Cups

Becoming a missionary has never been my plan for my life. As a matter of fact, I did pretty much everything to convince myself that I should not become a missionary.

 

When my parents were dating, back in the days when they called one another from a phone booth and wrote letters and postcards that are now stored in our attic, my Dad had a car accident. The car was completely smashed – but my Dad got out and walked home without a single injury. This was so remarkable, that the guy whom he met down the road didn´t believe him when he said that it was his car that was waiting to be towed away. My Dad had known, loved and followed Jesus before that, but this accident made him re-think his ideas about life. He decided to “give” his life to Jesus anew, letting Him decide what to do with it from now on. And Jesus decided that he wanted my Dad, my Mom and my brother and me (who had come along in the meantime) to live in Africa. We spent five and a half wonderful, difficult, life-changing and sometimes life-threatening years in the Central African Republic, Kenya and Cameroon – and then we returned to Germany.

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Returning to a home where you look like everybody else on the outside but are different from everybody else on the inside was more difficult than expected. I worked really hard to become German. And when I succeeded, I decided that I would never be anything else. This was my place.

When I was 21, I even went back to Kenya for a few weeks. Something in me found home there again, and yet, I felt the tension of looking different from everyone around me while feeling like everyone around me. I didn´t want to live like this. I wanted to have a home country that I fit into. When I returned, I announced to my parents that I would never live anywhere but in Germany.

One year later, the man whom I thought I loved left me, and I fell in love with Jesus again. And in that time I asked Jesus, just like my Dad many years before, what He wanted me to do with my life. And, just like my Dad, I felt that I couldn´t live in a place like Germany where it is so easy for people to hear about Jesus when there are places where this is almost impossible.

It´s a story for another day how God changed my mind and took me to South Africa and had me marry a South African. But in the time of asking and wondering where God would have me move and what He would have me do I started to see a picture of my future in my mind.  I guess you can call it something between a vision, a dream and a sneak-preview to strange and wonderful things that were to come.

In this picture, I saw myself sitting on the floor, drinking tea out of handle-less cups and talking about life and God with women who had a different ethnic and cultural background than myself.

That was about five years ago.

About two weeks ago, I sat in a room with three Japanese ladies. We were sitting on the floor, drinking tea out of handle-less cups and talking about having babies, fighting with husbands, cooking for families when the food you buy might be contaminated from a nuclear meltdown in a nearby city and whatever else four women talk about when they feel comfortable around one another. Later, we watched a DVD about God´s design for marriage. Two of the ladies don´t know God yet and I don´t know Japanese yet, but we all come together to learn.

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While the white-haired man on the screen speaks words that don´t translate into meaning in my mind my eyes wander to the handle-less cup before me.

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And although I neither look like everyone around me nor feel particularly at home in this land that we have moved to a month ago, I simply know that Jesus thinks we´re in the right place. And until He tells us to leave, I don´t want to be home anywhere else.

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We made it (Or: We are not so special)

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That moment when you sit on a carpet on the 15th floor, looking out of a window where you can make out Mount Fuji on clear days, with your jet-lag recovering husband having fallen asleep next to you… That moment would be: now.

Yes, we made it – we are in Japan!

After waiting for this moment so long, it almost feels surreal.

The visa letters (that I wrote about in the last post) were speed-mailed to us immediately and reached South Africa a few days later. Only – they didn´t reach us. Day after day, we went to the post office that the letter was addressed to. Day after day we stood in the queue, finding a bit of relief of the heat wave that struck South Africa in the air conditioned post office, but never finding our letter waiting for us.

Us: “Good morning, maam, we are here to collect our letter (like every day in the last week).”

Friendly Post Lady: “Good morning, have you checked the tracking number online?”

 Us: “Yes, we have (every other hour in the last week. Sometimes, when we wake up at night and have to go to the bathroom, we quickly check the tracking number. Just in case something miraculous happened between 22:00 and 23:30.). The international and national system seem to be giving contradicting information. So, we can´t see where the letter is at the moment.”

