As I said goodbye recently to a short-term UK team I’d hosted, the frustrations and limitations of coming to Japan with no language came up in conversation with a team member.
It reminded me of Sierra, a girl from a team several years ago who also came to Japan with no Japanese.
On that occasion, I was part of the team. For part of our stay the team had the privilege of doing a homestay—staying in the home of a Japanese family for a few days. We were each assigned a different home.
Sierra’s knowledge of the language amounted to just one morning of survival Japanese that we had been given as a team—basic greetings, not much more. But despite knowing virtually no Japanese, she was able to play with the children in her homestay family and befriend them.
When it came time to say goodbye, I saw something shocking.
I know that Japanese people are generally very reserved and tend to avoid physical contact with others if possible. They tend to keep signs of affection to a minimum and not display too much emotion.
But when Sierra said goodbye to the family she’d stayed with for a few days, the mother of the family gave her a big hug, held her tight for a long time. Tears flowed freely.
I’m getting teary now, just remembering it.
Somehow Sierra had made a big impact on that family with hardly any Japanese. Her smiles, her interest in all things Japanese, her playfulness with the kids, how happy she was to spend time with them. Without words, she managed to communicate something profound.
Of course learning the language is important and at OMF we take language study seriously. But I sometimes feel paralysed by the language barrier. I get frustrated that I can’t communicate more fluently in Japanese.
But there is something more important than getting the right grammar pattern and making sure I’ve correctly understood the nuances of a word.
Love can be communicated in so many non-verbal ways.
Take heart, my friend! If you can’t speak Japanese, you can still have an impact here! Don’t let that stop you coming and showing the love of Christ to some of the millions of Japanese who don’t yet know Him.
By Nathanael Ayling