Adjusting to Life on the Mission Field

Several years ago, we sold our first house and bought another on the other side of town. We were so excited. Our family had grown and we needed a 3rd bedroom. The Lord had answered our prayer abundantly. A few weeks after the move, we were finally settled and I was so lonely. My kids did not change schools, we were attending the same church, I was hanging out with the same friends, but I felt so isolated. I missed my old neighborhood and familiar stores and roads. I told my friend that I did not understand this. She told me the grieving process was settling in. I didn’t quite understand this at the time, but I knew she was right.

When we moved to the field, I experienced this at a new level. Part of grieving is adjusting to a new way of life. It’s sort of like after a funeral. The hubbub of the funeral is over, the family meal is finished and everyone returns to their normal routine, except for the immediate family of the one who died. They have to learn to live day by day without the lost loved one. When you move to the field, the old way of life is over. If you add to that the unfamiliar, it is overwhelming. We have to turn to the God of all comforts (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He is waiting with open arms. “The Greek word for ‘comfort’ is related to the familiar word paraclete, ‘one who comes along side to help,’…’comfort’ often connotes softness and ease, but that is not its meaning here. Paul was saying that God came to him in the middle of his sufferings and troubles to strengthen him and give him courage and boldness”(MacArthur Study Bible).

When we arrived in Japan, I felt unprepared for the emotions that I would experience. I had no choice about the home we lived in. I was frustrated because I could not communicate. I felt lost driving on the “wrong” side of the road and not being able to read the signs. I didn’t know where to shop. I didn’t know what prices were good. I had no friends and I had to put up a good face for my children who were watching me. It was terribly overwhelming. I remembered what my friend said about grieving and I was helped. It is o.k. to grieve. It is not a sin to feel sadness. It’s even o.k. to cry. The attitude behind it is what can be sinful. Where do we turn when the emotions flare?

Many times, when I have shared my struggles, I was told that “we all have to go through it.” I did not find this comforting. If our comfort comes from the Lord, we have an obligation to share with others  what brought us comfort and gave us strength(2 Cor. 1:3-4). I was determined to find some answers in the Word. When another missionary lady came to me, I wanted to have an answer.

Memorizing God’s Word has had a life-changing affect on me. Find verses that help you and memorize them. If you do this, God will bring them to your mind when you need them most. For example, I had to have a mammogram here. It was not something I looked forward to. I will not go into the whole big, long story. They do things differently here and it was pretty traumatic. I couldn’t talk to the doctors, so my hubby was translating. That was a different stress of its own! As I was lying on the examining table fighting the tears, the Lord brought to my mind 2 Cor. 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I had instant peace and the tears fled. If I had not memorized those verses, they would not have been there when I needed them most!

Several verses have helped me on a regular basis. I meditate on the fact that God is present with me (Ps. 46:1, Jer. 23:23-24, Ps. 139:7-10, Mat. 28:20). Others may forget me, but God does not (Is. 49:15). When I am overwhelmed, I must go to the Lord. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, that I can’t remember to do this and then He leads me to Himself (Ps. 61:1, 2). Spurgeon said about these verses that “he who communes with God is always at home.”

Perhaps the most exciting truth to me about God is His faithfulness. He keeps His promises. I have seen this in my life before, but it has been magnified on the field. He strengthens me, helps me and holds me up (Is. 41:10). He guides me with His eye (Ps. 32:8). He goes before me. I do not need to be dismayed (Deut. 31:8).

