A letter from Thomas Goetz in Japan
This mission letter is an interview with a new Christian, Chieko N, a talented, bilingual, bicultural young woman whose remarkable life has so much to say for people who choose to say goodbye to the old and embrace the new. She is a 4th year student in the Department of English at Hokusei Gakuen University. The content of this interview was her chapel message that she delivered on December 21, 2012, in Webster Grove's Hall, otherwise known as the Hokusei University Chapel.
Thank you so much for stopping by to share your journey. I am sure that many people will find your story to be not only very interesting, but inspirational.
It is great to be here. What a blessed opportunity it is to give my testimony just before Christmas Day. I am very humbled. I could not even imagine I would be here at this university only a year ago. I was actually in the hospital until the end of January. My story might not be suitable for this Christmas season with all these happy decorations, but I'll try to share what God has done for me, a story most people rather choose not to share in front of people.
So, you have been in the hospital and out, what got you there and when did it all start?
Back in 2007 I was a high school student. All seemed quite perfect to everyone—I had entered the best high school and was working very hard to enter the best university in Japan. All I wanted was to be successful. Love and friendship seemed nothing to me.
At that point, were you a Christian?
No. I was doing pretty well, but in God's sight, everything was all wrong. I started to suffer from depression and was hospitalized that summer. Soon after that, it became impossible for me to continue school, and then I was forced to drop out.
High school is a very intense time, given the pressure young people face to enter a prestigious university. This must have been a pretty grim time for you.
Yes, it was. However, before this experience, I had never been able to know God. He was working in every situation. After getting out of the hospital, I started to go to church. I was seeking something to turn to. I felt this strong need for salvation. I was empty, full of despair, and I had no hope in my life. I started to study the Bible and was baptized a year later, when I was 18.
So many missionaries in Japan hope and pray to meet people who are not only in spiritual need, but have a genuine need for fellowship and friendship. It is wonderful that your path guided you to the church. How was your life after your baptism?
I had hoped to be changed as I became a Christian, but nothing actually seemed to be changing at all. I always stayed at home, doing nothing, just suffering from the symptoms and side effects of medication. I was still very proud and wanted to enter a great university, to be praised by everyone. God had to work in a very hard way again to teach me that I should be different.
Being different in Japan is easy for me since I am a foreigner. I expect to be reminded of this with nearly every conversation I have, but for you as a Japanese national, what is it like to willingly change into someone new, someone who is Japanese but also Christian?
Either you accept it or you don't. Either you trust and obey, or you don't. This was a key part of my journey. You can look and see—here I am at Hokusei University, which is not very special. For me, just coming here was shame and disappointment. I felt it was wrong for me to be here, that I could do much better. I felt inferior and tried to hide myself.
That was then, but how about now?
Two years have passed since my university life started here at Hokusei. I finally got to move on and to change myself again. I was hospitalized because I tried to commit suicide, and that was only last year. In fact, I was in the hospital three times in only a year and around five months in total. Just when you're back, I seriously thought of quitting school since I felt I couldn't make it anymore.
What helped you to get through that time?
I kept a diary and I read the Bible. When I look back and read my diary during the time I was in the hospital, I see that I entered, "It is all for God's glory." I honestly was quite surprised to see my faith was that solid in the toughest situation in my life. Two and a half months later, while I was in the hospital, I prayed hard for God's healing just as Jesus did for people who were suffering. I believe that God was almighty and faith makes a total difference.
Calling upon the name of the Lord in your hour of deepest need—timeless. So wonderful! When did you leave the hospital?
Finally I got out of the hospital the end of January this year. As if God hadn't spoken to me so many times, I again fell into the repeated sinful habit of being away from God. I wondered just how many times on earth God had to run to me to call me back.
Did God come after you?
In March I almost completely lost my faith and tried to start a new life as a non-believer. I thought it was the easier way to live, and I told my friends that I was going to quit my life as a Christian. Then again God worked for me, but this time he did it in a very peaceful, tender, and yet powerful way.
On April 1, on Easter, God revealed his love to me through the Sunday sermon, by the story of Jesus on the cross. Of course I was familiar with the story. But this time it was different. It was just like a storm of love and truth in my heart, and my doubts were all blown away by his righteousness. I guess this was the very day I was truly saved and became a born-again Christian.
How amazing! Praise God. How do you see your life now?
My faith and my life have had and will always have its ups and downs. And I'm sure I still will have these periods in the future. But one thing that has completely changed in me is God's love within me. I am loved.
What does your future look like?
I'm still taking medication and it's very possible that I'll be able to live without it someday. The disease that I have is a bipolar disorder. It is said to be incurable, but God showed his glory by healing me. I can live with it and with myself. Now my faith is becoming more and more secure daily, and my purpose for life is to live for God no matter what it takes. I know I live because God told me to. Even though I tried to abandon my life with my bare hands repeatedly, he never allowed me to die. I died once for my sin but now live for His Kingdom with His cross.
Everyone, I mean everyone on earth, has hardships in his or her life. There is no such thing as an easy life, and every single person must struggle to survive. People can never have genuine peace in their minds until they meet Jesus. He is the one who created you and everything around you and also amazingly loves you personally.
All he wants is you.
You have been on a rough road since you were in high school. A lot of suffering, doubt, soul-searching, and discoveries.
Yes, my life might seem quite tough, coming through a seven-year period of suffering, but I am very thankful that God has given me this experience, and now my dream is to become a missionary to tell the gospel to people all around the world and ease their hearts by listening to their sufferings and each life.
How wonderful! In a few sentences, how would you summarize God's love and care in your life and at this time of Christmas?
My testimony is not my personal story. It is relevant to all people. I am sure you have had similar times of stress and doubt as well.
Now, this Christmas, let us take a moment and think together, that while we celebrate this day, let's accept Jesus' salvation, which gives us an eternal joy and hope in life. No matter how difficult your life becomes, God makes all things work together for good. And most important, his love never fails.
Yes, all the things that happened were very hard for me, but it's always well for my soul. What is more, it is always perfect in God's sight.
Thank you so much for sharing your story today. If you could select a passage from Scripture, what would it be?
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone—Lamentations 3:25–33.
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 208
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