Thoughts about post-missionary life


, , , ,

It’s been a year since we left Japan. There is so much I could say about our adjustment to life in the US. Overall it’s been a fairly positive experience. We are thankful for God’s provision of an absolutely amazing job for my husband as an IT business analyst. Our daughter is thriving here and we are making friends with people from many different countries. In the same day, I am able to speak Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish and German – so cool.

I think that I appreciate things here so much more deeply than the average American. I revel in having a lot of space and a big backyard for our daughter. I really enjoy having a dishwasher again, runs to Trader Joe’s and Costco still make me giddy, and I love the overall openness and friendliness of folks here.

After we left Japan we moved to Arlington, Texas. Before Texas here I had not lived in the US since 2008. While living in Nagoya, I met my husband in 2009 and we moved to Germany for a few years after we got married. After that we moved to Ishinomaki, Japan and lived there for almost three years. It has been a long while since I have lived a “normal” American life.

So, a year later, here are some of my thoughts about what has been difficult, painful, stressful and embarrassing about adjusting to life after having served as a missionary overseas.

Feeling like Frodo. How did Frodo manage to return to the Shire after saving the world from destruction? Like him, you’ve had this amazing experience. Your life is changed. Your eyes are opened. You were attacked spiritually unlike never before. You have a greater understanding of the spiritual needs of unreached people groups. You learned another language. You worked alongside your teammates and cried together, prayed together, and worked through conflict. But your family and friends, while excited for your adventures, cannot and will not be able to understand. It is a delicate balance between eagerly “sharing about my time in Japan” and knowing they really aren’t going to get it 100%. And it’s okay that they can’t or won’t. Don’t expect them to be able to do so.

That’s the American church? Blechh! Many times we’ve experienced disappointment regarding what our “church” experience would look like after we returned. I suppose I thought I would come back to the US (“the land of milk and honey”) and plug right into a church, have lots of friends, fellowship with believers, enjoy good Bible teaching in English again, etc. Well, even though we are living in the Bible belt it has been so hard to find a home church. It’s also been awkward to be back in church. It’s hard not to judge, especially seeing how spoiled American Christians seem to be and how expensive the buildings are. Also, seeing many churches who lack a focus on missions can be depressing.

Adjusting to being a “regular” person again. I really hate that there is a temptation as a missionary to think of yourself as a “very special person.” As a missionary, when you share a status update on Facebook or a blog post, you may start to expect that everyone is watching and cares about your every move. People were following what you were doing…or so you thought.  It can be hard to adjust to no longer being the center of anyone’s attention. Not even your ex-mission board. There are no more newsletters about what you are doing for God. No more anything. If your identity was wrapped up in being able to call yourself a missionary, coming back will be even harder.

Talking excessively about your time overseas. I recently met an older couple who had just left the missionary field in Kenya. I was shocked at how many times they said things like, “In Kenya we…” or “When we were living in Kenya…” “Oh, just like in Kenya!” I was thinking to myself, “Oh my word, is that how we sound to people when we talk about Japan?” Most people have no clue about life in Japan and are not able to relate at all in any shape or form to our experiences.

Wondering if we’ll ever fit in here again. Yes, I do feel like a freak sometimes. It can be super awkward. I have been profoundly changed by my experiences in Japan and it can make it hard for me to make friends here with people who have never lived overseas. Japan was such a huge part of my life and I naturally want my friends to love Japan, too. But hardly anyone here gives a rip about Japan, no more so than any other country. It can be isolating and sad, but it is reality. I often fail to show a high level of interest in other countries, so I cannot expect others to be naturally interested in Japan or want to hear about our experiences.

Other random struggles:

Gravitating towards Japanese people living in the US. They get us. They don’t think we’re weird. And we can speak Japanese with them.

Feeling homesick for Japan. I hated not being in Japan during cherry blossom season and missing the coverage of the Kumamoto earthquakes.

Feeling lost, confused, even deeply depressed.

Constantly comparing life in the US to life in Japan with my husband. We have said the phrases, “This would never happen in Japan?” and “Can you imagine doing this in Japan?!” a gazillion times.

