Why am I in Japan?
I’m often asked about my decision to live and work in Japan. As another year is about to come to a close, I’d like share more about how I came to be here and what it’s been like so far.
In spring of 2011, during my time in the art program at California State University Long Beach, I had just finished working in the painting studio and was taking a break with my family for the weekend.
I'd been reading The Tale of Genji and abstracting the season's pale wisteria into oil on canvas all week, and was now relaxing in front of the television with my younger brother late that night when the news reports hit.
We were both horrified as we watched in real time the devastation of the earthquake's damage, tsunami washing towns away, nuclear crisis, and the suffering of the Japanese people. I came back to my painting class that Monday and didn't know what to do. I told my professor, Marie Thiebeault, that I didn't know if I could finish the painting because it was too painful to think about Japan. She told me to "paint through my pain." She knew I was a Christian, and agreed that praying could help while I worked. That is where my prayers for Japan began.
The following year, I had a chance to go on the Tokyo Summer Project with Campus Crusade for Christ in Tokyo, where my team of 12 partnered with student ministries at Waseda University and with International Christian University's High School. For the month of June, we worked with the teams at both schools and made friendships with many Japanese students. I was very moved by the ministries and churches I visited. Experiencing the intensity of Tokyo firsthand gave me a deeper understanding of the stress, loneliness, and isolation that people often feel in the city, and yet I was also able to see the heart of God gently drawing the people of Japan closer to Him. When I returned to America, I was able to process my mission trip and what I learned within the community of Long Beach Christian Fellowship, the church that had supported and prayed for me before, during and after my trip. As I prayed about my future, it became very clear that I was getting a vision to pray for Japan, with the hope to return and serve long term.
After I finished art school, I moved to New York City and was instantly connected with a group of Christians from MSNY who had just returned from a week long mission trip to Ishinomaki. As they shared their stories, I also found out about a teaching opportunity in Sendai, and decided to apply. While I lived in the city, I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the east side, joined a Bible study with the wonderful ladies of MSNY, and met many wonderful Christians who joined me in prayer for Japan and for my future ministry.
Six months later, I was living in Sendai! During my first two years in Sendai, I taught English in the Immersion program at Meysen Academy. While I was able to share from the Bible with my students there, I found that my opportunities to share were more limited than I'd hoped. I started attending Grace Center Church Sendai in March of 2015, during their second month of meeting. As the year went by, I was very encouraged by the ministry staff and was blown away by the power of God as I watched lives transformed around me. I had a chance to attend the PCJ conference in May of 2015 and my heart was overwhelmed by the beauty of God in His people here in Japan. I decided to join the church that year. Through prayer and serious consideration, it was decided that I would join the ministry team as an intern and artist in residence in 2016. I also began teaching art in the IB program at Sendai Ikuei Gakuin, which, after the completion of my internship, I was able to do full time. This was a very challenging season for me. I learned a lot about my weaknesses, and I received a lot of grace from the ministry team. They were kind mentors and I really appreciate all they did to teach me, encourage me in my growth, and put up with my faults. There were times that I was so disappointed with myself, but God has always cared for me like a loving parent. I learned that I could trust Him even when I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.
After my time in Sendai came to an end, I returned to Southern California and took 6 months in 2018 to rest, reflect, and recharge. It was good to spend time with my family, and it was good to reconnect with old friends, as well as make some new ones. It was wonderful to come back and teach for a season at Creative Arts in Irvine. I was able to meet a lot of wonderful people at the RJC Conference https://rjcnetwork.org/ that year, and connected with SVA (Saddleback Visual Arts) https://saddlebackvisualarts.com/
the arts collective at Saddleback Church. I am so grateful for the church in my home country; the people there were very used to caring for people who have done ministry abroad, and were very aware of the disorienting aspects of culture shock, as well as feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle when you return “home”. I always felt like I had a place to go and people who cared. It was so refreshing to join in on group art projects, gallery visits, painting events, and even be able to teach a workshop. I was also able to join the prayer ministry for a women’s retreat in the mountains. I still return there in my heart when times are tough.
As the six months of rest, connecting with home, and teaching at Creative Arts came to a close, I prepared to transition back to Japan, this time in Nagoya area, in Aichi Prefecture. I’d visited my friends, the Saban’s, for thanksgiving before I’d returned to the US, and saw the kind of work they were doing at their English language school, where they were teaching language as well as sharing the gospel. I loved the small town, close-knit community, and began to see myself as a part of it. When I got the job offer to teach at Saban English School http://www.sabaneikaiwa.com/index.html , I was overjoyed to work with the Saban family! I’ve been teaching for them since summer of 2018. They have taught me so much about teaching, especially how to work with younger children. It‘s a joy every week to have meaningful work to do, and in the midst of the global pandemic, I’m so grateful to be able to continue teaching.
Around the same time, I started hearing about A.C.T. Intl (Artists in Christian Testimony) https://actinternational.org/ and started praying about what it would be like to serve a small community as an English teacher, and also do art ministry, not just living as a Christian, but within the community and encouragement of a sending organization. I started thinking more about how I could grow professionally, and make a time and energy investment into that ministry dream. When I became staff with A.C.T. Intl in 2019, I feel like the way I saw art and ministry really changed a lot. I’ve been really inspired by the people I’ve met and ministries I’ve seen since joining; I’m so encouraged by the variety, and am learning so much from the people I’ve met since 2019’s Gathering event in Nashville.
Currently, I am attending ANF (All Nations Fellowship) https://allnationsfellowship.net/en/ I‘m enjoying serving with the children’s ministry, as well as participating in the songwriting collective of the church. We wrote some songs together last year, and it was amazing to work with other creatives, across cultures and languages, to make worship music and art together. I’ve also been able to continue building friendships with people I meet in the community through the gym, cafes, and other aspects of community life. Please be praying for these friendships, as well as opportunities to participate in arts and cultural events in the future.
I’m really grateful to be able to continue living in Japan, praying, making art, and sharing God‘s love how I can. Showing up, although imperfectly, is all I’ve got. I‘m going to continue to show up, Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you for reading this far!