Last week I was interviewed by my home church about what I'm doing here. I both love and hate these interviews. Of course I love that my home church is concerned and want to know how I'm doing. I love that they take an interest. And of course I love the opportunity to talk about my work. I love my work. Well, some of the time. Anyway.
So I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to recently because, well, I have no energy. I'm currently hosting a Swiss short-term missionary who is helping out with Nagahama and Maibara, and I guess I feel quite a lot of pressure - self-inflicted of course - particularly in this first week or so, to make sure he is OK and well looked-after and entertained. The downside of this is that I feel I have to be on duty 24/7, not just making sure everything is OK but also making conversation and finding useful and interesting things to do. I am very bad at all of the above, hence the stress.
Today I raced down (and back) to Shizuoka, about half way to Tokyo, to meet a man who's working on issues of church growth and the lack of it in Japan. We had a good chat, more of a get-to-know-you thing than any real deep content, but important to do none the less. And now I have come back with a head full of thoughts, which is always good.
I remember reading - I don't remember where - about one of the key questions in Trinitarian missiology is “Who's not here?” Symbolically it pictures the Trinity in a “dance of love”, and while they enjoyed perfect community together, the question “Who's not here?” leads to them reaching out to include humanity. Then the dance expands to include the Israelites, the Gentiles, and so on until all are included. The challenge, then, for the church is to keep on asking “Who's not here?” Which sectors of society are we lacking? What part of the richness of God's creation have we failed to take account of?
Moving from a technical profession to a spiritual vocation has been a weird process for me and has brought a few surprises. But there is one particular element that still gets to me every time. It is what I would call the closed nature of the spiritual community rather than the open nature of the technical community.
It has been striking me more and more recently that I am, at this point in my ministry, doing pretty much everything I said I would never do on the mission field before I got here. I am teaching English for ministry. I am using - and creating - systematized programmes for evangelism and discipleship rather than responding flexibly to individual situations. And, as we plan what happens to my various preaching and teaching slots from January, I realise that I have taken on more work than is sustainable and reproducible.
Just after I came back from the UK, there was this hectic time of camps and other stuff going on, and then about two weeks where I had very little to do. Now it’s all gone a bit wild again. Tomorrow we’ve invited all the new JET English Read more about What you say when you think nobody's listening
As I wrote this morning, we had our second Maibara Revive meeting today. I arrived at church this morning to listen to a litany of people who couldn't make it. Takahashi-sensei said, “Well, it could be just the four of us…”
So I do read the comments here, even if I don't always respond to them. And if there are good and interesting questions I do try to answer them. (Gervase, I am not ignoring your question about doctrine; I have half an answer in my head, and I'll post it in a bit, but it's a good and interesting question so I want to spend some more time thinking about it.)
The missionary life is, let's face it, luxurious, unreal and a little bit scary. Now I don't doubt that for some missionaries, the word “luxurious” may raise a few hackles. I know many of my brothers and sisters out there are having a really hard time. But at the same time, I imagine that most of them still have the freedom to decide their own schedules, to determine their own workload, and to prioritize spending time with people - rather than having to get up and do whatever someone else tells them, which is most of how their friends back home live.