Going from “sacrificing everything for Jesus and going to Japan” to just being a regular person.

Feeling a little jealous of those who are still in Japan and doing amazing work.

Feeling guilty that you’re not a missionary anymore.

Feeling guilty for sometimes enjoying that you’re not in Japan anymore.

Feel free to chime in with comments or thoughts. I’ll try to write a follow-up post later.


We left!

It’s done. We left Ishinomaki. How do I feel? Tired and weary in body and soul but thankful for so many sweet times to say goodbye. For over a week, we spent day after day driving to people’s home and having “one last visit” with lots of dear folks while simultaneously trying to pack up our stuff. So much talking and sharing. So many hugs (in a land where people don’t really hug) and even some kisses. The moving part was really stressful during the last six hours; I nearly broke down from having no mental energy left to pack the last of our things. Wednesday morning we said our final goodbyes to our missionary friends (photo below) and drove from Ishinomaki to Iwaki in Fukushima-ken where we stayed for a night. We arrived in Tokyo on Thursday evening.

Saying goodbye at the Be One house

We are now in Tokyo at the Reach Global guest house in Higashikurume until Matthias has his final interview at the American Embassy on May 26th. Until then we’ll be resting during the madness of Golden Week and then traveling to Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. I am thankful for some time to rest and refresh at the lovely and spacious guest house here. The weather in Tokyo is spectacular and we have plenty of space here for Sophie to play and crawl around which is a huge blessing.

I’m looking forward to our last couple of weeks in Japan and praying all goes well with our interview at the Embassy. Hopefully we’ll be moving to the US, green card in hand, sometime in early June!

Life with a “gaijin” baby in Japan

Aside from missing our beloved friends, I am going to miss the fun of having a “gaijin” (foreign) baby in Japan. Everywhere we go folks start talking to us because of our crazy, hammy, outgoing daughter. She is truly a people person, smiling and waving at strangers. She makes life fun. We have met so many new friends thanks to Sophie. She brings joy to folks around her, especially the elderly. Here are a few photos of our funny little girl, Sophie Miya.

I love oranges!

“You think this thing can hold me? Haha!”

She loves going for walks in her stroller!

Stroller shot #2

This is Sophie first thing in the morning – she pops up with a huge grin and giggles!

Look at me with my bowl!

All smiles with the sakura (cherry blossoms)

Missions as Fasting

Pardon the long silence! We have been busy with saying goodbyes, packing/ giving away our things as we get ready for our big move to the US. We have an interview at the American Embassy on May 26th and should be able to fly to the US sometime in early June. As we head back to the States, my mind wanders to the wonderful things that await us there. Family. Friends. Worship services and singing praise songs in English. Mexican food. Going to the zoo. Not having to sleep on a futon. Beaches. Lots of space (Japan is so cramped). Driving a car again. These are the things I have missed terribly and haven’t seen or done in a while. To be honest, I miss worship in English so badly! I miss driving like crazy (I don’t have a license here). I long for space for my baby girl to be able to play and crawl and move (our apartment here is so incredibly tiny and cramped). I miss beauty (because of the tsunami the town we live in looks pretty awful). What do I long for the most? The lifting of the heaviness that I feel daily because of demonic oppression that hangs over this nation. It’s so heavy that sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe.

In light of the things we’ve missed during our time in Japan I’ve been thinking often about a message I heard by my former team leader, Michael Oh, entitled “Missions as Fasting.” He shared it at a Desiring God conference in 2010. It’s probably the most influential sermon I’ve heard in regards to becoming a missionary. For those who are crazy enough to pursue the mission field, a long and sometimes painful fast awaits from things that most believers living in the US take for granted: it’s a fasting from family, friends, celebrations, many favorite and family foods, church life, and so much more. The fast might last decades…so, does it get easier? I wouldn’t know from personal experience but if I had to guess I would say no, it doesn’t.

