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Dish-washing in an international mission

When I left for Japan as a missionary many years ago, I never thought that washing dishes would be an issue. Coming from comfy-America, I usually had a dishwasher, but of course in Japan it was all handwashing.

Well, I jumped right in with sudsy hands, ready for the task ahead. But I soon found that in Japan there was a certain way to wash dishes. You use lots of dish soap and foam up each dish with the sponge in the deep, oversized sink. Then you rinse all the dishes off with water from the tap and put them in the nearby drying rack. This took some adjustment, and I even endured a gentle scolding from my Japanese friend when I didn’t do it quite right. But that was okay, I was up for that. I knew this was a part of acclimating to a new country and embracing different ways of doing things.

What I wasn’t ready for, was the issue of washing dishes with my international missionary colleagues who all held very different views of how it best should be done. Being from a drought-ridden area in the US, I often cringed, along with my Australian friends, at the waste of water. I even saw someone turn on the tap to heat the water and walk away to chat with someone while waiting. Another British friend told me they don’t even bother rinsing their dishes at home….”What?” I wondered, imagining the soap in the UK must be less sudsy than the frothy kind my Japanese friends used.

Somehow, I was ready for adapting to the Japanese around me, but not prepared for the adjustments of working in an international mission group. But then I realized that just as with the Japanese, I needed the same humility and open-mindedness, the same gracious spirit towards my missionary colleagues.

‌Now, many sinks full of dirty dishes later, I love being in an international mission. I am blessed with friends from far and wide and my world is bigger and my is heart fuller—even if washing dishes together has taken a little getting used to.

By Susan, an OMF Missionary

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