 FPL: “Okay, I will go and check if it arrived here.”

(She goes and returns with a big crate. Manually, she goes through the letters and papers in it, looking for our names on the envelopes. I have to make up my mind that my trust is in God and not in her finding a needle in this haystack of mail.)

FPL: “No, sorry, nothing here. Maybe come back next Monday.”

Us: “Next Monday? (Today is Tuesday! We need to book our flights! We need to get to Japan! We need to…learn how to wait and trust our God…)”

………………………………………………………………………

We went home and tried to not let the discouragement and uncertainty get to us. But it did. We prayed and asked, why didn’t things work out as they should. I wrote long laments in my journal, telling the Lord how urgently I needed to be in Japan. Now!

 

And he answered me in an unexpected way. I read an article about Generation Y – my generation. The article describes how we grow up feeling really special. Thinking our lives would be filled with greener grass and bigger flowers and more sparkly unicorns than anyone else´s. How we think we are so special that the world just waited for us – and how we get disappointed and sad and confused when we realize that life is difficult and growing grass and flowers (let´s not talk about the unicorns…) takes a lot of hard work and even more time. The world didn´t wait for us and our dreams to save it. We are not so special.

 

I read these observations and was immediately convicted. Yes, I had started to believe that we were “special” because we went to Japan. That we would be doing things in a new, different, flowers-and-unicorns kind of way. From time to time reality would give my thinking a knock (like now, when waiting for an inexplicably untraceable letter). But mostly, I had believed that I was God´s “special one”: on a “special” mission, with a “special” calling in a “special” country. And therefore I had started to believe that I was entitled to “special” treatment by God. What a lie! What selfishness! What a burden!

Obviously, this doesn´t mean that God never treats me special. Quite the opposite is true. But even more obviously, I never deserve it and never have a right to demand it. In fact, I lost my rights the moment I became His. Now there are only mercies.

 

Later that day, I read Francis Chan writing in Crazy Love:

 

“Can you worship a God who isn´t obligated to explain His actions to you? Could it be arrogance that makes you think God owes you an explanation?”

 

I realized the audacity of my thinking, confessed and repented. And afterwards, I felt joyful freedom. It wasn´t my burden anymore, whether we would get the letter soon. This wasn´t about me looking good or being impressive – this was about God looking good and being impressive. And I could trust Him to take care of His own glory!

 

……………………………………………………………………………….

That night, we heard that our letter might still be at the International Mail Centre. We made the 40 minute trip to Johannesburg, cautiously hopeful. When we arrived at the mail centre, our hope almost dwindled. We stood in front of a big warehouse, separated from the public by a big boom and three security guards.

 

Us: “Hello… We are here to collect our letter (Can you collect letters here?! Don´t you have to be an employee of the post to even get access here?!)”

 Friendly Security Guard: “Did you get an SMS?”

 

Us: “No… (What SMS? How would they have our number?)

 

FSG: “Let me see your tracking number.”

 

(The security guard studied our paper and then told us to sit down at the side of the road while he went inside. We sat down on the hot pavement and prayed one more time. Eventually, he came back. I saw from afar that he didn´t carry a letter with him.)

 

FSG: “They need you to go inside to fetch the letter yourself.”

 

Us: “Oh…okay. (Does that mean they have the letter?! They have the letter! No, don´t get too excited yet. Maybe…)”

 

Ten minutes later we left the office with our letter.

Four days later we had our visas.

Six days later we flew to Tokyo.

 

And now we´re here!

 

(Random incident at the airport, that doesn´t really fit into the story above, but that´s just too cool to not tell: When we entered the pick-up area, a young Japanese man approached us, asking us if he could speak to us. I – too tired to think on my feet – mechanically let him know “Wakari masen – I don´t understand.”, before I realized that he spoke English. It turned out that he wanted to film us for his TV show “Why did you come to Japan?”

