Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Turning Japanese?

Back in my uni days, there certainly seemed to be a vibe among Christian Union students that becoming an overseas missionary was the ultimate way to make your life count for Jesus.  I don't doubt that the passion many of the students had was sincere.  Some of these students have gone on to Bible college and/or paid ministry roles.  But at the time, as a brand new hot-off-the-press Christian, I remember feeling on the outer because I didn't want to go overseas or even consider doing MTS.  I was still figuring out how to tell my non-Christian friends and family about the biggest change that had occurred in my life.  I didn't really know what this following Jesus thing was all about.  After speaking to a very wise lady about my 'not wanting to be a missionary' guilt, she said to me, "I'm so glad you're not going because you know you'd be going for the wrong reason.  Maybe at this point in your faith, God just wants you to learn as much about Him as you can."  While mixed motives dominate a lot of our decision-making, she was right.  I would be going to follow the crowd.  I've always disliked pressure to do something just because everyone else is doing it.

Over the years, I've watched the few churches I've been a part of support those who have gone to live overseas and serve Christ cross-culturally.  I've prayed for and financially supported some of these people.  But there was always an element of separation.  They were doing something I felt I could never do.  They were so much braver and gifted than I could ever be. 

I heard a missionary use the phrase, "I'll go down the well if you hold the rope."  They wished to emphasise that missions are always a partnership between those who give and those who go.  That inspired me to want to be a better rope-holder.  How could I REALLY support these people instead of really not thinking about them for much of the time?  This change started to occur when I moved to the country.  I started to experience loneliness and isolation.  I felt like an alien in the community and sometimes even in the church.  I felt like a lot of people back in Perth who had promised to visit and keep in touch had forgotten us.  Then I heard that a lot of missionaries feel the same way and I felt convicted.  They had left everything behind to serve Jesus and perhaps some of those who had promised to hold the rope had left them dangling.  I had neglected to pray for them.  No, my experience is not like being a missionary.  I have family and friends only a few hours away rather than half a world away.  I speak the same language as those who live around me (mostly hmmm).  But last year I had an epiphany.  I've been wanting to leave the farming life so much because I missed my friends.  However, maybe instead of wanting to run towards comfort, I should be asking God what He wants me to learn from this.  Is He using our time here to prepare us for something?  Then late last year, I started to seriously ask the question...could I go overseas?  I'd thought of myself as a rope-holder....but could I go down the well?

The main dilemma associated with such questions is that 'me' is now 'we'.  It has certainly led to some interesting discussions between Duncan and I.  One thing has confused me greatly though.  When it comes to big life decisions, what happens if both of us want different things?  Does God give one spouse a passion for something, but not the other?

If I did go anywhere, I always thought it would be Africa or Europe.  I really didn't ever consider visiting Asia, but after doing some ministry among Chinese students five years ago, I started to reconsider.  I became more interested in Asian cultures.  I felt the weight of the reality that billions of Asians did not know Jesus.  Then at the end of last year...seemingly out of nowhere...God laid Japan on my heart.

It sounds silly, but suddenly all things Japanese started popping up around me.  Maybe it was because my church supports a couple who are missionaries in Japan.  Or maybe it was because I started reading Wendy's blog On the Edge of Ordinary about life as a missionary in Japan.  Perhaps it is because a friend of ours is a high school Japanese teacher and went on a trip there last year (some other friends of ours also went skiing in Japan).  Or maybe it was lots of little (and quite ridiculous) things like Duncan wearing a t-shirt with 'Osaka' written on it, or the fact that I re-watched series 1 of Heroes last year and think the Japanese characters, Hiro and Ando, are hilarious.  Maybe it was when I started reading more about it, the more I felt that in some ways it sounded a bit like Australia - small percentage of Christians, secular, people just focused on working and making money etc.  Whatever it is, it seems like Japan has suddenly been thrust into my face and I can't stop thinking about it.

