There are one hundred and twenty-seven million people in Japan. About one percent are claiming Christians in the faith, two million people to be more precise.
Being a Christian myself, I honestly didn’t think the impact of only one percent of the Japanese population being Christian would have an effect on my life abroad. I was going to Japan to learn Japanese and witness the culture first hand, and although I did personally feel God has a major part in sending me to Japan, that doesn’t mean it was my entire focus. I had my bible, a few devotionals and a couple of personal churches I knew about where I can watch sermons online. I thought that might be enough to tie me over if I really felt my faith be brought down low.
Now, for most people, maintaining or just consciously being aware of your own Christianity may not be a concern while abroad. Why bother when you can go feed deer in Nara Park, or eat conveyor belt sushi all day on Sundays instead of going to church?
When you’re abroad, it almost feels you’ll always have a fun place to go, someone interesting to talk to and something amazing see. I have to say, most of the time, it’s true. However, there will become a time when the language you’re learning frustrates you to the point that makes you feel really insecure about your abilities. A friend says something to anger you or you’re missing your family like crazy. And no matter where you are, all you feel is low about yourself or the situation.
Sometimes those periods of insecurity or frustration will last longer than desired, and being in another country where it’s hard to express that, it will make you feel all the more lonely. It’s in this position, a position I believe every student will face abroad, Christian or not, where things will feel a little hopeless. Being a Christian and speaking from experience, this is where the devil taunts the loudest.
Last week, He definitely had me there. This might come as a shock, but you can have a bad week when studying abroad. I think it’s important to note this because being a Christian, I feel there is a pressure, especially when you’ve been outstandingly blessed, you must always remain grateful and happy. I said in a previous blog post, even amongst a blessing, life still happens, and you’re still you. Insecurities, bad moments, rough spots still embrace you, and that’s all a good thing. Those who study abroad have taken the challenge to discover something new, even with the baggage some may carry. So let me repeat, last week was a particular bad week for me.
In my Japanese classes, I always feel I know least, grammar is incomprehensible and whatever I do, it never feels like I’m learning enough. I started to feel really down. I started to think maybe I wasn’t smart enough to learn Japanese. The littlest things would evade me. It felt like everyone was either pitying me or thought I was wasting the time of the class because it took me three minutes to say one sentence. It was here I felt the devil was really doing his job well in making me feel worthless. And this is why I felt the need to share how important it is, for those who are actively Christian, to not take your faith lightly while abroad. In a place where everything feels foreign, the devil will make you feel powerless, incapable of learning anything and have you question if studying abroad was actually a good idea. Most of all, He’ll have you think there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s so far from the truth.
As I said, one percent of Japan’s entire population is Christian. Although it is small, that one percent has taken its hold on me. My second Sunday in Japan, I went to church, not truly thinking I would have the desire to go every Sunday. Right after service, I admit, I knew someone was going to want to talk to the foreigner and for some reason, I felt myself rushing my host mom to the door so we could hurry and leave to avoid this interaction. Be it the fact I knew most people at the church spoke Japanese and their broken English made it very hard to communicate, or just meeting new people was always awkward for me.
The Pastor himself chased me down to greet me, asking about my stay in Japan. The second time I went, a woman in the middle of service asked if I can stay after service for a bit, just to invite me to Single’s Movie Night. And it doesn’t stop there, when I was getting off the train on my third week in Japan, this young girl pulled me aside to ask if I can go to a group function her church was putting on. She was eager about sharing her church with me. Last week, I went out to eat with a friend in the Kobe area and the waitress, too, invited me to her church, going on and on about how great it was for her. One percent is small, but mighty is God who makes Himself Known.
I can’t seem to get away from Him, even if I want to be greedy with my time abroad. There will become a time, when all you have and all you want is the encouragement of God. Don’t forget it is there for the taking when you feel low or even when you feel everything is great. The devil will make you feel you have no where, no one to help you, especially when you’re already out of your comfort zone. And it’s easy to forget about this life-giving resource you have, just reach out and ask for it.
To conclude, if you want to keep your faith strong and well watered, even while abroad, I recommend asking your university about any churches around that have bilingual services. Ask your language partners, host parents or even other students studying abroad; you’re probably not the only one looking. And if you are going to church, make sure to let those around you know, so they too can be kept strong or at the very least, have another opportunity to learn the language in a unique setting.
To be honest, for those worried about their commitment to God while abroad, if you’re honestly searching, He will make Himself known. Keep knocking and a door will be opened. Besides, I recently relearned that no matter where I go, He is always so very near.
-Walking in Faith,