My brother once told me something along the lines of, “If you’re not a missionary in the States now, you won’t suddenly become a missionary just because you move somewhere foreign that has a language barrier and culture shock.” He was absolutely right. Making connections in Japan and trying to speak to my new friends in Japanese won’t suddenly make me into something I never was before. Kind of like how, no matter how good an idea signing up for that Superhero 5k or Color Run sounds, just donning the old tennis shoes and paying an entry fee doesn’t suddenly make one a runner. Sadly.
I am fully convinced that I will not be at my best in Japan. I will be reduced to the verbal communication skills of a five-year old. Though I have been known to be a solid and reliable team member in games of Catch Phrase, Taboo, and Charades, I am not convinced that those life skills, though valuable, will be sufficient to assist me in communicating the way I would like to be able to communicate. Connecting with people will be hard work. It will be frustrating. There will be (*shudder*) misunderstandings. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to give the favorable first-through-fifth-or-so impressions that I would wish to give. As any child who has both studied piano and suffered from stage fright knows, your best performances are often in practice, all the rough spots get rougher when the recital actually comes. But the end result is worth the work! The struggle and the learning themselves have such innate value, but being able to share hope, joy, ideas, and laughter with people both here and on the other side of the planet is something so much more beautiful, I’m not sure I can convey it in English (and my word game skills aren’t even helping! ^_^).
That being said, I’m not going in totally unprepared! I’ve been training for this opportunity, in some ways without even knowing it! In a previous entry, I mentioned studying Japanese in high school with my Mom and my brother for fun and a little extra foreign language credit. In Grad school, I got to visit Japan for six weeks with a missions team from Bob Jones University. However, perhaps the greatest training I’ve received for this new endeavor came about through some rather everyday means. After grad school, God seemed to be directing me to return to my little church in Augusta, GA instead of launching my art career on the road (suppose I should write about that some time, too). So, seemingly anticlimactically: I went to university, I got a Master of Arts degree, I went home.
In Augusta, I worked on my certification to teach high school level English because it was the easiest inroad to becoming certified to teach art in the school system. In part because of my brother’s words about being a missionary at home, I joined up with the youth group in my church and began looking for ways to help out and encourage the folks at the Chapel. I also started cleaning houses to make ends meet between art commissions and teaching gigs. Like the watching the threads of a foreshadowed plot twist in a good novel, it’s enormously satisfying to see that the training and practice which I thought were unimportant are actually turning out to be useful! In Japan I’ll be teaching English, helping out with the youth at the church, painting scenes of Japan and its people, and maintaining the house I’ll be sitting for my friends the Knoxes as they return to the States for a while. To return to the piano analogy, it’s the same song, just a different piano and auditorium. It really seems everything has been falling into place in the best ways possible.