In grad school a professor once told my class that the number one reason missionaries leave the field isn’t because of discouragement from lack of response by the people they are trying to reach but because of conflict with other missionaries. Every missions trip I’ve been on contained hints and whispers of this. I’ve never gotten along with everyone all of the time. But I don’t think I could have imagined this.
Japan is not an easy place to be a missionary. It has never had a revival and the people, especially people of the Fukushima prefecture, are tough nuts to crack. But still I have hope for it. I see the impact – the subtle, slow, persistent impact – that my presence has on individuals, and I trust that it has an effect on the community. It can be discouraging to be a missionary in Japan, but on days like today it is not the locals that make me miserable, it is the other ex-pats.
The specific nature of what is going on right now in my group is no one else’s business, and therefore I refuse to discuss it on this blog. I’m not writing this to air grievances. I’m writing this because I set up this blog to chronicle the various experiences I have as a missionary in Japan. And as much as we like to deny it, as much as we would rather sweep it under the rug, the pain of conflict is very real and very present in the mission field.
Today? Today I am facing a misunderstanding. That comes at the heals of misunderstandings. I guess the clearest way to say it is that I no longer know how to communicate in a way that resonates love. And if I’m honest with myself, that is because I am no longer sure I have love for my fellow missionaries. I’ve stifled the expressions of it for so long that the feeling is no longer there. It is similar to how I got over each unrequited love: having gone long enough without exposure to the objects of my affections, not allowing myself to daydream about them or contact them or visit their social media pages, each man gradually floated out of my heart. I still think of each man on a regular basis, but I do not do so with hope that he will come and sweep me off my feet. I think of each with affection, for I still love who each was as a person and who each was as an instrument in my life, but I think of them with resignation, having accepted the fact that my future is not intertwined with his. My recent actions have been misinterpreted, but I cannot wholly blame that on the misinterpreters.
What today has held is pain. The long, slow, agonizing pain of vast discouragement. The kind of pain that makes me forswear the go tos of chocolate and movies because those do not hold medicine strong enough to ease what is going on. I medicate by the remedy I developed when I was a child and my mother was angry, that of hiding in a quiet place and getting lost in a book. In ways I don’t understand that provides comfort. But not forever. My consciousness rises out of the pages, and I stare out the window until the agony of my thoughts is too extreme and I dive back into the book.
Intermingled with the agony is the wishes: I wish I had a safe lap to crawl upon, a safe pair of arms to wrap themselves around me, a safe voice to whisper encouragement in my ear. I wish I had someone to tell me what to do next, to show me how to start loving again and not screw it up again this time. But when I turn to God, for today anyway, he is content to let me sit here and cry.