16 March, 2012

4. The process God took you through during your first term in Japan to lead you to your current ministry.*

  • This is the fourth in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.
* This question wasn't part of the original set of nine, but as people seemed to be enjoying my story, the jump between questions 3 and 5 (as I've re-numbered them) just seemed too much because what we're doing now is not  what we started out doing. So I inserted my own "question" here. I hope it is helpful/encouraging to you.

We finally left Australia in November 2000. I say finally, because it seemed like a long time at the time, nearly three years of applying, meeting, speaking, and waiting!

First we went, as all long-term OMF International missionaries do, to OMF International Headquarters in Singapore for an orientation course. While there we learnt a lot about the larger picture of the organisation. 

While there we both had nasty gastro and my asthma flared. OMF's international medical director concluded that we were overwrought after the deputation and preparation we'd done preparing to leave. I was particularly overwhelmed at leaving Australia. Saying goodbye to everyone we knew was awful. Particularly bad, however, was the airport farewell to my parents. We took their only grandchild with us, our eldest son who was 18 months old. We didn't anticipate seeing our families again for four years, it was a heart-wrenching experience that I had trouble thinking about for many months afterwards without bursting into tears.

After hot Singapore, we descended, in mid December, upon our next destination — language school in Sapporo, in the north of Japan. Not the most ideal time for a pair of Queenslanders to land in that part of the world. It was like we'd landed on the moon. There was snow everywhere. I didn't even know that our local area had footpaths until the snow melted away months after we arrived. We moved directly into a tiny apartment. 1.5 bedrooms (the 0.5 bedroom was our own, which made up part of the lounge room). Almost no privacy (the shower opened directly off the kitchen). And the ceiling in the whole place was so low I could touch it. To appreciate that you have to know that I'm only 155cm (5"2 1/2'). The first night we were taught how to turn the water off overnight, and warned that if we didn't do that the pipes would freeze and burst and we'd be in big trouble. You can read more about that day here.

It was a big shock, but "culture shock" is a question I get to answer next week.

Me studying Japanese at home.
Our first term was divided between language study (the first 2 1/2 years) and working in a church planting team (1 1/2 years). My husband enjoyed and did well at language school, I didn't, and that was a strain for our marriage to bear. We also had a very active toddler to take care of. We had to take him out every day for significant periods (our apartment was too tiny to afford much in the way of exercise). Half-way through our time at language school I became pregnant again and the second year studying Japanese was even harder than the first. The last six months of our time at language school was done with a baby on my knee.

I remember asking a seasoned missionary during those years about how she became "sure of her calling". She answered that it was often a day-by-day process. I'm here today, I can cope (by God's grace) with today I don't know about tomorrow, but I'm not going to concern myself with that. It was a pivotal moment because I really didn't feel like I could live in this strange land for many years!

This was the winter view from our second apartment in
Sapporo. Can you see the playground equipment in the park?
After we graduated we moved to the south of the city to work with a church planting team establishing a church. It was a time of angst because we'd signed up to OMF for David to teach missionary children, neither of us felt gifted or led to church planting. Indeed I was still struggling badly with Japanese, not to mention two demanding young boys. 

When we'd first applied to OMF, we were sure there'd be room for a maths/science teacher in Japan somewhere. But there wasn't, so the plan the leaders came up with was for us to do a full course at language school and see what developed during that time. Well, nothing did. So the next step they suggested was to do some time with a church planting team. It was put to us, "It's a good learning opportunity for later when you're teaching the kids of church planters." 

We struggled along, but in the middle of that church-planting time we got a call from CAJ asking if David would teach science part-time for them starting in 16 months time. The timing was good and we went on home assignment in time to give us a full 12 months in Australia, our first time back in Australia in four years.

When we came back to Japan for our second term and David started working at CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) in Tokyo, there was such a sense of peace. He came home at night looking so satisfied. He said that from the first week he just knew it was the right place. It took longer for me to feel happy in my role, because by that time I had three boys, two under school age and was alone with them a lot of the day in a strange city. I'd also continued to struggle with learning Japanese. That bit of the story I told briefly here, so I won't rewrite it.

So you can see a little how God led us from small-town born-and-bred Queenslanders to Tokyo residents and our current ministries (which I'll write about next time). It wasn't an overnight process, it wasn't an easy process, and it wasn't a follow-the-writing-on-the-wall journey. Many tears, and many anguished prayers were delivered during those years of preparation.


April said...

Your last link talks about your writing journey, rather than your language journey like your paragraph implies. Just so you know. :)

Wendy said...

You're right April, that is the problem of relying on memory! My struggle with Japanese language learning lead directly into my search for a ministry of my own that I could manage at home with young kids, living in Japan without great Japanese: that lead to writing, as in the story I linked to. I just didn't include that at the start of my "writing journey" story. Thanks for pointing that out, now I need to go searching to see if I've written that somewhere else.

Judie S said...

Hi again.
Reading about your struggles with small children & poor language skills, I had a sudden flash:
When & if you return to Australia, you will be uniquely abled to speak to wives of immigrants who are stuck at home with children & little English.
Cecily came 'home' from Korea & now works with Korean Australians; maybe you will one day be working with Japanese Australians.
Love you.