18 November, 2014

Never completely comfortable

One of the assumptions we're encountering in Australia this year is that we're totally at home in Japan. That we're fluent and comfortable there. Seems a reasonable assumption on the surface. It's been 12 years, right? Long enough.
This was me trying to smile after snorkelling on the Great
Barrier Reef in our short time in Cairns in July (believe it or
not I did enjoy the experience).
However, the look on my face probably expresses how I feel
often as we live this expatriate lifestyle.

Unfortunately no. We're not fluent according to: "Fluent is defined as being able to speak and write quickly or easily in a given language" (from this interesting article about fluency and accent). Although I've also seen the definition as "speak or write" which is obviously different to "speak and write". In any case, none of us fit either definition, sadly.

Neither are we totally at home with the culture. We manage to get along okay and we're not distressed (the vast majority of the time). We even call it "home" sometimes. But there are vast amounts we don't understand about the culture. Never mind the fact that we stick out like sore thumbs. It is quite different from an Englishman emigrating to Australia where the language and culture isn't too different and the visibly fit in (until they open their mouths).

We don't live there because it's comfortable. We don't do this because we're in love with Japan and Japanese people. We do this because it is what God's called us to do. We do this because Japanese people need to hear the gospel.

I read this post this morning and was encouraged by another missionary willing to say in public that after almost 12 years of embarking on the missionary life, she's still struggling with all it means to live and work overseas. It changes you and just because you've been there awhile, doesn't mean that the changing is completed.

Here's how she describes how she started out in her thinking when she first went to Africa:
I was a mother, wife, Christian, stay-at-homer. I did these things well, or well enough, and thought I could pack up all that faith and talent and knowledge and confidence and replicate it in Somaliland. My outsides might become draped in scarves and my language might change but my insides – ideas about how to live and believe and love and laugh wouldn’t be affected.
She was wrong. I was too. In those early years in Japan I felt like I had two different personalities, my Australian personality that I couldn't show in Japan (except on the odd occasion with foreigners) and my foreigner-in-Japan personality that was an adult at something of the level of a pre-school child. That was very odd and felt wrong, especially for someone who values authenticity and congruity. Gradually over the years those two personalities are getting closer together, but they'll never be the same.

I know our lives are hard for both Australians and Japanese to get their thoughts around. We're neither emigrants nor are we on holidays in Japan. We aren't a mixed married couple where one of us is Japanese and one Australian (that's the first thought most Japanese people have when they meet one of us). 

We're in Japan because God led us there and until the Lord leads us elsewhere or we retire (to Australia).


Daniel Maurer said...

Nice piece! I may have to ask you some questions regarding Japanese culture. I'm doing research for a fiction work I'm pursuing.


Wendy said...

Ask away! I might be able to answer, I might not.