Sacred secular split

 

“I want to study the religions of the world – one day.”

Her brown eyes dove into mine with warmth and gentleness, but the way she pushed forward a row of teeth in a poised smile built a courteous separation between us. Her smile stood between us like a polite picked fence. We had a nice chat as I passed by, I caught a glimpse of what she had made the inside of her space to look like, but I was not invited in to sit down and stay a while.

We often meet in the passing and have become quite well acquainted over the last months. We speak about art and education, about children and social issues, things that interest us and passionately push our blood into our cheeks. We speak about bullying, depression and therapy, about the importance of freedom to express feelings and faintheartedness and we agree about the importance of creating spaces in which this freedom is found. But as soon as I mention the person in Who this freedom is found, in relation to Whom healing and identity, purpose and direction are found, we lose each other.

I told her about the women I met who experienced horrid abuse and death-wooing depression and who found that Jesus listened to them and spoke liberty and regeneration into them in a very real and tangible way. But my words fell to the ground like a glance over a crowded room that doesn´t meet the eyes of the one you were trying to connect with.

So here we were again, waiting for a concert to begin and whispering into the humming of the singers warming up their voices. The concert was taking place in a little church so I had asked her whether she had been visiting any churches on her extensive overseas travels. She replied with a smile and a simple yes, fixing her eyes on the singers coming on the stage.

“I want to study the religions of the world – one day.”, she continued, leaning back and trying to make herself comfortable on the hard bench.

Suddenly, just as the singers were arranging their sheets of music, she leaned forward to me. The picket fence smile was gone. “I want to study the world´s religions one day, to know what will happen with me when I die.” A split second later the smile was back in place. “But at the moment I am too busy for that.” She shifted back into her comfortable position and the music began.

I sat through the concert, a thousand replies swirling through my mind. Half way through the recital she looked on her watch and excused herself. She had another appointment waiting.

She had brought a friend of hers, a gentleman who had been diagnosed with cancer. A friend who would have to begin thinking about “what happens when you die”…

Sensitised, I began hearing the stories everywhere.

My good friend`s father had not wanted to live with Jesus all his live, but a month before his death he told his family that he believed what the Bible said about God and got baptised.

A while ago I visited a dear elderly lady in hospital. Cancer had eaten her body down to a frail frame that was hardly visible under the blanket. Shortly before that the doctors had told her hopes were slim to ever leave hospital again. In that time she had agreed to pray to Jesus with a friend of mine, asking him for forgiveness and new life with Him.

Another friend told me about an acquaintance`s mother having passed away a few days ago. She had gotten baptized a day before she died.

As I listened to account after account I got more and more confused. I wanted to be happy about these lost sheep having been found just in time. But…wouldn`t there be so much more reason to rejoice if the lost sheep hadn`t come home just before he died? Of course, its wonderful to die with peace and hope. But wouldn`t a LIFE of peace and hope have been so much more of a wonder?

How did becoming a follower of Jesus become a comforting pill to quickly swallow when faced with your own death? Why do Truth and God – and the One who said to be both –  only seem to become relevant when life is about to be over?

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Hanno and I sat at the river, catching the last bit of sun before the forest that reflected in the steady stream would turn yellow and red, and then brown and barren. The wind was already filled with a cold sharpness. It was a Sunday afternoon and before the week of language and culture study began again, we had been talking about raising children in the cultural intersection of Africa, Europe and Asia, about discipling well in a world of agnosticism and religious allegiance to science founded on an atheistic worldview – and about our own experiences of having to research thoroughly, think well and jump trustingly in order for our faith to grow up into a solid and well-based reality in which we now live.

We chewed through the Christian thinker Nancy Pearcey`s observations who seemed to give words to our thoughts:

“Discipleship means {to generate an awareness of} how we are called to bring God`s truth into every area of life and overcome what is sometimes called the sacred secular split. What is the sacred secular split? Many Christians seem to believe their Christianity applies to a limited area of their lives, in other words, it belongs in church, Bible study, worship and so on. But they don`t really see how to bring their Christianity out into the public realm, into the realm of business, academia and politics.”

When faith is not considered to have any relation to facts, when belief is split from our everyday business and when our religion is not experienced as providing any explanation and purpose to our reality – then we are right there, caught in the sacred secular split. Then Jesus becomes a comforting thought to die with, but loses His power as Lord to live with. 

