Among Two Worlds

I just left home. Now I’m home again.

In other words, I left the US last week and made it to Japan safely. I stayed in Tokyo for a few days, eating Thanksgiving dinner at an American family’s house and continuing my 4-year streak of not being in America for such a North American Holiday. I reconnected with Japanese friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten and elementary school. I went to church in Ueda where I grew up, and in true Japanese fashion they threw me a dinner party even though I insisted that they not make a big deal. Then I rode the train and returned to Shiga Kogen, where I will stay again this winter for about a month.

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

It is strange to me how completely different my two worlds are, yet how completely I can belong to each simultaneously. Americans can’t imagine a white boy like me speaking fluent Japanese, and Japanese people ask me fairly frequently if I can speak English. I can see where they’re coming from. When someone seems so American or so Japanese, it’s hard to imagine that person as anything else. It’s like trying to imagine a long-haired person you just met with short hair: You can’t do it.

Although I have inhabited both worlds for quite some time now, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my need to choose one. I want to live somewhere. I don’t want to just float from one destination to the next because it’s too easy to run away from things that matter. Living somewhere means knowing people and involving yourself in everyday life. It means having seasons, even if some of them aren’t your favorite. I’m sure the snowbird lifestyle suits some, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy or what God desires for our lives. We need more meaning than air-conditioned villas, well-groomed golf-courses and perpetual summer. Comfort is nice sometimes but it’s not a purpose to pursue. Undoubtedly my two world are intertwined and I will always go back and forth between the two. I just don’t want to use that as an excuse not to get down and dirty in the nitty gritty of one.

The difficult thing is that I could see myself choosing either world. I love Robert Frost’s poem about the road less traveled. For my life, it would read “Two roads diverged in the Pacific. I chose ________. It has made all the difference in the world”. Maybe I could live in parallel universes where one Daniel lives here and another one lives there. Or I could time travel and relive one or the other.

Coming to Japan, however, does make me biased. Unlike any other place, when I return to Nagano I breathe a sigh of relief because I finally feel like I’m home. America is great, but I feel like Japan needs me more. From economic stagnation to one of the highest suicide rates in the world, I have opportunities for influence here that I don’t have elsewhere. For now I feel like that is a gift I am meant to use.

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?

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Life and Death on Uzima Farm

We’re calling our aquaponics project Uzima Farm, meaning “Life” in Swahili. Starting with a pile of garbage next to a polluted Nairobi slum, we are creating something alive and green and beautiful where those things were lost long ago. Moreover, our partner on the ground, 1010 Kenya takes its inspiration from John 10:10, “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” As a result of creating abundant physical life, we want people’s attention to turn to the giver of that abundant life.

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Despite setbacks and challenges, last week was so encouraging and productive. I have learned that I would much prefer running around like a chicken with its head cut off to being bored. We finished building our greenhouse two full days ahead of schedule. We bought fish to start learning how to take care of them. Kennedy, our farm manager was doing great.

And then at 12:30 Am on Sunday I received a message that changed everything: “Daniel, my wife has passed away while giving birth. I am at Kenyatta National Hospital.” Stunned, I didn’t know how to respond, especially over text message. I tried calling, but Kennedy understandably didn’t pick up. “Kennedy, I am so sorry. I am praying for you and your family” was all I could muster.

My thoughts turned in all directions at once. I felt grief for Kennedy’s loss. “I can’t imagine what that feels like. How is he going to take care of two daughters and a new-born baby without a mom?” I felt guilty for not even knowing his wife’s name or that she was pregnant. “Why didn’t I ask him more about his family? I should have tried to meet them.” I felt anger at the fact that this even happened – this was probably a preventable death with better medical care. And selfishly, I worried about what this meant for our project. “I am only here for another month, how are we going to finish everything? Can Kennedy continue working or will I have to find someone else?” All these thoughts rushed through my head as I tossed and turned and wrestled through prayer all night.

Believing that things happen for a reason sometimes makes it worse. If this were pure chance, a normal occurrence in a universe where humans are meaningless specks of dust, I might brush it off as purely accident. But I believe there is meaning to life and things happen for a reason. I don’t believe God orchestrates tragic events, but I certainly believe He is in control and allows them to happen. And if He allows them to happen, there must be a reason. Unable to see that reason, I feel like a person playing one of those riddle games trying to figure out who is it. Ultimately, I have to be told the solution or give up, acknowledging that there probably is a logical explanation but not smart enough or able to think creatively enough to identify it on my own.

At church the next day, the pastor happened to talk about restoring relationships. “The simple act of being present” he said, “is more powerful than anything you could say or do.” Even faith, I have realized, is not knowing but showing up anyway, believing that God is bigger than my fears or doubts. This week is turning out differently than I expected. Instead of planting seeds at Uzima Farm, I will attend a funeral. No matter what I say, Kennedy’s loss will be searing and real. But being present through trying times is the only thing I can do. I don’t know why there has been death instead of life, but I have to trust that there is a reason beyond the immediate pain and grief I see at the moment.

If you are reading this, I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Kennedy, his family, and our project. Kennedy is the one in the purple shirt, the day before this happened.

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