Traveling with the millions
Dear Journal Friends,
When I first heard about the theme this year for the World Mission Offering, “Surprised By Walking In Different Shoes,” I was puzzled as to how to relate my ministry in Japan to it. There were two reasons. The first is that I don’t have the same cultural pressures bearing down on me that the Japanese do. Although, I try to live by many of their customs I do not usually live by their cultural norms (I have been “accused” of hiding the fact that I have Japanese blood---which I do not!). Secondly, economically I live close to their standards of living. How am I walking in their shoes? How SHOULD I be walking in their shoes? Perhaps someone else could see it more clearly than I. But as if God was directly responding to my anxiety over this theme, I headed directly in God’s school-of-hard-knocks.
The Japan Baptist Union-related Soshin Girls’ school in Yokohama had a need for a part-time English teacher, and the salary I would receive would help me meet my new Missionary Partnership Team (MPT) financial goal. So in April, I began commuting in rush-hour traffic from west Tokyo to Yokohama, arriving in time for 8:15 am classes. This schedule was adjusted slightly during the next three months but that early one-and-a-half hour commute thrust me into the shoes of the Japanese. Squeezed in back to back, chest to chest, often standing for the full train and bus ride forced me to come to grips with the awful realities that the majority of the working and student populations experience every day. Every morning and evening train and subway delays and stoppages because of “an accident involving a person,” are written on the electronic message boards in trains for all to see. No wonder trains are more and more frequently used as a weapon for suicide. Those who cannot accept and adjust by slipping into their own world during travel become weary and ill.
No wonder we find so few of these groups in church each week! No wonder that businessmen and women remain the hardest group to reach with the gospel. As I prayed for people standing around me, I began asking myself if I could walk in their shoes FIVE days a week year after year and still minister to them? My answer came back like a gong, “No.” By the grace of God I don’t have to do that because of your generous gifts sent to International Ministries for my support provide my salary and freedom to minister. But God has allowed me to walk in their shoes even for a short period of three months that I might gain empathy and deeper understanding of those God has called me to.
Jesus died for these people who daily experience a different kind of dehumanization unmatched in the rest of the world. It is your gifts through the World Mission Offering that helps to keep mission-to-the-millions continuing. Most of Japan still needs to know the love of God, and it is through the WMO that you have a chance to help out.
Thanks to so many of you who have given monthly contributions toward my financial support, and for the first time during the Luther Rice Society Matching Gifts Program. It was successful! I end with the question, would you be willing to continue in some way during this special WMO offering time? Or would the many of you who are reading this who have not had the chance to be on my financial support team consider joining? Whether you choose to join or not, the fact remains that we desperately need you to do your part in helping International Ministries continue and move forward. I want to make sure that you have the opportunity to help in ministering-to-the-millions around the world. Who knows? One day you and I may be able to step on a crowded train and feel like we are not the only Christian there.
In Christ, Roberta Stephens