Navigators talk about making disciples “next door to everywhere.” That means that wherever they are and whatever they do for a living, they are living out the Gospel among the people they are around. For some people, that environment is quite different than the one they are used to. As Navigator staff members Mark and Jin Rood prepared to return to minister in Japan recently, Jin gave voice to some of her thoughts about advancing the Gospel in a culture so different from her own.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will adjust to life back in Japan. The past few days, I’ve felt rather reluctant to go. As I’ve thought about it, the main reason is the fact that I can communicate so easily in my native tongue and not so easily in Japanese.
In the United States, I can banter with the barista at the coffee shop, and ask questions of the homeless man on the street. I can have a 20-minute conversation with the mom at the park who just moved here from Las Vegas. I can make a quick joke when the waiter brings my drink without that pang of fear in my gut that perhaps my joke was misunderstood. I can spin lovely phrases and sound oh-so-very educated and smart.
I can choose how I want others to perceive me, based on my phrasing and intonation. I can picture myself developing relationships with these people and seeing the doors to the Gospel and Jesus opening with the slightest push from my fingers.
In stark contrast to this, when I am in Japan, I am easily misunderstood and often have no idea whether people “get” the spiritual things I share or not. My comments are often greeted with awkward silence and furrowed brows. There is a lot of bending over the dictionary and fumbling through explanations. I find myself using a lot of “kindergarten” language—although I’m not even positive exactly what that sounds like.
One thing is for sure: In Japan there is a lot less of me, and a whole lot more of God.
When I’m in Japan, I frequently pray throughout whole conversations with friends. It’s not because I’m holy. It’s not some spiritual discipline I’ve developed. I don’t do that when I have conversations here in the United State, in my own language. I just talk.
In Japan, however, I’m needy. Oh God, help me know what to say next. Let this woman I’m talking to understand in her heart. If I say the wrong thing, let her ears be stopped. Don’t let untrue things about You circulate because I don’t know what I’m doing or saying. Help me to know what would encourage her. Let us have fun. Let her understand. Let me understand.
I think I finally understand why I feel nonplussed about leaving. In America, I’m competent. I am smart and capable, and my ego grows larger by the day. I don’t get those same strokes for my ego in Japan.
Sometimes I wish it were different—easier. But I do know that things worth having are often difficult to obtain. And I think humility might be worth having.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
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