Christmas 2020 was quite a different experience for me, as probably it was for you. Many adjustments had to be made for ministry and outreach due to COVID-19. Being an idealist, this process was not easy.
In Iwate (northern Honshu), we were blessed with relative freedom because of the lower number of infections. As people adjusted to living in the midst of a pandemic, they became more open to gathering in small groups in person. After much discussion and also consulting with our non-Christian friends, our team decided to organize small get-togethers over Christmas. I organised a Christmas dinner with a roast chicken and invited three of my non-Christian friends. They were keen to come. A Christian couple would also come and share their testimony. I ordered the chicken.
The week before the dinner, Megumi* messaged, “I’m sorry I can’t come as I’ve been offered an extra day at work.”
When I asked the others, Aki replied, “Hmm I’m not sure I could make it. It depends on the road conditions” (whether or not it’s icy).
After consulting everyone, we decided to postpone until January. We agreed—Christmas in January is a bit different! They were eager. I ordered the chicken.
But the week before the dinner, Megumi messaged again, “I’ve caught a cold. As I can’t be sure it’s not COVID I don’t think I can come.” (COVID-19 testing was not readily available in Iwate).
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can come because I need to study for my exam,” Yui messaged a few days later, even though she had initially said that the date would be fine.
Aki said, “Maybe it’s best to cancel since I’m not confident about driving to your place on icy roads.”
The chicken was cancelled, for the second time.
I wish I could say that I responded with exemplary grace and godliness. Far from it. I was frustrated—Were they not aware of all of my planning and preparations? I was resentful and disappointed with my friends for cancelling so flippantly. Most of all, I was disappointed with my own sinful response.
After I wrestled in prayer and vented to God my frustrations and disappointments, he began to work in my heart. I realised that I was annoyed because executing my plans had become more important than loving and serving my friends. The Christmas outreach had become not about serving Jesus or my friends but about serving my ambitions. I prayed: “Lord please forgive me and show me how to share with them your love and truth in ways that serve their needs.”
I decided to make and deliver brownies to my non-Christian friends with a Christmas tract. As I visited them, some invited me into their homes (a rarity in Japan). It gave me opportunities to listen to them and to pray with some of them.
Last Christmas I learnt that God’s ways are not my ways. I learnt that it was more important to be still before him and to seek his guidance, than to busy myself with activity. As we look to God, he will show us how to reach people with the good news of Jesus. He will teach us how to serve people’s needs lovingly and sacrificially as he served us.
By Hoi-Yan, an OMF missionary
*All names are changed