I had to put my feet into to it.
I had to feel with my soles what had already been worked into my soul. I took my shoes off on the last day and pushed my feet into grass that was damp and a little bit cold from a late afternoon dew.
Ireland can be like that…damp, cold and gloriously green.
I haven’t gone back, but the ache of returning to a place I hardly know but deeply love lies near the fringe places of my spirit.
My friends, John and Stephanie Stevens know what I mean. They, too, have had an ache for a place they hardly know but deeply love.
My land is called the Emerald Isle. Theirs is called The Land of the Rising Sun. It is called this because from a continental point of view Japan is located in the direction of the sunrise. Yet for the Stevens’ the hope and longing to go there resided in shadow.
At first, it was just to visit. Then, it was to go and pray, maybe to coincide with their 10th wedding anniversary. It was more than a tourist thing.
The desire to go and live with a people group so far away from what they had known growing up in rural Maine was kept near the fringe places during their courtship, their eventual marriage and the raising of their three boys. It was like being in a dream where the hope of what could be real is slightly out of focus.
There are no words that can do justice to the language of longing. Yet it is longing that, like a pebble buried deep in the ground over time, has a way of coming to the surface of things. It comes out in conversation. It manifests in lifestyle choices like food and literature and movies. It can even show up as artwork on the walls.
In 2012 at Easter time, John and Stephanie realized their dream and visited Japan for a month. It was the year after an earthquake and tsunami unleashed fury on the tiny nation. So much breaking. So much washing away.
It was on their return trip home that they felt the longing shift. It was no longer on the periphery. Instead, Japan and all its wonder and beauty and deep need for Jesus emerged more clearly in view.
While in Japan, John and Stephanie had made a connection with Kazuhiko and Andrea Ito, who pastor the Pearl Vineyard Church in Yokohama. This connection proved invaluable as Kaz was able to bring understanding of the culture from a Japanese point of view and his wife Andrea who, being from America, was able to impart a cross-cultural understanding of what it means to live in Japan as a westerner. Thus the threading began.
Rural Mainers and Jesus followers typically don’t just up and leave everything like their family, their friends, their home and their ministry to go live in a land where hardly anyone knows Jesus. They don’t usually pack up three little boys all under the age of nine to spend themselves on the behalf of those who didn’t ask for them to come. Rural Mainers most likely have family roots that go back for many generations and those roots don’t come out of the ground easily. There is a cutting away of all that’s familiar. Yet there is no grafting in without the cutting. Every good Gardener knows this, therefore every good Gardener carries a sharp knife. He knows pruning yields a greater return.
There is no advancing of God’s kingdom without the letting go of another.
John and Stephanie have been letting go of things these last few months in preparation of grabbing hold of what they believe God has called them to in Japan. From cleaning out their home and putting into storage what they are unable to take with them, to the laying down of their ministry of worship in their local church. Instead they, along with their sons, will become a part of the fabric of the Pearl Vineyard and the city of Yokohama, lending their gifts of worship leading and teaching. In addition, Stephanie has undergone four surgeries on her feet within the last year in hopes that God will bring healing to an abnormality from birth so she can walk unhindered.
There is a lot of walking to be done in Yokohama.
It is in community that we are able to get to where we need to be. Even Jesus, on the way where we He needed to be on the cross, asked for his friends to be with him on his last night. Even here He needed the community of friends.
So what is the community connection an Irish girl like me has to all this? All my life I have been drawn to the Celtic nations because of my Scotch-Irish heritage. I want to live among broken castles and misty mountains. Instead of cherry blossoms, I am more at home in a field of rocks.
Yet, Japan has always been on a fringe place of my life because I have a Japanese name. My father named me Mitsou after a Japanese woman in a film he saw as a young man. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I discovered the name was more than likely Mitsuko. It’s meaning has something to do with light.
Light. Focus. Threads. This tapestry of nations is the weaving of God.
What a privilege to be connected in community to the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to go to the nations. Some actually go. Others give to the going. The resources of prayer, money and muscle are what propels the call of God into action. My friends John and Stephanie have been blessed by the community on so many levels already. As their launch date in July gets closer would you consider lending your prayers, money and muscle toward the final push?
Please check out John and Stephanie’s website at stevenslors.tumblr.com
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