Ten months ago the decision was made after prayer and consideration to quit my career, go into the ‘formal’ ministry, and to essentially start over in a new country as a student of a difficult language as well as culture. I did not expect anything glorious or particularly difficult in doing this. I came here because I trusted that God wanted me to do ministry in this country, to see and experience life here first hand. Doing ministry is not easy or glorious work no matter where it is practiced, for it requires a different set of tools as well as ability. I am thankful to God for the spiritual trials over the years, growth and learning, and working in the American Criminal Justice system for five years before coming here. Without these factors I can say that I probably would have quit quite easily, but God knew that. Yet, I am also very much aware that I need much experience here, this being only the beginning. Ministry in Japan is challenging, but God is faithful to guide when we trust Him no matter what life brings.
What was learned? I wish to speak honestly from my observations as well as experiences.
As Americans in Japan because of our cultural differences and background we have found that certain elements of ministry really work as many Asians are very open to the gospel message. Namely, one-on-one counseling, one-on-one evangelism, and one-on-one teaching/discipleship. Though this is a communal society, people really seems to feel open talking to Americans in a personal way because Japanese people judge each other in a strict manner due to cultural expectations. Americans do not do this because we are unaware of the cultural norms for the most part. If we could spend all of our days just doing counseling, evangelism, and teaching/discipleship we would be constantly busy for there are many needs here. (Which will only increase as I learn to speak Japanese.) However, Japanese people have different ideas for how ministry ought to be performed. The Japanese appear to be more of a task-oriented people of the ‘Martha’ variety moreso than the ‘Mary’ variety. (Luke 10:38-42) Though I firmly believe that a missionary ought to be able and willing to do anything that is required, I pray that we can learn to accept and work alongside each other with accepting differences rather than trying to force each other to be like the other. This is a great challenge, and is likely why most missionaries in Japan have their own ministries rather than working alongside a Japanese ministry. Foreign missionaries need to work together with Japanese because our strengths and weaknesses can really complement one another. Fortunately, Japan as a society is changing so we may be more tolerated as time goes on. God is in control ultimately.
In the realm of cultural expectations comes the expectation of work. In American culture there are certain boundaries expected for work, sleep, leisure, and church/family time. We are very insistent upon having the freedoms to generally choose our time allotments. In Japan however there are no real boundaries. The minimum expectation is to work hard, and if you do not you are considered lazy. Whatever you do, whether it be work or school, is expected to rule your life over family and God. For this reason many Japanese are constantly exhausted, have mental issues, or are in the hospital for health issues. If you cannot live up to the high expectations you are considered to be weak and cast aside. In some regards this mentality has advantages in that the country is generally prosperous, not lazy, and has lower crime (people are too busy working hard to try to exist). It is interesting to note that the older generations were satisfied with hard work for the sake of hard work as well as for prosperity, whereas the younger generation does not really care about working insane hours for prosperity. I tend to think that Japan’s strong cultural work norm was considered an acceptable strong sense of pride that the people had left after World War Two, and with it they fully devoted their selves to seeking economic might with the result of becoming the world’s second largest economy for many decades. Now many of the people are burned out with no real reason to work hard other than to work hard, which is why the new generations battle is a spiritual one for the soul of the nation. I am convinced that the church needs to be a place of healing rather than a place of adding extra burdens on to the people. If the church is operating from a position of exhaustion bound by cultural expectations, then it will continue to be a place of task orientation. I pray these people find their rest in God.
Thank you for your prayers over the past 10 months, and for reading this blog. I will try to keep up with some occasional posts on our status as we are planning on staying in the USA for one year.