Only having been in the country for about 15 minutes, here was our first chance to witness! Into a TV camera! We explained that we´re with a Christian organisation, heading up North, having a 3 year visa, etc, etc…

His English wasn´t very good (and our Japanese is even worse), so he had to ask his interpreter to explain to him what we were saying. When she reached the part of us being part of a Christian organization, she paused and searched for words. He nodded in response, but there was no spark of understanding or recognition in his eyes. I suppose these are the moments when you realize that you are in an unreached country, when then TV presenter only stares at you with a smile full of question marks when you mention being “Christian”…

Looking back, looking forward

The other day, I started playing the guitar again. I really don´t play the guitar well. And most of the time I don´t do anything to change that.

But four years ago, just before I moved to South Africa, I put a lot of effort into playing better.

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Now, just as we are about to move to Japan, I pull the old thing out again.

Maybe it is because of Petra. Petra was a missionary in the Central African Republic where I spend some years of my childhood – and I adored her! In my six-year old´s mind, she was the missionary hero. She had come specifically to teach the children of the Zande people, among whom my parents worked. She taught them songs about Jesus that she translated into Pazande before she could even speak the language properly.

From time to time I would be invited to her house – on my own! She would teach me to tie my shoes or to use a sewing machine. Once, I even went to her for a sleepover. Dinner tasted amazingly different there and she read long stories about Jesus to me before I fell asleep.

Petra had a puppet monkey who lived in an old suitcase, she had a long, flowing, hippy-style dress – and she had a guitar (she also had a boyfriend who wrote her long letters that took weeks to be delivered to our little mission station in the African bush. When she got such a letter – and even more when she hadn´t gotten one for a long time – her eyes would be tellingly red. Back then, of course, I did not understand how anyone could long for more than a guitar as your travel companion.)

The guitar was her helper to tell people about Jesus – and, I can sure tell you, it was a pretty cool helper in my eyes!

 

Maybe that´s why I feel I need to learn how to play the guitar better in this time… Sometimes you just want something to hold on to as you embark on the journey of telling people about Jesus.

 

And yet – we actually sense these days, that God wants to strip us from everything we are tempted to hold on to.

Time and time again, people told us in these last weeks that they sense God telling us to not rely on anything that we can do ourselves with regards to seeing His Kingdom come, but to solely rely on Him. When so many people think God is telling them something about you – and it ends up being the same message over and over again – you do listen up.

 

They are saying: Don´t have trust and confidence in yourselves. Have faith in God (which does make a lot of sense, if you think about it – how could we truly trust in our wavering, weak and weary selves? And yet, we seem to not be thinking about it half of the time and fall into worrying, pseudo-controlling and scheming all too often. We culture-savvily call it “stress”, because stress makes you and the steps ahead of you look really important, grown-up and big. All the while it is a great masquerade for fear.)

 

The opposite of fear is not a great plan or great courage, but faith in a great God.

 

“If we desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and therefore, through trial, be strengthened.”

George Mueller

 

2015 was our “year of faith”.

In 2015 we said the final yes to God´s call to Japan – which also meant a yes to a higher cost of living than we currently have in South Africa. In a breathtaking way that fills us with humble gratitude to our God and His people our income has increased without us asking anyone except for our Father in Heaven.

In 2015 we stood in many lines and waited many hours at government offices. We often lost patience and joy. And yet, all the necessary documents have been issued.

 

In 2015 we were blessed, loved, prayed for and given to by a German Protestant church that was started around 1554 and a South African Charismatic church that was started about five years ago.

 

In 2015 we got angry way too often because we got stressed way too often, we lost faith when we listened to a world that screams “impossible” at a lifestyle where God is provider and employer and Father so very practically. We failed to testify of His goodness and joined the crowd´s complaints. We thought of ourselves more than we wanted to and we didn´t give as much as we wanted to.

2015 was a year full of opportunities where our faith may be tried and it was a year in which God truly proved Himself faithful and good.