One thing I'm very excited about is that Duncan and I have taken on the role of 'missions convenors' at our church.  Besides reading out missionaries' prayer letters and encouraging the congregation to pray for them, we are planning to write regularly to missionaries on behalf of the church.  It won't necessarily be anything spiritual (and definitely not if they're in a 'closed' country), but we just want to let them know they haven't been forgotten.  I know I appreciate it when friends in Perth just drop me a line and let me know the little things that happen during their makes me feel like I'm there.  Another thing we hope to do is make Powerpoint presentations of the main points of prayer for the different countries where the missionaries we support are.  This would include the fast facts about the country - i.e. how many Christians there are and what the greatest needs of that country are.  I've been using Operation World to help me pray.

I've seen mission talks done well and done very, very badly.  The bad one was by an old lady who was an ex-overseas missionary.  Her talk was basically one big guilt-trip and she said something like, "It's not IF you go's WHEN."  It was a horrible talk and was right when I was struggling with thinking God didn't love me because I wasn't a very good evangelist and didn't want to go overseas so it was NOT what I needed to hear!  A really good one was at a camp where the speaker said, "No, you shouldn't all go because some of God's people need to remain here to reach out to Aussies.  But some of you should go, and if you've been thinking about it, then explore that.  Maybe out of all the people in this room 50% should go...."  It was done so well, and actually made me WANT to be involved in missions rather than feeling I HAD to.  Such a difference.  I'm conscious in wanting to encourage our local congregation to take a real interest in overseas missions...not beat them over the head.  After all, I'm not overseas so I'd look like the biggest hypocrite otherwise.

Where will all of this go?  I really don't know.  All I know is that my time in the country has taught me that the isolation missionaries must feel is much greater.  If I can play a part in encouraging them by holding the rope, then I want to do it.  I guess reading Don't Waste Your Life gave me a real shake.  There is not always a lot of encouragement in churches to forsake all for Christ's sake.  It's so easy just to think we need investment properties, insurance and bigger salaries as if we can somehow build empires here on earth and be 'safe'.  Maybe Duncan and I will stay...but maybe we will go one day.  Sometimes it can be scary to ask God that question...


Karen said...

I hope Wendy comes in and sees this...will pray for you.

Laurel's Quill said...

This dilemma is common, I believe. I remeber thinking even before I became a "real" Christian, that I didn't want to become of those Bible pounders because I didn't want to go Africa and be a that's what all "real" Christians do. The truth is that most of us are rope holders. We may struggle with not going, but in the end, God knows our hearts and He knows where He wants us. And most of the time, it's just where we are, here and now. Good luck.

Donna said...

Thank you for your sincerity in this post. I can sense your desire to follow where God leads. I pray that He makes His way clear to you - to hold the rope or to go.

Wendy said...

Thanks Sarah for this. I have to admit that though you've been reading my blog for some time and even commenting, I haven't been over to see yours. Sorry!

I shudder at some missionary presentations too! Sometimes it is the kind of thing you've mentioned, other times it is deathly boring or way too long. At a recent in-house conference we each had to do a short (3 minutes) presentation about our work to our fellow missionaries. Most people went on for 10 or 20 minutes. It was terrible!

Living in the country for me was a big help to me too in understanding loneliness. I'm sure it helped prepare me!

You wrote: "But there was always an element of separation. They were doing something I felt I could never do. They were so much braver and gifted than I could ever be." We feel that from people too. People even say it to us. My usual response is that God enables different people to do different things. I couldn't do what you do, for example! And that is also one of the reasons that I write my blog as I do. I want people to see that I am not braver or more gifted, that I'm just an ordinary person who God's enabled to do something that looks a bit extraordinary. I'm excited that my blog has been a small part in helping you cross that large divide that you've had.

Missionaries are very single minded, it is how they've been able to do what they've done. Becoming a missionary is such a counter cultural thing (even counter cultural to the church), it takes a strong personality to go against all that. Unfortunately that determination can spill over into our conversations with others. We can easily forget that while God has called us to do this, he hasn't called everyone. I find it is easiest if I remember that we need a large team of supporters to help us do what we do. Without that team of "stayers" we'd never last.

God bless as you continue to follow him and seek to do what He's called you to do, whatever that is!

Sarah said...

Thanks everyone!

Welcome, Wendy! No need to apologise for not visiting before. I met a couple recently who have just gone overseas as missionaries and my church is going to be supporting them. They are both 28 and have been preparing to go to Thailand since getting married in their early 20s. I admire their single focus and passion to not let anything distract them from what God has called them to do.