On Acculturation, Personality and Fitting In

I didn’t begin pursuing a life of ministry in Japan because I thought I would fit in here. I fell in love with Japan because of having lived here. I also didn’t have a great sense that my personality or talents would lend themselves to ministry in Japan specifically. But, having already decided to follow God’s leading back to Japan, I had a lot of time to think about the future and where I might fit. And though I’m still figuring out the specifics, there are some things I’ve realized about myself that lend themselves to ministry in Japan.

In some ways, my personality lends itself to acculturation in Japan: I think I’m pretty flexible and willing to change, as would be needed if I moved to any foreign culture. But I also share some personality traits with what’s considered the “norm” here in Japan, such as my dislike of confrontation, or my friendly but generally-quiet and not-pushy personality.

I also have a desire to focus my ministry on youth and young adults — which, as it turns out, is a particular area of need in Japan. My talents and interests in comics are an asset, too — or could be in the future — because comics (manga) are such a big part of pop culture here (where the highest selling comic sells as many copies in a week as the highest-selling US comic does in a year). I also think the Japanese church is in need of some new ideas, and being a creative person in general could be useful.

On the other hand, there are sides of my personality that could be a problem (for me or others) sometimes. I’m a non-traditional, non-conformist person in a 4,000-year old, highly-conformist culture. I’m also working with a very traditional, conservative national church here in Japan. Will my new ideas be heard? Will I be able to use my talents and gifts to their fullest potential? Will I rub people the wrong way if I’m unwilling — or unable, or unsure of how to — adapt?

The potential is definitely there for me to feel squeezed into a mold that doesn’t fit me. The potential’s also there for me to offend or damage relationships if I don’t handle differences appropriately or adapt where I should.

But there is also a lot of positive potential if I’m willing to learn and adapt in the ways that I need to.

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