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Stepping into Silence, Walking a Mile in the Shoes of the Persecuted

The Stepping into Silence exhibit.
Stepping into Silence exhibit.

Shusaku Endo’s Silence is a jarring story about martyrdom, posing the question to its Christ-following readers: When faced with the choice of renouncing faith or facing death, what would you do?

For the past month, the Regent University community has had the opportunity to engage with this question through the meditative exhibit, Stepping into Silence, featuring historical artifacts and artistic responses to the violent persecution of Christ-followers in 17th century Japan.

The exhibit came to the University Library on the brink of the 2016 film adaptation of the novel starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. It features the artwork of Makoto Fujimura, collections inspired by the Kakure Karishitan (hidden Christians).

It also includes government items displaying the illegality of Christianity at the time as well as a rare paper fumi-e: a depiction of Christ. Those living in the time-period were required to step on the fumi-e as an act of denying allegiance to the Christian faith.

Earlier this week, members of Regent University’s community discussed Endo’s novel in a book study led by School of Divinity professor Dr. Dale Coulter.

As a historian, Coulter was intrigued by the story and was drawn in by one haunting question:

“As an educator it hit me on multiple levels,” he said. “What would I do in this situation? And where is God in these situations – because they do happen? How do we think of the providence of God in the midst of all of that, and what does it really mean to be a Christ-follower?”

Coulter explained that the story also made him reflect on the lives of those he deemed, perhaps, didn’t fully comprehend the trinity or have a scholastic approach to their faith – but who were willing to die for what they believed in.

He explained that the story is relevant for practicing Christians living in the United States, and that the story should be read to keep a healthy perspective on what persecution of the modern-day Church would really look like in this context.

The freedom of speech and religion, he said, is a gift that God has given the American churches.

“We haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to suffering for the Gospel. That’s what the Japanese Christians remind us of,” said Coulter. “We’ve never lived in a time where the government has tried to systematically exterminate Christianity. We should be thankful, we should be praising the Lord for that every day.”