Just to recap for anyone who doesn’t know these things, my husband and I moved to Ishinomaki in July to serve here as missionaries. Before our big move we had been living in Germany. We first met in Tokyo in 2009 and got married in 2010 with the intention of coming to Japan. After the massive earthquake and tsunami we were able to come to Tohoku as volunteers in May 2011 and felt a call from God to move to Tohoku. Our mission agency in Germany was extremely supportive and has sent us here with their blessing. It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure since coming to Ishinomaki!
So, what’s a typical week like for a missionary here? Well, I can only speak for our little part of the world but daily life here always has the potential to be incredibly, insanely busy for all the missionaries that we know. There are always things to do and people who want to talk with you. Not to mention that many missionaries here have lots of kids so it presents an even bigger challenge to balance family and ministry. Even though we don’t have kids, it’s been a challenge for me personally to discern between the things I could do and should be doing.
A missionary friend shared recently that even stepping out of the house presents the opportunity to be invited to someone’s home. People are so hungry for relationship that when this friend of mine leaves the house for a walk or to go shopping people come right up to her and want to talk and share. As wonderful as this is (being known by everyone), it can make it hard to not be overly busy and feel tired all the time.
So what kind of things are volunteers doing? As an example, yesterday my husband went with a team to do tulip bulb distribution. The people were so hungry to talk and the team had numerous invitations to come inside to drink tea together or join folks for a barbeque. At another time of tulip bulb distribution there was a report of a woman practically bursting into tears at the sight of volunteers. She had felt forgotten and deeply welcomed the visits to their homes.
From what I know of, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer at the local temporary housing units, requests from neighbors to do large projects such as weeding large fields, tree removal, or trash collection, and in some cases houses are still being mucked out even though it’s been over a year and a half since the tsunami. Friends of ours with the Be One Network are holding kids’ English classes each week; while the children are having fun learning the Bible and English the moms are drinking tea and sharing stories with Christian workers. Be One is also involved in the Nozomi jewelry project to provide income for women who are struggling to make ends meet. At another ministry co-led by Reach Global and Grace Mission Tohoku, volunteers are involved in a weekly community event which attracts 60-100 people every Saturday morning. Mostly elderly folks come out and it seems to meet a deep need to alleviate loneliness and provide a sense of belonging and community…and have lots of fun!
On top of these things, there are various outreach events (like picnics), coffee times for chatting, musical concerts, English classes, craft and quilting classes, and much more. Various groups have also started worship services – church planting is blooming, slowly but surely. There are also events to draw together volunteers such as a monthly prayer meeting and monthly ladies luncheon. It’s always so amazing to meet other volunteers from all over the world sent by Samaritan’s Purse, Reach Global, Calvary Chapel, Lutheran Brethren, Mission to the World, etc.
On a side note, it is remarkable to see how many missionaries obeyed the call to leave flourishing ministries in other parts of Japan to come to Ishinomaki. A good number of missionaries left behind a ministry that they loved in order to serve in Ishinomaki. One missionary who was living in Okinawa says, “We thought we would live in Okinawa for the rest of our lives.” Another couple was involved in a ministry in Osaka and moved their family of seven to Ishinomaki. I know of another family that came from Sanda and a couple from Fukuoka (both very far from here). I think that is such a beautiful display of obedience and I know God will reward them for their sacrifice.
There is so much to be thankful for – Christians in this city have a good reputation and are hearing about Jesus Christ multiple times. Also, the contacts are abundant and the level of trust high – this is a bit unusual in Japan where it’s traditionally been a struggle to make contacts and build a deep level trust with non-Christians. Please pray for the Christian workers here, especially for wisdom in following the leading of the Holy Spirit and for how to best make use of one’s time. It can be easy to become overworked and burn out as well as to lose focus and become discouraged. Also pray for more workers – perhaps God is calling you to come here!