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.