Lewisporte native Jessica Stuckey travelled to Japan to spread the word of Christianity.
When it comes to spreading the word of the Lord, Lewisporte native Jessica Stuckey likes to spread her wings.
The Tyndale University College student headed to Japan this past spring, her month-long mission putting 20,000 kilometres under her belt, as she travelled from one side of the world to the other, and back again.
A trip made possible by OMF International and a GoFundMe fundraising effort, Stuckey, along with a crew of fellow students, departed their classrooms for a whole new world last May.
“It was everything I expected, and nothing I expected,” Stuckey said, chatting with The Herald from her home in Toronto, Ontario.
“It was more than I could have dreamed of, but not in the romantic way,” she said, explaining that her work meant so much more – to her and her adopted community – than simple words could explain.
“I didn’t just make friendships – I made bonds,” she said. “I gained trust and respect in the community, and it was just amazing,” Stuckey recalled, the fondness for these memories floating through the phone.
Her trip started off on a strange note, after Stuckey watched the 2016 historical period drama film Silence on one of the five flights to Japan.
The film, set in 17th century Nagasaki, follows two priests who travel to Asia, only to find Japanese authorities torturing Christians in an attempt to persuade them to renounce their faith.
“When I got to Japan, I was heavy-hearted,” she said. “I felt like … in this place, they didn’t have the freedom to believe in the Creator. They didn’t have the option to believe in what they wanted to believe in.”
Stuckey said that less than 1 per cent of the Japanese population follow Christianity, with most Japanese (about half the population) identifying as “Folk Shinto,” or non-religious. One third are Buddhist, she added. This stark contrast from her home country, where 67 per cent of Canadians (StatsCan, 2011) call themselves Christians, took some getting used to for Stuckey.
“Here (in Canada), I take it for granted that if you’re not a Christian, you at least know something about Christianity,” she said. “There (in Japan), they don’t even know! Things are very visually based. They may have a Christian church in their community, because they like the look of a Christian wedding – the white dress, etc. but it has nothing to do with God,” she said.
“One thing I found interesting is that people seem to be always looking for answers regarding the afterlife,” she mused, “but they won’t consider Christianity.”
She noted that she may be biased, “but
I consider this the truth – God is the answer and the truth. He’s given me such peace, and love, and purpose for my life.”
Stuckey found it strange that a fox could bring riches, but the idea of a God who loves them is an incredibly foreign concept.
Though there were plenty of differences between Stuckey and her students, colleagues, and acquaintances, friendships were still easy to form – a smile transcends all barriers, and her work and involvement was well appreciated by the locals.
OMF International “plays to your gifts,” Stuckey said, “Whatever you were passionate about, whatever you were good at, that’s what they used. For example, I’m really outdoorsy and strong, so when there were things to do outside – at first, I would volunteer, but eventually they would ask me – to go out and do the physical labour,” she said with a laugh.
“I taught English classes in the evening, and visited a couple of preschools every week,” she added, noting that women and children are her passion.
The classroom was among Stuckey’s favourite aspects of her work in Asia.
“When myself and the other teachers came into the classroom for the first time, the class was kneeling down, ready to greet us, in unison. It was very heartfelt. They wanted to show us respect,” Stuckey recalled. Her English class was also where she met Shu, a local man who would become a long-lasting friend.
“The very first English class I taught, I made a friend named Shu. We bonded over our tattoos,” she said. “In Japan, tattoos are associated with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. I tried to keep my tattoos covered, for the most part, but they gave me an opportunity to share my story. My whole life story is in my tattoos,” she said.
“Shu moved from Tokyo to here (Hirosaki) and he said it was a whole new culture – he couldn’t go to the gym in a t-shirt because people were afraid of him, thinking he was part of the mafia.”
At first, Shu was uninterested in the class itself – a conversational English class – but as time progressed, he became more involved in the class, quickly picking up on the language, and showing interest in the Bible verses they were studying.
“All of a sudden, he really focused. He wanted to know more. I explained to him what was going on, and he took out his copy of the Japanese-English Bible and began looking through it,” Stuckey remembered.
Shu told Stuckey that he had attempted to read the Bible before, but the formal Japanese was hard to understand, likening it to Old English for us. A simplified English Bible helped him learn more.
Though intrigued by her student’s newfound interest, Stuckey didn’t think to invite Shu to the upcoming church service the next morning, figuring he wouldn’t be interested.
Be the Change
When Shu unexpectedly showed up at church with his wife on Sunday morning, Stuckey was awestruck.
“I greeted him, using the easiest English I could use, to let him know that I was so happy to see him there,” she said. “This is such a rare occurrence, for someone to come to English class and suddenly show an interest in the church.”
Stuckey said that though she has long left Japan, social media keeps her updated on OMF International’s goings-on in Hirosaki, and according to the photos, Shu still attends church to this day.
“He found a place in the community where he fits in, and he feels loved. It’s a really good place for him and his wife,” she shared. “It was very exciting. The average timeline for someone in Japan to hear about God, to be interested in Him, and to actually start trusting, is 18 years. It’s a lifelong thing … to see any change, to see any hope,” Stuckey said.
This amazing development has shown Stuckey that her hard work pays off, and she’s interested in doing more missionary trips in the future.
Until her next trip begins, she’ll stay updated through Facebook, and send love and prayers to her friends abroad, smiling whenever she thinks about the difference she helped make, as she embodies the change she wants to see in the world.