God alone.

So it is really real

This morning, Hanno and I sat down to listen to our 4 minute Japanese audio book chapter of the day. It takes us about 30 minutes to go through our routine: We start off reading the sentences.

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Then we listen to a sweet voiced electronic girl reading those same words in a speed that dizzies our brains as we desperately try to hold on to a few words that we understand (I have come to the conclusion that this girl must be electronic, because she can´t possibly be alive – she never breathes as she runs through the soft flow of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel that is so characteristic for Japanese!).

Afterwards we try to make sense of the story about the rabbit and the elephant or the boy and the dog (probably the nature of the characters give you a hint to the linguistic level we´re at…).

And eventually (drumroll!) –  we take the quiz!

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Just before we sat down to go through our routine today, we prayed. Hanno asked God to help us remember and understand and somehow have our synapses hold on to the words that we learn today. “And please let us hear about our visa letter today.”, I added.

 

We have been waiting for this letter for about five weeks now. Last week we heard that, surprisingly, more information had been requested from our missions organisation. We were asked not to worry but to pray. So we prayed and we asked our friends around the globe to pray with us and we have been carried through the uncertainty by the God who hears and His people who care.

 

Hanno smiled when I finished my prayer and I asked a bit indignantly what was so funny. “Didn´t we surrender it to God?”, he replied.

Yes, we did.

Yes, we really had a peace that wasn´t shaken by countless conversations in which we repeated: “No, we don´t know when we are leaving the country. It could be in two weeks or in two months.”

Yes, we had agreed with the different friends who had given us the same Scripture, pointing us to the person and authority of Jesus as our only hope and confidence, also in something as practical as a visa letter.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col 2:9-10)

Yes, I had woken up Friday night (just before we were about to have our Farewell Party, not knowing when the farewell would actually happen). I had woken up and was reminded of Jesus´ words in Revelation that had been prayed over us a few times in the last months, somehow knowing in my sleepy mind that these words that Jesus had said long time ago to a church far away were also true for our visa letters:

Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev 3:8)

 

 And still, I really, really, really just wanted God to tell us today what was going on!

 We decided to not continue the discussion whether you can surrender something to God and ask for it at the same time and worked through a story of a little boy looking for his dog. Afterwards Hanno checked his emails. And…we had received news from our future team leader in Miyagi – the visa letters have been approved! They will now be couriered to us and serve as our tickets for two 3-year visas for Japan.

 

So it is really real. We are moving to Japan.

Very soon.

 

Giving up

We had come back from three weeks in the land of the rising sun and I had spent my days taking turns in arguing with and surrendering to the Lord.

The problem was that I had my ideas – my ideas of who I was and of what I wanted to do. And of what I did not want to do. I had my ideas, of what Anne, the missionary, looked like: A woman, selflessly but heroically helping the poor, living with them in a mud hut or a cracking concrete building, a mother to the orphaned and hurt around her, facing danger and even persecution, but living a wild and free dream of miracle filled pioneering life. I wanted to be Anne-DavidLingstoneHudsonTaylorAmyCarmichaelGladysAilward-deVilliers.

 

“They don´t even have orphans here!” I said to the Lord the one day. The next day, another missionary told us about more or less 39.000 children who are orphaned or abandoned and end up being institutionalised, stigmatised and often even abused.

I was told about drama teaching opportunities, the impact wives and moms and families can have in lonely and ageing neighbourhoods, about the need for people that can offer informal counselling and with everything that was mentioned I warmed more to the idea of a “different” Anne, the missionary.

But… I still had my ideas.

We returned to South Africa and I was cautious in my descriptions of Japan. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, it was different. Would we move there? Maybe. Yes, probably, but…

A few days after we returned, Hanno, my brother and I went to hike a nearby hill.

Finally, I felt like myself again. Red soil under my shoes, a rough rock under my bottom   as we take the adventurous route and slide down the rocky ground. The bush kid comes to live again. I want to dance freedom on that hill in the city.

