They must have felt the curious stares of a thousand kimono-clad Japanese as they stepped off the ships at Yokohama port (photo today at left) in conspicuous western dresses and suitcoats. I wonder if the first Protestant missionaries to Japan didn’t silently ask themselves the question...
"What am I doing here again?"
It wasn’t really the ships that brought them in 1859. Just like it wasn’t the jet that brought us in 1999. We’re here in Kawasaki / Yokohama for one simple reason: the love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14).
Christ is both the compelling call upon our lives, and the redemptive thread who weaves through and holds together every random activity we’re about as missionaries -- and there’s a lot. Every meeting I fumble to lead, every worship service we plan, every Bible study I prepare (dictionary in hand), every church event I fret about, every hand in the hospital I hold in prayer, every wedding or funeral I conduct (thankfully, more weddings than funerals lately), every church bazaar flooded with visitors, every note sung in our gospel music workshops, every kids outreach, English Bible Class, prayer times, or church association face times.
I often look back at what we’ve done in the last few months (usually when writing this newsletter), and ask, “What’s the theme? What connected all those dots of activity? WHAT AM I DOING HERE AGAIN? And is it all really moving our mission vision forward?”
Then in quiet reflection, I realize that the central reason and theme is bigger than our tiny mission vision, or even church planting work. The center of it all, when you get down to it, is Christ: “Everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him” Col 1:16b.
So, I repent of having an overly pragmatic eye. Sure, I want it all to move a larger mission vision forward. But more than that, I want it all to move people to the center of it all: Christ. He is the axle and spokes of the wheel of this work. He is the best vision for this country. And the reason we’re here at all.
Yes, all those conversations held in my poor Japanese. All those kanji-filled (Japanese) emails written that Kaori lovingly corrected. All those messages in broken Japanese that make my wife giggle or sigh when I practice. All those prayers I stumbled through in my language inadequacy. All those reports, thank you notes to wonderful supporters, and newsletters. And especially that caramel macchiato I just sipped together with a new Japanese brother in Christ at the edge of the Tama river in view of Mt. Fuji.
It’s all about Christ. I wouldn’t be here without Him. I wouldn’t do it for any less reason than love for Him. He’s the central theme of it all.
Through that lens, I see the last few months of activity more clearly. Not everything moved along our vision as I wanted, but hundreds of people -- many who have never met a Christian in Japan -- were moved along to the center of it all, and pointed to the cross of Christ.
A recent conference we attended here (photo below) brought together missionaries from many different countries. 158 years later, new missionaries are still arriving in Japan. Far less from the west, though. In the thick of language and cultural stress, a flurry of ministry activities and mistakes, they no doubt will sometimes wonder, “What am I doing here again?”
The answer: Christ, the original missionary, came incarnate to earth, sacrificing all, to bring people to God. His model is the one that motivates us still. I am here by Him and for Him alone. Christ is the central reason and theme of it all.
May this truth guide our thoughts toward Christmas 2017!