This final blog entry is the message I gave at Hongo Lutheran Church on March 11th, for my final goodbye and thank you party there. I was asked to give a brief message about my calling or faith, and this is the message I gave. I apologize if some of the references are unfamiliar, because this was given to a specific audience that should have known the locations and rituals and foods I was referring to. These are some of my final thoughts.
On March 21st, I will be departing from Japan to begin a 7 week Asian Adventure, visiting the countries of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and possibly Brunei before returning home to America in early May. I am very excited about this trip, but yet also slightly nervous since I will be traveling alone for the majority of the time, that doesn't scare me as much as coming to the realization that my time in Japan is actually over, and when I finish my travels I will be returning to America and not my home in Tokyo. Although I have begun packing,have most of my final paperwork finished, and have had several goodbye parties already, I'm not quite sure I have come to terms with the fact that I'm not coming back... Processing that alone on my trip is a little more daunting than the thought of eating insects right now. (Not saying I am goign to eat insects...but if the opportunity arising, I'm not saying that I won't either...) But I'm sure everything will be fine and once I am settled (or slightly settled) back in America, I will update everyone again. But until then...I will leave you with these words from my message!
Luke 9: 23-26
23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Before I begin my message this morning, would you please join me in prayer.
Dear Heavenly Father:
Usually when we pray we are in the habit of speaking. Listing things we are thankful for, or listing things we would like to God to give us. We do not often pray a prayer of silence, but it is in these types of prayers that we listen to what God is calling us to do. Of course it is good to thank God for the many blessings he has given us, but if we do not pray in silence we will never hear God’s call for our lives, we might not hear his plea for us to take up our cross daily and follow him.
Silence is a difficult thing for many people, if I stood up here silent for too long------------- people would start to get uncomfortable. It is often the same for many people when we pray, talking to God is quite easy but being silent and listening... that is much harder. Maybe during church and worship is the time where we should be listening to God and trying to follow His plan for our lives. This process is called discernment; trying to listen to how we should follow God, trying to hear what job it is He wants us to do next.
In today’s bible verse we heard Jesus telling the crowds around him that if they want to be his disciples, they must take up their cross and follow him. It might have been easier for people in biblical times to listen because Jesus was a human, in the flesh. Now we must listen to God through the Holy Spirit, prayer or by reading our bibles. My discernment process to listen to God was also difficult; because I knew I should follow His plan for my life, but did not want to listen to the answer He was giving me.
Early on in high school I remember wanting to study business when I was in college. I thought this field of study would be fast-paced, interesting, it would allow me to travel and I would make a lot of money. I think those are important aspects of a job to a high school student. However, when I would sit in silence I could hear this voice inside my head telling me, "You’re supposed to work for the church." As a high school student that was the last thing I wanted to be when I grew up, because there is not a lot of money in the church business. I wanted to be a successful business woman and make a lot of money. But every time I tried to ignore this thought of working for the church, God would call out to me and tell me that I was made to work for him.
I went to college and eventually did study International Business, but what I wanted to do with that degree was slowly changing. I began discerning when I was a senior in college, how God wanted me to use this degree after college for his work and his glory. What was it that I was suppose to do, the answer I heard was to become a missionary. I trusted that this was the call on my life, and began to apply for missionary positions within the Lutheran Church. Trusting God’s will while applying for a job was easy, I took up my cross and decided to follow Gods will, and Gods will said you are moving to Tokyo. Once I got the job and moved here, trusting in God’s will became much harder.
This is where the second part of the bible verse came into play; "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it" I would not lose my life in the sense that I would die, but I would lose my life in the sense that everything was new here for me, everything was a challenge, and my life would no longer be easy.
I remember one specific day I was having a rough time in Tokyo. It was during the Christmas season, about three months after I moved to Japan. It was a cold and rainy day much like the days we have been having lately. I did not have any rain boots at this time and was wearing a pair of brown flats. I started my day like any other day in orientation and went to language school in Iidabashi. By the time I reached school my shoes were quite wet. After school I was coming here for the annual Hongo Student Center Christmas party. I took the train to Ochanomizu and began my walk.
My shoes became drenched to the point I could hear the water sloshing around, and my pants were soaked mid-way up my calf. I was getting really aggravated and was wondering what I had done to aggravate God so much that he would make me this miserable. Why did he bring me to Japan if I was just going to be miserable everyday? Did I misinterpret his call; was I not supposed to be here? Every time a taxi drove by I contemplated getting into it and going back home. I was cold, wet, and angry, angry with God. By the time I reached the doors to walk into Hongo I was ready to cry I was so frustrated. Frustrated with the Japanese language, frustrated I didn't understand most of what was going on around me, and frustrated with myself for not wanting to be in Japan.
Upon entering the building I took off my shoes, as you all know is not normally done here. The Student Center staff, who would later become my peers, took one look at me, barefoot with soaking pants and their faces filled with pity. Immediately the woman sitting in front of the heater offered up her seat to me in order to help dry my pants, and then offered me a pair of her slippers to keep my feet warm, another missionary poured me a cup of hot tea, I was given a doughnut, and countless numbers of mikans.
Yasui sensei and Etsuko helped me wipe off my shoes and then they stuffed newspaper into my shoes in order to soak up all the water. As I was sitting there with my pants drying, my shoes beginning to shed the water, and with my hot cup of tea in hand, I thought; Wow these people welcomed me with open arms and took care of me. I felt as if I was able to receive the hospitality and generosity that the church is intended to offer. I had begin to doubt why God called me to be a missionary here in Japan but God showed me his love and care for me through the members of this church that I will never forget. And that act of love and care reminded me that God still loves and cares for everyone, and it was this type of behavior I was supposed to be showing others while working here.
Following God's will does not mean that our lives will be easy all the time. Following Gods will for me to come to Japan was the right thing to do, but yet it hasn't always been easy. In fact, Jesus tells us that we would lose our lives, we will suffer persecution and we will endure many trials and tribulations to daily pick up our cross and follow him. But that is what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We must endure the hardships he places before us and suffer the way he suffered. The bible passage in Luke is not to be discouraging; I see this bible passage as a reminder of what a life with God entails. We must listen to God's calling on our life and once we hear what it is he is calling us to do, we must do it. For if we want to save our own lives, we must first give our lives to Jesus and act out our role in his eternal story,