I just read a blog post in which the missionary writes, “When you are on the mission field you give up many things that mattered to you in the past.” I am just a newbie on the mission field (5.5 years in Japan) but I often think of what the long-term missionaries here in Japan give up and it pains me to see it. Here is a very short list of things that people I know have given up to serve God in Japan:

1) not seeing your grandkids grow up
2) missing Christmas and Easter celebrations with family (every year!) and all that goes with it – gift exchanges, Easter Egg hunts, games, the big celebration meals, etc.
3) missing birthdays and graduations of family members
4) not experiencing church life in the US/ fellowship/ worship in English
5) not being able to see siblings except every few years (or less)
6) not being able to care for elderly parents or grandparents
7) missing wedding celebrations
8) not seeing your friends’ children grow up
9) losing touch with dear friends (as hard as you try not to)
10) enduring regular bouts of depression (Japan is a depressing place, really!)
11) seeing your kids once a year (if you’re lucky)

A missionary I know lives in a poor country in Southeast Asia. Her freezer just broke and she lost all the ready-made meals she had been saving for a rainy day. Her four small kids have no playground or even trees to climb. Poor air and water quality. Endless allergies. She writes of her kids, In all the years my kids have been saying airport goodbyes (their whole lives), today’s was the hardest. The older they get, the sweeter their memories are with our far-away loved ones, but the sadness of being apart (and the reality of it) hits them harder too. Our hours of travel were punctuated by many weepy moments for my big girls, missing their cousins and asking why we can’t live in the same country. I told them, “welcome to my life.” I told them I’ve had weepy airplane rides as long as I can remember, always leaving loved ones somewhere. And for as much as I’ve cried, I’d never change a thing. There’s such a beautiful fullness that comes hand-in-hand with the loneliness of loving people all over the world.” 

Another guy I know told me he actually walks through sewage (poop) because that’s what life is like in the slums. My missionary friends in Tokyo are only able to travel back to their home countries once every ten years or less because it’s so expensive. These folks chose a missionary life because they were called to it. It’s an honor to be called.

Is giving up/ enduring these things hard? Yes, really hard. It’s hard. It’s lonely and alienating.Even when a missionary does get to spend a holiday at home with family it doesn’t always feel the way it used to. My friend Sue wrote on her blog about going “home” to the US for Thanksgiving:

“I realize that part of this could be feeling almost like a “guest” back here.  This is my beloved family, but we have not been a part of their shared experiences on Thanksgiving for many years.  They have created many special ways of celebrating that have become “theirs”.  So we are trying to learn their ways and adapt.  What should be very familiar is also new and different from what our own recent experiences have been.  Also, having a back injury this week kept me away from the football field and out of the kitchen… I was sad not to be able to help more with the preparations and the bonding task of dishes (honest – I really was sad!).

I am often asked here what I miss about Japan.  Japan is our home.  It is where God has placed us, and He has generously provided there a wonderful body of friends, which changes often, but they are our Japan family.  We have created many memories; many ways of doing things which are often creative! — all of these things make Japan our home.

But the reality is that neither of these places are home.  That there will likely always be this sense of discontent and longing until heaven… for that is where life started;  that is the ultimate Home.  I don’t get it all, but I know that somewhere deep in my there is a longing for that Home, for that Celebration, for that Family.  All of these earthly celebrations are wonderful foretastes of what is waiting for us.”

I don’t think I really realized or thought about all these things before I came to Japan this time around. I was always a short-term missionary and knew my time in Japan would end after a few years. As we leave Japan, I am very aware of what missionaries here give up and sacrifice. I admire them so much for seeing their sacrifice as a very small thing. I believe that I am going to treasure every experience we have in the US so much more because I have lived in Japan. As I watch our new life unfold in the US, I want to have a thankful heart and never take anything for granted.

Big Family news

I recently posted this on my Facebook page:

“Big changes ahead. As my mother’s condition has continued to worsen (dementia and/or Alzheimer’s), we have decided to move stateside to assist with her care. Two weeks ago we mailed the last of our green card application documents and we’re waiting for an interview at the American Embassy. We don’t have a departure date yet but we’re aiming for May. Before we leave Japan we’ll spend time in both Tokyo and Nagoya to say lots of goodbyes. We feel both sadness and excitement to see what God has for us in the next stage of our lives.”

