International Ministries

At Home With God

January 6, 2010 Journal
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Dear Journal Friends,

It’s difficult to explain my feelings and experiences related to being in the USA during Advent, the Christmas celebration, and Post-Christmas.  Admittedly my mind has been on what I would be doing in Japan to make Christmas a meaningful experience for both Japanese Christian and non-Christian friends.  Decorating, baking ‘till-the-cows-come-home, group Christmas parties, Bible studies on the seasonal theme, and devotionals and sermons.  We missionaries do work hard at it, and those who are related to Christian Schools in particular.  One colleague recently wrote that he just finished eight Christmas devotional/talks for various groups in his work!  Yes, nostalgic, especially the Christmas services.

Then with the cessation of the Christmas services, even though Christmas day is still days off, all Christmas activities cease.  The Christmas theme is picked up again Christmas Eve when all Japanese families eat a store-bought decorated Christmas cake.  Christmas day arrives as a regular workday most years, and for many of my 30 + years in Japan I spent the day alone. No Japanese people are available and colleagues lived too far away for them to join me.  I gradually got used to having my own celebration, calling family in the US and opening my gifts.  But, in spite of me working hard to fill my day there was always something missing.

So some of these thoughts came into my head as I listened and participated in the candlelight service at Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle where I am a member.  Yes, there were a lot of similarities, including instructions on how to not drip candle wax.  But then came the final carol, Silent Night.  And that’s when the tides turned.  Frankly speaking, because of a non-literal translation, the Japanese words are just more beautiful than the English!  At JBC, both Japanese and English words were flashed on the screen for this joint congregation service.  I could sing the English words fine but could not sing the Japanese words without weeping.

So, where am I from anyway?  I had all I had ever dreamed of this year enjoying Christmas to the fullest with my sister, brother-in-law and their grown children + grand-nephews.  But it left me feeling like I was forgetting something.  The realization hit hard again that I have chosen a transient existence where I can only say with assurance that my citizenship is in heaven.  It is a stark reminder that Jesus also experienced this as he arrived to live in a foreign culture where at times he probably longed to be with his Father in heaven.  This gave me comfort and closure to my differing thoughts.

I’d like to close with a poem written by former colleague in mission, Noah Brannen in 1954, written after the Brannens’ first term as missionaries in Mukaishima, Hiroshima Japan. 

At Home With God

 

No thought of loneliness.

No look behind,

No touch of restlessness

If God has built this house

And He is here,

No other place on earth

Could be more dear.

 

At home they say

That everything has changed.

Old friends are gone and some become estranged

and in so short a time,

A wink, a nod,

and one we left at home

Is home with God.

 

Wherever we may be

A foreign land across a boundless sea.

A strange new world around,

A people odd,

But somehow even this

Is home, with God

 

No home for him,

No place in Bethlehem,

No shelter there, no cover over them

A strange, new world about

A stable odd

Yet even here the homeless find

Their home, in God

 

At home with God

Wherever we may be.

A foreign land across a boundless sea.

A strange new world around,

A people odd,

But somehow even this

Is home, with God.

 

No home for him,

No place in Bethlehem,

No shelter there, no cover over them

A strange, new world about

A stable odd

Yet even here the homeless find

Their home, in God.

This poem expresses the thoughts that still exist in my heart even after all these years. Thank you for your continued prayers and financial support. And a special “welcome” to all you who have and will join my Missionary Partnership Network in 2010.

Join me in having a very Happy New Year.

In Christ, Roberta Stephens