This summer we were blessed when our family in Singapore flew over to visit us for a short time. During their stay, we rented a car to travel around Kyoto and parked it at our house for a night. Unfortunately, the car was larger than the carpark space and stuck outside of our boundary into the road when parked. The next day, one the neighbours explained to me that by parking my car this way I was inconveniencing others and that some of them had been making a fuss about it. Japanese are normally quite patient and tolerant, so this direct message meant that they had become quite angry over how the car was parked. I felt very embarrassed and ashamed to have made my neighbours so upset and apologised to the neighbour who had spoken to me. Inside I blamed myself for damaging these relationships by not being more conscientious.
In the following days, I noticed a difference in my neighbour’s attitudes towards me. I felt that they had all gotten much colder. Whether real or imagined, this took a heavy toll on my spirit to the point where I dreaded going out of the house just because I couldn’t bear to see them. Despite much prayer and a desire to let go, my heart was still racked with many doubts and fears. I also agonised over how responsible I felt for this foolish mistake and how unfairly I was being treated.
It was at my deepest point that God intervened and opened my eyes. He showed me how preoccupied I had become with needing to be accepted by my neighbours and how this desire had slowly taken precedence over my identify as a follower of Christ. I then recognised the pressure I felt to be a model neighbour so that I could build relationships with the intention of evangelising them. God had humbled me yet again through this mistake reminding me that it was not my job to create openings for the Gospel but His alone.
In His mercy, He also erased all my fears and doubts and reminded me that He had called and sent my family and I to Japan and that He would continue to sustain us no matter what happened. I have also forgiven my neighbours for my perceived hurts and have asked the Lord to help them in forgiving me and for chances to restore the relationship. Unfortunately, the opportunity to rectify the situation is now long past and so this will have to serve as a valuable lesson for the future.
This episode reminded me of a similar incident back in Singapore when we first moved into our own apartment. We had an unpleasant encounter with one of our neighbours that lasted for some time. Their actions seemed so unreasonable to us and no matter what we did, we could not appease them.
Compared to our neighbours in Japan, it should have been easy to work out our differences considering we both share a common culture and language. However, months of giving us the cold shoulder proved otherwise. It was only through a timely intervention from the Lord that peace was finally restored and hardened hearts softened. The 180 degree turn in our relationship still amazes us because if God had chosen not to intervene, we do not know if we would still be living in a broken relationship with them today.
Several days after the incident with my Japanese neighbours, God spoke to me further through the verse in Luke 8:16
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” – Luke 8:16
My role as a Christian is to keep on shining the light of Christ in a darkened world whether in Japan or Singapore. However, it is clear that I could never have won over my neighbours to Christ by my good behaviour alone. Yet now in Japan, without language skills to communicate and without even the desire to meet face to face, how am I to let the light of Christ shine through to those living around me? I have learnt that is simply by praying for them and for myself.
If I cannot speak to them or meet with them then I will have to rely solely on the intervention of the Almighty God to bridge the gap. I can think of no greater way to do so than through prayer. As it is recorded in John 14: 13-14 that Jesus is the one who will do it and not us.
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
In Japan, God has taken from me the ability to communicate deeply with those around me. Being a foreigner here, I have also given up my sense of belonging within a community. However, in Christ I have received a far deeper sense of belonging, a hope for eternity that will never perish. And through prayer I have a direct connection with the Most-High God and carry out His works as He extends His kingdom here on earth.
To our dear Brothers and Sisters in True Way, thank you so much for all of your prayers and thoughts as they mean so much to me and my family. We thank God for your love and support which encourages and comforts us constantly. May the grace of our God be with you all now and always.
Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)
September 15, 2019