A Letter from Thomas Goetz, serving in Japan
Recently I talked with a Japanese Christian, Professor of English, at one of the several Christian-related universities in Japan about life in our academic communities during this pandemic. What follows is a summary of our talk.
TG: Thank you for being here on Zoom. We have come a long way through this pandemic. What has helped you find your way?
KY: After the first month of lockdown, I realized that this was going to last a long time. I began to see increasingly a similarity between our current situation and the book of Exodus, where we hear the story of the Hebrews when they were slaves in Egypt for many years. Then something disruptive happened.
TG: Like what?
KY: God commanded Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.
TG: Of course, Pharaoh had no desire to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt. But then God brought various plagues upon Egypt, and Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Hebrews go. I think we know this story well. But why this story?
KY: It is all about responding to disruption, then being diverted and having no clear idea where we are going or when we will get out of here. For example, there were several ways to get from Egypt to Canaan. The most direct route from Egypt to Canaan was the so-called ‘Philistine Road’ along the Mediterranean Sea.
TG: However, God told them not to take this shortcut but to go around the ‘wilderness road.’
KY: Right. God’s ‘wilderness road’ was along the Sea of Reeds, or the Red Sea, through Mount Sinai and around the peninsula.
TG: It must not have made sense at the time. It must have seemed like madness. Why did God tell them to take such a detour? The ‘Philistine Road’ was a shortcut to Canaan, and it faced the Mediterranean Sea. It was a busy road with a lot of commerce and people coming and going.
KY: There was a possibility that they would get caught up in unnecessary confusion or fight armed Philistines. If this had happened, the Hebrews would be defenseless and might have returned to Egypt. So, instead, God led them to take a circuitous but less dangerous path.
TG: Here we see God’s love and concern for the Hebrews. God knew the weakness of the Hebrews in mind and body, and God showed them the best way. The road to their destination was long, narrow and riddled with rocks and stones. That ‘best’ was not of their liking nor choosing.
KY: There was almost no rain, and most of the land was dry and sandy. The Hebrews had to walk through such a wilderness to get to Canaan. It was an arduous path that required great patience.
TG: So, let’s summarize. The Bible shows that God often places loved ones in difficult situations for a period of training before giving them a mission and allowing them to do their work in the world. And the place is often a wilderness setting.
KY: That’s correct. Moses himself went through a period of training before he had the mission of leading the Hebrews. He spent a long time as a sojourner in this wilderness of Midian. He must have worried, suffered, prayed, and searched for his way of life. After such a time, Moses encountered God.
TG: Would you agree then that God gave Moses time to train in the wilderness so that he would mature enough to fulfill the great mission of the Exodus, the salvation of the Hebrews? God led the Hebrews on this ‘wilderness road’ with the plan of training them to be people who could overcome difficulties. And, in so doing, trust that God is with them.
KY: To gain trust, we must provide support. Teachers provide support. Parents provide support. God also provides ‘support’ for us as with the Hebrews. ‘The LORD will go before them and will lead them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a rod of fire.’ Exodus 13:21-22.
TG: I am trying to imagine the pillar of cloud. Would it have protected the people from the fierce sunlight of the day? And would the rod of fire have protected them from nocturnal predators? In any view, the ‘pillar of cloud’ and the ‘rod of fire’ are symbolic metaphors for God’s constant presence.
KY: God’s protection and guidance enabled the Hebrews to reach Canaan after many years of frustration and difficulties. The path we have to take in life is often not a paved, easy-to-walk shortcut but a circuitous route full of stones.
TG: Interesting. My life’s paths are full of stones. I can relate.
KY: We all want to reach our goals as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, when we are walking toward that goal, we may suddenly be forced to take a detour. In the course of our lives, we may suddenly be struck by disaster or illness.
TG: And this pandemic continues. It endures—people who could get vaccinated refuse.
KY: It is a given. The corona disaster has restricted the daily lives that we used to take for granted. All of us had plans for all kinds of activities. Too many students had to cancel their semester abroad. Many faculty had to convert their lectures to an online format. We were all disappointed that our plans had changed so much.
TG: I, too, have experienced many setbacks in my life, the death of a loved one, failed entrance exams, and unsuccessful job hunting.
KY: Me too, but when I was depressed, I didn’t realize it. In retrospect, I realized that God knew my weakness and gave me time to train or level up.
TG: One thing is for sure. It is through setbacks that our pride gets shattered. Then we can gain insight into our heart’s desire and ask for God’s help.
KY: As the Exodus shows, God says, ‘I will be with you.’
TG: And God, who knows our weaknesses well, never fails to walk with us and stay by our side.
KY: During this time of the corona disaster and where online classes are taking longer than usual, I hope to protect the mental and physical health of each student and faculty member. These are the best years of our students. But we can’t help but continue to face difficulties. Let’s reach out and be considerate and cooperative. By uniting our hearts and minds in caring for each other, we can overcome these difficulties.
TG: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to seeing you in person at another conference for Christian educators.
KY: Me too, you are welcome.
I hope you enjoyed this exchange. By having mission personnel sent to different countries to work directly with partners, we can meet and become friends with other Christians worldwide. While their perspectives may or may not surprise you, we can discover and affirm our commonalities in Christ. I hope you would consider donating to our Presbyterian Mission Agency to the person or project of your choice. Thank you very much. Ubi caritas, et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is caring and love, God is always there.
Thomas H. Goetz
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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Tags: challenge, discernment, Matthew 25, trust, Wilderness Roads
Tags: Thomas Goetz
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