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Lost in Tokyo as a New Missionary

I think my least favorite mishap of my young missionary career so far happened within my first few months in Japan. I was simply making the three-minute drive from a basement parking garage in Ginza—downtown Tokyo—back to where the gospel choir practiced to pick up the equipment after rehearsal.

I couldn’t speak much Japanese yet, and I’m not a great singer, so I was so excited to actually be able to do something helpful. The excitement was short-lived. I quickly realized I was lost and called a fellow missionary. I had time to say “I think I’m los-” before the phone died because I had forgotten to charge it earlier that day. It was only three minutes away, I can’t be that far off, I thought. So I prayed under my breath that I wouldn’t hit any cars or people in this Moby Dick of a massive white church van on narrow city streets as I drove around in circles getting more and more disoriented.

I started pulling up to convenient stores and attempting to ask for directions. In retrospect, I was actually saying variations on: “Excuse me, I don’t understand the road.” They graciously gave me directions to train stations, and when I shook my head and said “kuruma” (car), their eyes got wide. They would shrug and point one way or the other, saying some other directions I caught snippets of, and in general looked almost as shocked and terrified as I felt.

Tokyo is a very safe city. The statistical chances of me getting mugged or attacked were slim to none. But I had plenty of other things to keep my fear building. Glancing at the gas gauge, it occurred to me I had yet to pass a gas station in my wanderings. I turned what felt like the right direction only to end up on a narrowing one-way street between bars, and I’m pretty sure passing within inches of yakuza(Japanese gang) members. I hadn’t met any before, but if I had I was sure they would look just like that: gold chains and edges of tattoos peeking out from the cuffs of pimpy suits. What would happen if I accidentally bumped one with my side-view mirror on this tiny road?

Fear Turned to Shame

But those were more fleeting thoughts that came and went. What stayed pulsing through my mind was shame. I had one simple job! One chance to do something helpful! And I had completely blown it. I felt like an idiot. I was ashamed to think of the poor choir director or pastor or neighbor or that missionary I called, whoever was stuck waiting for me in the dark, in the rain. I was supposed to be helping them, serving them, not making their life more difficult! What were they thinking of me right now? Did they think as little of me as I thought of myself?

It wasn’t just the shame. On top of the constant pulse of shame, I was honestly afraid of what would happen if I couldn’t find the building the choir had met in. I was so occupied with staying in the right lane, not hitting anything or anyone, praying I was heading in the right direction, I had no spare room in my brain to think of a good plan. Find a police box? What could I tell a policeman that I hadn’t told the convenience store guys? Give up and park and spend the night? Hope my fellow missionaries sent out a search party? I saw no option other than to keep driving.

A Simple Prayer

My prayers were constant, desperate, and simple. No eloquent words. No time to think through the selfishness of the shame I was feeling and repent before the Lord. Just a desperate, repeated, soaked in tears, cry of “Oh, God, help me.”

Over an hour later, I did finally, miraculously, pull up in front of the building where rehearsal had finished long ago and the pastor and choir director had been waiting in the dark in the rain. I don’t know about them, but to me it felt like a lifetime.

I didn’t have to say anything. Which is good, because my Japanese level was not up to the task. They didn’t know what had happened. But they knew that something had gone horribly wrong. I had made them wait in the dark in the rain when surely they would rather be home with their families. To my knowledge and memory, they didn’t ask me what in the world had gone wrong. They didn’t pierce me with looks of judgement, or even frustration.

The pastor's gentle eyes were full of concern. The choir director gushed something along the lines of “You’re OK!” and I’m pretty sure even gave me a hug. I had made it. Their gracious response to my failure soothed my fear and shame. I was safe.

The Beauty of Being Human

A beautiful part of being human is not being able to do everything well the first time, but having the courage to keep trying new things like volunteering to drive. Just about any new thing could potentially expose us to fear, hurt, and failure.

A beautiful part of being human is allowing others around us to have that courageous vulnerability as well, like letting the newbie drive. Letting someone into our life in just about any new way could potentially expose us to fear, hurt, and failure. And if it does? We can choose to respond in one of the most beautiful parts of being human: wrapping them in grace.

Ellie Honea is a missionary and musician serving with MTW’s Tokyo Arts team in Japan.

Ellie Honea, Tokyo Japan Feb 23, 2021
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Pray for MTW Japan as they grow and expand, transitioning some churches to new leadership and planting in new areas. 

Pray that God would use our Japan teams to open the hearts of the Japanese to God’s presence and love for them.

Pray for believers in Tokyo, Japan, to grow in their faith, and pray for their loved ones to come to know Christ.

Pray for children in Japan who are attending Christian school and influencing their families for Jesus. 

Pray for the U.S. church to send workers to Japan where less than 0.5% of people are Christians.

Pray for Tim Mills (Thailand), Abi Lowther & Roger Lowther (Japan), Joe Congdon (Japan), and Shannon Hinkle (Australia) as they all use their artistic gifts to support the Church in gospel outreach, mercy ministry, and community building.

Pray for a Japanese student who is eager to believe, but still skeptical and asking a lot of really good questions.

Pray for the Japanese to realize that money, health, education, and material possessions do not satisfy the human heart.

Pray for those who are coming to faith in Japan. Pray that they would find their identity in Christ and grow strong in Him. 

Pray today for those serving in the arts. Pray that God would use their unique gifts and talents to build His kingdom!

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