There is so much I could say about the whole thing. First of all, I think of how happy I’ll be to see my dear mother enjoying time with Sophie, the grandchild who she longs to hold. I also often think to myself, will I be able to adjust to life back in the US? (I haven’t actually lived in the US in over six years – I lived in Nagoya from 2008-2009, got married in 2010 and moved to Germany for two years, and we moved to Ishinomaki in 2012).

To be honest, the hardest part about leaving is thinking of saying goodbyes to people and not knowing if or when I’ll see them again. I have a special place in my heart for the elderly folks at the nursing home who we’ve come to love so very much. Saying goodbye to them will be the hardest due to their age. I am certain the next time we visit several of them won’t be there anymore. And just thinking about that makes me want to cry.

We don’t know where in the US where we’ll be living but we have some ideas. Both of our top two choices have full immersion German preschools/ kindergarten which I think is awesome. We do know we won’t be living in NJ (where my mom lives) due to many factors including how expensive NJ is and lack of job opportunities. We would ideally like to move my mom where we are at some point although that seems like a very daunting task. Wherever we do wind up we’d love to continue to serve and reach out to Japanese folks. Some of my closest friends have been Japanese who I met in the US. I am really excited about our future and see what God has in store.

3/11 & other happenings

I woke up on the morning of 3/11 at 2am and couldn’t fall back to sleep until around 6am. I tried my best to pray for friends who lost loved ones four years before. I honestly think I could actually feel the pain in the air, it was that palpable. So many people here lost their loved ones on that day in such a horrific manner. I am haunted by a woman at our house church who cried out two years ago on 3/11, “Why? Why did my mother die like that? What was running through her head right before she knew her life was about to end in the depths of those black waves?”

In the morning of 3/11 I visited a friend who lost over 20 relatives in the tsunami. I have to confess she didn’t seem very upset but rather quiet about the whole matter. We watched the coverage on TV and she didn’t say much about the matter, but I know she enjoyed our visit. I think that Japanese people are doing their very best to move on and not really give too much thought to what happened. For the most part, we have seen that folks just want to move on and rebuild their lives. As a Westerner, so much of me thinks it would almost be better to see some tears shed, but this is a culture that does not easily allow people to mourn and wail and throw ashes on their heads like we read about in Scripture.

The city of Ishinomaki rang the siren at 2:46pm (when the massive earthquake hit) to remember the deceased. I clung to my sweet daughter and wept for those who lost so much on that day. I prayed and sang, “Kyrie Eleison,” a beautiful song I learned in high school choir which means, “Lord, have mercy.”

The Be One house church network has hosted an event on the evening of 3/11 for the past three years. It was somber and short and as I looked around the room, I felt deeply honored to be present. I watched my husband pray with a man whose wife died in the tsunami. My friend Y, who I invited to come, was weeping as several Japanese Christians laid hands on her and prayed for her. “Y” will soon have to leave the temporary housing unit she’s lived at for the past three years and it’s terrifying to think of leaving behind the people who she considers her family. Everyone will go their separate ways and it’s very scary.

Singing a few songs

One of the men in the back row lost his wife in the tsunami

My friend “Y” with our special friend, Mr. T, an ex-homeless man who now loves Jesus Christ

In other news, we attended a sweet Hinamatsuri festival, Girls’ Day, at our favorite nursing home where we’ve done English time.

In front of the doll display

Being fawned on by the old folks and staff

Sophie’s first time in a kimono

In other news, our dear teammates, Katherine and Jonathan Long, will be leaving Japan this week and heading to the Fresno, CA area. We are very sad to even think about them leaving! It certainly doesn’t seem real but it’s happening whether we like it or not. We are praying their transition to the US will be smooth and that God will provide them with work in California.

First post of 2015


, , ,

Yes, indeed, it really has been almost four months since I wrote on this blog. How time flies! There is much to report but I’ll stick to one topic for now.

