Benjamin to Japan

How and Why

In August 2011 my life changed because I watched a video on the internet.

Just five months prior, Japan had been hit by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami, leading to nuclear reactor meltdowns. The damage was extensive, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history. But for me it was just a sad news story in a distant country. I was busy trying to get a girlfriend, pass my classes, and get work for the summer.

But a few months later, I stumbled across a homemade documentary of the tragedy which at first had my mouth hanging open in shock and horror, and by the end had tears streaming down my face. And amid the wreckage, in these Japanese men and women battling to remake their homes, I saw something I didn’t expect: strength in weakness, despair turned to hope, faith making a way. Even more surprising, though I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, I had a clear sense God was talking to me, saying this is the purpose of your life. But what exactly was “this”? going to Japan? helping with relief efforts? And how could I know “this” wasn’t just my imagination, or a product of emotions? I needed to find out, but I had my last year of university ahead of me.

Eight months later, on the verge of graduating I found myself looking in two directions: an uncertain future in Japan, or a one-year master’s program in electrical engineering. I had tried putting off making any kind of decision, but eventually asked for advice from someone I respected, my pastor. Why don’t you see what Japan is like? he asked. It doesn’t have to be permanent. For me this felt like a copout. Shouldn’t I commit more from the outset? He was right about one thing though — it was time to stop taking classes. I graduated and moved back in with my parents, taking a low-wage IT job at a small business. My dreams felt dead.

But Japan was still very much alive. Though post-graduation felt long and dark for me — one time, frustrated with feeling like a failure, I screamed at my parents and ran out of the house—valuable knowledge, experience, and friendships gained during those long months are still with me today:

  • In September, I joined a small community of Japanese Christians and friends called Princeton Japanese Church, who welcomed me from the very beginning and continue to support me even now.
  • In December, I went to Urbana, a 5-day conference about sharing the basic message about Jesus (the gospel) in different cultures. I was moved by the beauty of people from around the world uniting in a single purpose because of a shared love of God.
  • For the month of January, I took a course called the CELTA, where I used student-centered learning methods to teach English to English language learners.
  • In March, I attended a conference for international students where I heard a presentation about student-centered learning methods being used to share the gospel.

By July 2013 — nearly two years after watching the video — I was on a plane to Tokyo with a suitcase full of shoes, a lot of anxiety about catching a train to my hotel, and no return ticket. I knew little about life in a foreign country, let alone one as far away as Japan, where I would be on my own for the first time in my life. As excited as I was, the possibility of coming back to America was real. The coming year would test whether my dream would become reality.

If you liked this story, let me know! I plan to post the second part within a week. EDIT: this isn’t going to happen hahahahaha sorry.