The Door to Japan…SHUT!

Arriving at OMF International Headquarters in Singapore 47 years ago, my wife, Esther, and I were thinking only about serving in Japan. Why then have we never been to Japan after all these years?

(Listen to the audio version of this story.)

By Brian Newton

Determining where the Lord was calling us to serve was not necessarily an easy journey. Esther had long felt drawn to serve among the Chinese, but as a result of God’s stirring in my heart while reading God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew, I was feeling drawn to Eastern Europe.

During the process of working through OMF’s candidate process, God seemed to settle the matter. Reading an article in East Asia Millions that included a call for workers to go and engage in church planting in Japan, I sensed this was God’s leading. Esther might not have fully agreed, at least initially. In fact, she had earlier told the Lord, ‘I’ll go anywhere, except Japan!’ But Japan it was, and as we arrived in Singapore, the wheels towards Japan began to turn.

Mid-way through the orientation course, following interviews with OMF’s leaders, and having passed a language-learning aptitude test, the designation was made official—visas for Japan were applied for, and duly stamped onto our passports. One-way airline tickets were purchased to Sapporo, in Hokkaido.

With our designation settled, and while reading about the country and its culture continued, Esther and I were invited out to dinner. We left our one-year-old boy, John, asleep in his cot in the Mission Home, with the arrangement that colleagues would keep an eye on him from time to time.

We returned from dinner later that evening, concerned to discover John was having problems breathing. He was certainly in some distress. Calling in some senior Singapore colleagues for advice, it was decided John needed to be taken to the emergency room at Singapore General Hospital.

The doctor’s immediate recommendation was to admit John for observation and treatment. Esther, with her nursing background, agreed to stay with John while I went back to the Mission Home to get some sleep.

For Esther and John, it was a disrupted night—frequent visits from the nurses and doctor, coupled with the fact that hospital cleaners would come through the ward to mop the floors!

By the morning, Esther was particularly eager to take John back to the Mission Home where she could look after him herself. The doctor was not very encouraging, however, telling Esther that he could not fathom why John had not gone into heart failure, so labored and distressed was his breathing. But by the end of the day, armed with appropriate medication, Esther was allowed to take John back to the relative peace of our room at OMF International Headquarters.

John’s sickness—diagnosed as a bad attack of asthmatic bronchitis—became a matter of discussion among OMF’s leaders. Their concern was that workers in Japan who suffered from asthma had always found it very difficult. The winters in northern Japan were long and cold. In addition, the roads at that time were unpaved and the houses tended to be very dusty.

After much discussion and prayer, the leadership decided that they could not let our family go to Japan with John’s tendency toward asthma—it might kill him. Thus, our designation to Japan was withdrawn, which left us back at square one, wondering why the Lord had brought us all the way to Singapore, with the prospect of missionary service in Japan, only to have that door shut.

One factor that was an immeasurably wonderful gift of grace was that we were filled with an overwhelming sense of peace. We sensed we could trust God for this and know that He would make clear where He would have us serve.

While Japan had previously been our sole focus, OMF leadership first offered the Philippines as an alternative. We prayed, but there was no peace. Esther remembers that back in England we both had been drawn to the island of Borneo, but at the time it was not considered an option through OMF; therefore, we did not consider it. Now in Singapore, with the door to Japan closed, and sensing no peace regarding the Philippines, a colleague, perhaps casually, said, ‘Come to Borneo with us!’

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord puts pieces of the puzzle together the way He alone can? During our time in Singapore, OMF embraced East Malaysia as a new host region, merging the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) into the OMF family. BEM’s chairman happened to pass through Singapore, and we had the opportunity to sit and chat with him about the possibility of serving in East Malaysia. Our designation to Sarawak was agreed upon.

The contrast between serving in Hokkaido in northern Japan, and Sarawak on the island of Borneo could hardly be greater. John would benefit from a tropical, humid climate, in contrast to the cold, long winters of Hokkaido. We also found ourselves immersed in the wake of a revival that had broken out among an interior tribe, which was impacting the whole of Sarawak, resulting in seeing fruitfulness beyond our expectations.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” (Prov 16:9)

Brian NewtonAbout the Author: Brian’s journey through his working career has been a life of contrasts … starting as a Chef in London and Geneva, moving on to serving as a Chief Steward worldwide with BOAC, to pastoring and church planting on the island of Borneo! This was followed by an invitation to serve with the OMF US Diaspora Ministry Team, and later as part of the wider Mobilization Team. Remaining British members of the Fellowship, the family settled in the United States. Transitioning into ‘retirement’, Brian today is majorly involved in intercessory prayer ministry focused on the larger Indo-Malay world of Southeast Asia.

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6 months ago

Love this article about how God can change our direction just like that!

Jerry and Barbara Wibberly
Jerry and Barbara Wibberly
6 months ago

When we went to Singapore as new missionaries, the only leading we had was to OMF and SE Asia. We praise God that OMF leadership, knowing us and the big picture, sought the Lord’s will and suggested Thailand. What a privilege to serve there from 1966 to 2002.