When we touched down on Japanese asphalt in August 2016, I thought an experience would strike me like a thunderbolt. Some magic fire, some sign that this nation I had been praying for was the nation I would live in the rest of my days.
After all, I had loved Japan and her history since I was seven. I was practicing a martial art that had originated from Japan, and I was a fan (late, not avid, but a fan nonetheless) of anime and Japanese film and drama. I was meant to be here.
But there was no thunderbolt. No magic fire. I was a gawking tourist in a foreign land I could never hope to be part of, that was all.
Our hosts taught us the “getting around” bit, first thing. By day three we were confident enough to cautiously split up and “risk” getting lost on our own – wih pocket wifis and mobile devices, of course. I determinedly prayer-walked in Ueno Park and Akihabara all the way to Shinjuku.
Still no magic fire.
The next day I stood in the center of the Shibuya scramble crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world, and prayed for the nation.
Still no magic fire.
We made it all the way back to Philippine asphalt and the only thing that had changed, as far as I could see, was that we were doing the Japanese Keep Left in the Philippine Keep Right zone.
Frankly, I was resentful. Not only had I not gotten the magic explosion of utter rightness, no one in Japan needed anything that I had seen. They had an efficient public transport system, clean streets, and five floors of DAISO right beside a train station. They didn’t need anything. They especially didn’t need my prayers, much less my presence.
A week or so later, I happened upon an article and read it straight through. Apparently, we had visited Japan in the deadliest month of the year for children and youths under eighteen. The first week of September was the start of class, and some children preferred not to face failure in the deeply competitive school system at all.
My heart seized and shattered. It was as if a dam had burst inside it, smashing through the exits, and I could barely breathe with the pain of it. I had walked the streets of that nation, seen and interacted with her people, and in my arrogance had only looked at the surface level and held it against them.
The shock in my soul turned into prayer, fervent and desperate. Prayer taking back my thoughts, repenting for my resentment. Prayer for the schoolchildren of Japan. Prayer for the nation.
Since that day, I prayed for Japan regularly. Not every day, but consistently. Some weeks had more frequency than others, but the average didn’t go down.
On August 1, 2017, almost a year later, Pastor Skek Hosoi of our Every Nation church in Yokohama, Japan, described how they had brought ninety-nine Japanese delegates to the 2017 Every Nation campus conference in Manila, Philippines. He had asked for a hundred, realistically expected thirty on the outside, and came with ninety-nine. Which was above and beyond expectation, but not an answered prayer.
Except, except, except they were one hundred – flat – because a Japanese student had been reached in the Philippines and was going to the conference.
It was a fully answered prayer by a God with a sense of humor.
“Thank you for your prayers,” he said.
I had prayed through the park and on the train lines, along Akihabara and in the middle of Shibuya crossing. When we came home I had prayed during morning devotions, at night before I went to sleep. The weight of the words dropped through my heart and drove the breath from my lungs.
There is no way to fully describe the deeply humbling weight of an answered prayer. The emotion is not a leap of euphoria but a greater burden, of heartfelt praise and a deeper-rooted determination to keep on.
What is just as important, however, is what had made me start praying in the first place.
Looking back, that’s what really strikes me the most – my sheer arrogance when I had come home resentful of Japan and its lack of obvious need. I had allowed the skin-deep beauty of a wealthy nation to trick me into rejecting the possibility that they had any problems. The wake-up call was needed, but it had shredded my heart first.
My prayer, one year later, is that I decide not to look upon person or nation and make an assumption about who and how they are, their story and history, their skin-deep surface-level appearance. That if I do, I humbly apologize and take the consequences. That I always ask, always listen, and always remember to pray without ceasing.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)
–Esther Elizabeth Suson