In 2016, after about three and a half years on the mission field in Japan, our family faced a decision: should we return to the U.S. or stay in Japan and continue the work?
At this point, we were well over halfway through our initial 5 year commitment. We had spent over three consecutive years in the country, and that was after an earlier year doing vocational missions. We loved the people and we loved the work, but we weren’t sure what to do. We had only visited the United States once during this these three years, and that visit had not made the answer any clearer.
We spent a lot of time in prayer over that decision. Sara and I fasted together and prayed for wisdom and guidance. During this time, we thought about many things. We thought about the Christians in Matsudo. We thought about the friends and relationships we had made. We thought about the broader work going on across the nation. At the same time, we thought about our children. We were concerned they would grow up without faithful friends. We wondered how our daughters would find husbands, or how the kids might adjust to life in the United States were they to return.
We considered all of this and much more, and after months of thinking, we finally decided that we should return to the United States.
Our plan was to live in New England where Sara’s family resides. The church in New England is quite small and needed a lot of help as well, so we were hopeful that our experience would be useful to the Kingdom there. I planned to start a photography business to support our family, which I hoped would also allow me to serve in the church and continue to visit the church in Japan, without having to rely on support from others. But well before we left, Sara and I had agreed on one thing – we did not want to come back to the U.S. simply to be comfortable.
Our co-worker Debbie Carrell, who passed away while we were in Japan, often shared the adage: “plan your work and work your plan,” and that is what we did. We worked out our plan, trusting in God to help us along the way. We were blessed during our first year and a half in the U.S., finding opportunities to serve in the church and finding occasional photography work along the way. Things changed for us about halfway through our first year, after a visit to my hometown of Pensacola. We decided it would be best for our family to continue our pursuits in Florida, and so in mid-2018 we made the move there.
Along this path, one thing never left our hearts – the love of the church and the people in Japan. We shed many tears thinking about the home we had left, not simply because we missed our friends, but because there was much work left to be done. We thought of our friend and sister Nao who we baptized during our 5 years in Matsudo. We thought about brother Yukusue, an elderly man and young Christian. We thought of the many we had connected with who had not yet committed their lives to Christ. We thought about the long term Christians there who we loved so dearly, and so much else going on across the country. After we returned, two missionaries – Brent Rogers and Marlin Ray – passed away. Our partner Steve Carrell had returned to the United States. The need for workers had only grown. But we had made our decision and figured that was that.
As 2019 approached, a lot had changed in our lives since we returned. Much that we had hoped would happen had not come to fruition, and much that we had not expected had occurred as well (some good and some bad), all of which changed our thinking and impacted our plan. For these reasons among others, we decided to start keeping our eyes open for full-time ministry positions across the county.
As we began to think on these things, Sara and I felt that we were beginning to go down the path we had said we did not want to pursue. We were slowly inching our way towards personal comfort, rather than focusing on where our service was most needed and where we could be the most effective. We felt that our zeal for God’s Kingdom and the call of making disciples was stagnating. Since moving back to the U.S., we had not even countenanced the possibility of returning to Japan. But at the turn of the year, we finally did.
It seemed like a window had been opened on our life. Things started to come into focus. Returning to Japan made sense. The only real obstacles to returning were family relationships, and not wanting to feel stupid. Pride is a poor reason to neglect service to God, but we are also confident that God had a purpose in our family being here for a season of a life, and has used us for his glory during this time. As for our family and friends, we remember the words of Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
Nevertheless, we did not want to make a hasty decision. We prayed about it and reached out to a small group of trusted friends to gain wisdom and petition prayers. We continued to consider other options, praying for God to help us make a wise decision. Thanks to a timely business trip to Japan which popped up in January 2019, Leslie was able to talk directly to the church in Matsudo about whether they were interested in having us return. The reply was a resounding yes. After several months of reflecting on our options and seeking God’s guidance, it seemed to us that a return to Japan was the right choice to make.
This decision was not made lightly. We prayerfully considered what we should do, and sought God’s guidance and help as we moved forward. Although we have made this decision, there is still a lot of work to do before we can officially make it to Japan, so we ask for your continued prayers and support as we take the next steps. We needed God’s help in making the initial decision, and we will need it every step of the way back. We appreciate your love and prayers, and as in all things, we hope it will be to the glory of God and his Kingdom!