I’d like to share a second except from an excellent article that appeared in a Fall 2004 issue of Japan Harvest entitled, “Missionary Adjustment to Japan: A Reality Check for Leaders and Mentors” by Sue Plumb Takamoto. (She and her family are in the process of moving to Ishinomaki – check out their blog.) Today we will look at four more difficulties that missionaries face during their adjustment period (the first two were cultural differences and inability to communicate). If you can relate to any of these, please do feel free to write a comment.
First, extended isolation and loneliness.” “Extended isolation is a major difficulty for missionaries in Japan. Despite being a land quite crammed with people…missionaries describe extensive conditions of loneliness and even despair…Eighty-five percent of missionaries interviewed mentioned isolation and/or loneliness as a significant issues during adjustment.”
Second, identity issues: “The missionary is confronted with an altering self during the adjustment process. Many missionaries described feelings of ‘losing one’s place in this world.’ Moving to Japan involves a complete pulling up of roots – people, location, job – the significant aspects of one’s former identity. One recurring metaphor among missionaries interviewed was that of feeling ‘torn apart’ or ‘ripped up.’ The missionary’s goal through the adjustment process, unconscious or conscious, seems to be to reestablish those roots – that which has been torn up…Even after adjustment, some missionaries reflected that they still have not regained the self-confidence that they had prior to coming to Japan.”
Third, feeling insignificant. “Throughout the course of these interviews, I frequently heard missionaries who, in effect, were saying, ‘for many years here in Japan I have felt like an insignificant human being.’ The feelings of uselessness or insignificance is an overwhelming problem to the adjusting missionary…it is easy to understand how the lack of communication and feelings of isolation lead the missionary to feel useless and cause him to wonder if he can serve any meaningful purpose in Japan. This feeling of insignificance, lasting beyond language school and even many years into a ministry setting, seems to be the barrier that stops many missionaries from arriving at adjustment.”
Fourth, Social Base/Family Issues. “The term social base is a broad term that refers to the personal living environment out of which one operates and which provides emotional, economic, strategic, and physical support…82% of married women interviewed talked about difficulties in finding either emotional or strategic support in their role as a mother and wife. Missionary mothers with young children find that while their husbands generally are able to engage in either full-time language study or ministry, they remain ‘stuck at home,’ unable to move forward in the adjustment process. In addition to language learning, women also want to have significant roles and find fulfillment in missionary work.”
I think that is extremely important to be aware of these factors before heading to Japan. It is far better to be mentally prepared to face these struggles than to think that “it will be different for me.” Dealing with loneliness, isolation, altering of one’s entire self, and feelings of helplessness and/or uselessness are a very real battle for all missionaries in Japan. It can be an especially difficult time for missionary wives as well as missionary children who may also feel like their entire world has been turned on its head.
Next week, I will share two more excepts related to factors that can assist and even speed up the adjustment process. I strongly feel that every missionary to Japan should read this helpful article – it is so encouraging to know that we are not alone in our struggles and that there are practical ways to make the adjustment to Japan easier.