I (Danielle) recently unearthed an old document I had written in fall 2003 after I had returned from serving for two years in Sendai. It was encouraging to read how God blessed my short time so greatly. It was truly a life-changing time in my life as a young Christian; I grew spiritually, I was challenged in my convictions, I was stretched beyond my capabilities, I learned to “lean on God” as I never had before, and I fell in love with the people of Japan. Truly, God is more than willing to use anyone who says, “Here I am, Lord – send me to Japan!”
The past two years (2001-2003) were the hardest of my life. I struggled with homesickness, culture shock, language barriers, loneliness, and conflicts with my roommate. I am thankful that God always sent some form of encouragement when I was feeling down, and that I had a spiritually mature mentor to talk to about my struggles. Here are a few examples of what it was like during the first year:
-I couldn’t understand the worship service except for words like “God,” “Jesus,” or “Amen”
-I couldn’t read or write (which meant I couldn’t read food labels or directions on the back of packages explaining how to cook food)
-I couldn’t talk to people at church without an interpreter
-I couldn’t talk to people about Jesus unless they spoke English well
-I felt like my personality had been taken away and all that was left was a strange and mute outsider (gai-jin)
It was so difficult for me, but I truly thank God that during the second year, I finally began to understand and speak lots of Japanese! It was like a whole world opened up, and I could finally talk to people about Jesus even if they didn’t speak English. After 20 months in Japan, I was finally able share something about God entirely in Japanese and it felt marvelous! God helped me with my homesickness, gave me many new friends, and taught my roommate and I that we had to learn to solve conflict God’s way (which is often the more painful way). My biggest problem after the language was the culture. To the very end, I had to pray so much to have a good attitude about the culture. So often I had a bad attitude! It was so easy to criticize the Japanese ways – I strongly felt that they were too polite and formal, too shy and quiet. They weren’t honest about their feelings, like I wanted them to be. They rarely hug (in fact one friend told us she had never been hugged by her parents). I was so upset seeing their huge idols to Buddha and shrines and temples to the false gods. But I had to begin to learn, and I am still learning, that God called me to love those people, no matter how different they were from me. I couldn’t expect them to be American, or to change for me. I had to change for them – and learn from them!
I felt like I could see God’s hand moving in incredible ways to allow to meet certain people – I believe He had especially prepared these friends for me to love and serve. He led me to meet so many people in such mysterious ways. In case you don’t already know, I was born in El Salvador and adopted as an infant. To my surprise, I met two Salvadoran young men in a Japanese class and introduced them to many Japanese and American friends (in fact both brothers married two of my friends). These brothers inspired me to return to my birth country to work in an orphanage. At the nearby laundromat, I met a young Japanese woman who had been bullied by classmates and was cutting herself. Her mother was a wreck and by God’s grace I was able to comfort her with my limited Japanese. The mother concluded that our meeting at the laundromat was “God’s plan” and I later introduced them to Japanese Christians. I met a lovely Mexican couple who was going through tremendous suffering, having lost members of their immediate family. I met a lonely Korean Christian woman who had lived in the US for a long time at a sunrise Easter service and was able to introduce her to other Christians; she even became part of a ladies Bible study which she still attends to this day. I responded to an ad for a Spanish teacher, and it turned out that the woman lived four minutes away and was a Christian married to a non-Christian who needed friendship. I could go on and on about all the international friends and Japanese friends God brought into my life during such a short time, but there just isn’t time to do so. It was so wonderful to see how sovereign God is over everything! God used me in spite of myself and my weakness. In His wisdom, I was there at the right time and He led me to those who were lonely and needed a friend.