I flew in from Tokyo last night. I don’t think I have ever missed my family as much as these past five days. Being enveloped in their amazing flailing hugs and love at the airport was almost too much for me. I thought my heart could not hold so much love. It has been good to be back.
But this whole week somehow seemed so important. In some ways I was dreading the five long, full days of teaching– I had tried to get out of it (again!) but God seemed to confirm that he wanted me to teach this class. Although the first day had its share of challenges (see entry below); by the end of the week my heart was completely smitten by this class of Japanese pastors and lay leaders. I love their hearts; their souls that are committed to bringing Hope to this land that often feels hopeless. I was so sad to say goodbye to each of them.
The eighteen members were a mix of men and women (7 or 8); older (most) and younger (a few); pastors (14) and lay leaders ( 4). There were three medical doctors in the class! But all of the members are working on a Doctor of Ministry course in the midst of their very busy lives and ministries. I think what touched me the most was that most of these students — many with years more experience than I! – soaked up the lectures like sponges. I loved listening to them interact during small group time, and sharing insights and from their own lives. It was really, really humbling though – one pastor gave me his book and said he had been our Japanese pastor’s teacher in seminary many years ago. (What was I doing teaching him??). The pastor who sat right next to me has written commentaries and translated the Bible used by most Japanese today. He presented me with an autographed copy…. I could only pray each night, and each morning, that God would somehow use who he has made me and the wonderful teaching and preparation I have received at Fuller and since to bring renewal, healing, and perspective to make a difference to these dear saints.
Halfway through the class, my translator turned to me and said, “Sue, look! Their countenances have changed so much since Monday!” I noticed all of us getting more comfortable, and began by Wednesday to sense the Lord doing some good things in our class.
Yesterday, we had a time for each student to share what God has impressed on them that they are planning to apply to their own ministries. This was such a touching time for me. Interestingly, many had been touched by the lecture on Affirmation. (All leaders need affirmation; we need to be leaders who receive affirmation from God and who readily give it to others). We had had an interesting discussion on how affirmation can be given in Japan- different than in the U.S., but nonetheless important. One female pastor shared yesterday that up until now she has been really strict/harsh with her church members and staff. But God has convicted her of the need to use affirmation, instead, to encourage others. One man said for the first time in forty years he had affirmed his wife that week — and was reaping wonderful results!
There was a quiet man who sat in the back. My attempts to draw him out had not been too successful. But on the last day, he shared that he has never been taught by a woman before… and he had gone through a paradigm shift that week (we had studied the need for and process of paradigm shifts to keep from becoming inflexible leaders) – as he realized how much God could teach him through a woman. He brought me to tears.
I am very sure that God had me go to Tokyo this past week as much for me as for these pastors. For my final speech to the class, I shared about a documentary that Eric and I had seen years ago called “Living Treasures of Japan.” They showed sword-making; aizome (the indigo-blue dyeing process) — traditional Japanese arts that have become more and more rare among artists in this country. And I shared how each person in the room represents a living treasure of Japan, who God has called for His ways and His purposes. The morning before, during our worship time, we were singing “the Power of Love” in Japanese. As I stood there singing and looking around the room, God reaffirmed our calling to be here in this country; to be Hope-bringers not just to nonbelievers but also to these who have been laboring. I have needed this kind of confirmation, quite honestly. My heart has become tired and at times cynical of the traditional methods of most Japanese churches. God melted my hard heart this week, and gave me His heart of love for these dear friends. What a blessing it was and is to be co-laborers with them. How thankful I am to God for how He uses us and brings reminders of our destiny (another of the talks I gave) and HIs calling on our lives just when we need it.