The Homestay Experience: Blessing or Being Blessed?

On Wednesday morning we stood in the church parking lot as the van of students pulled away, waving our final farewell as they headed off to the airport and eventually back to Japan. Several families from our church and our sister church hosted 8 students and their 2 leaders for a little over a week.

This would be our third and final year hosting a Japanese student here in the Bay Area; we’re leaving for Japan in just a few months. Each year has been an experience I can only describe as reciprocal, teaching and learning, giving and receiving, blessing and being blessed. Having a Japanese student in your home enables you to appreciate the culture of Japan intertwined with the uniqueness of a person whom God created.

We knew hosting a student would be a little more difficult this year than most. Our house was in a bit of chaos from our weekly purging to rid ourselves of 10 years of material accumulation. Some members of our family would be missing at times due to commitments to other activities we had made months earlier. Yet we felt it was important to host a student, to build a relationship with one more person whom we could reconnect with when we reach Japan this summer.

And God did not disappoint us by providing us with a wonderful student whom we will call J. J is a PK, the son of a Tokyo area pastor. PKs generally have a certain reputation for being a bit on the wild or rebellious side, but J was nothing like that. He was a disciplined young man who started each day before sunrise with a five mile run around the neighborhood. Back home, he was a committed soccer coach (apart from being a full time student at a prestigious university) for a middle school soccer team. He told me that he did not expect his players to do anything he would not do himself, hence his discipline in running every day.

J was also extremely independent. I could tell from his story about growing up as a pastor’s son that expectations were high for him and his siblings and he was expected to contribute in positive ways to being successful and hard working. I felt bad because I never woke early enough to make him breakfast; I only had to show him where everything was and he was content to make his own meal long before I was out of bed.

But for all his independence, one thing J had not had to experience was being humbled, at least, until he came to America for the first time. On one of his morning runs at his homestay before he came to our house, he got lost in the neighborhood. Since it was early in the morning, he couldn’t get in contact with any of his team members. When he encountered people in the neighborhood, he was unable to convey enough information to help them help him. Eventually, the police were called out to help him. By the time the police arrived, he was finally able to get the address of his homestay family’s house, and they drove him back. J admitted it was humbling for him to be in America. To be lost and unable to find a way home. To need help identifying items at the store. To need to rely on other people for transportation. But it was through that humbling that he experienced the love of Christ through other Christians, perhaps for the first time.

From what I gathered, J’s father was a pastor whose style of preaching is more intellectual than emotional. Though his father is an outstanding pastor in his own style, J had never seen a church service different from his father’s church. When he experienced church in an American style, a Japanese-American style, and a Japanese church in America style, he realized the rich diversity in the worship of God. None was more right or wrong than another, only different and beautiful in their own ways. In the same way, J experienced the love of Christ through others in different ways than he had experienced before, and that love fed a need that he had not known he even had.

For me, it was a blessing to be able to see how even among our Christian brothers and sisters in Japan, there is a diversity in the worship of God that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. J’s church is a healthy church where people are being fed from the Word of the Lord, but now he has experienced a different style of worship that will no doubt influence him spiritually in the future. For me, I’m excited to walk with J on this journey and continue to meet with him in Japan to answer his questions about living out his faith in new ways and serving God with the many gifts he has been blessed with.

Please pray for J as he processes all he experienced and learned from his time in America and decides how he can love others with the love of Christ as he was able to receive it from others.

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