First, we’re happy to report that the Megumi Project website is up and running. What is the Megumi Project? From the website: “Megumi Project (Megumi means grace) is an income generating social enterprise that transforms vintage kimonos into beautiful products. It is our desire to be the hands of Christ sharing His love in a tangible way. Our prayer is that Megumi Project will be a place of community, added income, healing, and hope for a new life and a new Onagawa. As you purchase and use Megumi products, please pray with us for God to restore hope to this place and that Megumi (grace) would overflow in this city.”

Kato-san (our design manager) and Katherine, missionary from California

Katherine unpacking several boxes of donated kimonos

A few kimonos on display at the team trailer (the workplace for the Megumi Project)

 Staff holding products for sale

Ayami modeling a straight scarf

Nozomi Project staff modeling Megumi scarves and Nozomi jewelry

Group photo of the Megumi Project and Nozomi Project ladies

Please go to the Megumi Project website and take a look at the lovely items for sale or “like” the Megumi Project on Facebook here.

Nozomi Project’s Two Year Anniversary

October 2nd marked the second year anniversary for the Nozomi Project. I visited this past week to check out their new lines of jewelry and bought a lovely necklace. They have even started making custom-made bracelets with charms made from broken pottery shards.

From their Facebook page: “Beauty from Brokenness… Nozomi Project is a social enterprise employing and bringing hope to women in Ishinomaki, Japan. We are making jewelry from broken pottery left in the wake of the 2011 tsunami. In celebration of our two year anniversary this week, we have revised our website and come out with some awesome new styles. Thanks for checking and spreading the word! Products and staff stories are on our website.”

Ten things that your missionary will not tell you

I recommend reading this article by Joe Holman, missionary in Bolivia. It’s very helpful to understand the struggles of a missionary. I really appreciate his honesty, even if I don’t agree with every point.

From the blog post: “I would say that out of all the negatives to living on the mission field, this is the worse one: saying good-bye. Our lives become one of a constant good-bye.  We are saying good-bye to fellow missionaries leaving for the States. We have to say good-bye to our children. Denise and I now have four kids living in the USA while we remain in Bolivia.  When we visit for furlough and see grandpa and grandma, we have to say good-bye again to go back to the field.  It stinks.”

I have been thinking often about a sweet missionary friend who just left her elderly father behind in the US to come to Japan. Her heart is broken to see her formerly brilliant father failing with dementia; it hurts tremendously that she and her kids can’t be there at her father’s side (he is in good hands with her siblings, though).

The reality is that missionaries sacrifice a lot, and not being with family is the hardest for many. Missionaries miss out on so many things, especially special times with children and grandchildren. It’s tempting to wonder if it’s all worth it, but we always come back to Jesus’ promise that “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

I truly believe that we’ll get the answer to the question, “Was it worth it?” on Judgment Day when we receive our crowns to cast at Jesus’ feet. It will be so worth it to hear Jesus tell us He was pleased that we obeyed the call to leave our homeland for the sake of the gospel. Can I even imagine such bliss?

Very belated summer update

We have no reasonable excuse why it’s been four months since this blog has been updated. I can’t even blame parenthood because we’ve been blessed with a sweet and “easy” baby who sleeps and eats well and has a cheerful, happy-go-lucky disposition. We hope to be more regular with our updates!

Here is our summer in photos:

Matthias’ mother Ute came to Ishinomaki from Germany to meet her new granddaughter.

Ute and Sophie

Ute and Matthias

Ute and Sophie

Ute loved eating sushi!

Exciting news:
At long last, the team trailer house is complete!
We are so thankful that our trailer house, located in the heart of Onagawa, turned out beautifully. It is very sturdy, well-insulated, and bright, complete with a nice-looking deck – it’s being used almost every day!

We’ve already had several barbeques

The guys grilling

Lunch at the trailer

Worship time

“German” dinner party (cooked by Ute) at the trailer

German potato salad, noodle salad, fresh tomatoes, cabbage salad, and more!

Family shot at the beach

All in all it was a busy summer full of special times with our friends in Ishinomaki, Onagawa, Sendai, and Yamagata.