When we moved to the city we are in now, there was no one living here to show us around. When we needed a doctor, God led us. When we needed an eye doctor, God led us. Both of these speak some English! I needed a friend. God went before me and hand-picked one and put her in my path. Then there was the time I needed something at the store and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t ask the clerk and even if I could, I wouldn’t have understood her answer. After several minutes of searching and mounting frustration, I cried out to the Lord and He led me right to it. I could go on and on…

Another lesson I am still learning is to not compare myself and my situation with others. 2 Cor. 10:12 tells me that if I do this, I am not wise! There will be someone who raised support faster, learned the language faster or has a bigger and better house to live in. We prayed for a teacher for our children. God did not see fit to give us one; but yet, I saw Him supply this for another family. Another friend has been on the field less time than I have and she already has the language ability to lead a Bible study. My language study is slow and difficult. At this middle age that I am in, sometimes I feel too old to do it! Someone younger would do a better job! Some missionaries are able to plant a new church every term. In our country of service, it may take the rest of our lives to plant one. We are all different. Every country and language is different. My focus must be on God and His will for me today. I cannot compare myself to others. God has put me where He wants me to be and has given me what I need to accomplish His will (2 Cor. 9:8, Phil. 2:13).

I remember well when the “culture shock” started to set in. In the USA, we talk about “bad hair days.” Here, we have “bad culture days.” =) I was reading the fruits of the Spirit in my study Bible and the notes that went with them. I realized as I read, that these fruits manifested in my life will take care of any “culture shock.” Longsuffering is “the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations.” Gentleness is “a humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense, while having no desire for revenge or retribution” (MacArthur Study Bible). When I offend the culture unknowingly, when I am stared at because I am different, when things are done differently than I would do them, when I am mistreated or misunderstood, what fruit do I exhibit? Is it longsuffering and gentleness? The only way I can do this is to be in the Word, walk in the Spirit and have lots of grace from my Lord (2Cor. 12:9-10).

In closing, I want to share some practical things that have helped me.

  1. While on deputation, I begged the Lord to give me a verse that would keep me on the field when the going got tough. As we went through the Netcaster program, the Lord began to burn 2 Cor. 5:15 into my soul, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” My life is not about me, it is about the One Who died for me.
  2. Several years ago, a friend counseled me to fill my mind with good Scriptural music. I play it in the car, on the subway and while in the house. This has helped me countless times when I couldn’t seem to control my thoughts. One time in particular was after a rough day of language school. I put in my earbuds on the subway and started to listen to the cd A Quiet Heart by Soundforth. One of my favorite songs, “I Could Not Do Without Thee” began. When I arrived at my destination, the frustration and turmoil were gone. God met my need through the music. Another favorite cd is Come and Sing by the Stouffer men. This brought me tremendous comfort during the days before and after our departure for Japan.
  3. Keep a journal of what God is teaching you and the blessings He gives. The entries don’t have to be long. A simple “I was so lonely today and God gave me Mt. 28:20” or “I wanted cheddar cheese and God led me to it and it was on sale!” is enough. When the emotions are threatening to drown you, get out the journal and read. It is hard to remember God’s help in the past when you are overwhelmed. Having something to read will help you to remember and encourage your heart.
  4. And last, but certainly not least, read missionary biographies. Others have gone before us and we can learn from them. The circumstances are different, but the struggles are the same. I have been helped greatly by the writings of Isobel Kuhn. She is very candid about her struggles. My two favorite books of hers are In the Arena and Green Leaf in Drought.

I hope that someone will be helped by these things. It has been worth the time for me to reflect on them. I think that we do others a disservice when we hide behind a mask and pretend that everything is o.k. We are human and we will struggle. We can help someone else through the struggle, if we are willing to humble ourselves and be transparent. God knows that we are dust (Ps. 103:14)! How marvelous that He still chooses to use us!

*repost from 2009

Mission Team

The beginning of July, we had a mission team visit with us for a couple of weeks.  They passed out thousands of announcements, helped us with projects here and at my brother-in-law’s camp, helped us teach an English class, host a friend party, children’s meeting, basketball events and a special evangelistic service followed by a barbecue.  We also managed to fit in some fun sightseeing in Kyoto.  Here are a few highlights…English Class

English Class

Friend Party 1

One of the men singing a Spanish love song at the friend party.

Friend Party 2

One of the young ladies sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at the friend party.

Friend Party 3

Lots of Japanese enjoyed making new friends and speaking English with the team members.

Kyoto group

Our group at the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Our daughter was also with us at this time.  🙂

Kyoto 4

At the Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Kyoto 5

A traffic barrier at the Nijo Castle in Kyoto

It was wonderful to have them here.  They were a great help and a tremendous encouragement to us!

