I’m sure I heard the story at some point growing up: the Pilgrims arrive in Massachusetts after a long and weary journey. They were aiming for the temperate climate of Virginia but their supplies ran out and they were forced to land at Plymouth Rock. The first winter is rough and many die, but that spring they meet an American Indian named Squanto who speaks English and teaches them how to plant crops and how to survive.
I heard the story again recently and wanted to jump out of my seat with excitement. There was no other settlement within six hundred miles and THEY MET SOMEONE WHO SPOKE ENGLISH. I think this moves, touches, and surprises me because I get how rare that is. For the past three years whenever I’ve met anyone who speaks conversational English, I’ve breathed a sigh of relief. Because English is mandatory for the three years of junior high school, and is often taught once a week in elementary schools, quite a few people in Japan speak basic English. And after a few years here I speak basic Japanese. But that doesn’t mean I don’t start fretting or that I don’t get panicky in certain situations.
Last weekend, for instance, I went down to Tokyo. For some reason that I never actually discerned, Tokyo was packed and I didn’t have a hotel reservation for Sunday night. My train tickets weren’t good until Monday so going back early wasn’t an option. Sunday evening plans to stay with a friend fell through. I called the hotel I’d stayed at Friday, but which had been full Saturday, and to my delight, they had a spot open. But then they began asking me questions that I didn’t understand.
At that moment I happened to be on the outskirts of a crowd of 200 people who had just exited a bilingual church. I looked around. There was an Australian who often translates the sermon. I asked him for help, but he brushed me away, insisting he doesn’t know formal Japanese. He suggested I ask [insert syllables here], but I didn’t recognize the sounds as a name, much less who they identified. I pushed deeper into the crowd and found an American friend, Ann. “I need someone who speaks Japanese,” I told her. She laughed and gestured to the crowd. “But I don’t know who speaks English well enough to understand what I need help doing!” Fortunately, Ann was able to find me bilingual Japanese woman who happily made the phone call for me.
A lot of my life here is a journey of trying to be self-sufficient, often succeeding, and occasionally failing. The safe activities, those I’ve mastered, carry me through a lot. But every once in awhile I get brave, and I branch out: I go to Tokyo unsure of my accommodations, I buy a new food at the supermarket, I take a bus, not quite sure where it will end up. I’m able to do be brave, however, because I have a basic comprehension of the language.
The Pilgrims? They decided to be brave. They went to new lands and arrived hoping to be self-sufficient and massively failing. Squanto’s knowledge of the English language was a gift for them. The fact that he was willing to help them DESPITE the fact that he learned English from his kidnappers puts him up there with Saint Patrick. For both Saint Patrick and Squanto forgave those who kidnapped and enslaved them and reached out to those very peoples to be a gift to them.
This is Thanksgiving weekend. I am thankful for all of those who have come along side of me, for all of those willing to risk and help me, for incredible provision that God sends me, and for men like Squanto who show me what forgiveness looks like.