A Country of Surprises
Two weeks in, and Japan is still a country of surprises. At the beginning of this adventure, Japan was a country with pandas, bamboo, manga, bustling streets, buildings that tower into what seems like eternity, and weird food, but now, Japan is much more than that. Although it’s an isolated society, it has many of its own surprises that God has shown me to remind me of his greatness. You see, it really wasn’t until this week that I fully realized just how different Japan is from the country I had imagined.
The first surprise is this: not everyone speaks English and not everyone wants to talk to you. Maybe it’s my ignorant North American worldview or maybe it’s just culture shock, but never did I fully realize how difficult communication would be with the Japanese people. One thing us as a team have been working on is learning some of the language here in Japan, including good-to-know words, phrases and questions we may have that would be helpful in ministry. For example, “Konnichiwa! Watashi wa Madeline desu,” means “Hello! My name is Madeline.” Words like these help fuel our conversations with the locals and our conversations usually end with the question, “Watashi wa anata no tame ni inorimasu ka?” This means, “Can I pray for you?” The frustrating thing is the time in between these exchanges when the person tries to talk to you and carry on the conversation. We don’t know what they’re saying, they don’t understand us either, and google translate can only do so much. Not only that, but the Japanese are quiet people. They avoid communication through staring at their phones or books, and will often times just walk away when you try to speak with them. So, how do we deal? Still I struggle with this question. Do I get frustrated and give up, or do I keep pursuing these people in order to further God and his kingdom?
Through the little experience I do have, I’ve slowly been coming to the conclusion God has led me to on how to view and work in the situations where I try so hard to connect with someone but yet communication is cut off. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply,” and verse 10 says that, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.” In this way, God has shown me that every little action has the possibility of having a lasting effect on someone as long as it is done in love. Although talking to these people does not always result in the inciting conversation I hope it will, I’ve had to choose to believe that my small act of service somehow demonstrated the love of Christ. Especially in Japan where conversing with strangers is not common, God has pushed me to find joy in the small moments even if they don’t include the miraculous healings and miracles we all want to expect when sharing the gospel. In fact, I’ve slowly been learning that even small moments of victory are God’s workings and just because my human intelligence classifies them as “small” does not mean that they are of any less importance.
My favourite moment that has happened so far was while practicing Japanese around our community when I noticed a small Japanese woman sitting on the bench in the park making origami pockets. When one of the other girls and I asked if we could practice Japanese with her, she nodded ferociously and started jittering away to us. Although we couldn’t understand her well, we were able to make out what she was saying and create a small, but touching, relationship with her. From this, she began to teach us how to make the origami pockets she had been putting together earlier. I’m not sure what this encounter did for the woman, but I hope and pray that we were able to brighten her day just a little. As we walked away from this exciting conversation, I was left not only full in heart, but with hands full of origami and a package of gum all from a little, old, Japanese woman.
The second surprise Japan threw at me I full well expected. When I saw it, though, it still shocked me and caused me to rethink my view and preconceptions about Japan. This Friday, our team had the opportunity to meet with both of the YWAM bases in Tokyo and do ministry with them. We had the options of going on prayer walks, praying/talking to people, or doing prophetic art. Something I feel very passionately about is sex-trafficking and prostitution. When I heard that we were only a short walk away from a red-light district, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. You see, I knew full well before coming to Japan that prostitution was an issue, but when I walked onto that street, I quickly realized just how little I knew about it. Japan, amidst the bedazzle and plethora of people, has its own set of issues that may be hidden from the human eye, but are really and truly, very real.
As I walked down the street I eventually began to notice the prices advertising young girls in front of buildings, the “hotels” that weren’t really hotels, and the men in front of bars that were attempting to draw other men into their buildings. It’s absolutely horrifying and maddening all at the same time. While I prayed in this area, I began to ask God and even myself how such a horrible place could exist next to normal restaurants and shops (not to mention a police station) while tourists walked not even five minutes away out of the train stations. Not only that, but I again was left with the hopeless sensation of not being able to do enough. I couldn’t even talk to the girls because they weren’t the ones outside. They were all inside. God had to once again give me a loving reminder that what I view as a small act, is not less important to the God of the universe. So, even though I still have no idea if my prayers helped or were answered, I have faith that they were heard by the Lord, and I know that he hears and see the hearts of the girls and men involved in the sex-trafficking industry.
As I write this, I am also reminded of Matthew 5:44 that says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” After seeing the men in the red-light district attempt to draw other men into their businesses, I felt anger and hatred towards them for misusing girls and trying to get other men to do the same thing. Before I had even begun this particular prayer walk, however, my other teammates and I had prayed about and recognized that even though these men are sinful, they are still loved in God’s eyes and are worthy of redemption. During this time, I had to consistently revisit these prayers. I knew in that moment that I was not a worthy judge of those men, as I too have had my own sin to repent for. Only God who is sinless, can decided their fate and because he loves them, I knew I had to choose to do the same.
The past two weeks have been a very stretching experience for this team and for myself personally. We’ve continued on with the homeless ministry we began in the first week by singing songs, handing out food, and praying for people. This week we also decided to go to a park and worship. This ended up with us dancing around and praising God in a big circle. Everywhere we go, we try and spread God’s light with us by simply greeting those who walk by us and praying for others as we feel led. We’ve also had the opportunity to attend New Hope Church each Sunday. We all really love the worship at this church and appreciate how the service is translated between Japanese and English. Last Sunday we also attended a second church where we were fed squid soup. This was definitely an odd ingredient to many of us, but most of us tried it, and luckily, we have a very willing team that is always open for new opportunities no matter how odd they may be to us. We also had the chance to hear and meet David Cole who is a speaker in YWAM. He spoke on our identities in God and really encouraged us to base our foundation in a strong Christian faith.
This week, God has really moved in me by reminding me of his great power especially when things begin to get frustrating and difficult. Through this, God has taught me to appreciate everything I experience and have faith in his ability to take the small things I do for his glory, and plant a seed in the lives of others. As I continue on into the third week of outreach, I cannot wait to see the plans God will unravel in each of our lives and the people we meet. God has been so good in leading us this far, and I know, even in the hardships, he will continue to be faithful.
By Madeline Peters