I get it – it can be uncomfortable to actually live as if we really believed what we profess, all the time, not only in church and around our Christian friends.

I also feel odd at times when I speak about an experience with God upon being asked why we moved to Japan or why I chose my profession or why I don´t want to buy mass produced meat or t-shirts from children in Vietnam. And those are the easy things, no one thinks that beef on antibiotics and child labour are great achievements of modern society, and social protocol allows me to base my personal choices of life and work on whatever I want.

But what if I actually stand up and tell you that I do believe in absolute truth and that He is called Jesus Christ, that He created the world and that He is the only way to a full and forgiven life with God? What if I put my trust in the reality of God and not in the reputation of an insurance company? What if I think God has an opinion about poverty and labour laws, social justice and refugees, sex and birth control, fast food and cell phones – and what if I try to act upon that opinion? What if I believe that God was creatively involved when it came to the development of the Japanese language which I spend most of my day studying at the moment, and that I can ask Him to make grammatical structures clear to me?

„In today’s cultural etiquette, it is not considered polite to mix public and private, or sacred and secular. This division is the single most potent force keeping Christianity contained in the private sphere-stripping it of its power to challenge and redeem the whole of culture.”

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I lie in bed and struggle to sleep, so I plug my ear phones in my phone and listen to a sermon about the prayers of Nehemiah. “I love this man Nehemiah”, the preacher explains, “because his prayer didn´t take him into the clouds, it kept his feet firmly on the ground. This man was a sensible, practical man.”

Nehemiah was a Jew in exile when he heard that the wall of Jerusalem was destroyed. This affected him so deeply that he tearfully prayed – for months. And then he made very pragmatic arrangements for the wall to be rebuilt. “This a lovely combination: the men who can pray and work, the men who can lift holy hands unto heaven and the men who can take a trowel in their hands and do a bit of brick laying. And that was true of Nehemiah: he was a lovely combination of heaven and earth.”

I listen up – no thought of sleeping anymore. There was no sacred secular split in Nehemiah´s life! And what positive change did he drive, both from a practical and spiritual point of view.

“It is sometimes said of saints that they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use. Some (people) are so earthly minded they are of no heavenly use – and God needs men of both. After all God made the heaven and the earth and he wants us to be equally useful in both.”

After all, God made both the heaven and the earth and He wants us to be equally useful in both…

No separation. What if that were true of us, if all we did and thought was with and for and about God, whether we close our eyes in prayer or fix them on a screen, whether we do preaching or computer programming, whether we attend a service or do shopping, whether we speak about the weather or the Gospel?

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Short Term Siblings

When she called me “Sweetie” on the second day of knowing me I knew that something holy had happened in the simplest of ways: strangers had become family.

She was what longwinded missions jargon likes to refer to as a “short term missions team member.” I was a “long term missionary”. Well, I still am. And we are both long term followers of Jesus.

We sat together after she had spent a long day helping out at a centre for handicapped children and I had been driving around, dropping these willing volunteers from five different countries, arranging lunch for them and trying to fit in some language study on a parking lot in between.

We had shared our stories of coming to Japan – her for ten days, me for possibly ten years or more – and the plain fact of being in the same place at the same time with the same desire made our conversation go deep into those places where pain and joy mingle in that strange emotional place called “the mission field”.

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Earlier I had stood at the massive church stove with another team member whose age was closer to that of my mother than to mine.

We giggled like little girls as we stirred big frying pans in which the meat for dinner sizzled. Next door the white linen clothed table bent under the weight of goodness already. We would be a lot of people in this little Japanese country church tonight: 15 short term missions team members, five long term missionaries and most of the church members.

“So we are cooking for the church members as well?” My enthusiastic cooking companion asked, eyeing the amount of meat a bit skeptically. “How many are they?”

“Oh, there will be about six of them coming, including the pastor.”, I answered. Her face grew dark.

“Oh… Oh, in my church we are 3000 people.”

Suddenly a fact had become a reality to her.

Of course she had known that coming to Japan she would encounter a small and struggling church. But the experience of being able to fry dinner for most of the church members in a single frying pan was something different than a zero and a little number behind a comma indicating the Christian population of Japan.

This is what coming to an unreached country on a short term missions trip had done for her.

