Suffering As Love

Dear Daniel,

Congrats on making it to Tokyo! So glad you’ve arrived after months of training, visa issues, and three years of seminary. I know the sense of accomplishment and anticipation as you stand by the window in your new apartment, gazing upon the land you’ve longed to live in. You’re finally here.

Which is why I was bummed to hear things are already rougher than expected. Bronchitis is never fun, especially during your first days in a foreign country. With full-time language school just around the corner, I can only imagine that coughing at 3:30am is not the ideal start you desired.

I know you expected suffering and trials when you got here, though perhaps not this quickly. Health issues are one of many thorns among missionary efforts here, causing some to leave the field. Not to mention Japan is a place of deep spiritual battle…even if everything around us is so darn cute.

I don’t doubt that God is using this bumpy start for His purposes. I’m sure it has caused you and your wife to become more dependent on God and each another. I’m guessing it has drawn you closer to your teammates. Perhaps it will create new relationships with neighbors and nurses. I look forward to seeing how God sovereignly unfolds this first chapter, even through your suffering.

Your coming to Tokyo last week was the same time I arrived five years ago. Looking back, I see how God weaved sicknesses, frustrations and disappointments into His plan to sanctify me. I’ve often said, God didn’t just call me to Japan to change Japan. He called me here to change me.

But there’s one piece of the suffering puzzle I wish someone would have told me five years ago. In fact, I didn’t come across it until last week through a study. Namely, there is always a relational aspect to your suffering. Jesus didn’t just suffer on the cross. He suffered on the cross to obey His Father. He suffered on the cross for you.

In the same way, our suffering “does not exist just ‘out there,’ but always for others.”[1]

This is how Paul interpreted his suffering. He writes to the Corinthians:

If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:6)

Yes, Paul spoke of his suffering as for Christ. But it was also for those he was ministering to. He saw his affliction as something he endured for the Corinthian church’s “comfort and salvation.”

So when you’re stuck in the hospital with an illness you got here, yes, your suffering is for Christ who called you here. But it’s also for the Japanese people. When you’re up late, frustrated as you try to memorize Japanese grammar, remember it’s for the Japanese people. When you see your photos on Facebook of your American friends’ backyards, three times the size of your apartment, remember it’s for the Japanese people. And when your face is rubbed up against the armpit of a “salaryman” on a crammed rush hour train, well…get off the train.

This principle applies to far more than just missionaries. Every time I do something that frustrates, annoys, or saddens my wife, her suffering isn’t just “out there”. It’s for me. She endures it as love, for my growth as a husband. (As you’ve recently gotten married, I’m sure our wives could write more than a few letters on this topic.)

But something about learning to do life all over, from babbling like a baby to taking the escalator (stay on the left here), makes missionary suffering unique. Knowing this doesn’t always make it easier. But may it drive you into deeper fellowship with the Missionary who entered our world, and suffered far more than we ever will, to love you.

Grace,

Ian

Magnet Photo 2012

Magnet Photo 2017 (Coming soon!)

[1] Paul E. Miller, The Love Course: A Theology of Love for Deeper Discipleship, Part 3 Entering the Oneness of Jesus (Telford: seeJesus Press, 2011), 25.

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