Willing in Weakness

When we first realized the fact that we were going to have to fund-raise (which our minds translated as “beg for money”), we were sure that we would dread the process.  To my surprise (Erin speaking here), I’ve actually been quite enjoying the process, and that isn’t the only surprise that has come from this point in our journey of being missionaries.  It is rather exciting to see how and who God works through, and it often leaves me bewildered because God often works through the ways we least expect.

Taking myself as an example, I am not a great speaker.  I’m usually not even a very outgoing person, so being in this stage of life where I am constantly having to engage with people to share about myself is quite odd.   Nonetheless, this whole concept has become more comfortable as I’ve learned that support raising is not so much us asking for money but is more giving others the chance to serve God’s purpose.  It also doesn’t hurt that we’ve been mostly meeting with small groups and individuals. However, the time finally came for us to speak in front of a mass of people.

This last week we went to Arizona to visit a couple of our supporting churches.  One of those churches was the one Nick and I attended as a married couple in Phoenix.  Although we were there for two years, we hardly got to know anyone because we were usually antisocial.  We were part of our young adult small group, and that was enough for us!  But going back this time around, we obviously made it a point to get to know more people since we will be investing in each other as partners of the mission God has called us to!  So apart from meeting a bunch of familiar faces for the first time, we had to speak in front of the two congregations combined, which was about 150-200 people.  Not only that, but we got the entire service time to speak.  Obviously I was a bit nervous because I knew that I was no good at public speaking, but before we got up there, I was reminded by some encouraging words.

Before sharing at this church in Phoenix, we went to another church in Payson for their annual missions banquet.  There was an awesome guest speaker from Dallas Theological Seminary who shared about his time on the mission field.  While in some Spanish speaking country, he didn’t know the language at all. Thus, he made it a point to learn a short Gospel presentation in Spanish.  Though that was all he knew, he boldly shared the Good News to a couple of gentlemen he was working with.  Despite the message being presented in broken Spanish, the two men accepted the Gospel.  The speaker pointed out how it wasn’t his speaking ability or any other skill that caused the men to accept Jesus, but it was God using His mighty word through him because he was willing to speak up.  He then challenged us to stand if we wanted to show that we are willing to do whatever God asks of us.

Another Word that brought encouragement to me was the example of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10-11.  Throughout these passages, Paul repeats several times how he was “timid” when face to face and was an “untrained” speaker.  However, we all know that despite the fact that Paul may indeed have been a poor speaker, he was obviously quite influential through his ministry!  That must be a testimony to how God works through our limitations, for His Word and will is more powerful than anything we can produce on our own.  Paul ends chapter 11 and begins chapter 12 with boasting in his weaknesses.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

While Paul may have been lacking in speech when he was in person, he made sure to minister through his actions (10:11).  We can’t let our weaknesses be an excuse to do nothing.  I still went up on stage and spoke that Sunday morning in front of the congregations because I made a stand and told God, “I am willing.”  I take that phrase to be the first half of my action.  The second half would be to follow through with obedience to His call.  Did I speak with complete gusto and clarity that Sunday morning?  Probably not.  Did people still come up to us afterward to connect with us?  Yes they did.  I was willing to let God use me however He wished, and I let Him worry about moving in the hearts of the people if it was His will for them.

Though this may not be a new message for you or even for myself, I hope it is an encouraging reminder that we can go forth boldly in whatever He is calling us to do because we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Just be willing.

The More You Learn the Less You Know

Technically not true, as of course we always "know" more than what we did yesterday, it's just that knowledge we gain often puts into perspective how much more we don't know. As I was pursuing my undergrad I had a strong mix of Theology and Psychology thrown at me. The Biblical studies really helped me define and expand on what I believed and created some of the most edifying relationships with professors that loved God. The Psychology really helped me to better understand the human mind, not only just how it works and develops, but also how individually different they are for each person that is the result of God's work and their unique experience.

What is most interesting about Psychology, that while it is a science, it has many limitations in application and scope that other scientific fields don't typically encounter. For example: mathematics in China can be used in the same way to solve the same problems in England. Logic flows that a cure a doctor might use for yellow fever will work in Africa the same way it might work in South America. Psychology is all about the mental faculty of humans and this mental faculty is made up of our own individual experiences, relationships, biology, and culture. This science has to adapt to each of these factors, and that introduces no small amount of challenge.

The deeper I went into Psychology and Japanese culture, the more I realized how "western" this science is. I think many people already know that a healthy secular mindset as presented by a therapist will be very centralized with the patient focusing on themselves and doing what is best for them: that they should be all about themselves and they alone have the power to realize this (this is oversimplified, but we've all already heard this one) In Japan, this idea is completely wild and unacceptable. The Japanese are very much about what is best for the group as a whole, and not that of the individual. In fact, the people of that nation have a phrase that is commonly used, "This is very Japanese of me to say but..." which one might translate as, "I know what I'm about to say doesn't make sense, and might even be considered wrong, but it is what I believe because it's the most appropriate response". 

So it took me 4 years of college and now almost 2 years of graduate school to realize I'm not getting what I need? Not quite: I certainly gained some useful skills, and it sets me up to pursue that PhD as originally intended, but instead of pursuing that in the US, I'm going to wait and do most of it in Japan. I realize this means a very high level of language fluency, but that was always part of the plan. What I really need is that deeper level of cultural understanding of the Japanese people and I'm not going to get that over here no matter how many classes I take. Of course this will also have the benefit of knowing more effective ways to minister and disciple, but that is an entirely new topic on its own. 

So even as I wrap up this Master's I know I have quite a few more years of study ahead of me, and I'm very thankful for that. God has given me such a passionate yearning for the Japanese people and culture, and the thought of pursuing education in that very context to help give me the tools for ministry towards sharing Jesus and combating suicide is nothing short of a blessing.