In contrast to the southern Idaho summers I had grown accustomed to during my growing-up years in the United States, the summer spent at Awaji Island, Japan, was almost unbearable with its humidity. Being a young missionary endeavoring to conquer the Japanese language and understand the Japanese culture, I found to my chagrin that I tired easily during my first months under the summer sun of Japan.
Awaji Island is a small island, lying a short distance from the Kobe and Osaka ports. Sumoto, the largest town on the tiny island, is full of typically Japanese odors, sounds, and sights. This culture, unlike that found in neighboring Osaka and Kobe, has received only minimal influence from the far-distant countries lying to the west. Even though the island is just within sight of Osaka, one of the more metropolitan areas of Japan, it is virtually isolated except for the daily speedboat and ferry which connect the sleepy island and its neighbors.
The early-morning light found me seated by my desk, carefully balancing my chair on its back legs with the Doctrine and Covenants propped on my lap. I commenced reading the 105th section [D&C 105]. My eyes skimmed over the first two verses but stopped in the third verse. I reread: “But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints.” Wondering what exactly was meant by “as becometh saints,” my attention wandered from my book. Suddenly, my weight shifted backwards, causing me to lunge forward just in time to save myself from falling backwards. Falling backwards on the tatami mat that covered the floor in the Japanese apartment would probably not have been too painful, but as a proud, young missionary, I was happy not to disturb my senior companion by falling on top of him and his bedroll which lay behind me. Outside, a cheery cricket greeted the morning rays, while the insects in a neighboring rice paddy orchestrated a lively production of a summer serenade.
After my companion and I ate breakfast, I began studying the priesthood discussion which I was to teach later that week. I slowly began to vocalize the sentences. It was always amazing how much harder it was to vocalize the Japanese language compared to the rapidity I prided myself in when I merely ran the phrases through my head. The humidity seemed to intensify as I strained to remember the words necessary to explain the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. As I carefully tried to recall the perplexing sentence structure, I heard the door slide open from the outside of the large Japanese house that we used as a church house. With no cheerful greeting coming from the intruder, I realized that Brother Shinooki, the new deaf member, had come to pay one of his frequent visits. Brother Shinooki was a small, thin man, who rode his antiquated bicycle on his daily rounds. His house was a small, humble shanty at the end of a precariously steep path which carefully crept up a small, rugged hill outside of Sumoto. His life of solitary living must have enhanced his eagerness to make friends, which was not quelled by his deafness. Brother Shinooki had met the missionaries previous to my arrival in Awaji and had become attached to the friendly, Christian foreigners. With the help of a member from Osaka who knew sign language, Brother Shinooki was taught the restored gospel and received the blessings of baptism. Even though my ability to communicate with the deaf was lacking, I did enjoy my attempts to communicate with my deaf friend. By charade-like hand motions and simple pictures, we were able to acquaint ourselves to an amazing degree. Still, since he was unable to vocally communicate and considering Brother Shinooki’s simple mind, I often wondered about the depth of the testimony and understanding of the gospel principles which lay behind his big, warm smile.
It was an extremely hot day. Realizing that study possibilities were diminished by Brother Shinooki’s jubilant presence, my companion and I decided to walk with him to the neighboring store for an ice cream bar in order to fellowship the deaf member and also to give ourselves an extra boost before braving the humid island in search of souls prepared for our cherished message. The three of us each bought a bar and took cover in the shade of an old wooden building with its heat-singed front offering small protection to its three unusual guests. The ice-cream bars did not even taste exceptionally delicious, but they were inexpensive, and this made them irresistible. If one were lucky, after eating the ice cream substitute from his stick, he would find the Japanese symbols “atari” impressed on the stick and this could allow the proud owner to exchange the naked stick for another ice cream bar at no extra cost. The chance of finding one of these coveted sticks became more and more enticing as the temperature rose higher and higher. As if following an instinctive ritual, I ate the frozen substance around the stick leaving a thin white ice cream covering over the area of the potential “atari.” The last important bite always informed me whether or not the next ice cream bar would be free or come out of my money supply. As I gave the last, important bite, my tongue slid over the smooth stick. My eyes only reconfirmed that the stick was indeed smooth, without any Japanese symbols engraved in the wood. My companion, I noticed, shared the same fate, having no magic word on his bare stick. To our amused dismay, Brother Shinooki was luckier than either of us. The “atari” characters proudly adorned his ice cream stick. As my companion and I covetously eyed the stick held by Brother Shinooki, we glanced at each other as if to share our condolences.
Our deaf friend was happy to find his uncovered treasure. Brother Shinooki’s face glowed, and he smiled at my companion and me. Without a second thought, Brother Shinooki decisively took the stick, jumped into the narrow street, and handed the cherished stick to a young boy who was lazily passing on his bicycle. As if our deaf friend’s smile was contagious, the small boy’s face burst into instant delight as he grabbed the stick and headed to the store to claim his frozen treat. Brother Shinooki returned to his two humbled missionary friends. Though not realized by our friend, he had become the teacher of the moment, teaching true unselfishness. Sharply, I realized that Brother Shinooki understood what was meant by imparting one’s substance “as becometh saints.” We realized that although a person may be unable to vocally bear his testimony, he is not impaired in his ability to live it. Quietly, the communication barrier melted, and the three of us shared a moment of total communication—a moment which cannot be described by words, but can only be understood through the heart.