Start

Baptism…had the best seat in the house…other than the kids.

Baptism. Had the best seat in the house…other than the kids.

Start.

In Japan, April is the month of “start.” Beginning of the fiscal year. Beginning (and end) of the cherry blossom season. Beginning of the school year. (In fact, on the first day of class for the new semester, we were even told to give a brief speech on the theme, “start.”)  Very different from the States, where April is the month of…April…and perhaps taxes.

It’s quite exciting to start things. Or to see things start. Or to see God start things.

Several weeks ago on Easter Sunday, I got to see a friend of mine get baptized. The same friend who I wrote about last summer, when he first professed his faith in Christ. Now, a year later, he was standing in front of the church, sharing his testimony. He shared about how he comes from a line of Zen Buddhist priests, and is the first Christian in his family. Beyond that, he shared about how the love of Christ completely changed the direction of his life, and how now he’s even praying about becoming a pastor one day.

God had clearly started something.

After sharing his testimony, he sat down. Then the pastor came up to the mic and said he’d like to ask someone to pray for him before the baptism.

[Silence…]

“Ian-san…would you please pray for Miki-kun?”

No forewarning. No preparation notice. In fact, wait a minute…I don’t even go to this church.

Had it been an English speaking church…or had I at least known most of the people…or had I at least had a minute’s notice…I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the near panic attack that I did.

“Sure…let’s pray…”

What stumbled out of my mouth after that, you won’t find a recording of on this website. Let’s just say you know a prayer isn’t off to a good start when you mispronounce the words “Dear God”…twice. Grammatically, I’m pretty sure if my language school teachers heard it, they’d drop me down a few classes back to where I started a year ago. Perhaps the only redeeming quality was that it was short.

[Sidenote: At this point I’d like to offer my sincerest apologies to anybody at Evergreen who I called on to pray in front of a group without warning. Especially if you were looking down and trying to avoid eye-contact.]

Walking back home, it was hard not to think about it. “If he had just let me know earlier!” “I pray with other people in Japanese multiple times a week…how did that happen?” “Is that really all I have to show for a year-and-a-half in this country?”

Seeing things start is exciting. Seeing things stagnate is frustrating. Seeing things regress is depressing.

It didn’t hit me until several hours later, to actually apply what I had prayed…to myself. Since I was caught off guard, I prayed the only verse I can repeat in Japanese without requiring any thought: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10) Only this time, I said, “we are what we are,” referring to my friend who was getting baptized. Surely, I needed the prayer just as much as he did.

I can’t count the number of times this verse has saved me. And this past Easter was no exception.

When things are good…it’s only by the grace of God. And when things are bad…it’s only by the grace of God they’re not worse.

So whether starting, stagnating, or regressing, by the grace of God, I am what I am. My Japanese is what it is. And so is my prayer.

Amen.

…not to mention Jesus says a whole lot about “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people.” Especially praying.

Categories: Missions

5 Comments

  • Auntie says:

    yes, Ian. your phrase reminds me of someone i know who says, “it is what it is.” and the hymn “just as i am. without one plea.” extemporaneous praying is hard enough. never mind in your second language. God’s grace prevails, indeed. thanks for writing.

  • Hilda Tsang says:

    Wow, how I can relate to your story. When I lived abroad and had to speak the native language, sometimes I would amaze myself at how fluent I could sound one day, then the next day, I would be stumbling in all my words and grammar. Very frustrating. Still, we keep on trying, God and those around us always have the grace to bless us no matter what language we speak.

  • Yets says:

    It’s so good to connect with you in Japan. Your Nihongo is excellent and I’m still struggling to get by in the grocery store. God’s grace amazingly covers us all and he gives us spontaneous moments from which we grow. See you soon in Karuizawa.

  • reine ishida says:

    I am sure if I were there, the prayer would have sounded perfect to me 🙂
    Thank you for taking to heart all that the LORD brings to you, Ian, as He finds you most worthy to “suffer” for the cause of Christ. You truly blessed the LORD.

  • A says:

    がんばって!Church lingo in Japanese is a whole other level so don’t feel bad about the imperfect parts of your prayer because God redeems you for those mistakes or any cultural blunders we might make in translation; He makes sure the right message gets across. What counts is that you went up there and showed the congregation love by praying for them- an act I’m sure is louder than any words you could give them. Praise God for the wind behind you; ぜったいここからスタットだけです!

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