For a long time, I felt out of the loop whenever Pokémon came up. It seemed like half the anime fans in my generation watched or played Pokémon growing up. Meanwhile, I didn’t watch anime until I was sixteen. My family didn’t have Cartoon Network, so I didn’t even watch dubbed anime in ignorance, like many of my friends. I never had a video game console, and none of my friends were into the card game. So whenever anime fans got nostalgic, I was left clueless.
I finally found the Pokémon anime on Netflix, researched which was the first season (Answer: Indigo League), and started watching. It’s definitely a kids’ show. I can’t say I’m a fan. But the tenth episode, “Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village,” managed to turn on my aniblogger brain, so here I am.
(Note that Netflix does not have the Japanese version of Pokémon. I have no idea how much liberty they took with the English script, but I’m going to plow ahead with the version I am most familiar with.)
In this episode, Ash, Misty, and Brock are lost in the woods after Ash led them down a “shortcut.” They come across a Pokemon and try to catch it, only to be fended off by a Bulbasaur. After stumbling into a few traps (and getting helped out of them), they finally arrive at a village full of Pokemon (which, by the way, is short for “pocket monsters”). The village, run by Melanie, is a sort of “health spa” in which Pokemon who have been injured or abandoned by their trainers can return to full health. It would be very easy for Pokemon trainers to take advantage of this and attack while they’re weak, so Bulbasaur has volunteered to protect the village.
After the main conflict of the episode is over, Melanie suggests that Bulbasaur join Ash. She explains that he can’t grow in the village. It’s too small. When the kids ask about the village’s protection, she responds:
It’s true that Bulbasaur has done a great job. Maybe too great a job. See, these Pokemon shouldn’t remain in this village forever and ever. After they recover, Pokemon are supposed to leave, but it’s too safe here, so none of them wants to go away. They don’t want to return to the outside world. But I think it’s important that all of them return to the wild. That’s where Pokemon belong. And hopefully someday they’ll find good trainers like you. Of course taking care of sick Pokemon will always be my mission. But I know my job isn’t finished until they return where they came from. So it is the day a Pokemon leaves that is most rewarding to me.
Pokemon aren’t supposed to stay where it’s safe. If they do, Melanie can’t consider their recovery to be complete—healthy Pokemon eventually move on to environments in which they can grow.
Christians are like Pokemon. Sometimes, we need rest in order to heal or prepare for work ahead (that’s what Sundays are often for). But eventually, we have to leave what’s safe and comfortable in order to grow, train, and fight.
Like Pokemon, we should be growing—”evolving,” so to speak (note that I used the little e). The New Testament often talks about maturity. The writer of Hebrews sounds a bit exasperated that he (or she—the writer is unknown) has to go over the basics about Christ again:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
Mature Christians can always benefit from meditating on basic truth about Jesus Christ, but they should be prepared for more difficult topics—more than that, they should be equipped to teach. To become mature, we can’t just passively listen to what their favorite pastors say—we have to be proactive, studying the Word, listening carefully to what others say, and questioning words and actions that don’t seem quite right.
From what I’ve gathered in the anime, Pokemon can’t “evolve” unless they see action. Good trainers know how to train their Pokemon and use them in battles in a way that they’ll gain strength, both in their current form and in order to “evolve” to their next form. Similarly, Christians can’t grow unless we see action. Sometimes, that means “training” in a relatively peaceful environment, like a Bible study—we need to confront any sins or false beliefs we’re holding onto, and that can be very uncomfortable, but we may not need to confront anyone or live out our faith in an obviously hostile environment. Sometimes, though, there’s something more challenging in front of us. Maybe it’s confronting a Christian brother or sister. Maybe it’s sharing your faith with an unbelieving friend. Maybe it’s standing firm in obedience at work or school when everyone else is minimizing a sin—whether that’s slacking off behind the manager’s back, cheating, or something else.
Many Christians are called to live out their faith in physically dangerous places—whether in their native country or as missionaries. But there are other types of trials and challenges, both small and large, and we’re not supposed to hide from them. Situations that are unsafe, uncomfortable, and even agonizingly painful are to be expected in a Christian’s life. And the Bible says we’re to welcome them—they’re opportunities to follow in Christ’s steps, to grow spiritually, and to bring glory to God (1 Peter 4:12-19). We are asked to give up our lives—not just possibly become martyrs, but to hand over our dreams, attachments, and values. We’re to be willing to give up everything that makes us feel comfortable, because Jesus Christ is giving us a new life—a new set of dreams, attachments, and values (Matthew 10:24-42).
I’m the cautious type. I like to be sure I can do something before I try it. I weigh the risks and try to predict what will happen. Job hunting right now is particularly stressful—Mom tells me that I shouldn’t keep disqualifying myself before giving the potential employers a chance to read my resume. It’s hard to remember to trust God’s hand in the process. I’d rather know exactly what I’m going to do, whether I’ll like it, when I’m going to do it, and where—like I did for the past three and a half years at a Christian university. But if I wanted an easy, predictable life, then I signed up under the wrong Lord.
Pokemon aren’t supposed to live in a “health spa” village forever, and Christians aren’t supposed to sit in a pew at church forever. Unlike the Pokemon, we don’t have to worry about facing the wild alone when we leave safety. We’re more like Bulbasaur at the end of the episode—except our trainer is a lot more reliable than Ash. We don’t know what roads he’ll take us on or what kinds of battles he’ll ask us to fight. He will ask us to do things we can’t do on our own. If we’re following Christ, the question isn’t if things will get hard but when. So if, like me, you’re in a place of rest right now, let’s thank God for it and take this time to study up on Scripture, pray, and be ready for every opportunity to serve others and to confront sin that threatens to entangle us. Confess with me any reluctance to trust God with your future. If you’re in a place where spiritual battles are obvious and daily, and you find yourself growing weary—be encouraged, friend. No matter how hard it is right now, God will use this for his glory—and for yours.
Don’t let comfort hold you back. It feels good in the short term, but we’re not made for easy “village” life. We’re made to grow, train, and fight in the service of God—all to glorify him and enjoy him forever.