International Ministries

Shoes of Those With "Hidden Diseases"

October 23, 2009 Journal
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Dear Journal Friends,

Recently I wrote about my introduction to the theme “Surprised By Walking in Different Shoes.”  This time as a continuation, I’d like to tell how I once again was able to experience this theme following my experience commuting by train to Soshin Girls’ School in Yokohama.  The plan was for me to continue this work for a full year.  But it seems that the Lord has other plans.  Although I am relieved that I don’t need to commute on those trains for a while, I’m faced with another challenge that has enabled me to walk for a while in the shoes of the Japanese.


Although, I’d prefer to learn in a different way, God put me in a position where I would learn first-hand about that hidden population of Japanese who were fighting cancer.  I was diagnosed with this disease in May.  Due to various circumstances, one of which was having a number of Japanese friends who promised to help me out, I was operated on in a very large private Japanese hospital.  During the succeeding weeks I experienced the Japanese medical system and saw what advantages and disadvantages there were to their version of socialized medicine.  Without going into a lot of detail, I wanted to just share some of what I learned.  Although it is said that over half of the Japanese population will experience cancer in their life-time, I did not know of any woman who had had cancer in the 30 years I have been in Japan.  It’s not that I knew none.  It is because no one talks about it.  But after I found out that I had cancer I heard numerous stories, many from people I thought I knew quite well.


I was in the hospital for a total of 20 days and was released early because my recovery was ahead of schedule.  The three doctors and all the nurses who followed my progress were kind and considerate. I spent most of my time in a cramped room with six beds divided by curtains.  I had to move the only chair I had for a guest in order to leave my cubicle.  I consciously choose not to move to a semi-private room because I noticed that those occupying those rooms were quite aloof and unwilling to interact, but I wanted to mix with the other patients.


I noticed several things as I paced the corridors.  First of all, the vast majority of the patients were between age 25 and 35.  I was the oldest patient during much of my stay.  About three-quarters of the patients on the ward were there for short-stays for chemotherapy lasting five to seven days at a time.  The other one-quarter of us were in for surgery in abdominal area for several types of cancer.  Why such a long hospital stay, you might ask?  If you read my last journal you’ll know the answer.  Most Japanese depend on the trains and not cars for transportation.  Returning to your residence after surgery and then commuting to doctor’s appointments would be a very difficult task, especially if the stay was as short as in the USA.  Although people don’t talk much about cancer, I found that if a person has had cancer, conversation between those with similar experiences frequently took place.  Those on my ward were quite open with their experiences and their anxieties.  I kept busy listening and sharing how I was handling this experience when I was given the chance.  My friends came to pray with me and even though they tried to keep their voices low, it seemed like everyone could hear them.  One woman in great distress asked if I would please pray for her.  Once again, the Lord has provided an opportunity to walk in their shoes.  And what a surprise it has been!   Now I can relate to those who have this “hidden” disease. Daily, several of my friends came to see me and sometimes I had as many as seven people waiting.  Since cancer is kept a secret, other patients had very few visitors. 


Mrs. Hasegawa, my pastor’s wife came in one day as usual.  I could tell that she wanted to tell me something.  When she finally got the courage told me that her husband found out the day before that he had stomach cancer!   At this writing, he is recovering from surgery, and I have returned to the USA for medical treatment.  The church where I have been working with Rev. Hasegawa is now without their leaders.  They had many issues to deal with when both of us were there but now their problems have been compounded.  When I left for the hospital I shared the shocking news with them about my impending operation.  I shared with them my strong feelings that if this was God’s plan for me, and I was related to them in ministry, then they must consider it to be God’s plan for them as well.  Their task (mine as well) is to find how God will lead in the succeeding months.  God does not mean this for evil but for good (Jer. 29:11).  Please pray for the Suginami Nakadori Church.  And please continue to pray for me.


We only have a few more weeks to emphasize the World Mission Offering, although you can give to it any time during the year.  Your general undesignated gifts to this offering are greatly appreciated. Those gifts help International Ministries fund the remaining part of missionary salaries beyond the MPT goal and to send out new missionaries. They help with special projects in our partner churches.  However, you may still direct your gifts to a specific person or project.  This includes me!!  Although I am on medical leave, I must have all my monthly core financial support underwritten before I return.  If the doctor should suddenly release me to return to Japan, frankly, I would not be able to return now because I am only receiving 45% of my monthly needs.  If you have further questions, please contact myself or International Ministries.


Thank you for reading this far and thank you so much for your continued prayers.  I really do know that they are working.

In Christ,

Roberta Stephens