Two Saturdays ago, after exactly fourteen years and four hours in China, my wife, three of my kids, and I stepped on an airplane and flew back to the place from which we came, Japan, which–besides the US–is the closest thing to home for us.
There were a lot of reasons for us to want to return to Japan. The biggest was that we never really felt at home in China. Indeed, I don’t think that there was a day that had gone by that we didn’t pray that God would let us come back to Japan. However, there appeared to be many reasons why we had to stay in China. Slowly, as the years went by, the number of reasons for staying in China dwindled, until we had no reason to stay there at all.
There was a time when we could say that we were helping the Chinese people by staying. In the beginning, this was true as both my wife and I were teachers, and through this we could have a direct (and sometimes crucial) impact on our students’ lives. Later, I got into academic publishing for the public schools. While the textbooks had nothing to do with politics or religion, I fancied that at least I could keep bad things from being taught, and that I could provide a window into the outside world and into other ways of living and thinking that might help students consider the course of their own lives, and become better people. (This is exactly what we were instructed to do by the Chinese Ministry of Education in its national syllabus, by the way.) However, in time my own projects were finished, and my publishing house went into maintenance mode, leaving me no paths to make a contribution to Chinese education. Essentially, the job became little more than slavery in a small cubical for a comparatively low salary. And, in the end that salary was no longer even enough for us to live on, and there were no other good options for work or income.
Living in China had taken a harsh physical and spiritual toll on my wife and myself, as well. Our bodies were falling apart, and our spirits were dry. It was simply time for us to leave.
We had often looked for a way to leave China, but each time we had been blocked. Going back to America would require a place to go, relocation funds, and at least some hope for a job. However, we had none of these things. Going back to Japan required all of the above, and a visa. We had none of these things either.
So, this last summer we went into a period of intensive prayer, where we asked God to either give us some reason to stay in China, or open the door for us to leave. We also gave most of our possessions away and downsized our house, in preparations for leaving, even though we as yet had nowhere to go to.
In September, I was shortlisted for not one, but two publishing jobs in Japan. However, as usual, both jobs fizzled. The hiring manager for the one job was fired, and the job disappeared. The other company got caught up in a small scandal, and saw its revenue and business disappear overnight. At this point, my wife and I both began telling God that we were willing to go back to Japan even if there was no job or money–all we needed was a visa.
Shortly afterwards, an old friend unexpectedly contacted me on Facebook, and said that he would be willing to try and help us get a visa if he could, but that he could not promise anything beyond this. We agreed to try. After months of sending documents back and forth and filling out forms, the visa was finally approved in late January. I gave notice to my employer. Then we gave away everything we had that could not fit in our suitcases, and left for Japan on March 1. We left our two eldest children in China, so they can complete their university education.
We have very little money, but were able to find a small farmhouse on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga, Japan, that offered cheap rent and easy terms. Now we are here, looking for work, trying to save money, and living purely on faith that God will somehow provide for us.
I am forever the worrywart, I must confess. In many ways, right now I feel like Ezra,
Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.
Ezra 8: 21-21.
Like Ezra, despite trying to walk in faith and speaking words of faith, I am still very much afraid at times. Thank goodness that God is not limited by how I feel. As Paul wrote to Timothy,
This saying is trustworthy:
“For if we died with him,
we will also live with him.
If we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we deny him,
he also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
he remains faithful.
For he can’t deny himself.”
2 Timothy 2: 11-13.
Here, the word “faithless” does not mean infidelity in the sense that the word is often used in English. Rather, it means “devoid of faith”. So, the Scripture is saying that God will be faithful to do what he has promised, even when we have no faith. Such a Scripture is a challenge to those in the faithless Faith Movement, but a comforting thought to someone such as myself, who is made of frail flesh.
My wife told me just the other day that she thinks she would have died if we had not left China soon, and that every day she wakes up feeling grateful for the mountains and the lake, and the trees covered with the thick blanket of spring snow–all things we could not experience in Shanghai. In the end, we both have a lot to be thankful to God for.
This is a beautiful place, a place of rest, a place of peace. We asked God to let us lie down beside cool waters, and he let us. We always dreamed of living in a small farmhouse in Shiga, and now we are here. Our prayers have been answered, despite our worries and doubts, and despite ourselves. Though we have little money and few possessions, we are thankful that we have the Lord.