I am not the kind of person you would expect to become a missionary. I do not have a gift for learning languages, I do not love trying different kinds of unusual foreign food, and I’m relatively shy. So what am I doing as a missionary in Japan? Well, I love Jesus and I love Japanese people.
The path to Japan
When I first understood the gospel at 15, I desperately wanted to share this wonderful news with other people, but was painfully shy at the time and had no idea how to begin. A few years later, I joined a team reaching out to internationals in Cambridge, UK. Through that, and subsequent ministry which included working full-time in international outreach, I grew to love Japanese people. I realised their very real spiritual needs and gradually sensed the Lord was calling me to Japan. In particular, I saw that many of my Japanese friends who started seeking in the UK, and maybe even came to faith, drifted away from the Lord when they returned to Japan due to lack of support. As well as reaching out to Japanese people in general, I longed to encourage these returnees to keep seeking or continue living as Christians back in Japan.
In 2006, I spent a week with OMF missionaries in Sendai and saw that their work was very similar to the international outreach ministry I was involved in—the main difference was that they used Japanese. I naively thought, After two years of language study my Japanese will be fluent and I can get stuck into outreach in Japan!
My struggle to learn Japanese
After starting language school in Japan in 2010, I quickly realised that Japanese was far harder than I expected and two years would definitely not be enough to become fluent. During my first year at language school, I struggled with homesickness—it was hard missing the birth of my first nephew and other family events. I was also frequently frustrated—like a baby who couldn’t do anything for herself. I felt inadequate and feared I would never be able to ask for directions and understand the answer, let alone explain the gospel. What was the point in being in Japan if I couldn’t communicate with people? I desperately wanted to return to the UK, where I could easily tell people about Jesus.
One day I cried out to the Lord in prayer—Why I can’t I just go home? He reminded me of Philippians 3:7–11, especially verse 10: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (NIV). I realised afresh that, more than anything, I wanted to know Christ and to walk closely with him. To go back to the UK would mean turning away from his call and hence from the Lord himself. I understood then that I’d rather be with Christ in the place he’s called me to than be living comfortably without him. That encouragement from the Lord gave me strength to persevere.
The challenges of ministering in Tokyo
As I came towards the end of my language study, I had various fears about working for a church in Tokyo. For a start, my Japanese was still very basic. But my greatest fear was that I would not even be able to make Japanese friends, much less find anyone to do Bible study with.
Again, the Lord encouraged me through his word. This time through Matthew 6:25–34, especially verse 33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If I could stop worrying that I might be a failure as a missionary and instead concentrate on living for his kingdom in my daily life, he would provide everything I needed to do what he was calling me to do. That included Japanese friends and language ability!
At first, I found it hard to build relationships with local people. In addition to struggling to communicate verbally, I found the culture confusing. If I invited a friend over for lunch and they said they’d bring their own lunch box, did they mean they would rather eat their own food than something I had made for them or that they didn’t want to cause me any trouble? Should I graciously accept their offer or was I supposed to insist that I’d be happy to prepare food for them? I felt I would never understand this indirect culture.
Exhausted after the birth of my third child, I was again tempted to give up. But the Lord reminded me repeatedly of his love for the Japanese, including returnees, and their spiritual need. He also spoke to me through 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He had called me and I had to trust that he had a purpose in me being here, however weak and inadequate I felt.
Gradually, my linguistic confidence and cultural understanding increased and I began to make friends, but still life in Japan was not easy.
Three years later, at the end of our first home assignment, I was reluctant to return to Japan. I had forgotten my Japanese and I dreaded starting again with new relationships. Then, a week before our return my beloved grandma died—I would miss the funeral. But in obedience I came, and I’m so glad I did.
God’s provision of friends and words
Two years later, I interact with Japanese people all the time and can’t count how many Japanese friends the Lord has provided, including plenty who want to study the Bible—so many, in fact, that my current frustration is that there aren’t more hours in the week to meet with them all! Some are local friends, but many are returnee seekers who are keen to continue investigating or returnee Christians needing encouragement to persevere in their new faith in a very different environment. Truly the Lord has work for me to do here.
With friends has come a sense of belonging. I will never be Japanese and I still miss my family and friends in the UK, but this is where the Lord has called me and I’m genuinely content to live here.
Although my Japanese is far from perfect, many times when I talk about Jesus, the sentences seem to form themselves in my mind and flow out of my mouth, as if the Lord is giving me the words to say.
There are, of course, still challenges and discouragements. Although many friends are interested in the Bible and even seem to want to believe, many barriers have to be overcome, and all my efforts seem to produce little obvious fruit. Recently, the Lord encouraged me through Haggai 2:1–9, especially this part of verse 4: “‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you.’” The context is that the people had become discouraged and given up rebuilding the temple. The encouragement for me is that the Lord has work for me to do and that he is with me. That’s all I need to know; the results I can leave in his hands. JH
Liz Jeggo and her husband came to Japan from the UK as OMF missionaries in 2010. Now based in Tokyo, they have a daughter of ten and two sons aged eight and five.