It has been a hard week on a number of different levels. There have been disappointments, heart ache over church issues, and loneliness. But I’m thankful for “real” missionaries. Friends – mentors – missionaries I have studied in biographies– who have modeled being real. I hope I can keep refining being transparent yet focusing on the right things (not the negative).
Last week was the twenty-year anniversary of my mom’s unexpected death. On the actual anniversary of her death (March 15th), we were helping a friend move and I had no time nor energy to process the event. But I wanted to take some time to remember. So I began every night before bed reading through a few of the thin blue airmail letters that I had in my possession from my parent’s five years in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). They served as missionaries from 1963 (they arrived several months before my birth there) until 1967. My sister N./H was born three years after me–we are the African-American sisters!
I took a few hours last Wednesday to get away and start typing up some of the letters. My sisters and I have never had a chance to read through these. They are not necessarily in order; so it has felt a bit like a fun puzzle to find letters and figure out where they “fit” in the history of my parent’s missionary experiences. Tonight, I spent several more hours working through the letters. (Trust me – this is a lot more fun than watching Japanese television!) I’ve read about half of them, and typed up about 15 pages. Through-and-through I am amazed and impressed at the steadfast Christian living my parents exhibited in the midst of very challenging circumstances.
I’ve loved finding out a lot of things I didn’t know about those early years. I have learned a lot about how cute and bright their children were (!), I learned that I had almost been named Patti or Kathy; I have read many details of recurring illnesses that must have been incredibly challenging, including my Dad’s numerous bouts with malaria and my younger sister and I having recurring convulsions; I realized that my dad was just as garden-driven then as he still is now: “I’m getting ready to plant 75 banana trees down by the stream and am preparing the ground for more vegetable beds…”
I’m also impressed about how real they were in their correspondence. They called things as they were; they processed the political upheavals, the frustrations of working with a dishonest church; the disappointments of hopes not realized during their five years there. In one letter home, my mom wrote about their anniversary celebration with a rare night out:
“… We double-dated with Margaret D and Rod W for dinner and he ended up treating us. We ate at the Bamboo Inn and had the best Chinese food I’ve ever tasted. Bill and I were going to see the movie “Madame Butterfuly” but we had left Beth Ann crying with the babysitter so we rushed back to the babies instead of going. Everything was quiet with both babies asleep but there was no way to find out without going back. Bill said while we were eating, ‘Back home we’d have grandparents to leave them with and have no fears or worries about them’ – an unaccounted cost.”
So, this past week I have thought a lot about the unaccounted costs of being a missionary. Reflecting with a veteran missionary friend on the phone yesterday, she said, “I think the longer we’re here in Japan the more we begin to realize the true reality and weight of those unaccounted costs.”
When you sign up to be a missionary, you weigh the known costs. For anyone who knows me well or has read my blog regularly, you will know the greatest cost for me is being so far away from family and friends. There are other inconveniences, cultural challenges, constant frustrations with language… all of these have been weighed and considered. But our call to follow Jesus and to be in Japan, and our love and passion for the people here, have tipped the scale immeasurably in favor of being here.
But it is sometimes those unaccounted costs that catch us by surprise. And I’ve realized for me, at least, most involve costs on our children that we don’t have a choice about. This past week it has felt hard to watch our son O. struggle with communicating in Japanese. He is trying so hard- and using every word he remembers! – but he’s not at a comfortable language place after being gone for 8 months, and it will take a number of months to catch up again. I’ve seen him get some strange looks as he tries so hard, and I pray that he doesn’t realize what’s going on around him. I am worried in thinking of him starting first grade in two weeks. My heart grieves.
I don’t regret the decisions we’ve made; I don’t regret anything about our time in the U.S. or the choices that we make to follow Jesus here in Japan. Eric and I often say that we have the greatest job in the world. But I realize that these choices can be part of the unaccounted costs that sometimes impose themselves.
As I continue to bathe myself when time permits in these special letters of these missionary mentors who have gone before, I am encouraged. The same Father who held them, and their children; still holds us and our children. Their frustrations with the church did not stop them from sharing His love, but perhaps drove them to share even more. May it be true for us, as well. I am so thankful that truly, “the love of Christ compels us” but also, that the verse that my Mom and I have both had on our sink for many years is true: “God is the Blessed Controller of all things.” (I Timothy 6:15).