“This is me!”, I want to exclaim as I take off my shoes and let the wind blow through my messy hair. “Look, this is me!

This continent is where I fit and belong, under a sun that darkens my skin and among people that swing to the same slow rhythm of earth and open skies. Where Creator God is blazing Bright against the night, where heaven and hell are so close and clear in drums and dancing- This is where my soul feels at home and where I can dance Light into poverty and pain.

And yet, You show me a land with heavy, wet soil and dense forests, a people as beautiful and intransparent as the paper windows of their old houses. You show me a land that never danced in the Light and a heaven polluted by false Gods. You show me a numbed people that drinks busyness like medicine against loneliness and fear.

 

I would really have to deny myself if You wanted me to move there!”

 

“Isn´t that what it´s all about?”

The response comes clearly and cuts right through the bone to the marrow.

You show me that I have no right to complain. No right to say: “I would choose differently.” Because You gave that right up when You came to me. You went to the numb, the religious, the critical and immoral. You went to the ones whose character, being and essence didn´t only kill Your comforts and Your routines, but killed You.

You came – and you became – one of us. Flesh in our likeness, ate what we like, spoke with our words – and brought change for eternity.

“Whoever holds on to his life”, You explained “will lose it.”

We all turn to colourless dust, no matter how colourful and distinctive we made ourselves.

“But if you give up your life” – if I give up likes, my preferences, my I-can´t-live-without-this-lies and my sinful desire to be someone, someone better, someone outstanding, someone admired, someone accepted and approved by the nod of my own head – then…

“then you will find it.”

Then I will find purpose beyond my own “Like”-seal, then I find identity beyond the colourless dust – and then I will find the ones that You want to change for eternity.

When you call my name

Five months after Hanno asked God to keep mentioning Japan for one week if we were supposed to visit this country for a vision trip, we sat on board of an airplane that was going to carry us to this country whose name had become so familiar to us.

Another thing that had become familiar to me was the fear and almost aversion that I began to feel when Japan was mentioned. “We will see…”, I told myself when pondering the possibility that our future might take place there.

The morning that we were going to fly out to Japan, we quickly drove to the bank to exchange some money. As we were driving, a song started to play.

I’ll go when You call me
I run when You tell me where to go
We are desert walkers under shady clouds
Your fire shows there’s more of You to know
Let our idols fail, vanity subside
And we will see the beauty in our livesWhen You call my name
When You call my name
Send me to the edge of the Earth
Show me what our life is worth
When You call my nameI will wait in the darkest hour
For You will be a light on this road
Lead me out to the ground I’ve never walked on
Only to rely on You alone
When you call my name
It was more a thought than a prayer, but as I listened to this song, African landskape passing by, the tickets to Tokyo in my purse, I said: “When I hear You call my name in Japan, I will know, this is where You want us to move.”
We flew 23 long hours over dessert and mountains and sea.
We ate and slept and watched movies.
One of the movies was Japanese, with English subtitles. It was a twisted murder story, depressing and confusing and I thought: “Great…so this is what Japanese thinking is like…” The main character was a girl who was afraid of life and society and spent her days playing computer games and dreaming about better days long ago.
Back then, she had a friend. And she gave this friend a special name, that symbolised comfort, companionship and courage to face life to her.
She called her friend Anne.
We landed in Tokyo and spent the first night on the airport. Cleaning robots and speaking toilets accompanied us as we spent our first night in this strange and fascinating country.
The next morning, we found our way to our hostel, which Hanno had found on the internet.
The name of the hostel was: Anne
Anne hostelWas God calling my name? I was sure listening now…
(More of our story will follow in a few days or weeks — we are on our way to an outreach to Laudium, an Indian community outside of Pretoria. Many Muslims and Hindus live there and the MDT students and us will be visiting and getting to know them these next few days. Prayers appreciated :-))