April 4, 2010
Loss of Gifts
One of the hardest parts about entering a foreign culture as a missionary is that you lose all your gifts. Teaching… counseling or comforting others… prophesy… you lose all of these! Teaching through an interpretor is just not the same! In fact, I would say that almost all the spiritual gifts that are listed in scripture require a fairly high degree of language proficiency to be fully excercized. Even intercessory prayer can’t be expressed to the the fullest – leading others in prayer – without a lot of fluency.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of the early missionary career is this inability to serve others. Especially in an advanced and independent culture like Japan, it’s hard to help anyone, and you are the recipient of so much help. And in Japanese culture, which is based on unspoken obligation, it really gets to you that others always help you, but you can do so little. You begin to wonder if people get tired of taking care of you.
I do believe that in addition to the need to be loved by and encouraged by others, people have a need to love and encourage others. You will not be emotionally fulfilled if you don’t feel that you are able to really help others. In fact, if you are down, I think that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to comfort someone else. It gets your mind off your own troubles, so that you don’t fall into a negative spiral of self-focused depression.
However, with the language barrier, it’s so hard to help others. Unless there are other English-speakers that you can minister to, you feel like you can’t minister to anyone. And if you are a younger, junior missionary, as I was, around very strong-seeming missionaries who don’t need your help, then you may not even be able to comfort the other foreigners around you. For me, I think that perhaps even more than someone to comfort me in my distress when I was in Japan, I needed someone to comfort. It made the loneliness that much thicker.
I remember an American friend who I met while I was on a two-week vacation. She was feeling down about Japan, and during our conversation, I was able to comfort her. I feel as though that gave me a deeper sense of satisfaction that nearly anything else I did while in Japan. Ahh, it is good to be back in my own culture where I can serve others. Being focused on yourself is a terrible fate.