By Michiko Straker
I was exhausted. In 2014, during our third year working in follow-up to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, I was very tired—either burned out or close to it. My good friend, Tomoko McLain called to ask if I would be interested in joining a team that would eventually host a Come Before Winter (comebeforewinter.org) renewal retreat for Japanese women in ministry. I thought, “I need that for myself!” I joined the team because I felt I needed help. I needed a lifeline to pull me out of the mire.
We trained over a three year period—four face-to-face sessions in Japan, and many video chats and email exchanges in between. I joined the first training while we were still in Ishinomaki, then the remaining three after we moved to Calgary. This past February, we had the fourth and final training session which led directly into hosting the five-day renewal retreat.
These were healing experiences for me. The act of preparing to feed others was actually feeding me as well—not just the activity, but the content. We studied the Bible deeply in order to present it to retreatants. I was refreshed.
19 women serving in various ministries from various Christian backgrounds attended as retreatants. There were 10 of us on the hosting team, making 29 in all. This makes an amazing impact in a nation where less than 1% of the population are Christ-followers.
Our guests were tired and stressed. Some were burning out in their ministries. So the main focus of the retreat was Psalm 103 as a lens for God’s hesed—His tireless love for His sometimes tired servants. We studied deeply. We made art together, contemplated in silence, practiced active reflection, and left space for unstructured recreation. There was time for one-on-one, small group, and large group prayers. We spent days together practicing and receiving God’s hesed. And our hearts filled up with love. Each of the hosting teams presented something. But our main task was to make space for our guests to be with God.
My presentation was about God’s hesed revealed through faith and struggle over generations. In Psalm 103, David praised God. It wasn’t just a feeling, it was a decision—the fruit of a long heritage of faith. David drew hope from the story of Moses’ struggles in Exodus 32. Even though Moses had a hard time, he always depended on God. Moses was David’s hero.
I have a hero in my heritage of faith, too. My great-grandmother was a Christian who prayed God would bless her descendants with the same hesed He showed Moses and David. He did. I feel it. So I choose to praise God. My encouragement to the other ladies was that one day our struggles may be what future generations look back on for hope and faith. We don’t have to be too strong, we just need to depend on God and let his love be seen in our lives.
On the last day, each participant took three minutes to share the fruit they gained from Psalm 103, and to name a specific change they would make for a renewed life. Change can be hard, but we can do it with God.
I made a commitment for renewal, too. At the end of our team meeting, I was asked, “Who is on your heart from this retreat?” One person in particular stood out to me. I felt a burden for her. I was asked to share this with the hosting team, and then to leave the person there—to give her and her struggles to God. I was surprised to realize this is my weakness. When I was in the disaster zone, I tried to walk with people and listen to them well. I think I listened to them well, but I couldn’t give them to God. Maybe I was scared to release them—thinking it is a sign that I didn’t care enough for them. But in truth, we can give them over to God’s care, and continue pray to for them. This is my renewal. I pray the ladies who came are walking with God in their new decisions, too—and are renewed.
Although this may have been Come Before Winter’s last official international development renewal, the Japanese hosting team is praying about ways to carry on in some way in Japan. Please pray with us for strength for people of faith to carry God’s tireless love from a rich heritage to a renewed future.