A Cultural Moment

I can’t believe that it has been almost a month since I posted last. There have been a couple of situations here in Japan that have taken up a lot of my time.  I do not have the liberty to post about it, but I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom and strength.

One another note…here is a cultural moment.  It has been awhile. Hope you enjoy!

street gardenThis is a picture up the street from my house.  You can see that the garden in front of the house takes up half the street.  You cannot see the house even from the front because of all the plants.  If I would park my car in this spot, I would receive a ticket.  I guess a garden is ok.  Only in Japan…

tablecloth dressDuring my morning walk, I noticed this “suit” in a store-front window.  I couldn’t resist taking a picture.  It reminded me of a table cloth that I have.tablecloth

There is always something to capture my attention here.  Now my wheels are turning about what I could make from this tablecloth, but I think I will pass on this one.

until the next time… 

Furlough is coming…

…I can always tell when it is time for furlough.  Little cultural irritants can…well, for lack of a better word…irritate.  I dug through my blog posts and pages to read this one reposted below.  I need the reminder.  I highly recommend keeping a journal.  You don’t have to write it in everyday.  Things that have helped me in the past, always help in the present when I go back and review what I have written.  As an update, we have now lived almost 9 years in this city instead of the 4 mentioned in the repost.  I keep working on this difficult language.  My understanding has improved on a very small scale and my ability to speak is still very limited.  I keep plugging’ along.  I am thankful for all opportunities the Lord gives to me to minister in English!  =)

Culture Shock and the Fruits of the Spirit

Dealing with cultural issues…If you are living in a country that is not your own, you will deal with these from time to time.  These issues can be very irritating. I describe them as pebbles in your shoe: small, but terribly annoying, even painful.

Let me give you a little background information. This is our second term in this country. We spent 3 years in another city, 3 years stateside and we are finishing our 4th year in this city. There are some things that contribute to the irritations that I face. One is my age. No matter how willing I am, I find that change becomes more difficult the older that I become. A second factor is that I am the “new kid on the block.” My husband’s parents and brother’s family are nearby. My hubby is a missionary kid from this country. It is his home. My husband’s parents have been here over 35 years. His brother’s family has been here over 20 years. They are all very comfortable here, but I am in the adjustment period. I struggle with this very difficult language. I can sit in a meeting for 2 hours and understand very little. Each city in this country is different. Each has some unique twists in the culture and even has its own slang language. I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me, just to help you know where I am coming from.

Last Tuesday, we had the ladies Bible study. My hubby teaches it. I was quite clueless for most of it, so had my own little study. The Lord has ministered to my culture shocked soul in the past from the fruits of the Spirit. That day, He did it again. I have a study Bible that I love. The notes are thorough and often instruct me. Such was the case that day.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”~Galatians 5:2-23

Joy-”…the sense of well being experienced by one who knows all is well between himself and the Lord (I Pet. 1:8). Joy is not the result of favorable circumstances, and even occurs when those circumstances are the most painful and severe (John 16:20-22). Joy is a gift from God, and as such, believers are not to manufacture it but to delight in the blessing they already possess (Rom. 14:17; Phil. 4:4).”

Peace-“The inner calm that results from confidence in one’s saving relationship with Christ. The verb form denotes binding together and is reflected in the expression ‘having it all together.’ Like joy, peace is not related to one’s circumstances.”

Longsuffering-“…the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; I Tim. 1:15-16).”

Gentleness(meekness)-“It is a humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense, while having no desire for revenge or retribution.” Three necessary attitudes are mentioned: submission to the will of God (Col. 3:12), teachability (James 1:21), and consideration of others (Eph. 4:2).

These fruits are something we acquire as we grow in our knowledge of God (2 Pet. 1:2). I am so thankful that I don’t have to conjure up these fruits. All I have to do is continue in God’s Word and He will give me these fruits.

I will close with something that a friend wrote in a farewell card to me over 10 years ago.

