What Do You Do Anyway?

When we get asked “What do you do?” here in Japan, the answer is not very simple.  If we say “Pastor” the image that most Japanese people have is that of a monk in a monastery who occasionally comes down to marry a loving couple and then disappears again to his lofty perch to contemplate the beauty of God and nature and live a quiet, discreet life away from any interaction with society.  If we say “Missionary,” then they might imagine a Jesuit priest from the 1600’s who came to help the poor uneducated people of the land perform religious rites only to suffer under an overbearing culture that outside religion just can’t quite penetrate.  It’s not their fault — they really don’t have any idea what missionaries do.

Sarah, Becca and Ruth

But more and more today, the picture that Westerners have of missionaries isn’t much clearer either.  That’s probably because, over the years, the term has been broadly applied to those who raise funds to perform their ministry, whether that ministry is local or international, disaster relief or church planting, medically oriented or spiritually minded.  Saying “I’m a missionary” is almost like saying “I’m a professional Christian who travels a lot and doesn’t really fit in anywhere.  I make a tight salary work for my family of 9 and overeat with the rest of the Americans when I’m back in the States.”

For us personally, as missionaries pioneering on several different fronts, we get to wear lots of different hats: coffee shop operators, accountants, parents, bakers, small group leaders,  unlicensed lawyers and tax accountants, fund raisers, wannabe theologians, language learners, spouses, music producers, counselors, hosts, preachers, ministry leaders and the list goes on and on.  But as we’ve had to grapple with the “What do you do?” question, the answer has become less nebulous and more clear.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the best title to characterize what we do for both the Easterner and the Westerner isn’t “Entrepreneur.”

Ruth and I enjoying lunch with two great friends from Paz Japan.

Heaven’s Entrepreneurs

You see, an entrepreneur is someone who takes risks to establish something that he believes with all his heart will be well worth that risk.  Let’s face it: being a missionary is not a sound financial decision.  The only thing riskier is spending tens of thousands of dollars on some liberal arts degree like music and expecting that to pay off.   (I’m two for two now.)  What makes it worth it is not the experience in itself, but the expectation of a huge return on the other side.  But is it wise to do things on a whim or a hope and prayer and expect a return for it?

In looking at all the things we are doing –  whether business or ministry, personal or corporate, local or international –  they all have a common theme in this awesome/crazy/hard-to-explain missionary life.  Our purpose in everything is to bring people closer to God and to each other.  That’s it.  That’s the Kingdom of God in a nutshell.  Bring people closer to God and to each other.  That’s at the heart of the church.  That’s the “business” that we’re growing, the “ministry” that we’re pursuing, the family that we’re raising, the coffee shop we’re leading, the music we’re writing.  That’s what being one of Heaven’s Entrepreneurs is all about. That’s the filter through which everything passes.  And I think it’s a pretty good filter — it doesn’t say we’re perfect or we’ve got it all figured out.  If anything, just moving across a border to a different people group helps you see that pretty clearly.  But it does give you a north star to keep your bearings as everything around you changes. Jesus and His message of love, forgiveness and life-transformation — the Gospel — is our message.

An ever-expanding group of people experiencing God in Japan.

What’s amazing is that in the midst of all of our failures, in the midst of the battles and the mis-labelings, the miscommunications and the setbacks, not only does God make this happen (because really this is His business, not ours), but He blesses us in the process.  We are not in debt.  We are able to be generous with our time and finances with others.  We are able to use our energy and talents towards eternal purposes.  When we allow the peace of God to guide our decisions instead of our own finite understanding of economics or self-imposed titles and positions, a new paradigm comes into place — one where anxiety fades away in the midst of a holy chaos that establishes Heaven’s rule in the hearts of men and women here on earth.

Anna and Joshua

I started writing this just to introduce a little video that we made about a small aspect of what we do: produce worship songs in Japanese while our kids bounce around the room, but it turned into a much deeper look at what we’re really doing here.  The fact that you’re reading this right now tells me that you’re also in this with us, and we wouldn’t be here without you.  If you’re just like us, you’re also believing that the risk is worth the investment, because when the people are able to look past the labels and misconceptions about missionaries and pastors, churches and ministries and simply experience the love of God in Jesus Christ with unguarded hearts, Japan will to turn to Christ faster than the famous cherry blossoms bloom and turn winter into spring.  And the whole world will flock to see a nation in bloom in the love of Christ.  That will certainly be worth it.

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