When people find out that we’re–Lord willing–moving to Japan, they usually ask, “Why Japan?” or “How did you decide to do that?” or something else along the same lines. There are about 100 different answers that we could give, all of them 100% honest. Normally, we give the answer I think most people are looking for,”Here are the things that happened in our lives recently that have brought us to where we are today.” You might call this an experiential answer.
Occasionally, we also answer in other ways. Biblically, we are commanded to make disciples of all nations. Missiologically, the Japanese are the largest unreached people group in the world. Preferentially, we like sushi and fast trains. Compassionately, Japan is home to some of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the world. Theologically, Jesus is Lord of all and worthy of the worship of all. Vocationally, our gifts, experiences and desires make us well suited for missions in Japan. And, of course, there are more.
Here is the super secret answer that I never give but really want to: Growing up, I spent too much time reading (and then watching) the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s somewhat embarrassing, but there are several paragraphs that I have accidentally memorized. Other than the Bible, no other book or series of books has been more influential in drawing me toward cross-cultural ministry. Does that surprise you? If so, you need to stop reading this blog and start reading more Lord of the Rings.
Since marrying Kathryne I’ve had to restrict my Lord of the Rings intake considerably. Marriage necessitates sacrifice. So, each year I alternate between reading the books and watching the movies around Christmas time. I have come to realize that when I’m about half way through Return of the King, I need to begin preparing myself for a post-Hobbit depression. Without exception, I am always sad when it’s over. Other Lord of the Rings fans tell me this is normal. There’s something about the story that feels more real, more significant than normal daily life. When I leave Middle Earth, it almost feels like I’m leaving home.
This is what I mean: We were made by God to live in a way that more closely resembles the epic storyline of Lord of the Rings than the storyline of the American Dream. You do not exist to seek comfort and security for yourself or your family. Tolkien’s trilogy captures the idea that we live and fight for something massive.
The Lord of the Rings has helped shape my heart, so that I have always longed for adventure. But it’s a particular type of adventure–one that really matters and one that is pursued alongside people you would die for. I would rather live like Frodo Baggins and never be the same than enjoy the beauty and comforts of the Shire without ever fighting for something greater. That desire aligned with providential circumstances over the course of roughly a decade to lead us to missions and eventually to Japan. So that’s why we’re going.
I share this for a very specific reason. Actually, two very specific reasons. First, I hope you read Lord of the Rings and other epics stories…and read them to your children. Consider it training for missions, either local or global. I started Ezra on the Hobbit at one month; it’s a little more “age appropriate” for infants than the trilogy.
Second, I’ve recently been marveling at how God uses so many things to shape us, guide us and send us. I don’t think my Dad knew that he was shaping my heart for missions when he played Lord of the Rings on tape during those road trips to Ida Grove, IA. That certainly wasn’t Peter Jackson’s aim in directing the films. Yet, that was the effect nonetheless. There are 10,000 other things happening in our lives that we have no idea how God is using. He often works through ordinary means to shape us into particular types of people or direct us toward particular ends, good ones for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I love that about God. He is the type of God who can bring the nations to the obedience of faith through Hobbits.