Why did you move to Japan?
When Tom & I got married, God starting speaking to us about being willing to go to another nation, an 'unreached nation' to share the good news of Jesus and to build His church there. God called us more specifically to go to Japan in November 1999 and we eventually moved there in September 2004. At the time we had 2 children, who were aged 3 and 1. Now we have four children, Jess (12) Beth (10) Zanna (6) & Judah (1).We really believed that God was not just calling Tom & I, but calling us as family. We were so excited to be on an adventure with God as a family. We trusted God that if this was His perfect and pleasing will for us, then it was also His will for our kids. To be honest I didn’t have many fears about the children when we first moved to Japan and found moving with young kids a relatively easy transition to make. It has been as they’ve grown older that I’ve had to face challenges such as how to educate them, their friendship challenges and helping them work through feelings of not belonging or fitting in, and the repercussion of that in their lives. In many ways I have to trust God more for my kids now than when we first moved to Japan.
What were your hopes & fears for you and your children before moving to Japan?
What were your hopes & fears for you and your children before moving to Japan?
Do your children understand why you moved to Japan?We have always talked openly with the kids about why we moved to Japan and that we believe this is God’s best for their lives too. We’ve also encouraged open channels of communication with the kids. If they ever felt resentful or unhappy about being in Japan then I wanted them to know that it’s ok to express that openly with us and God. It’s painful when your child feels anger towards you or blames you for their situation in life. We’ve had some challenging conversations with our kids, but actually God has used those conversations to help build stronger relationship between us and between them and God.
That is a difficult question to answer. The customs, the culture and the language are so different in Japan, that for the first few years I was constantly learning and feeling out of my depth. I would have been lost without the kindness of the Japanese people and their eagerness to help me. We have been here 8 years now and although I can call Japan home, there are still many situations when I’m acutely aware of being the foreigner. There are very few foreigners where we live and so I’m nearly always the only non-Japanese mum in my various communities. Despite a deep desire to belong, I’ve learnt over the years to be content with being a foreigner in this place I call home.
What is hard about being a mum in a different country?The thing I’ve missed and still miss the most is being able to hang out with other mums (particularly Christian mums) where I can chat in my own language. Although I have some really wonderful Japanese friends I do feel lonely at times.
It’s also been hard trying to understand the medical system; the doctor-patient relationship and the different vaccinations and medicines. I used to dread the kids being sick as I wouldn’t know which clinic to go to (it seemed like there was one for every body part) or whether I would be able to communicate with the doctor.
However, mums are mums wherever you live in the world so despite difference in language, culture and customs there is always an understanding between each other and instant things to chat about. Not many mums here work after having children ,so there are always plenty of mums to get to know.
What changes have you had to make?I’ve had to learn to SEW! Help!! For pre-school and for school, the children need endless fabric bags for everything and they are all hand made. Japanese women are very proficient sewers and although not at all proficient, I can now make a very simple shoe bag and napkin to put their lunch box on!
What cultural differences have you had to adapt to?The approach to bringing up children in Japan is very different to ours. I found myself being judgemental at first. It has challenged us to think carefully about how we bring up our children and whether it is based on Western values or biblical ones. For example when their children are young, Japanese families often sleep all together on futons in the same room. We have always put our kids to sleep in a separate room to us. When they hear this they feel sorry for our kids, they ask if they are safe or lonely. I wonder how they sleep or make love to their husbands with a baby in the bed. Both questions have validity. The bible is very clear about what is important when it comes to marriage and child rearing, but there is a lot left unsaid. Rather than getting caught up talking with Japanese mums about our different ways of doing things, I’m learning to spend time talking about what the Bible says is important.
What do the children find hard about living in Japan?They don’t like it when strangers call out that they are so cute. They hate it even more if strangers ask to take their photos. They miss playing with other children who speak English and of course they wish they could see their grandparents and cousins more often. They often envy their friends who either have their grandparents living with them or see them a lot.
What do they like about Japan?In many ways life in Japan is just so normal to them that they don’t think about what they like or don’t like. This is just their life. However they love Japanese rice. They miss it when we visit the UK. Some of them love the insect life here. There are so many and they are so BIG! We have Swallowtail butterflies every year in our little garden. They also love the Onsen; hot baths where everyone from baby to Grandma (of the same sex) soaks naked.
I love that Japan is so safe that the kids can play freely in the streets and the parks.
What have you learnt from living in a different country?That God loves the nations He has made. He really does love every people of the world and He really loves the Japanese. I’ve learnt that Jesus is the ultimate cross-cultural church planter. He went before us and I’ve learnt that there is nothing that I’m going through that He doesn’t understand. Every time I’ve poured out my heart to God about any challenge I’ve had about living and being a mother and church planter in Japan He has said exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes what He has said is challenging to hear, but it strengthens my faith and enables me to keep pressing on. He is faithful to all His promises.
I’ve had to learn to depend more on others and God for help for many things. I’ve had to learn to be ok with making mistakes and getting it wrong. With cross-cultural church planting there is always so much potential for misunderstanding and mis-communication. I’ve had to learn to humble myself and be willing to understand things from another’s point of view and to say sorry a lot. I often have to apologise to the kids too when they turn up to school without something they need because I’ve misunderstood a letter.
I am constantly amazed by our kids and how naturally they switch from the Japanese language and culture to English language and culture. I have sometimes questioned our decision to send them to Japanese school fearing they might feel alienated, but despite challenges they have flourished and are a blessing to their Japanese friends. As a mother, the desire to protect my children from pain and difficulties is strong. At times I’ve been aware of the huge impact that following God’s will, has had on their lives. Yet they seem to fly over these hurdles and their lives are a testimony that God’s plan for them (not mine) is the best.
Do you think your children have missed out anything by living there?Yes and no. Yes there are definitely things they have missed out on. Right now Jess & Beth have only one other female Christian friend around their age. I think about the vibrant youth works that I’ve seen in the UK and think about what they’re missing. However we have linked up with a church in another part of Japan that has a vibrant kids’ ministry and our church kids have been able to join their summer/spring camps. It is a journey of faith and I have to keep remembering that my kids belong to Jesus and to trust Him for them.
I said no because we do hang on to Jesus’ promise that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19v29
What have they gained by living there?They have gained so much by growing up in Japan, despite some very real loses. I’m confident that they’ll look back on their childhood and feel blessed. They are bilingual. They are culturally and socially sensitive kids, who can travel round the world with ease. They’ve also had the blessing of growing up in a very safe country where children stay children for longer. I’m very thankful for that.