10 February, 2016

Crucial community

This is a special photo, not so much because of the wrestling, but 
because of a relationship that's developed through supporting 
our boys in sport, living in the same neighbourhood, sharing meals, 
and mutually helping one another through the last seven months.
Yesterday I headed off to get groceries when I realised my bike tyre was completely flat. Pumping didn't work. Bike maintenance has been David's specialty, but he's not here. So, I could have taken it to a bike repair shop, of which there are many, but a closer, more friendly option was an American friend who loves bikes and lives a couple of hundred meters away. He was very happy to help me out. 

When I dropped the bike off we talked about a few things. He mentioned that a mutual friend of ours (also American but who spent part of her growing up years in Japan) was coming over later to help him with admission papers for their son starting Japanese schools in a couple of months.

This morning I was feeling exhausted with all this single-parenting and the various other things that are going on in our extended family. I struggled to get going, but I had, thankfully, already organised to have coffee with a friend who lives one station away. An hour of chatting over coffee was all I needed to get going again.

Community—one of the secrets to our longevity in mission.

Some missionaries look at where we live (300m from the Christian international school that our boys go to and my husband works at) and think, "No way. I wouldn't live in a foreigner 'bubble' like that."

But community, whether it is those from your host culture, or foreigners, is vital to coping with life in a foreign country.

When we first came to Tokyo I felt very isolated, in this sea of humanity I knew practically no one and it was awful. I was stuck at home in a foreign land with three little boys under 7 while David worked full-time at school. We lived further away from the school (7km) at that time, so there weren't many English-speakers around and it takes a while to get to know Japanese people. 

By having our kids attend a local kindergarten we made local Japanese friends, friends who lived as close as our foreign friends live to us now. Friends who made all the difference. You, know, for those times when you need someone to pick up your child from school because you've gotten held up somewhere, or who you need help from to water your garden while you're away, or you simply need someone to drop in on your housebound gastro-struck household to ask if you need anything. Or just someone to ask for some local knowledge or share a coffee with.

Now we live closer to school and have been in this school community for more than 10 years, we have many friends and quite a few of them live within a few kilometres of us. 

But we aren't in a foreign enclave. I don't typically walk out my front door and see a white face. All my neighbours are Japanese. Population density being what it is, there are still thousands more Japanese people in our neighbourhood than there are foreigners.

We are a family with a majority of introverts, so we don't have a lot of people coming in and out of our front door, at least not yet. I can see it coming, especially with our extroverted youngest, but not yet. So though we live close to the school, we're not living in other people's pockets, nor are others living in ours.

I love living here, close enough to easily walk to school or to a friend's house or the station, yet far enough to not have to greet someone every time I step out the front door or have friends looking at my washing.

Just in case you're wondering, I've got Japanese friends who I ask for help from too. One friend helped us find an emergency paediatric urologist late one night a few years ago (don't ask!). Another couple of friends helped me at medical appointments in the last few months. 

Living cross-culturally you learn to be happier with dependence, to asking for help. If I were in Australia it would look different. In many ways we'd be less needy, but we still needed community when we were there: for example the time last year when David was out with our only car and it poured with rain. We asked a friend from church to take the boys to school.

Just occasionally I'm asked about how we've managed to stay on the mission field so long (Japan is notoriously for a high attrition rate for missionaries). One key I would say is community, and being able to recognise when we need help and to ask for it.

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