Dinner

I had been very unsure about the Kingdom benefit of short term mission trips – and in some ways I still carry a certain skepticism and a lot of practical questions.

We have been living here for six months now and in spite of intensive language study we are almost exclusively limited to superficial conversations in Japanese. How would people who come here for a few days be able to communicate?

We are a team of five people and in the last months a great amount of our time and energy has not been spent on evangelizing or discipling the lost but on arranging a programme for the short term team. Is this justifiable? When is it justifiable?

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“This is so much fun!” Said short term team members stand before my long-term missionary husband who has sacrificed some sleep in the last days in order to organize a treasure hunt for the kids of the area.

It´s a few days later and we are hosting a three-day English Camp at church. This would be way beyond our manpower and capacities as a church and as a team, but the 15 dynamic short termers throw themselves into the task with enthusiasm and sincerity.

Groups of two or three short termers lead teams of five Japanese kids. The grown ups hardly speak any Japanese. The kids hardly speak any English. Somehow it works – and yet it´s often challenging and frustrating. They do their best to show Jesus to those kids who have never been to a church before and they do a pretty good job. And yet, Jesus also told us to go into all the world to preach the Gospel to all creation. To speak it. This, they simply can´t do and so many of the kids leave without having a clear idea of who this Jesus is of whom they have heard the occasional story on this camp.

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And yet – without embellishing the struggle and without generalizing the specific experience – every single one of these fifteen short termers from all over the world does something else.

They help me find my voice again.

They do this in a two-fold way, enabling me to both to find words for the Japanese people and for you, who read this outside of Japan.

In a very practical sense, they empower me to speak Japanese. My wobbly grammar and meager vocabulary help them to communicate with the kids. Often we need to find a native speaker to actually make sense of the conversation, but sometimes I can bridge the communication gap and grow in confidence and excitement about this language again.

 

In a more personal and emotional sense, they help me to verbalize the reality of living here to “outsiders”. How many times have I tried to put into sentences what doesn´t make sense to anyone who doesn´t see the things I see here, who doesn´t walk this hard ground and who doesn´t feel this vacuum in which I so often seem to be operating. I could not find them. So I kept quiet.

They came and walked the ground, saw the lost and shared the frustrations. And in so doing they faced the same questions. Most of the time I couldn´t answer them. But sometimes a question is all that can really be said about a situation as complex as a nation ignorant of God. They shared the questions and broke the lonely curse of “no one understands”.

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“We wanted to ask you…” She seeks her words carefully, the usual cheer is gone and her voice is hardly audible as we drive with open windows through dark rice fields. It´s our last evening together.

“We wanted to ask you how we can pray for you. You know, when we had a prayer night during this outreach and we prayed for the whole world, that was so different from what we do in church. We usually pray for ourselves. For our church. But now…”She seeks the correct description. “Now, our whole world view has been changed.”

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We end up sharing prayer requests in a way that makes us all quiet and teary. They know what we are talking about now.

“We would also like to know how we can give to you…”one of them continues in the dark.

“You know, God has given us so much. But we can only eat one bowl of rice every meal so what shall we do when God gives us more? We want to be part of what God is doing in Japan.”

Before that we might have been teary eyed, but now our tears flow in humble amazement. Just a few moments before, the long term missionary husband and I had been speaking about trusting God to give us everything that we need – again. One source seemed to have been exhausted and we were tensely wondering where else we could save or how God would be able to provide this time.

And now this: Family joining Dad´s business.

There are no short-term siblings.

Rice land

If you type the name of our town into Google translate it comes up with the plump-poetic word rice town. Our particular part of Rice Town is called … rice town (using a different one of the many words for rice this time).

Just after we had moved to Japan, a colleague from a different area commented: “So you live in the Northeastern region of Japan. That´s Riceland, right?”

Yes, friends, we live in Ricetown in Ricetown in Riceland – and in the last few weeks we have seen what that means.

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The first frost free nights of April catapulted us into the bustling season of Hanami – cherry blossom viewing – that is so uniquely celebrated in Japan. And yet, the outburst of colours in early spring was just a prelude to the outburst of human activity that followed.

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At first, the flood gates to the rice paddies that cover every conceivable square meter of our town were opened, transforming the area into a landscape of puddles, ponds and lakes. The surrounding mountains and the bright spring moon are reflected in the still waters that soften the ground for planting.

