God is mysterious. I mean, REALLY mysterious. I mean, he’s so mysterious that he arranged for it to be my turn to write a blog post—and on encouragements. Me. A finance manager. For a mission agency. In Japan. And just emerging, rather frazzled, from the financial year-end flurry. So I sat down with coffee and a donut to see what encouragement I could find to write about.
Over the years I’ve learned that God’s ways are higher than ours. Nothing takes him by surprise; everything is built into his plan; nothing goes to waste. But it is all so unfathomable, and our work often seems exhausting and futile. Encouragingly, the Bible is full of characters who had similar experiences. I have come to realise, therefore, that encouragements don’t just parade on sunny afternoons in the form of decisions and baptisms; they also lurk in the darkness, wearing strange disguises.
Case in point: The Japanese are lovely people. Polite, considerate, kind. Not at all like “sinners”. (The word in Japanese actually means “criminal”, which is encouragingly accurate, but it does make it harder for law-abiding people to apply it to themselves.) But just like us and people in Bible times, they have struggles, struggles that God uses for his purposes. It is no great surprise, therefore, to hear stories of hardship, betrayal, emptiness, and despair in the testimonies of many Japanese who have turned to Christ.
My encouraging and beautiful wife is involved in the lives of a number of non-Christian women. Many of them have difficult marriages, struggle with societal pressures, or deal with financial insecurity. This is an encouragement to me—they are closer to the kingdom of heaven than those for whom life is going smoothly. As Japanese society moves on from the heady days of massive economic success in the 1970s and 1980s, grapples with an aging population, and sees a disenchanted youth growing into adulthood, I am strangely optimistic that even greater “encouragements” lurk in the future.
In OMF Japan, we strive to set and then work towards clear, straightforward goals that will encourage Japanese people to fall (and grow) in love with Jesus. But it doesn’t seem to work out at all like that. Our experience of working in Japan and with each other is a mix of good and bad that ranges from the sublime to the absurd—at least from our limited perspective.
We have church planters in towns with almost no Christian witness who are wondering where on earth to begin
We have people working with Christian students, wondering how to encourage them to share Christ with the tens of thousands of their non-Christian peers.
We have complex, multicultural teams in complex, urban environments wondering how to deal with that troublesome church (or team) member.
We have people in leadership and admin roles wondering how they came to be making decisions about responding to a Coronavirus outbreak.
Doubtless, our supporters face similar and completely different challenges. The only common factor in all we do seems to be that it must either be something we are thoroughly unprepared for or unable to do, and have to utterly rely on God for. But, isn’t this what we would expect (and what Scripture tells us to expect) walking with our dazzlingly complex God to look like? Are you feeling encouraged yet?
Several cups of coffee and a donut later, I can conclude that, frankly, the greatest encouragement for me is that we are still here, serving God on the mission field. Japan is easily the least cost-effective place in the world to do missions. Nonetheless, the Lord seems stubbornly determined to provide finances, workers, and supporters for OMF to work here. He has a difficult, discouraging, marvellous, and glorious plan that actually requires all of us. And will, I believe, ultimately result in the Japanese people turning to Christ. And that’s encouraging.
—by Simon, OMF Japan’s finance manager
Will you pray for Japan?
- That in the current COVID crisis, God would turn people’s hearts towards himself.
- That missionaries in Japan would not be discouraged by all the confusing difficulties that they encounter.
- That God’s name would be glorified as we see his plan unfold.