Lessons I’m learning in Japan

I have been in Japan for some time now, but pray that I will remain malleable in the hands of the Holy Spirit and always open to learning and change. I want to keep asking myself the following four questions:

Am I seeking to teach or learn? I want to be a lifelong learner.

I used to compare American and Japanese cultures, usually with the result that I saw the finer points of American life. Over the years, I’ve realized that I hail from a very young nation with only a few hundred years of history. I need to resist the urge to pass judgment: instead of labeling things as good or bad, I should view them as different. Rather than assuming the role of evaluator or teacher, I hope I will always adopt a learner’s stance.

In his book Cross-cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer interviewed the local people where missionaries were serving:

I asked many of them one question: What could missionaries do to more effectively minister the gospel of Christ in your culture? Many said that they valued the missionary presence and love they felt from them. But many said, with hesitation but conviction, “Missionaries could more effectively minister the gospel of Christ if they did not think they were so superior to us” . . . Superiority cloaked in the desire to serve is still superiority. It’s not our words that count, but the perceptions of the local people who watch our lives and sense our attitudes. Added to this hidden and evasive superiority is the dilemma of living in a North American culture that often tells us we are the most powerful, the most technically advanced, the richest, the best educated, the leader of the free world.1

Whenever I find myself dominating a conversation or migrating into teaching mode, I need to step back, zip my lip, ask poignant questions, and listen to learn.

Am I operating out of my own insecurities? May my security rest firmly in the person of Jesus Christ.

When I first arrived in Japan, I felt helpless and stupid. I was a child in an adult’s body, not knowing what people were saying or what I should say back. But just the other day, I was trying to fill out some paperwork and had to ask the person if it was okay to write in hiragana. Despite many years in Japan and relative ease with the spoken language, I am still quickly reduced to grade-school level when it comes to writing. Argh! Moments such as these cause me to reflect on how insecurities borne of living in another culture play out in my life.

On one hand, my insecurity can lead me to criticize my host culture and Japanese friends and view them with negativity. On the other hand, my insecurity can cause me to run into the arms of Jesus. If I can always place my security, hope, comfort, and assurance in the person of Jesus, that’s the best place to be.

Do I continue to bring the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I look around and sometimes see tired, uptight Christians, busy serving at church. Come to think of it, I am often one of them. Instead of Sunday being a day of rest, it has become a day of work.

Serving at church is a great privilege. However, it makes me wonder at how subtly the Christian life can turn into a lot of doing for the Lord, rather than being with the Lord. This leads me to question how I portray Jesus to my kids and the Japanese around me. I wonder, Do I bring Jesus, and only Jesus, to Japan? Do I bring a gospel that is weighed down with ‘doing’ or a gospel that is full of church traditions from back home? If I or the Japanese believers around me seem more concerned with form or behavior, how can I strip away some of that stuff so that they feel the freedom of being in Christ, being in relationship with Him? Do I promote the freedom and joy that is found in Jesus Christ?

I have this image of a welcoming church, arms wide open—“Come one, come all who are weary.” People come to believe—and the church says, “Yay, welcome to the family of God.” But sometimes the “arms” start closing at that point, meaning we start telling new believers what they can do and cannot do, we give looks of disdain when they tell us that they were out drinking with their friends. There can be a tendency to reduce the gospel to a list of dos and don’ts.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Being in the arms of Jesus should be the most freeing experience on earth.

How well am I resting? Find my rest in Christ alone.

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink . . . streams of living water will flow from his heart” (John 7:37, 38 ESV). What if the quality of my rest determined the quality of my fruit?

I think, But if I can just pare down my email pile, spend one more hour prepping for lessons. So often, I get caught up in doing and forget about being. Spending time with Jesus instills strength, vision, and extra umph for the journey. Rest centers me, allows me time to listen to his gentle voice, enables me to dream, renews my purpose in Jesus, and propels me out of the starting blocks. When I operate from a place of rest, those around me will be able to see Jesus more clearly.

I pray that as I continue to learn and grow and find my security, rest, and joy in Jesus alone, he will shine even more brightly through me.

1. Elmer, Duane, Cross-cultural Servanthood (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press 2006), 15, 17.

Carol Suzuki has been in Japan since 1995. She and her husband, Paul, are missionaries with SEND International. They have three children who lovingly serve as mirrors for her to grow in Christlikeness.

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