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The temperatures have risen, so now we leave our insect-mesh-protected bedroom window open at night to hear the frogs who have found a new home in these temporary ponds.

One of the first sentences that we learned in Japanese was: “The frogs sing.” And yes, the frogs in Japan sing indeed, offering up burpy worship in slight cacophony.

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After the water, the seedlings are placed in the fields. Planted with little tractors pulling planting machines, hand-pushed gadgets or by hand, rows and rows of green tips are now breaking through the shallow water everywhere.

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And now…we wait…

Many men return to work in the cities when there is no immediate need to work on the family rice fields. Being a riceland-man means absolute loyalty to this piece of family land that could only be cultivated with intense labour, commitment and team work of the generations before you. These ancestors are often honoured, thanked and asked for protection by placing – you´ve guessed it – rice on their graves or on the family altar.

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But being a riceland-man often also means being a  seasonal labourer on your own land, while the women tend to the growing rice plants.

All of this influences marriages and families, it influences social life and clan thinking, it influences the worldview of the people here.

“Many men have another woman in the city, while the wife takes care of the children and quite contentedly and independantly runs her own life.”, said a colleague who has lived here much longer than us. The men return to help in planting season and harvest time, continuing the tradition of long family lines of rice farmers whose work in the rice field literally shaped them. Many older women here walk with bent backs from the years of bowing down to tend to the low rice plants. Rice cultivation shaped the way family clans stick together like Japanese rice cakes, not leaving a lot of space for the individuality of the different rice grains and yet fascinating, nourishing and often beautiful.

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When God made the first man he used soil. When man disobeyed God the soil that man was cultivating for food and livelihood was cursed. Man and soil seem to influence one another on a deeper level than the few inches of plough marks that man draws in the mud, yes, even deeper than our materialist worldview.

Seeing the soil around us being watered, planted and harvested so very differently than we are used to, only makes us realise how differently the people who grew up on this soil live, think and believe.

 

 

Homestay

Last week, we had the amazing opportunity to stay in a Japanese home for a few nights. A retired couple from the 9-people strong church in this area opened their house for us – and soon we saw that they would take us right into their hearts as well.

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During our time there we turned into detectives, always carrying our notebooks with us, scribbling down vocabulary and random but important information like “The host only fills the tea cups half way. You don´t help yourself, always wait for the host to give you tea.”

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Here is a haphazard, far from complete list of what we learned during our stay:

  • In winter, Japanese people can eat soup three times a day. And vegetable soup, combined with rice and grilled salmon, is actually a fantastic first meal of the day!
  • Before a meal the host looks dramatically at the heavily laden table and apologises for the fact that there is nothing to eat…
  • When you enter a home, you take off your shoes and use the slippers that your host offers you. But you better don´t forget to take them off when you enter the rooms of the house that are laid out with rice mats. Or even more important: you better not forget to take off your house slippers before entering the toilet, putting on the toilet slippers, doing your business while enjoying the heated toilet seat, taking off your toilet slippers, putting your house slippers back on and finally arranging the toilet slippers nicely for the next person.
  • When you lay out your thin mattress on the rice mat with which the bedrooms are covered, make sure that your head points to the door. Why? “Because it is warmer that way.”
  • It´s okay to see your hosts naked! Well, it´s okay for guys to see guys and ladies to see ladies – when you go to the public bath together. Afterwards you still make sure the bathroom door is locked when you take a shower…
  • An earthquake feels pretty much like a heavy truck passing on the road right next to our hosts´ house.
  • We might be very different, but we are all just people and something amazing happens when people become friends no matter how far apart they are in culture or age. That´s what happened to us during our few nights in a Japanese home. In the end, our hosts told us that they are our Japanese grandparents now and invited us back. When they repeated their invitation the next two times we saw them, we realised that this was more than just politeness. So we´ll go back for a few more days next week 🙂

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Despite all the interesting and exotic and fascinating experiences and flavours these few days also showed us how difficult it is to live with people when you hardly speak one anothers language. Often we simply smiled when we realised in resignation that we still didn´t remember the words for “Thank you, that´s enough” when our host filled our bowls. We joined our hosts watching the weather and sumo wrestling on TV and afterwards our minds felt like we we had studied astrophysics. Sometimes, when we fell asleep at half past eight in the evenings, we would wonder: “What are we even doing here?”

