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Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-walking-in-beach-509127/

By Bethany Panian Ho

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost,”
­— J.R.R. Tolkien

From my very first chapter book I have been a re-reader of stories. My mom read Sterling North’s Rascal (funnily enough, a popular anime in Japan) to my little brother and me when I was in the first or second grade. When she finished the book, I loved it so much that I immediately wanted to go back into the story and experience it by myself. I have been voraciously re-reading ever since. Each story is as comforting as getting coffee with a dear friend.

The Praise Community Church family prays for Bethany on her last Sunday after serving with the church 11 years. 
The Praise Community Church family prays for Bethany on her last Sunday after serving with the church 11 years. 

The beginning of 2022 I entered into the biggest upheaval of my life. After being my home for eleven years, I was preparing to leave Japan with no clear plans to return. On top of that, in the throes of reentry and reverse-culture shock, I planned on getting married two months after my return to the States. It was not at all surprising to me then that my soul started craving the companionship of a certain Fellowship. As I picked up The Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time, my heart resonated afresh with Gandalf’s poem about Aragorn.

Bethany's last foreseeable Shinkansen (bullet train) ride, departing from Sendai for Tokyo.Bethany's last foreseeable Shinkansen (bullet train) ride, departing from Sendai for Tokyo.

My last term in Japan under the weight of Covid did not seem very glittery; we who live by the Spirit are certainly wanderers; and I felt keenly my need of strong, deep roots as I transplanted from one land to another.

My dad was an Eagle Scout, so inevitably we grew up camping when I was a kid. When it was time to pack up and go home, he taught us to “leave the campsite cleaner than you found it,” and we would scour around the site trying to throw away bits of trash that weren’t even ours.

That’s much harder to do on the mission field. Debriefing with a counselor in SIM, she encouraged me saying,

“You don’t like to leave a job undone, but the truth is that this work will never be finished.”

Now of course we know that this work does have an end date: when Jesus returns. But He is God in heaven, and He does all that He pleases. The truth is that we will often have moments of wrestling with disappointment, leaving work “unfinished,” waiting for the perfect fulfillment of His sure word. Leaving is hard, no matter when it happens. Saying goodbye is hard.

I have watched God do incredible things in this part of His household at Praise Community Church (PCC) in Sendai, and He has used this family to do incredible things in me. We have moved out of borrowing a smoky bar on Sunday mornings to a space that is all ours to use throughout the week. I have seen two Japanese sisters make decisions to go back to school and study ministry full-time. Our church’s homeless support went from care packages on Sundays to a weekly Bible study. Men have chosen to get off the streets, and several have given their lives to Jesus. Brothers and sisters keep choosing Jesus through their own trials and hardships.

Back in February, I gave my last message at PCC (in Japanese!). I thanked my Japanese brothers and sisters for the spiritual gifts they have blessed me with: deep respect for people, a strong sense of responsibility, and perseverance. They are gifts that I will carry with me the rest of my life.

My role as missionary in Japan has been to support the local church and to empower the work of my pastor. The work isn’t finished, but I hope that God has brought us all a little closer. Then in a few months, I look forward to stepping into a new role, serving in the recruiting department to equip new wanderers, aka missionaries, to go themselves.

My last week in Japan, I reached the chapter titled, “The Breaking of the Fellowship,” in The Fellowship of the Ring. Finding myself in the story, I wept thinking about my own Fellowship in Japan I knew I would soon be missing. But through the same story God encouraged me: He continues to hold all our days in His hands, and we continue to be on the same journey together in His Kingdom.

Forming a new Fellowship: Bethany and Josh viewing the cherry blossoms together in St. Louis.
Forming a new Fellowship: Bethany and Josh viewing the cherry blossoms together in St. Louis.

Bethany Ho


Bethany Panian HoBethany first came to Japan in February 2011 to teach English at a school in Sendai. After experiencing the Tohoku Triple Disaster on March 11, she prayed and knew that God wanted her to stay. She taught at the school for four years and was also involved in a local church during that time. Her last year teaching, she felt God calling her to serve full-time with the church, and God opened up the doors for her to partner with Asian Access and the local church in Sendai. She served as a field missionary with the church in Sendai from 2016-2022, and she is now serving in the SIM Recruiting Department with a heart for multiplying the harvest workers sent to Japan.

 

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