The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salt and Light

I work for an English school that is part of a city-wide organization that was founded by a Christian man. It has Bible verses up on the walls, and the director of the school is the founder's son, and a Christian. But aside from the two of us, there are no Christians (that I know of) in the building. This is a common thing in Japan: Christians start schools but do not staff them with Christian teachers or staff. I had prayed for God to send Christians to schools like this when I was a missionary here before, but didn't imagine I would be placed right in the middle of one.

The biggest event of the year at my workplace is Halloween. Christmas is a night in a restaurant, but Halloween is a whole week of parties celebrated in every individual class. I know that Halloween can be good, innocent fun, but there is also a lot of nastiness. More and more, the holiday makes my heart feel yucky...I dread seeing the decorations, and things like witchcraft made cute. I was sad to learn what a huge focus it is for my school. So, I'd been wrestling to figure out how I would respond. Because I don't actually teach any kid's classes at my school, I wondered if I would be off the hook this year. But the beginning of October brought a thick packet of paper to my desk with instructions for us to work together in figuring out all the Halloween festivities. I continued wrestling.

In short, I approached the executive director (the other Christian in the building) and talked to him about not wanting to participate in Halloween. This created a couple of hush-hush meetings, and, in the end, I was given permission to not participate.

This opened the door for a pretty cool conversation. One of the part-time teachers casually said to me, "So, you're celebrating Halloween right now?"

I told her, "No, I don't celebrate Halloween."

"Is it because of your faith?" I had met this woman soon after coming to Fukushima and explained, when she had wondered if we were scared of the radiation, that we were here to say that there was a reason to hope.

She was surprised when I told her it was, and asked, "But, isn't Halloween a holiday for casting evil things out?" In Japan, there are holidays specifically for casting away evil things. I've always kind of scoffed at them, because it involves doing things like throwing beans to keep the demons away. But, in that moment, I realized that however bad I feel like Japanese holidays are, they actually have the idea that you should cast out evil things rather than dressing up like them and seemingly celebrating them. That was humbling.

We went on to discuss the difference between Halloween and All Saint's Day, and then the difference between All Saint's Day and Obon, the Japanese holiday where tombs are visited and the dead are prayed to. I explained that the difference is that Christians believe in a resurrection and a life after death. I thought this would be overly simplistic, but I was surprised when she responded, "I can't believe in heaven. I don't want to believe in heaven."

I've heard many people say they can't, but I couldn't believe this statement of not wanting to. Without really meaning to, I started pouring out words... Heaven isn't the same as this... Everything that is bad about this place, everything that is from sin, will be gone... I have only seen a six year old girl ever receive the news the way this woman did. Her eyes were wide. "Really?" She asked it with a kind of sincere eagerness.

Sometime in the middle of this, one of the foreign teacher's walked in wearing his Halloween costume, which was a zombie with blood all over his face and shirt. The teacher looked across at me and said, "Wakatta. I get it." I may not have convinced her about heaven just yet, but my coworker sealed the Halloween argument for me.

This isn't a story that ends with a conversion, but it did end with amazing openness as she shared across a busy teacher's room how she felt that God had been ignoring her, told about her struggles, allowed me to pray for them.

The days following that conversation have seemed to carry a lot of "work angst" for me. I know that it will be decided soon who they will offer contracts to for next year (beginning in April). Joel will be extending his (he works at a different school), and I find myself waffling between two emotions: fear that my company will not offer me one, and therefore the school will be back to zero Christian teachers...and the severe cultural frustration of working in a very Japanese environment that makes me hope I'll be done, or be working at greatly reduced hours, come next April.

But conversations like this remind me why I'm here... They remind me that I wanted to come into the middle of a very real world environment and be light and salt.

I find working in this place that, until this moment, I have given up very little for the sake of the lost. Which is why my heart is complaining lots now...stretching pains, growing pains. Giving myself to them at the expense of being able to connect with and support very dear friends who already know Jesus ... Giving myself to them at the expense of a mutual day off with my husband ... Giving myself to them at the expense of a job environment that feels meaningful, and that offers any kind of grace... Oh, Jesus, give me your heart for the lost.

Today the principal came with a smile on her face, showed me my time card and informed me that I was working for a Japanese company and that clocking in 8 minutes late was not acceptable. I am to be in my seat by the time on the schedule, which means I need to arrive at least 15 minutes early, vacuum the carpet, get my tea, and be in place so that I can look busy for the next few hours when I have no real work to do.

Later today, she came and gave me my semi-permanent schedule, and when I requested that I be allowed to keep working on Saturdays and have time off on Mondays (it gives me a little more time with Joel and helps me recover from the Sunday of church activities), I was told that it is totally unacceptable. Even though I don't have anything scheduled on Mondays at all, we can't switch the schedule. I'm so far at the end of my rope that I ended up in tears in front of the principal. Sigh.

This is the 12th day in a row that I have been busy, and it had been an effort to get to work even 8 minutes late this morning. I had plenty of time to get ready for my first class, so no client was affected. Also, I was proud of the idea of switching the schedule around so that I would work Tuesday to was far more productive and efficient on all levels. But none of that is an excuse. I'm not ignorant about Japanese culture...I know that if I want these people to think that I care about them, part of that ground has got to be won by following their rules and choosing my battles. There are some really important battles I'd like to fight in this place: battles that will open the door for the Bible to be read and the gospel to be shared. If I fight them on every rule that inconveniences me, I will lose authority and the trust I need to fight when it's really important. I know this. But my exhaustion keeps winning, and I fight and talk back and negotiate when it isn't necessary.

The principal has sounded more than willing to renegotiate my contract for less hours in the office since my teaching hours are so below the contracted amount...and I sit here thinking, "Do I have it in my heart to keep sacrificing these things for the sake of these people?" If 40 hours a week and little time to connect with my husband, close friends, and family means that I am begrudging at work...then have I overstepped myself? Is it better to step back to 20 or 30 hours so that I can enter the school filled and joyful? The escape door has been opened, and it's up to me to decide. Is switching to part time a cop out? Will I lose this opportunity to witness that Jesus so graciously entrusted to me? Am I losing it already by doing things like getting teary-eyed about not getting my way? Would I miss out on the opportunity to trust Him with something bigger than myself? Am I just trying to get this situation back in my control rather than leaving it painfully (in the short run) in His?

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"
~Romans 10:14

Pray and wait...pray and wait...Lord, please, please be glorified.

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