Written By Ng Jing Zhi, Singapore
The last thing anyone would want when travelling overseas would be unexpected changes to the itinerary. I guess God didn’t get the memo when I embarked on my very first mission trip a few months ago to Tokyo, Japan, as part of a Bible school programme I was attending at my church.
To be honest, there weren’t any prophetic dreams or visions from God telling me that I had to go there. In fact, my interest in Japan only started growing earlier this year after I watched the popular anime movie, Your Name (Kimi no Na wa).
When I found myself taking in more Japanese culture in the form of anime and music (as well as sushi), I asked God if that was His way of pointing me towards Japan. He confirmed it by miraculously providing just enough funding via leftover money from previous school trips overseas.
It was a timely reminder that when God speaks to us, it doesn’t come as a booming voice from heaven. Rather, it’s more like the gentle whisper Elijah heard on the mountain (1 Kings 19:11-13).
The plan for the trip was to serve at a Japanese church we were connected to and help out at its annual youth summer camp. However, even before the trip began, uncertainty was already lurking along the sidelines, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
The Perfect Storm
Two days before my friends and I were due to leave for Japan, news reports of Typhoon Noru surfaced. It had already made landfall near Osaka and was expected to head east—right through Tokyo.
Naturally, my parents were worried. While they voiced concerns over whether it was safe to travel, I held fast to my belief that God was in complete control over the situation. After all, I reasoned, what were a couple of unhappy rain clouds and some wind to Him?
I prayed that God would work supernaturally through the storm. The next day, I woke to wonderful news: Typhoon Noru had simply “brushed past” Tokyo, so there was only heavy rain in the area. I couldn’t help but break into a knowing smile; God’s fingerprints were all over the situation.
We made our way to Japan in one piece and were greeted by moody skies and light misty rain. Not that I was complaining—it was lovely compared to the sweltering heat I was told to expect.
But God wasn’t done with shaking things up.
A Last Minute Request
Before the trip, we were told to prepare testimonies to share at the youth summer camp. Easy, I thought. I’ll talk about how God provided for the trip.
But on our first night in Tokyo, the pastor of the Japanese church told us to prepare testimonies based on our salvation instead. We were bound for Tochigi (a two-hour drive from Tokyo) the next morning, where the camp would be held.
I immediately panicked. I barely had a few hours to condense the story of how I met Jesus into a three-minute elevator pitch. Against my brain’s loud cries of “Oh no”, I smiled and nodded.
After fervent prayers of “Jesus, please, You’ve got to help me with this”, I got down to work. It took some time to adapt and simplify phrases and expressions that could not be easily translated into Japanese, but I managed to pull together a coherent testimony in the nick of time.
On the first night of the camp, I shared my testimony about how Jesus took my broken, hardened heart and made it whole with His love. I was pleasantly surprised when the pastor mentioned that it tied in perfectly with the camp’s theme of healing. Unbeknownst to me, she had prepared a message on seeking Jesus in repentance and being forgiven for our past mistakes, which she shared right after my testimony.At that moment, I knew that God had definitely played a part in orchestrating the abrupt changes. I see what You did there, I thought, as I gave a mental nod to Jesus.
Later that night, as I shared about the unexpected but wonderful change that God had used for His purposes during the debrief and reflection before bed, I was reminded of Proverbs 16:9, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
But He wasn’t done with us just yet. Over the course of the camp, He continued disrupting our plans (in the best way possible).
Rain, Rain (Don’t) Go Away
As it was a summer camp, many of the activities planned were meant to be held outdoors. There were games giving the youths a chance to play with water guns and water balloons, as well as sparklers and fire crackers for the last night of the camp. However, the unrelenting rain forced the pastors to cancel all outdoor activities.
Naturally, everyone felt a little disappointed. But no one got really hung up over the modified schedule. In fact, the youths reacted in a surprising manner. Instead of griping about not being able to play outdoors, they quickly adapted and found other forms of entertainment. The younger ones engaged in table tennis matches while the older youths, most of them girls, headed off to their rooms to hang out.
That left my friends and I plenty of time to get to know the full-time missionaries, who were also at the camp, better. We discovered that the church had started out with just a handful of people in the congregation. Services were held in a quaint three-storey building which was home to the pastors and their children.
During the four to six years the two missionary couples had spent serving, they had helped start English classes for children, which brought forth opportunities to spread the word about Jesus. More and more people began filling up the main hall on the second storey, and eventually, a live stream was started for additional members on the first floor. There was even a live translation service in Tagalog for Filipino church members.
With some knowledge of Japanese and the help of Google Translate, one of my friends who had served at previous youth summer camps even managed to connect with a youth of the same age as him. He had been trying to reach out to that particular youth but was hindered by his then shaky grasp of Japanese. Incidentally, they were assigned to the same room this year, which opened more doors for interaction and conversation.
We continued hoping that the rain would stop so that we could still play outdoors, but the rain only decided to let up when we were leaving the campsite. It was only on hindsight that I realized that I would never have been able to get to know the various members of the Japanese church if not for the rain.
A mentor from my church once told me this: Make your plans in pencil and carry a huge eraser with you. As someone who enjoys planning and having things laid out in an organized manner, it’s difficult when hiccups occur. Having to adapt and accommodate constant changes is a challenging experience for me.
But ever since Japan, I’ve learned and understood very clearly that you can’t put God in a box. When He moves, He’s going to do it however He pleases, but it’s always for our good. It’s up to us to choose whether to be flexible and flow with His changes to our (very flawed, loophole-riddled) plans, or to be left on the wrong side of the path.
I choose His ways.
Jing Zhi is part of the YouTube duo klēsis, where they share stories on life with Jesus.