Before going to Japan I was experiencing some major shifts. I had just graduated from college. I was getting ready to hit the NYC audition scene with every ounce of passion and drive I possessed. I was looking forward to starting a new job. And in the midst of all that, I was dealing with the trauma of being kicked out of a church I had once called home. I will spare the details for now because it’s a whole lot to recount, but at 21 I remember feeling the most broken I’ve ever felt in my life. I was shaken to the core. That devastation caused me to want to disappear from off the face of the earth as I deleted my Facebook page to escape the cyber bullying the church was notorious for. And quite frankly, being called a whore and other nasty names to defame my character was frightening to read and disheartening to both me and my family who bore witness. It was then that I realized whatever I believed about church and religion was far from the reality I was facing and that this institution by which I based my whole identity on was in a lot of ways very flawed. Furthermore, I was harshly being punished for a message I believed God had wanted me to share that wasn’t well received. Churches usually encourage that, but had I known it would all blow up in my face and that the leaders who professed the goodness of Christ and claimed to walk in his likeness would so quickly turn to the dark, I probably would have reconsidered my decision to act. That experience though, positioned me for what I’d like to believe was a greater blessing in the end. In actuality, I had been a part of something dangerous and in a profound way was removed from that dangerous situation… and in that realization I found peace.
A greater blessing came some months later when I auditioned and got the job to work at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan as a contracted singer. The job was for thirteen months and could not have come at a more perfect time. While I never imagined my life rearing off in that direction, I was in desperate need of change and so it was only fitting for me to go. I needed to leave that experience behind and focus my energy on something more positive, refreshing, new and unfamiliar. I thought, “Perhaps this experience would aid in my healing process and answer a lot of questions…” Whatever I was feeling I knew it was good and in an inexplicable way divine. My thoughts about religion and spirituality were changing rapidly. In a way, I was rediscovering who I was absent from everything I’d learned growing up in the church. It was scary abandoning what was once my truth to embark on the path of the unknown. “Will this path lead me to damnation?” was the persistent question haunting me. Even so, I trusted that whatever I was living through was all a part of a greater plan that would reveal itself in time…or so I really hoped.
Before my departure, I sat down with one of my good friends who is a Christian and shared in detail what had happened and of course he couldn’t wrap his mind around it all either. He assured me though that all churches are not like that and how unfortunate it was that my faith was being tested through that experience. And he was right. All churches aren’t like that, but at that point I didn’t even want to step foot inside of another church. I knew that what he was saying came from a humble and loving place so I was receptive to certain things. I also completely understood his stance and need to defend the faith, but more than that, I appreciated him really listening to me at such a vulnerable time. From there, I felt inspired to express another thought I’d been stewing over for days: “Kofi, I feel like I’m going to find God in Japan.” I don’t think he really understood what I meant by that statement at first, but I knew he felt the weight of my words. I explained to him how I had a hunch that going to Japan would be more spiritual than I imagined and that I would discover things about myself and God that I hadn’t realized before. When I connected the dots of the timeline in which everything happened, I was confident that none of this was by accident and that I was in fact where I was supposed to be on my life’s journey. For the first time in a long time I felt a sense of direction.
When I finally made it to Osaka, I was thrown into a whirlwind of rehearsals, meeting new people, learning a foreign language, adjusting to a new culture and getting used to a certain type of solitude I was not prepared for. This was the first time I was alone in a country where most people didn’t speak English and where I didn’t have a friend there to share this peculiar experience with. With the small amount of traveling I’d previously done, I never would have imagined I’d experience the culture shock in which I did. And one night I remember standing there alone in my tiny apartment and feeling the walls close in on me as I gasped for air. I had a panic attack mulling over “How am I going to make it through thirteen months of living here?” This fear and sadness lived with me for a short time, but once I started performing and creating bonds with the other performers there, the anxiety eased up and eventually I was back to normal. I started getting out, exploring and absorbing more of the culture.
While growing more accustomed to living in Japan, I met two religious leaders along the way. One was a Black Minister, Prophet and Kung Fu instructor from California who made his way to Japan and ended up starting a ministry there and the other was an Australian woman who traveled to Osaka on a mission’s trip and never left. They were such wonderful people who were zealous about the Christian beliefs I was still questioning. Their practices made me feel at home though and they became good friends. They reminded me of the Christian teachings I’d never really forgotten and opened me up to believing again. I eventually attended some church services and bible studies with them. But it just wasn’t the same. When I prayed I could no longer make out the face of God. It was a blurred and ambiguous image. I guess I didn’t want God to be the same God I imagined before that terrible incident with the church because then I would be reminded of the leaders who claimed to be like him. I had to reimagine God for myself outside of the box in which religion had placed him in. I even started questioning if I should be referring to God as him or her or if God was just the universe or this great and powerful energy that couldn’t be explained. Honestly, I didn’t know what to believe. That is when realized I wouldn’t find the answers I was searching for in Christianity alone. I started to see God as a much bigger entity that could not be defined or confined by just one belief or practice. At that point I broke away from religion to explore a more spiritual path.
I wanted to see more of Japan. So, I went on hikes up Monkey Mountain in Kyoto, where monkeys swung freely from the trees right in front of me. I went to natural hot springs in Kobe, where I felt so connected to the earth. I stood on a balcony overlooking the vast ocean on the island of Okinawa, feeling so small and yet so alive. I took the bullet train all the way to Tokyo and got lost in the city lights…and in each of those beautiful, subtle moments, I saw the light of God radiating. I followed that light to South Korea and Thailand. I felt God’s presence in the bright smiles of unfamiliar faces and through the laughter shared in conversations. I saw God in the picturesque scenes of nature. I experienced that divine energy inside of archaic temples and on the side of the dirt road where I met a Buddhist monk. God was there in the culture and in the many different walks of life I encountered…And through it all, I learned that we aren’t that much different apart from what we’re taught and that we are all connected by this omnipresent being of light and love. I stopped looking at people and judging their fate based on their beliefs. In my mind I stopped condemning people to Hell because they didn’t believe in the right religion. Instead, I started to investigate their culture and beliefs to learn and see where it applied to me. I began to see people as human beings and worked on connecting to that part of them. I even accepted that no one person has all the answers and that we are all searching for something. That began the creation of a new image of an all loving and inclusive God for me…an image that no person could ever destroy again.
When I returned home thirteen months later, I decided I would continue on the spiritual journey I’d found in Japan. That meant I would read more books on other cultures and spiritual practices; maybe attend some yoga/meditation classes; explore other ideologies; engage in spiritual conversations with friends or strangers; do more soul-searching; work on improving love and compassion for others, beginning with myself; and just live and let experience teach me. I will admit it hasn’t been easy and I definitely fall short, but I’m learning to embrace the journey. What I can attest to is the amount of growth I’ve experienced since letting go of the fear of asking questions and opening my heart and mind to other ideas and possibilities. A little while after I returned home I met up with my friend Kofi again. He gave me the warmest embrace and said, in the most sarcastic and exaggerated tone, “Hey! Did you find your Japanese Jesus???” I died with laughter imagining Jesus as Japanese! but then remembered the statement I made so long ago: “I feel like I’m going to find God in Japan.” Once I got past the joke I really considered the question. I didn’t know about finding a Japanese Jesus, but in many ways I did accomplish what I set out to do. I found God… in the people, in my experiences and in the little things. I responded, “You know what? I guess in a unique and unexpected way I did…” Today, I look for God’s presence wherever I go; in the “ah ha!” moments; in moments of stillness and quiet; in my relationships and in me…and every time I am so amazed at how God, this divine entity will always be more than I can fathom.