“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
~Psalm 61:2

“He who communes with God is always at home.” ~C.H. Spurgeon

~Notes are taken from the MacArthur Study Bible

photo credit:

Cultural Moment

electric_space_heater_radiant1My husband and I had a lively conversation with a lady on Sunday about the economy in Japan vs. the USA.  Her husband is employed by the government here, so my husband commented that he had job security.  She agreed, but stated that with the economy the way it is, the government is short on money and so there have been cutbacks.  My husband asked what kind of cutbacks.  They do not heat the offices, because it is too expensive.  He is only permitted to have a little space heater at his feet.  He is very cold at work.  Our high temps were in the 40’s last week.  That is cold when there is no heat in the building!!!  An English teacher commented recently that the classrooms are not heated.  The students bring blankets to class.  Try to imagine that in the USA!!!

*photo linked to source

Cultural Moment

November 23rd is Labor Thanksgiving Day here in Japan.  It is a day for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks.  There does not appear to be any special way to celebrate this holiday.  It’s a day off for some people, even busier day for others.  Most people will hit the malls and restaurants that day.  Since this is a national holiday with no school, etc.,  we typically celebrate our American Thanksgiving on this day.  We celebrate just as we would in the USA with turkey and all the trimmings.  We get together with family that is here and invite other Americans in the area.  We always have a wonderful and very American time.  It’s a great kick off to one the biggest ministry times of the year here.  It took some adjustment for me to celebrate Thanksgiving day on a day other than the norm, but then I realized that even if I did, it still wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in the USA since we are 14 hours ahead of EST.

One thing I am grateful for this year is a Costco that is so close to home.  My turkey is in the freezer ready and waiting…My husband often talks about the first time his mother got a turkey in Japan.  She had to order it through a restaurant.  She didn’t realize that she had to order it raw.  It came cooked complete with soy sauce marinade/basting sauce.  Ewwww!!!!  Soy sauce on turkey?!?!?!?  I asked my husband what they did.  “We ate it, of course!  What else could we do?”  Fall PA 2013-17-eb

A Cultural Moment

Cultural issues can be puzzling, complicated and on occasion, downright amusing.  Such was the case during one of my last language school classes.  One thing we learned quickly here is that you should never build yourself up.  Your family is an extension of that.  If you compliment or praise your kids, husband, wife, etc.  in public it is the same as bragging about yourself.  I know this, but every now and then it catches me off guard.

Near the end of last semester, we were asked to bring a picture to discuss in class.  My classmate brought a group photo of which her husband was one of the people pictured.  My classmate is Korean and approximately 10 years older than me.  She has been married to a Japanese man for 34 years.  She has assimilated into the culture quite well here.  While she was discussing the photo, I was racking my brain for a compliment that would be easy for me to say with my poor language ability.  When it was my time to speak, I told her that her husband was handsome.  I suppressed a giggle when she replied, “No, he’s not!”

until the next time…

A delicate subject matter…

When you ask people what comes to mind when they hear the word ‘Japan,’ the answer will most likely be technology.  Japan is a very advanced country when it comes to this area.  When you enter the country, if you visit the restroom in the airport, you will notice the Japanese style (in the ground squatty potty) toilets.  If you look for another option, you will find the western style toilets with the high-tech toilet seats.  At the least, they will be heated.  I’m not sure how this came to be.  Japan does not use central heating, so you never really appreciate these until you visit a home that doesn’t have one in the dead of winter!

toilet3A truly advanced toilet seat has the bidet options.  The top buttons in the blue adjust the seat temperature.  The next button that looks like air blowing is a dryer.  Below that are two smaller buttons that adjust the water temperature.  The next button is for a bidet spray and the one below that has a little more direct aim/flow.  The button with the red square is the button that stops the water flow and dryer.  In a women’s public restroom, there will be a music button.  This plays music so that your ‘neighbor’ doesn’t hear anything but pleasant music.  I’m told they don’t have these little ‘music notes’ in the men’s room.  I have no answers of how all this came to be, except that I have noticed a lot of European influences here and bidets are used in European countries.  We Americans are behind the times!  HA!

