Exactly 20 Years Ago
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of first arriving in Japan
At this very moment on September 6, 1987 I was walking out of customs at Narita Airport in Tokyo to explore Japan for the first time. I had just finished college at the University of North Carolina, where I became a Christian. At the end of my senior year, I signed up for a 1-year stint as an English teaching missionary with Asian Access (formerly LIFE MInistries) in Tokyo. My life would never be the same.
Walking out of the customs doors into the airport arrival area made the reality hit: "This wasn't Kansas anymore; I was in a totally different country. . ."
Questions raced through my mind. How would I respond to living in Japan? Would I be homesick? Will I make any impact in the lives of my students? How will the experience change me?
Of course, the passing of two decades provides perspective. God not only sustained me through that first year in Japan, but also instilled a burden in me for the Japanese people to come to know him. Much of the last 20 years of my life has been invested in one way or another—mostly as a mobilizer and trainer of other missionaries—in helping to build His kingdom in this nation (i.e., people group).
Fast forward twenty years and our family has just arrived in Japan, passing through the very same customs doors I walked through in 1987 and many times since. Much about the country has changed, and much is the same. Similar questions have crossed my mind lately, but now they primarily deal with how my family will fare in Japan.
The dominant theme in my heart the last 2 days has been deep concern for my kids. The ramifications of our decision to live in Japan for the next three years seem infinitely higher for Zack (8) and Ellie (5), than for their parents. It's one thing to move here in 1987 as a single adult, 22 years old. But transition can be hardest on kids. I understand this all too well, having moved as a 1st grader and a 9th grader myself—but even that was not to another country.
The pain and anguish "inflicted" on my kids is hard to swallow; I feel at times like I'm the inflicter. Yet, a big-picture perspective tells me that they will one day thank me—in due time. It may take a while, but they'll grow more comfortable here in Japan. They'll learn the language (and be so grateful). They'll make new friends. The price indeed is high—the investment, grand; but we trust that God will use this experience in our lives to make us more Christlike, more dependent on him.
Is it worth it? Yes, most definitely.
And in the process of shaping us, He'll even use us to be His presence in this neighborhood.
Our daughter Ellie, who is attending a Japanese kindergarten ("yochien"), has graciously set aside her "likes" for many "dislikes," such as humidity and a school uniform that includes several hats, white socks and even bloomers. These things frankly embarrass her.
But with Jesus as her model, she set aside things she prefers like her friends in America, myriad conveniences, nice weather and her native English language simply because she's a missionary.
Her prayer two nights ago nicely summed up her heart attitude:
Please help me let my light shine to my teacher and
my new friends at school, so that they can see you in me.
Please help them learn about you from me.
In Jesus' Name, Amen.
With tears in my eyes, I kissed her good night and tucked her into bed.
Today, Ellie is wearing her new boots so that she can plant little seeds in the yochien vegetable garden with all of her new classmates. At five years of age, she understands that she is a seed planter for Jesus, spreading a far more valuable seed in a garden of hearts of people who don't know Him.
Well, that certainly provides the perspective I needed. Oh that I may be as good of a missionary as my kids.