A moment to ponder.
I had time this weekend to meet and speak with a few foreigners who have relocated to this city to teach English. As an outsider myself, I imagined that the longer one stayed in this country, the more one would be welcomed into every room as though one was an insider. Even as I find myself still as far away as ever, I wonder if this privileged access into the heart of another world has ever come to pass for these foreigners who have been here for months and years. Will they always remain dismayed at being kept away from the inviolable core? Will they remain a newcomer to the Japanese, and long after these people cease being exotic, to continue to remain exotic to them?
Before coming to Japan, I often read that Japan is the wealthiest and cleanest country in the world. I read about the toilets that talk and warm your seat, and robots that are almost fully human. I read about fascinating Japanese architecture. I knew not to expect this in other prefectures apart from Tokyo, and indeed, in Miyako and in Morioka, I found a world entirely different from the polish of Tokyo pictures. My apartment has no AC, no insulation, no overhead lighting. The hot running water gushes gently, and the sink is the length of my forearm. I do not say this as complaint, merely to consider that although Japan has the highest per capita gross national product in the world, the homes of most Japanese people do not reflect this statistic.
As I faced each day’s ministry burden, I confess that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, I would not be able to do it. The inability to understand the language when spoken to is mentally draining, and the subtle cultural differences are not as easy to overcome. We do not want to offend, and in our fear of possible offense, are constantly extra careful, extra polite. This too creates strain.
However, this allows the precious words of Jesus to ring true, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So we must pray for future grace for the day, and then trust in the promise that it will come with power. “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
It is beautiful to see the small church community come together on a Sunday to listen to Kondo-sensei’s message on Jehovah Rappa, the God who sees, from Genesis 15. He knows where we have come from and where we are going, and we can rest in His control. I sense the heaviness in the hearts of these people, but perhaps it is also part of His grace to them. He has said that blessed are those who mourn at the depth of sin, for they shall be comforted. Perhaps we in Singapore are too comfortable in our social bubbles, too far removed from the stain of grief, to remember our true state and constant struggle against sin. I’m not sure why I felt this way, but it remained. We forget so quickly our guilt.