In Japan—not fitting in
I slipped my shoes off by the door of our Japanese house and trudged upstairs to my room, where I put my school bag down. Mum came in a few minutes later, “It’s another sunny day. Why won’t you go outside and play in the park with all the other kids? You spend all your time playing alone indoors and that’s not healthy.” Did she really understand what was going on? I already spent most of the school day either being bullied or rejected, and so after school I stayed away from the other children when I could.
A year before, when I was eight, my family had moved from the UK to Japan as missionaries. Since then, I had been going to the local Japanese primary school. I was the only foreign child amongst 550 students, and I didn’t fit in at all. At home my family spoke English, but with few English-speaking friends or books in English, that failed to give me an identity that made sense. I struggled to know if my parents really understood, or if they just expected me to automatically fit in. I was suspended between two worlds, not fully being able to participate in either.
In the UK—not fitting in
A few years later we returned to the UK. That didn’t help as much as I thought it would. Not long after we arrived my new history teacher said to me and my parents: “Your son really needs to start putting effort into what he’s doing. Frankly, his work displays none of the qualities that everyone else has been working on over the past two years. I would strongly advise you to encourage him to work harder at home.”
Mum and Dad frowned. This didn’t make sense: they knew I was a hard worker and keen learner.
“On top of that, in class he just doesn’t fit in—he asks strange questions. I think he would benefit from observing how other students write and behave, and learning from them.”
I was endlessly reprimanded by teachers for, “simply not being up to standard on basic stuff.” At lunch break the boys at my table would laugh and share funny stories. I wanted to join, but all I could venture was, “In my school in Japan….” All of a sudden they’d rediscover an interest in their food.
As time wore on and my failure to settle continued, I inevitably returned to the question of how much my parents actually cared about what was going on in my life. They’d taken me and my siblings across the world and back, through a series of transitions and unfamiliar cultures, subjecting us to all the struggles that that lifestyle contained. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that they had faced the same difficulties we had: they’d left behind family, lived in an unfamiliar environment, and tolerated endless ostracism. What drove them on was their commitment to sharing Jesus, which was more important to them even than the comfort of our family.
Ultimately, my parents’ decision to serve Jesus in this way was a strong factor in leading me to faith: I developed a respect for the gospel because it was obviously worth so much to them. I’ve become content to continue taking on the daily challenges of a cross-cultural life as my contribution to my family’s work in fulfilling the Great Commission. That is an essential part of what being a missionary family means: living uncomfortably because the gospel is worth it.
By R, an OMF missionary kid.
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray for missionary kids as they have to deal with many changes and difficulties. May they know the presence of the Unchanging One.
- Pray for missionary parents to have wisdom to know how best to love their kids, balancing many different tensions and responsibilities.
- Pray that we also might all prioritise the Great Commission over our own comfort because the gospel is worth it.