Sports week for seafarers, 2014—Yokohama Seafarers’ Mission, Japan.
Celebrate Every Tiny Victory
By Devorah Umpig-Julian
The rooms are bright and clean as well as cozy. A window offers a view of the outside, where flowers bloom in pots and vases, adding their bright colors and fresh fragrance to the scene. For me, this is a little bit of heaven—and I am sure that feeling is shared among the residents. This is a safe home. It is not only a setting rich in nature’s beauty but also a refuge where residents can relax and learn to appreciate the finer things in life. In this calm and restful atmosphere, it is impossible to keep from thinking about God.
This is a crisis center for women who are victims of domestic violence. It became my routine to visit Joanna and her 11-month-old baby boy here. They became residents of this home for a couple of weeks before they moved to their own long-term housing.
Many tragic things had happened to Joanna’s family back in Poland. Her father was killed in a car accident. Her family members lost all of their possessions. She and her younger brother, with their elderly mother, lived for years on money provided by a nephew, which made her feel like a pauper. Troubled in her thoughts about the present and the future, Joanna came to Japan on a university scholarship. She graduated after four years, but then, being worried about her visa status, she married a Japanese national who turned out to have emotional and unstable anger issues. After a series of episodes in which he subjected Joanna to physical abuse, she felt helpless and lost control of her life. A feeling of hopelessness short-circuited her ability to escape for years.
But God is good. Joanna was wired for connection, which brought her to our attention. Her first and most important desire was safety for herself and her baby, for she feared for their lives. With cautious planning on our side, she and her child were brought to safety in less than 24 hours. For days afterward, she went through post-traumatic counseling sessions. It often takes some time to readjust and begin to cope after undergoing traumatic events.
A Sense of Worth
As of this writing, Joanna has been approved for welfare assistance from the Japanese government. The government’s support will cover her housing and medical care and also provides her with a mother-and-child monthly allowance.
I remember in one our sessions, she asked me these questions:
“Sensei, (meaning “Madam” in Japanese) can I ask you a question?” she asked.
“You can ask me anything you want,” I replied.
She took a deep breath and nervously began scribbling notes in her daily journal. “Why did you help me?” she asked. “I’m such a mess. I don’t belong to the same faith group as you. Will you require me to join your church?”
I gently smiled, reached for her hand, and put her pencil down. “I am not going to require you to come to my church,” I told her, “though you are welcome to come at any time. I helped because you needed help. I didn’t assist you just to be a “dogooder” but because service is tied to the meaning of our faith in God. God works even harder than I do and wants to see that everybody is loved and safe.”
Joanna grew up in a family who taught her not to “air dirty laundry.” She didn’t tell anyone when she was struggling—not even her friends—for fear that her flaws would make her unlovable. Her hardships became her secret. But one day in the session, she realized that she couldn’t keep her secrets any longer, so she bared everything. I assured her that she was loved. That was a faith-shaping moment. She began to understand that our love for her was an extension of Christ’s love, freely given in spite of knowing the truth about her. Slowly, she began to believe that Jesus loved her. Finally, she felt worthy of love.
My Vocation in Mission
Ronald Julian (3rd from left) visits seafarers aboard the Ty Green container ship in the Yokohama Port, Japan. PHOTO: COURTESY RONALD JULIAN
I have worked as a missionary since the year before I got married. My husband joined me three years ago. I do case management with dysfunctional migrant families, women and children, victims of physical abuse, and families seeking asylum. My husband, Ronald Julian, does chaplaincy work with the ministry to the seafarers. Sometimes it is difficult for us to relate to the emotional struggles of the groups of people we work with, but helping them through the process has been our calling and has helped us appreciate life. That way, hardships are turned into blessings.
Mission life is tough. Our being a mom and dad to our middle school boys while navigating life in another culture away from the support of family and friends is really tough. But God has never left our side. In fact, each day we feel that God is leading us through the lessons we are learning while raising our children and using these lessons to mold us into better mission workers.
Life in mission is sometimes unstable too. Monday never looks like Tuesday. Some days I go home feeling like a superhero, while on other days I wonder if I actually accomplished anything good. This used to bother me. I felt like a failure if I was not out saving the world at all times. Then I became a mom and I learned that the small victories in life are actually some of the greatest.
One of Devorah Umpig Julian’s clients is baptized as she assists. PHOTO: COURTESY THE JULIAN FAMILY
In our ministry, when a refugee family gets a special visa to stay in Japan—that’s huge! When a teenage refugee who is normally uninvolved in group conversation says a short prayer—that’s huge. When a female victim of abuse is able to make confident decisions for herself, or when you are able to translate a conversation for someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, or when you temporarily adopt the puppy of an ailing Japanese friend while he’s in the hospital—these are all huge! And when a Japanese neighbor gives you a homemade delicacy—yes, that little token of friendship is huge, too. Rejoicing over seemingly small victories helps us to recognize God’s hand at work in the world. May we never tire of being grateful!
God has made me, with all my imperfections, more compassionate and empathetic toward others who are also imperfect—and sometimes broken. If you are interested in mission, chances are you have the gift of compassion as well. But sometimes I still experience the feeling of being burned out from caring so much. Constantly taking care of the needs of others is exhausting, and, at times, I feel my compassion bucket draining dry. But then, about the time I think that bucket is empty, God fills it back up again—showing me more, leading me on, raising me higher, and refining my soul. Each of us must work beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to Christian maturity, as in Hebrews 6:1.
If you also serve people who are struggling emotionally, let me encourage you. You are doing a great job! Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but you are. May your involvement in the church and its mission contribute to your development as a follower of Jesus Christ. And may you be surprised by the way God uses your situation to better equip you to love and serve those around you.
Devorah Umipig-Julian (Advance support #13967Z) is a missionary from the Philippines serving with the Christian Coalition for Refugees and Migrant Workers in Tokyo, Japan. Her husband, the Rev. Ronald Clave Julian (Advance support #3021881), also from the Philippines, serves as a chaplain with the Association for Seafarers Mission in Yokohama, Japan. Their work can be supported through the United Methodist Advance channel of giving.
Above photo: Joanna with her son, Juan. PHOTO: DEVORAH UMPIG-JULIAN
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, September-October 2016 issue. Used by permission.