For the last two weeks, I’ve hosted a student from Tokyo, Japan at my little, old house, just off the Trolley line. Yuito is a bright, 15-year-old, eager to try new things, learn about many cultures and take on the world. In the past two weeks he has confidently walked to the Trolley at 7 a.m. and taken the 40-minute ride to his school, then enjoyed group activities such as beach volleyball, beach bike-riding, ice-skating, laser tag, Sea World and more – every day, seven days a week – on the go. Basically a fun camp with English lessons.
All the time we have had together is really dinner time and I’ve tried to make that interesting. We walked the ’50s car show and bought fries from a food truck. He ate his first Mexican fajita, rice, beans and tortillas at Por Favor. Spaghetti, including my grandmother’s recipe for sauce and meatballs, were not his favorite, but he loved the steak with rice and green beans (Okay, not the green beans).
Church may have been a bit of a mystery to him, standing to a worship band with awesome drumming and great guitar works; young, earnest voices calling on the Lord to come be with us. Prayers from a pastor in a tee-shirt and jeans. An appeal for donations of school supplies to support local teachers. A God who isn’t standing apart, saying, “Show me what you’ve got!” But, instead, is challenging us to faith and trust – “Let me show you what I’ve got!”
Did he get that? Did Yuito understand the difference?
Because there’s this thing, this language barrier. He can’t really speak the language. He shrugs, smiles and nods – but he doesn’t understand. And I don’t understand him, either. It took two hours for me to figure out “laser tag” was what he meant by a jumble of syllables with no “l” and no pause between the words. So we both tilt our heads, smile, and then shake them back and forth. “I didn’t get it.”
There’s so much more we could be sharing if we spoke the same language. I want to know what he thinks of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, or the bombing between Israel and Gaza. Do the Japanese take a stand on Russia vs. Ukraine? Do they experience drought, with cracking brown, fire-ready hillsides and vast stretches of dead grass lining the highways? Do they ration water or share with their neighbors in a crisis? He listed his father’s hobby as watching TV and his mother’s hobby as cooking — but do they watch cartoons or the news? Bake cupcakes? All the nuances are lost because we can’t speak of these things.
I can see how difficult it might be for a loving God to convince his children that he means for us to have abundant life, that all things work together for our good, that he loves us with an everlasting love. His hobbies are often listed as watching us from a distance, or providing manna, not cupcakes.
And, although the Holy Spirit sings to us in our hearts and feelings, stirs a presence in our souls, the language of God is something we have to learn. We have to read it. We have to speak it in our prayers. We have to practice, over and over, God loves me, God is good, Look, Jane, Look! See God run the world!
When you work on knowing the language, there is so much more.
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn of me, for I am quiet and gentle in spirit and you will find rest for your souls.”
And, too often, we smile and nod and shake our heads.