Last week, I surprised quite a lot of people by coming back to America. Yup! I'm back! It was a lot of fun showing up at my old job, a wedding, and at church to the surprise of my friends and coworkers. The reactions were priceless, and surprisingly they were almost exactly the same. First, my friends would see I was someone they knew, generating recognition in their eyes, but once they processed who I actually was, the reactions were too great. Some of the more common remarks were, “Why/How are you here?” “You're on the other side of the world!” “How did you get here?” But the most frequently asked question - asked by literally every person I've talked to - has been, “How long are you back?”
This has been a very surprising reaction for me, one that I never even thought would occur. The frequency of this question is even more surprising! It is so touching to think that everyone can tell that Japan is of such importance in my life, that they can tell that that is the place God has called me to be. It's one thing to feel myself that God is calling me to Japan, but when that feeling is confirmed by the sweet remarks of my friends and family here in America, my heart is overwhelmed with blessing.
Before coming back to America, I was preparing myself in so many ways for a very difficult adjustment back to American culture. Reverse culture shock was a big problem for me two years ago when I returned to America from Japan the first time, so I anticipated the same difficulties this time. But by God's grace, this time has been so much easier! I didn't know if it was because I knew what to expect this time, or because I was gone for a longer period of time making it exciting to come back and see everyone again, or because I truly believed I would be going back someday, or something else. But it is so obvious to me now that it is only because of God, not because of anything I've done, and I am so thankful to God for giving me peace about being back. I am ever learning to trust in Him and lean on Him in the difficult times and in the times of joy.
Now, to catch you up on all the activity of my last month in Japan. It was non-stop to my last day, for which I was very thankful. I was thankful for the normalcy of keeping busy. My friend Tara and I had a combined goodbye party at school, and the students and parents all said very sweet things and gave so many gifts. As I looked around the room, my eyes filled with tears as I had so many memories with each person and I thanked God for the blessing they had all been in my life.
Tara left two weeks before I did, during our last full week of classes at school. The last day of school was a mixture of emotions for me, but more than anything I felt incredibly proud of all of the students for working so hard and doing incredibly well all year. It was such a blessing to have been able to teach so many wonderful students and make tons of memories together.
That weekend, we had the school talent show, of which I was in charge. The day of was a bit stressful for me, but the show itself was loads of fun! It was such a blast to watch all of the students show their God-given talents in various ways.
That Monday, I had the opportunity to go to Tokyo with a large group of people. The fun part for me was that I didn't have to play tour-guide for once, and I had no clue where we were going. It was awesome! We ended up going to Tsukiji for lunch. Tsukiji is a very famous fish market, known for its tuna auctions. I was so excited to be there because that was one place in Tokyo I had always wanted to go but had never been. We went to a very nice restaurant for lunch that felt so incredibly Japanese. I loved it! We sat at a low table, but there was a deep space under the table for our feet to hang down. We were served a variety of things to eat, including delicious, fresh, raw fish and tempura.
After eating, we wandered around the market, got coffee, walked around a small garden on a balcony, then went to Asakusa for some sightseeing and shopping. After that we went to Tokyo Sky Tree and spent the rest of our day there. A couple of the summer intern girls and I spent a while jumping around in a fountain, getting super wet, then we got to watch Sky Tree light up as it got dark outside. It was a very fun last outing to Tokyo for me.
That week, the summer interns planned our school's Spirit Week – three days of fun Bible-based activities for the students. This was such a blessing, because it allowed all of us teachers to spend the whole week doing final grades and student assessments, which always takes quite a bit of time.
That weekend we had parent/teacher meetings, school cleaning day, and I took my 7th grade class out for ice cream. It was a lot of fun getting to hangout with these kids one last time with all of us together. Teaching that group was always the highlight of my day. We had so much fun, and I loved seeing how God was working in each of their lives. I already miss them so much. That evening I had a nice low-key goodbye party at home with the teachers from school. It was a very sweet time together.
My last Sunday in Japan was bittersweet. It was a whole lot of fun, but at the same time it was full of goodbyes, which was very saddening. After worship, a group of my Japanese friends took me out for lunch. It was so much fun getting to spend time with only Japanese people, practicing my Japanese, and eating Japanese food. I saw it as a huge gift from God. I always cherished the times I got to spend with these friends.