As I am sure you can guess, these are not cheap.  There are no Home Depot $100 toilets here.  We live in a home in which the owner will not do any necessary repairs.  The toilet in our home was close to 40 years old and beginning to fall apart.  When we started looking for a new one, we were completely flabbergasted at the price.  Add to that the poor yen/dollar exchange at the time, and the word ‘impossible’ comes to mind.

In the fullness of time, the yen/dollar exchange improved and my brother-in-law found a toilet for a greatly reduced price.  I also have a husband with some basic plumbing skills, so after years of flushing with a cup a toilet that was held together with caulking… toilet2…look at what the Lord gave us!  I am rejoicing in His goodness!  And before you have a chance to ask the final question…the spigot in the top allows you to wash your hands as the tank fills.  Nothing goes to waste in Japan!

On a side note, during one of our many trips through Detroit traveling to and fro from Japan, we saw a Japanese business man walking through the airport carrying one of these toilet seats.  This is not surprising when you consider the fact that it is often the little things that we miss about our own country. 🙂

A Cultural Moment

There are so many cultural differences in my way thinking compared to the Japanese.  A recent one was brought to my attention two days in a row, so thought I would share it here.  Japanese parents do not keep real close tabs on their kids.  In their defense, it is a relatively safe country.  In days gone by, I allowed my kids to go to the park, etc. as long as they stayed together.  Everyone knew where the foreigners lived, so if there was a problem, I knew they would make it back home.  Kidnappings are not an everyday occurrence here.  Kids walk to school or take public transportation.  It is all rather orderly and somewhat impressive.  There is one thing, however, that REALLY bothers me.

I was at the mall yesterday trying to get my shoes repaired.  As I waited for the repair to be finished, I decided to do a little looking around.  I saw a young girl about 2 years old, looking frantically for her mother.  She started calling out for her mama.  She was no where to be seen.  The little girl began to run down the aisle of the mall crying and calling out.  No one came to her aid.  I started to follow her to make sure she would be o.k.  I didn’t approach her because I knew that one look at my foreign face would bring the screams.  The girl ran the entire length of the mall crying.  At the end of the aisle, her mother casually walked out of a store she was shopping in and called to her.  I could tell it was her mother, because the girl stopped crying and ran to her mother.  This all took well over five minutes and her mother did not seem the least bit disturbed that her very young child was not at her side for that length of time.  I witnessed the same thing today at another place that I had to visit to run some errands.  But it is o.k., I don’t have to.  The experiences of the Japanese are totally different from my experiences as an American.  It doesn’t make one of us wrong and the other right.  We are just different.  My American blood makes me look out for these little ones, when no one else seems to.  They aren’t aware that I am looking out for them, but I am!

Seasons, A Cultural Moment

Japan is a very seasonal country.  The food, merchandise and clothing all change like clockwork as the seasons change.  I love nabe.  It is a soup base that you can just throw whatever meat and veggies you want into.  However, according to the calendar, summer is just around the corner, so no more nabe soup base.

There are actual dates on the calendar for when the uniforms change from winter to summer and then back again.  It doesn’t matter if it is too hot or too cold.  If the date on the calendar has not arrived, you cannot change your uniform.  Something new started last year called ‘cool biz.’  It replaces the suits, etc. of winter.  Men wear short sleeve cotton dress shirts with no tie.  Women wear skirts with short sleeve cotton dress blouses with no ribbons, etc.  This is worn in July and August so that you can be a little cooler when they set the temps a little higher on the air conditioners to conserve energy.

Merchandise is changing as well.  The last nuclear plant is set to shut down, if it hasn’t already, so we have to conserve, conserve, conserve.  They are now selling gel pads that you can place on top of your mattress and gel pillows to help you keep cool at night so that you won’t run the air conditioning.  It looks pretty cool actually, no pun intended!

And so the seasons turn here in Japan.  We are preparing for a long, hot summer.

Japan without nuclear power for first time in 42 years