I was standing on the sideline of our kids’ soccer field, chatting with a bilingual friend, when another Japanese mum we hadn’t seen for a while came over to chat. It all seemed ordinary enough. But suddenly, in my head, it was like the world stopped to watch this one conversation. I pushing all other thoughts aside, I gathered up my tired brain cells to concentrate furiously on the conversation. If my life was a movie, the scene might begin like this:
The tension is high. My friend looks on in interest as the other mum serves up a question. My friend’s eyebrows rise. We hear the commentary running in her thoughts: “Does she need clarification? Can she return this one?” After the slightest of hesitations, I spit out an answer and my friend lets her breath go—right answer!
And the game is on.
Question after question, I listen intently, grasp for familiar words, sense the flicker of understanding. I hazard answers; my friend smiles and nods, her thought commentary continues: “Yes! She got it back once again. She’s having quite the match today!”
Finally, the mum has to go. The conversation is over. I’m exhausted but feel a sense of survival, whereas once I would have crashed and burned.
As you keep watching the movie, your ears are assailed by the pumping beat of the Rocky III theme song “Eye of the Tiger.” Flashback scenes roll across the screen, depicting a dramatic backstory. A classroom of students rapidly copy the teacher’s writing from the board and repeat phrases in unison. The camera zooms in to a close-up of a test covered with red ink lying on the desk with a failed result next to my name at the top. It zooms out to my sigh of disappointment, followed by the straightening of shoulders and picking up the pencil once more. Next you see my friend and I laughing at my language gaffs as we’re jogging. Then, the scene where I’m asleep on my kanji homework as my husband wrests the chocolate from my hand.
Now violin strings bring a contemplative tone as the movie explores emotional themes. You observe my grief, seeing photos of a Bible study group of friends whose lives have moved on and of a cousin’s wedding with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, but not us. I’m shocked at a photo of my ageing father-in-law and realise my sons haven’t seen him since three surgeries ago. The movie then transitions to scenes of fights in our household as we all struggle to cope with the stress of life in a foreign culture using a second language. A close-up of a school newsletter, all in Japanese, pans out as you sense my estrangement and guilt while my sons wonder why I don’t know what to do for their school events when all the other mums do. And the movie cuts to the inevitable scene of me crying in the shower, doubting the value of being sent here, struggling with the loss of identity, confused by God’s plan, and ready to give up.
Returning to the present, the movie pans out from our conversation and over to the kids in their orange shirts playing soccer. It then cuts to scenes from soccer camp. Kids and parents, Christian and non-Christian, engage in activities about the central story of the Bible. A dad ponders why Jesus—with all the abilities and powers of a superhero—didn’t live like Tony Stark, but instead was a homeless friend of fishermen and kids, with time to care for sick women. In another scene, a kid hears about the cross for the first time and exclaims how unfair it was that Jesus, the good man, paid the price of all our failures and wrongdoing. You see a young boy from a non-Christian home humming praise songs during a farm outing. And the final scene shows our sons with a group of friends (some still in their soccer shirts) reading the Bible with my husband in our living room.
In this one conversation, just like a championship match, there is so much going on behind the scenes. Living as a missionary family in Japan is full of scenes like this every day. Each scene has enough related activity that it could be a whole movie! Although I struggle with exhaustion, I’m reassured that our heavenly Father oversees each scene, knowing how much more is going on, not just in the past but also into the future. He sees how each scene plays into a far larger movie that is glorious and majestic in every way. I can’t wait to see that movie! I’ll be there with my boys saying, “Wait, wait, watch . . . pause there! Do you see us? There, in that scene, we were part of God’s plan!”
Film reel element by Freepik
Rachel Hughes lives with her husband and two sons in Mukonosō near Osaka. They are Australians with CMS and work with university, junior high, and elementary school students; younger and older women; and two-year-olds who like to dance.