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On Sunday, we joined the 9-people church for their Sunday service again. After the service, the church members packed out tables and ate lunch together.

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Because a guest speaker had been preaching someone suggested that we go around in the circle introducing ourselves and sharing a few sentences about ourselves and our walk with God. When it was our hosts turn, he told the church about these strange visiors that he had had this week. “I looked at Hanno…”, he explained. “…and I saw that he has nothing of what makes my life so comfortable. And yet I saw a hunger in him to learn more. I want that hunger in my spiritual life.” Wow, God is gracious. He really does use the weak and foolish.

 

 

印鑑

“Do you have a hanko?”

Our host holds her hand over the bottom of her phone as she adresses us. She is helping us to find a flat and calling someone whose numbers she found in the town bulletin. We expected pretty much any question but this one: the person at the other end of the line seems to want to make sure that we have a stamp that has our name engraved on it before he even asks for any personal information. We do learn something new about Japanese culture every day! Japanese people usually don´t sign important documents – they stamp them with a personalised stamp of their surname.

This picture is from: https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=hanko&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjL7dDrg9nKAhUlGaYKHaVSAnsQ_AUIBygB&biw=1024&bih=465#tbm=isch&q=hanko+stempel&imgrc=IrsQEpB-dB_XyM%3A

 

Already on our second day in Tome-shi, our team mate took us to a home improvement store. Just outside the main shop we find a huge orange machine. We take some time to figure out which design (and which Japanese spelling…) we want to use for our surname.

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A friendly assistant whose smile is covered by a white facemask approves of our decision and then the machine begins it´s work. It spits out a black plastic tube that looks like a thin lipstick from afar. The tube disappears in the stomach of the machine and for about three minutes we hear gentle drilling. And then our ready hanko is spit out, accompanied by the complementary beeping of Japanese machines.

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After buying a hanko-case at the 100-Yen Shop (where we can choose between two black and neutral looking cases, and lots of neon coloured and animal shaped ones) we went to the post office in town to open a banl account. And here we discovered another use of the hanko: not only does it serve as a signature at the top of the paper we are filling in, it is also required to set its red mark on every correction that we have to do on our document. With our level of Japanese wrting, our paper looked pretty red in the end. Thanks to the hanko, however, that was no problem. Every mistake is personally taken responsibility for and covered by the red ink of our stamp.

It´s a good reminder of the Red of Grace that has to cover our mistakes and shortcomings so often in these first days of learning to live in a new culture…

 

 

First impressions

We have been in Tome-shi, “our town” just over 24 hours now and already there is so much to tell! Today, we´ll let some pictures do the telling…

Before we left Tokyo we had breakfast with a man who lost his job and as a result also his home – and found Jesus on the streets of Tokyo.

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After the breakfast we joined him for a Bible study with homeless men in a freezing park. There we met Ryan…

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…who “happened” to travel in the same direction as we would that same afternoon. “Sometimes you just smell a divine appointment.”, was all that Hanno said. He took a picture of Ryan´s train ticket…

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…which enabled us to book our seats next to him on the journey to Sendai. Just moments after our host had left us alone we met Ryan at the station and he could help us with our (many!) bags. We chatted nonstop about missions, contextualised evangelism and church for almost 3 hours on the way to Sendai. Wow!

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The Smithdorffs and “our” room in their house greeted us like old acquaintances. What a blessing to join a new team and already know everyone!

What do you do on your first day in the new team? You attend a 5 hour meeting of the handful of church leaders in the area 😉 They indeed welcomed us very kindly though and it´s exciting to see what´s happening in the area.

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We also drove through beautifully white-and-sunny snow landskapes…

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…saw the car that someone has given to us (yes, we had to scrape some snow away before we could literally see it…) …

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…and we went to the town hall to get registered. There, we first needed some help to figure our how to spell our names in Japanese. We are now – precisely transliterated – Iohanesu Aruberutosu Mihiru de Biriasu & Anne de Biriasu gebu Rinke. But we were helped incredibly kindly and courteously. The thoughtfulness of the office even went as far as  providing reading glasses in case someone had trouble reading their forms (different ones for people in their 40s, 50s, 60s…)!

After a good Japanese bath it´s time to say: おやすみなさい – good night!

 

 

 

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”…