The Legacy of the Long Haul: A Tribute to Pastor Cory

With Reine and Cory in Japan, May 2013

“Six months,” everyone had told me.

That’s how long the honeymoon phase in Japan would last. Then, the reality of life abroad would pound me like mochi.

I woke up on March 13, 2013, just like the previous morning. Six months in, nothing had changed. I still felt like a fresh pot of rice, no mochi mallet in sight.

Then it began as daydreaming.

I’d peek across several platforms at the train station and see the Narita Express, bound for the airport. “Wouldn’t it be nice to hop on that now,” I thought. “Just for a burrito or two.”

I’d see a photo on Facebook of a party in a friend’s backyard — a big American backyard…with a big American barbecue grill…with big American ribeyes. I started calculating how many Japanese apartment rooms could fit on that precious property. “It’d be nice to have a backyard one day,” I thought.

Over the next two months, somehow my mind had boarded a boat across the Pacific, rowing to the beat of Michael Buble’s “Home.” Before I knew it, I had convinced myself of an escape plan: “Two years of language school is a big investment, so I’ll serve twice that long afterwards, say four years. Six years in total, then I’ll be back home.” Yes, such was God’s plan for my life; I couldn’t have planned it better.

I never spoke this out loud of course. It was just simmering in my mind, like those ribeyes I saw on Facebook. But when I got word that a short-term ministry team from Evergreen would be arriving in May, including Pastor Cory (aka my boss), I began to prepare.

“I think I’ll ask him,” I thought. After all, he doesn’t like to travel, so this may be my only chance. Yes, my chance to ask the question: How long do you think I’ll really be here?

*

We met at a Starbucks by his hotel, and I ordered our drinks (an attempt to show Pastor Cory my diligence in language study as I pronounced “banira furapechiino” (vanilla frappuccino). After a few sips and small talk, I took the proverbial ball and threw it in his court.

“So…how long do you think I’ll actually be here?”

He paused, turned toward me and reluctantly asked, “Do you really want to know?”

I should have stopped there.

I knew that look. He gave it to me after a preaching practicum once…or twice. It was the look of, “brace yourself.”

I then uttered the second dumbest “yes” of my life. (The first of course, being the one that got me to Japan in the first place.)

“I think you’re probably gonna be here for the long haul. Maybe even the rest of your life.”

That proverbial ball I threw — he deflated it before my very eyes.

What happened next is the stuff even fiction writers can’t come up with. Suddenly, all the smart phones around us went off at once with a blaring alarm that a massive earthquake may strike at any moment. Fortunately, the actual quake was just a small rumble. But for me, the real jolt had already hit.

*

That fateful conversation is now one of my favorite stories to share.

This past September marked six years for me in Japan — the date of my imaginary escape plan. No bags packed. No Narita Express to board. Just thanksgiving.

Pastor Cory did come back after all. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but to officiate my wedding.

Our church plant just celebrated one year, and we couldn’t be more excited for what the Lord will do moving forward.

I thank God that Pastor Cory told me to prepare for the long haul. Had he said anything less, I would have been half-hearted in my approach to adjusting. I would have missed so many blessings God had prepared for me.

We all need someone to block the escape door when we’re tempted to flee. But more than that, we need someone to model that very perseverance. Since my first year interning at Evergreen SGV, I’ve always wanted to serve in one location for a long time. I imagine many interns have been similarly inspired, seeing the fruit of Pastor Cory’s labor.

Six years is short compared to Pastor Cory’s 41 years with Evergreen. September 2053. That’s how long I’d need to be in Tokyo to catch up.

Whether I’ll still be here then, only the Lord knows. But six years in, I consider it a true joy to be in Japan.

Praise God for His grace that sustains us to “finish the race” (2 Tim 4:7), at work in our Senior Pastor, and in our lives as well! Such is the lasting lesson and legacy I’ve received from Pastor Cory: the legacy of the long haul.

Well, that and to not respond when he asks, “Do you really want to know?”

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