Reina* became a Christian whilst spending time in the US and has struggled for a number of years to find a church in Japan that she can settle in.
I’ve met a number of Japanese returnees during my four years living in Japan. I also had Japanese friends who came to study in the UK when I was a student. So when I was first heard about Reina (through her boyfriend) I presumed her desire was for a church that was “fun” or not too Japanese, since these are what most people I’ve known in the past have wanted. Japanese living overseas get used to big churches filled with outgoing people who love them freely, and when they return to Japan they struggle to feel loved in churches here.
People are unique
But when I met up with Reina and heard her story, I realised that what she really wanted is for a church where she has the same opportunities to serve as she had in the US. She wanted to make disciples.
For me this was a strong rebuke not to judge people’s heart. I’d heard “returnee” and arrogantly thought, OK so I know what kind of person she’ll be. But I was wrong. Returnees might share common experiences, but they are still unique people with unique dreams and struggles.
Heart language is important
A second thing that I’ve been reminded of also relates to Reina’s heart. In particular, her heart language. Her English is very good, and particularly when it comes to talking about churchy subjects there are many English phrases that she is more comfortable using than the Japanese equivalent. But again, when it comes to her heart, outward appearances can be deceptive. She is Japanese, and her heart language is Japanese.
When Reina talks about Christian service, she can do so comfortably using English, but when it comes to talking about issues of the heart—doubts, concerns, frustrations—Japanese comes more naturally.
So what I’ve learnt from my time talking to Reina (and what I’m learning through my time in Japan) is that to really be able to help people we have to listen to their heart. And to do that we need to keep giving ourselves to learning their heart language, even if they’re returnees.
* not her real name
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that missionaries would not tire of learning Japanese, so that they can listen to people’s hearts.
- Pray for wisdom in reaching out to returnees.
- Pray that more returnees would have a heart to serve in ministry in Japan.