After lunch, I was taken home, and then I went back to the church building to gather up my things from that building and the school next door. While I was there, the worship team was practicing for a praise day happening the following Sunday. This made me ecstatic, because I was so incredibly disappointed to be missing this praise day because I loved listening to and singing Japanese praise music. I saw this as another huge gift from the Lord that I was able to listen to them practice. (In my mind, I saw it as my own personal concert present from God.)
That Monday, I went to lunch at a friend's house, then went to school to finish grading some papers and things. After that I went to my favorite ramen shop for the last time with a large group of people. That was loads of fun! Afterwards, some of us went to karaoke together – the perfect way to end such a fun day.
On Tuesday, I got to say goodbye to almost all of the students from school, who were doing summer studying together at Oyumino Chapel (one of the church locations.) I went to the school building to tidy up some classrooms, then some Japanese friends of mine took me out for coffee as a last goodbye. They gave me very sweet goodbye gifts, then took me home. One of my students, Anne Mie, came over and helped me pack a little bit, then we went to dinner at a sushi restaurant with the summer interns and the Iversons. This ended up being my last meal in Japan, and it was perfect. Anne Mie and I walked home afterwards, and I finished packing up all of my things.
I got about two hours of sleep, then I was taken to the airport by Carol and Anne Mie early in the morning. It was a sweet goodbye, then I headed through security. When I got to immigration, I was pulled to the side to fill out a form saying I agreed that I was ending my religious activities visa. The man helping me was very kind, and I was able to speak to him in Japanese the whole time, which was a lot of fun for me. I was sad to sign the paper saying I agreed to the canceling of my visa, because I knew that meant I would have to turn in my Japanese residency card. A silly thing to be sad about, but it really was a cool looking card! I gave the man my card, and he smiled at me, turned away, punched a small hole in it, then handed it back to me and said in Japanese, “This is a souvenir for you.” I almost started crying as I thanked him ecstatically. I didn't even tell him I wanted to keep the card! I saw that as yet another gift from God.
As I was waiting at my gate to board my plane, I asked God if He could please seat me next to someone on the plane who could speak Japanese. A silly request, but I didn't want my purchasing something at a small shop in the airport to be the last time I would be able to speak in Japanese with a Japanese person. Well, when I got to my seat on the plane, I found that I was sitting next to an older Japanese couple! I was awestruck. “Thank you, God!!!” I said a few little things to them in Japanese, apologizing as I would get up and have to move past them, thanking them for things, whatever. Later on, when the husband stood up to walk around for a bit, the wife leaned over and started speaking to me excitedly in Japanese. She said she was surprised at how good my Japanese was, and asked why I had been in Japan and where I had studied Japanese. I got to tell her I had been teaching at an international school in Chiba and about studying Japanese in America. We talked a little bit more, then we went back to watching movies and things. When her husband came back, the woman started trying to get my attention, so I took my headphones off and she started ranting to her husband saying, “This girl was living in Chiba and speaks Japanese and she sounds like a Japanese person when she speaks because her pronunciation is perfect! She was teaching at an international school! Etc.” The two of them were super cute and it was a whole lot of fun to talk to them. Another gift from God!
I had a layover in Frankfurt, Germany, then had an 8 hour flight back to the States. Overall I had safe travels, and made it back to America on only two hours of sleep. My family was waiting for me at the airport, we went to dinner, and I went to bed around midnight that night. I haven't had any jet lag, which is normal for me. As I said in the beginning, it's been so much fun seeing my friends and family and catching up with so many people.
This blog concludes my logs of my second trip to Japan. I can't begin to express the blessings I've received from my Heavenly Father in countless ways, through so many people and situations. I have met so many people over the passed year, taught many different subjects to many different students, learned more about Japanese culture, the language, the people, and about my King. So many things have taken place, and only a fraction of them have made it into my blogs. To give a very simple summary: I believe God used His steward in the best way she could have been used, and I pray that I will have been a blessing and witness of my Father's love. I know I failed in many ways, because I am a sinner, but I praise God for my weaknesses, for He has shown me how His power is perfected in weakness, and how I am frail and can do nothing without Him.
I cannot thank you enough, those who have supported me prayerfully, financially, relationally. Thank you for your friendship, your love for me. Thank you for your interest in the work I was called to do, your interest in my life, your interest in Japan. I hope you are encouraged as I am to see Christ's church growing worldwide, His name being proclaimed to all nations! Please keep Japan in your prayers! It is such a spiritually dry, needy land. I like to believe that this was not my last time serving in Japan. It gives me joy and excitement to think about how God may use me in this country in the future.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” - 2 Corinthians 2:14-15