I have been trying to deny how much it hurts for a long time. I've tried for years actually. I'm speaking of the pain of leaving Japan and the pain in my heart for the Japanese people. I have ignored my feelings, suppressed them, and even lashed out at God in anger. I have argued, screamed, cried, and begged. The ache is suppressed at times, but it does not go away.
Last night it was back...worse than it's been in a very long time. How do I explain away an aching heart? I can't, any more than a person who has lost a loved one can explain the grief he feels. In a way, I am losing a loved one. I've never felt so on fire for a place as I have Japan, and it hasn't mattered what city I have been in...the love (and the hurt) is the same. With the lone exception of my trip to Kagoshima a few months ago (which I am eternally grateful for), I have not been back to Japan since I left in 2000.
I have tried multiple times. Each time God has said no. Each time I have tried to make sense of His decision, or tried to explain it away, or tried to out-shout my Father. But he would have nothing of it. His decision was final, at least until I got back to Kagoshima.
And I can't go back in any way other than as a visiting sailor, at least not for the foreseeable future. God has blessed us with a set of circumstances that do not support going to Japan. It was, so it seemed, the final locking of the already shut door. And it hurts.
I don't know why God has decided to do this...I just don't. And I don't know why I can't let it go. But for some reason, I am still hoping for Japan; for the Japanese people. With less than 2% of the population claiming Christ, the odds are not in our favor. But Christ never worked off of odds, did he? He shouldn't have been raised from the dead...but he was. Our God works a game of long odds!
Because of the God I serve, I believe that there is hope for the Japanese. At work yesterday I cleared out a drawer of things from deployment and found some yen. As I held the coins in my hand, I thought, "A handful of yen and a heart full of hope." And that is where I am today...I have a hand full of memories of a country I am desperate for and a heart full of hope that my God is stronger than the odds against him.
Tonight I prayed for Japan and I took a brief walk down a memory lane that I haven't visited in a long time. Several years ago, Alicia put together the most splendid scrapbook of my Navy career overseas. In it, she put together pages like this one:
This is a picture of the Japanese students I taught conversational English to at Kanagawa Bunko Christian Church. Next is a picture of a small plaque that they gave me a few weeks before I left:
Memories like that did my heart a lot of good. I also saw pictures of a previous visit with the missionaries in Kagoshima, and in the future I will put that picture up on here once I can scan it better. I also saw pictures of a church in Otaru, which is located on the northern island of Hokkaido, where I spoke in the winter of 1999. It goes without saying that I also saw pictures of Oppama Bible Church, where I called home for a few years in Yokosuka.
On one hand, these memories are all I have. On the other hand, there is much more work to do. God has never told me not to pray for Japan, nor has he never told me to stop hoping for it and its people. I will continue to pray, and hope, and probably I'll write about it more in the future.
In fact, I'm choosing Japan as a country study for my World Missions class (ICST 500) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, as long as my professor approves it.
Do you have an ache in your heart like this? Have you seen the doors shut when you begged for them to be open? What are your thoughts? What would you suggest I do? Any thoughts would be very much appreciated!