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Beautiful broken vessels: Checkpoint Autumn 2021

CMS worker K is reaching out with the gospel to Japanese expatriates in the Middle East. Before that she served in Japan for more than 20 years. Here she explains how Christ has worked in and through her as she has served long-term and relocated.

There is a beautiful art form in Japan called Kintsugi. Kin means ‘gold’ and tsugi comes from the word meaning ‘to connect’. Kintsugi is used when a precious piece of pottery, a bowl or plate is broken. Usually, it would be thrown away. But the owner recognises its value and so joins the pieces together, not disguising the cracks, but filling them with gold. The result is even more valuable, and its beauty comes from the gold-filled cracks alone.

This is a picture of the exquisite work of Christ in each one of us, given in God’s mercy to a nation where there are few cultural hooks into the gospel. What happens when such a vessel—a weak and cracked CMS missionary like me—moves into a cross-cultural setting long-term?

Over many years, aside from the ongoing new cracks and chips, filled up with more of Christ, the vessel herself changes. Over time, she takes on a new colour of language, the new shape of a different worldview, and a new use as she adjusts to a new way of doing life and relationships.

I discovered that language learning (while never ending), became easier over time, and I was increasingly able to communicate in the heart language of the Japanese people. Cultural awareness and understanding deepened, which paved the way for thinking of different, Japanese ways of introducing the gospel, and encouraging believers. Serving long-term provided opportunities to try new things, to fail or succeed—for the purpose of finding ways for Japanese people to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. All these changes, over time, are made with the desire that the precious gospel, revealed in the cracked and chipped vessel, will be more accessible to Japanese people.

Moving to the Middle East

Moving to a place like the Middle East, after serving long-term in Japan, has been an experience involving many changes and adaptations. Sand seems to be taken on and in everything, adding a different texture.

However, the changes and adaptations wrought in me in Japan have not been left behind. They have moved with me to the desert and are vital for diaspora ministry.

Japanese people who have moved here have suddenly shifted from being the same as everyone around them to being different. They have no choice but to explore new ideas in order to survive. At the same time, Japanese people seek the familiar. With God’s help and after decades of living in Japan, I seek to be a place of familiarity—with familiar language, cultural understanding and ways of doing relationships, yet at the same time introducing the ‘new idea’ of the gospel.

These adaptations don’t stop here in the Middle East. Usually, my Japanese friends will return to Japan, different to when they left. I hope and pray that they return to Japan trusting in Jesus, or with a desire to know more about him. My long-term work in Japan has provided a network and an understanding of the church situation that can help people find gospel connection and community when they return to their home country. I try to connect them to a gospel-centred church, so they can continue to seek and find Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

But I yearn for more. I yearn for the day when the cracks and chips are gone.

Yearning for heaven

As I spend time with Japanese people in the Middle East, we yearn for, and reminisce about the things we miss and love about Japan: the beauty of the cherry blossoms, the deliciousness of the sushi. We long for the day when we can experience these again, and eagerly listen to those who have travelled back to Japan recently.
But I yearn for more. I yearn for the day when the cracks and chips are gone and the whole vessel is gold. I yearn that we will share in Christ too, not just now but in eternity, around the throne of the Lamb, as we praise him with many others from every tribe and tongue. Come Lord Jesus!

PRAY

Pray that people who move to a new location will yearn for a heavenly home, and that God would reveal his grace in the Lord Jesus Christ through the faithful ministry of CMS workers like K.