adult” in the water with the kids —meaning I got to plaaaay.) He is delightfully unpretentious and consistently amazes me by how remarkably focused he is on whoever is in front of him.  

[Unrelated: he laughs great. One of my favorite memories of him is when he was trying to tell a funny story in his sermon, and he couldn’t get it out because he was laughing so hard. He white-knuckled the podium, stopped, paused, and tried again several times with tears streaming down his face from the effort of trying to keep it together. The whole congregation was cackling—and no one even knew what story he was trying to tell.]  


Mr. T

And then there’s Mr. T, a retired farmer in his 70s. He is often a greeter on Sundays, and I am touched by his presence and example. We have some awkward and unusual people who occasionally come to church. I know that he’ll care for them well—and that he’ll care for me well when I need it. He seems to be gifted in mercy, and he has been a significant factor in many people in need of mercy meeting Jesus. I imagine this gift is sometimes a bit draining for him. I imagine years of caring for disaster victims as a disaster victim himself has come at a cost. Yet I also think he’s one of the best examples I know of someone trying to live and love like Jesus.  


Beauty is Before Me  

Now I walk in Beauty 
Beauty is before me 
Beauty is behind me, above and below me  

As I go about my life in Japan, this choir warm-up from high school frequently pops into my head—particularly in the fall with the change of colors and in the spring with the blooming of the sakura (cherry blossoms). 

It’s a pretty, almost haunting song that can be sung in a round. While I usually think of it when awed by nature, I am profoundly grateful for the Japanese ojiichan in my life here who are “beauty before me.” (I love imagining telling them this and picturing their shocked and uncomfortable reactions. “Ah! She called me beautiful!” One would back away from me, shy and uncomfortable. Another would furrow his brow and look grumpy because I was so brazen. Yet another would blush bashfully, and the last one would simply giggle.) 

We don’t talk to each other that much, and I don’t know huge swaths of their complex stories and lives. But I see these anchormen faithfully showing up and providing needed stability—to myself and to many others.  

“Beauty is before me,” indeed. 

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Roberta Adair

Bethany Panian HoRoberta grew up in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University. She served for three years in Kosovo with The Christian & Missionary Alliance. After completing her term she enrolled in Wheaton College. Robert, raised in Texas, is a graduate of Texas A&M University. From 2005-2009 he served in southern Japan with A3. Like Roberta, he returned and studied missions at Wheaton College in 2009, which is where their paths converged. After meeting, dating and getting married, they discerned that God was leading them back to Japan. They are currently in Japan through a strategic partnership between A3 and SIM, reaching Japanese people and strengthening the Japanese church.


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