A Time for Everything

Anna, Wed 22 March 2023, Posts

Dear friends and family,

Several weeks ago, my best friend from high school asked me some good questions over a video message. It has now been six years since I moved to Japan, and she wanted to know where I was 'at' after this long season abroad and what ministry, spiritual conversations, and progress are actually like here compared to international ministry I was involved in at college in the States. I was only able to answer with likely very confusing imagery at the time, being in the middle of processing resolutions and changes that came with the new year. But I feel I can give a proper answer now. And so it is that nearly a year after our last post--Audra’s final thoughts before leaving Japan--that I (Anna) sit down to write one about staying.

Looking at the last few months from an Ecclesiastes 3 perspective, at least, it seems that now is a time to stay. Those of you who have seen April's last couple of updates on our Things Hoped For Facebook page will have gotten snippets as to why, but I'd like to share a bit more about what God has been doing to open doors to another season abroad. As you may have already read in April’s brief post, after starting Miya-Friend face-to-face again last September, we soon ran into a problem: only church members were coming, despite the main reason for the group being outreach to non-believers in the community. But before long, God cracked open a door: one member mentioned off-hand that another foreign girl was teaching English at a different church on Thursday nights. "Someone else in our small city of Miyazaki is trying to use English for ministry and we haven't met this person??" is basically how we both responded to that news, so within a couple of weeks we went to check it out. And that's where we met Maggie, a missionary-in-training for Pioneers. From her we learned that a whole missionary team had moved to Miyazaki a couple of years ago (just as the Juves' years of service here were ending, with Rhonda passing away from cancer and Al moving back to the States). Within another week we were out at the house church the missionary team had begun. From these new connections April and I gained a number of things:

This is Maggie!

This is Maggie!

Having communion together after church at the Tom's house

Having communion together after church at the Tom's house.

We took December off, sent out a survey, and started again in January meeting on Friday nights instead of Sunday afternoons. Simply put, it worked. New members, mainly non-Christians and of more varying ages, started coming, and more importantly several have consistently come back. Once or twice being on the brink of too many people for April and me to handle, the meetings have had hiccups; still, more people who have never heard the story of the Bible are hearing it now, and that is enough for us to keep doing our best. In our last lesson, we learned 'try to get out of something' and 'step up to the plate' in our English conversation portion, and in the Bible reading portion we read about YAHWEH speaking to Moses through the burning bush. Moses really, really did not want to be God's messenger and confront Pharaoh and lead a nation of people out of Egypt. But I AM, the eternal God, creator of all things, is the one who made Moses, and in the end his will was done. And we know that God stayed with Moses from then on, until the day that Yahweh buried Moses himself.

When April and I were planning the lesson and making materials, we talked about stepping up to the plate. April said that, for her, being in Japan was essentially that. She prefers Nebraska, being with familiar friends and family, 'The Good Life' in the quiet countryside. But there is ministry to do with unreached people here, and so here she is. For me, it feels less that way. I've said in a previous post somewhere, that I've loved every place I've ever landed because my King has always been with me, and he is my home. And wherever I am, there are good works that God has prepared for me beforehand that I may walk in them.

Though our feelings on staying may be different, April and I both seem to be approaching a transition point in our time here. I have decided that this school year, the last on my five-year contract at the high school where I work (7 to 5 on a good day and frequent Saturdays), will be my last year there, and April is thinking of doing the same at her kindergarten job. How does that fit in with staying? Simply that I believe all the doors that have opened in the last few months have done so for a reason, and that God will provide a more flexible job for me. Having finished my MA last June, I can now apply for college jobs, and college class scheduling will allow more flexibility for ministry--not just for Miya-Friend, but for doing events or one-on-one Bible studies or whatever other ministry options come. For April, language studies have been a source of aggravation and stress that she gave up on during the cabin fever of staying home in the first year of Covid. For her, then, the next step may be language school, an environment where she can enjoy learning. We may not know the specifics, but I feel that the God who makes everything beautiful in its time still has ways to use us to build his kingdom here.

And that brings me back to how I started this post, with the questions my friend asked about where I'm 'at' and what spiritual conversations and ministry progress are like here. And where I'm at is this: that now is the time to love like a fool, with boldness and joy, and talk about and do what matters. Many people here will say that ministry is hard, with the intense conformity of the people to what is and is not 'Japanese' keeping them from showing interest in or committing to following Christ, to a 'foreign' faith. But I think another thing that keeps people here from God stems from something else engrained in the culture called 我慢 (gaman). It may translate as patience or endurance, but in practice I would often characterize it more as 'restraint'. In many cases I feel like gaman is realized in what Japanese people don't say, what they don't address, what they don't do, what they don't express. People's problems are their own to battle with or bottle up or push aside, and it's best not to intrude. Restraint is a strong underlying current in Japan, and it's hard not to get caught up in that current along with everyone else--don't make splashes, don't venture into other people's areas of the river, just be still and float along in the same general direction and things will be peaceful on the exterior, and that will make things okay.

But Christ is a Rock that no river can move, and he is the Rock on which I need to stand. One thing that has come up multiple times in talking with our new missionary friends is the fear we have in sharing our faith and the need for courage. Everyone around us may be conforming to an idea, may be holding back so many things, but we have nothing to conform to but Christ, and him crucified. And the message that he died to save the world, Japanese people included, from their sin and give them life is one we should not hold back. Spiritual conversations and progress happen when those of us who have the light of Christ cast of restraint and boldly share it.

I'm not naturally that bold of a person--my fear of conflict, of being disliked, of failing and so many other things makes me want to do what's easy instead of what matters; like Moses, I make excuses, and (outside of Miya-Friend) often don't take opportunities to be God's messenger to the people around me. But with the new year came a growing conviction that now is a time to speak, and now is a time to love. This new school year, starting next month, I will teach a new English class with no official curriculum. I was given free reign over what type of class to make it and what textbook to use, so I decided not to use a textbook at all. Instead, I'm going to attempt to create a curriculum built around videos, stories, etc. connected to ideas like kindness, courage, and love, and their opposites. I may not be bold enough to make a class a Bible study just yet ;), and it may be more difficult and messy than teaching English for how to "give directions" or "order at a restaurant" from a textbook, but I hope that talking about things that matter will open doors to talking about what I believe and what the Bible says about the topics we cover.

Other goals are to do more little things for people (giving notes, gifts, encouraging messages), to actively ask people about what they believe/think, to spend more one-on-one time with people, and to speak from the heart as the Spirit leads, especially when it starts pounding, because that means the opportunity to share boldly is right there! On a bigger scale, another goal is to start doing more events to reach out to the community like we used to do with the Juves. One event is already in the works--a Movie Night next month watching the Prince of Egypt using the big screens at the church, with popcorn and drinks and all. Watching that movie made three South Korean girls decide to join a Bible study when I was in college, so we're praying that the power of God and faith shown in the film will inspire others to join our group.

A flyer April made for the Movie Night event

A flyer April made for the Movie Night event.

With so many goals on top of a full-time job, ministry, and language studies, I know that not everything will necessarily come to fruition. But the Good News is the reason to make such goals in the first place, and God has already used these goals to help me be a little bit bolder from the day to day. I pray this boldness will only grow as new doors open, as seasons change, as new people enter our ministry and lives, as new challenges arise, and as God begins to make his kingdom in Japan beautiful in its time. And that is still my biggest prayer, and one I ask you to pray with me: that the time for Japan is now.

In Christ,

Anna Faeh