July 16, 2020 – Roger W. Lowther
Mayuko Shono, or Mayu for short, is a visual artist here in Tokyo. With the spread of COVID-19, like everyone else, she was stuck at home, with no way to share her art and no way to make a living. What bothered her most, though, was that people were hurting all around her. She wanted to do something, but didn’t know what she could do.
One day, her mother said, “Mayu, I think you should make masks.”
The thought never crossed her mind. She didn’t know the first thing about working with fabric. She had never sewn a button, and had certainly never worked with a sewing machine.
But everyone needed masks. Maybe she was the one to provide them!
I don’t know what the situation is like where you are, but here in Tokyo there are very few stores with masks. Those that have them run out within minutes, due to insanely long lines of people ready to pounce as soon as doors opens.
Can you imagine being a working mother, standing in line for hours with children, for something you may or may not be able to get? Not me. Not with my children.
Mayu realized, “I want to help these people.”
Providentially, just a few months before, she received a big financial gift from the United States from someone who wanted to support her art.
Now she knew what she was going to do with that money!
She went to the store, bought some fabric, yarn, and thread. Denim works best at blocking the virus, the internet told her. Through trial and error, and many YouTube videos later, she made a mask. And then another. And then another.
Now, she had to get them to people. She pictured herself standing on a street corner, with a musician to attract people, and handing out masks to everyone.
Then one night as she was going to bed, she felt God speak to her. “Mayu, focus on the people around you. Love your neighbors. Love your family. Love your friends.”
Just like that, project Love Your Neighbor was born.
She stitched the initials “LYN” on every mask. She made an accompanying sticker with the logo. She included a hashtag, so people could follow it on social media. She included a scripture reference to Matthew 22:39.
“Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
With the help of friends, Mayu distributed hundreds of masks in her neighborhood, sometimes with handwritten notes.
“Anata ha aisareteimasu. (You are loved.)”
Hundreds posted pictures wearing their “LYN” masks. Word of the project spread. Messages poured in.
“It was a full-time job just responding to everyone!” Mayu told me.
What is really cool about this story is how it connected people. It was the fashion brand everyone was talking about, and wanted to be part of the group.
“What does LYN mean?” they said.
“Apparently it’s a reference to something Jesus said, about loving your neighbor,” someone else said.
“Wow, that’s so cool,” they said. “I’m wearing a mask of ‘love.’”
Mayu started getting personal messages from young women who were in very real trouble, became a counseling guru for them. The masks put her in a position to build deep relationships with people.
From others, she got notes.
“My 18-year-old son has a disability. I couldn’t get him to wear a mask, but he would cough in public and make people feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t take him outside or anywhere. But now, thanks to your mask, he doesn’t want to take it off. Thank you!”
“My mom has a hard heart. She never compliments anyone, but when she received your mask she said, ‘Yasashii ko ne,’ which means ‘What a kind person!’ Your gift had a huge impact on her.”
Love Your Neighbor project is a real and tangible expression of God’s love. God’s love is abundant. God’s love is free. It cannot be paid for.
Yet, in the case of the masks, someone had to pay! Donation money ran out. She worried about ending the project. Cost of postage alone was adding up, as she made daily trips to the post office.
She could have charged people money for the masks. She could have made a nice business that way. But the gift was an important part of the message. Fortunately, gifts for her began to come in.
“So many people loved me and blessed me through this project,” Mayu said.
Through Love Your Neighbor, God loves through art. The art is not just the masks. We, ourselves, are the masks. We are God’s timely-given hand-crafted masks for people.
“We are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
During this crisis when we have been a danger to one another, Mayu found a creative way to both counteract the spread of the disease and to end fear of one another.
To love one another.
To bless one another.
God is working through the arts in a time like this to share his great love for us through each other.
“I believe art is key to sharing God’s love in Japan,” Mayu said. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity God gave me to show it. I’m not sure what comes next, but for now, I will keep making masks and leave the rest to him.”
You can find out more about Mayu’s ministry and visit her online store at:
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