Two years in Japan: Challenges with a ‘but’
Posted on: 3rd February 2021
CMS missionaries Matt & Jen Lim, with their young boys Obi and Theo, have now been in Japan for just over two years. Here they recount their challenges—challenges that have always come with the blessing of God’s kindness.
On our first night in Japan (September 2018), Typhoon Jebi woke us with violent winds and rain. The house was literally quaking.
Remarkably only a few hours prior our family had managed to settle in safely with all our luggage–completely dry. This experience is symbolic of our two years in Japan so far. There have been challenges and difficulties, but God is good and has been at work in Japan and in us.
Matt: Missing familiarity and spontaneity
There are many things to love about Japan. The people are hospitable and friendly, natural beauty and cool stuff can be found everywhere, and there is literally something for everything in the ‘100 yen’ stores. It’s a convenient place to live. But I’m also missing things back in Australia. Besides the three Fs—family, friends and fruit,I miss familiarity and spontaneity.
I miss going to places I know—favourite spots like the Vietnamese restaurant, the fish and chip shop, or Bunnings to find a specific tool or that thing to fix something.
Simple unplanned tasks, errands and conversations are now much more difficult and tiring. In English, I can ask questions, explain issues or thoughts and respond to whatever the other person says, on-the-spot. I really can’t do that here yet. I might know a few set phrases or basic vocabulary, but certainly not enough to have a completely spontaneous discussion, especially at a higher level. Phone calls can be super stressful.
There are many other cultural differences and processes that I am still learning two years on; all part of culture shock. I look forward to many more years of learning, and also developing a new sense of familiarity and spontaneity here in Japan.
Jen: The good ‘but’
As I reflected on these past two years, I realised that in God’s kindness for every hardship there has been a good ‘but’.
Parenting away from extended family has been very difficult, especially at the beginning. Our boys have a lot of energy! And emotions! Navigating their culture shock at the same time as our own, without readily available help or breaks, has been exhausting.
But the support we have received from our new church family has been one of God’s most precious gifts to us.
The too-hard basket
Many things get put into the too–hard basket. Things like sorting out tax and superannuation are so hard because of our limited Japanese. I put off seeing a doctor (and later discovered I had a skin cancer) because the thought of finding a specialist and explaining my problem seemed too overwhelming.
But our helplessness and need for assistance has deepened our relationships with our Japanese friends in ways that would never have happened if we could just ’do it ourselves’.
I’ve realised Obi and Theo will have a completely different childhood to me. I grew up in Mount Isa in outback Queensland, and loved it. I’ve been surprised by the emotional challenge of knowing the boys won’t have those same experiences—outback camping expeditions, small town life, spectacular thunderstorms on an unbroken skyline.
But they will have their own special childhood. They will experience Japanese language and culture intimately as they go through school, and live in Tokyo with its endless restaurants, museums, shows, parks and zoos.
Having your heart in two countries
Having your heart in two places at once is something I’ve found difficult. Matt is good at connecting with people in Australia through newsletters and emails while maintaining a focus here. However, I’ve found it hard to balance prioritising my new relationships here in Japan, as well as keeping up with our supporters and friends back in Australia.
But it is such a blessing to know that we are here with the prayer and financial assistance of CMS supporters. To know that you are bringing both us and our Japanese brothers and sisters before our Father’s throne is a true privilege.
More reasons for thanks
Over the last two years, we’ve had a lot to pray about and work through; insomnia, emergency ambulance trips, major surgeries, random health issues, language learning, behaviour management, post-traumatic stress and anxiety, moving house, everything COVID-related, the list goes on! Yet through all this, God has said to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). While we haven’t exactly ‘boasted gladly’ like Paul about our weakness, our desire is the same: that Christ’s power may rest on us.
Through various challenges and difficulties, we’ve also experienced God’s grace in many ways. Here are just a few examples.
Our Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ have shown us a new benchmark in love and service, especially through the many times we have been in need.
Hi-B.A. (the Japanese high school organisation, High School Born-Againers) staff have been incredibly supportive and understanding of our family’s transition and adjustment to life in Japan. We’ve heard amazing testimonies from high schoolers coming to faith.
We’ve seen several baptisms at our church, Eifuku Minami Church.
Many of our health issues have been healed quickly.
Like Titus was an encouragement to Paul, we give thanks for special fellow workers who God has provided to help and strengthen us with our burdens and ministry, (like looking after our boys so we can have a day out together)!
In short, we’ve had many, many answers to prayers—from big things to small everyday things—and sometimes we’ve been given more than we ask!
Looking towards glory
God is at work in and through our family, sometimes in ways that we don’t fully understand, but we do not give up or lose heart, “for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17).
When you hear of CMS missionaries going through times of hardship, pray and give thanks that God provides a ‘BUT’, giving many blessings in the midst of difficulty. You can find ways to pray at cms.org.au/get-involved/pray/