An Abundance of Hope
“Hello Kim-Sensei! I’ve been waiting to meet you!”
These were the first words nine-year-old Arashi said to me in person. After waiting two years to move to Japan, these words and getting to meet Arashi were truly a blessing.
If you would have asked me two years ago, “Hey Kim, do you want to run an Autism and ADHD Support program for families in Japan from your home in Washington,” I would have laughed. But when Japan closed their borders in March of 2020, that’s where I found myself. I was newly hired as the Japan Program Coordinator and Behavioral Analyst and was working on my deployment to Japan when COVID changed everything. How long would this shutdown last? Unsure of how to run a program from across the Pacific Ocean, it seemed impossible. The original goal had been to work together in person. How could this possibly work?
Thankfully, God had His plans.
During this time, Pastor Haga, the pastor at Megumi Lutheran church in Mito, Japan and I worked to run parent support groups online. He would translate while I offered my expertise and advice to parents of children with disabilities. In October 2021 I was invited to participate in an online meeting with teachers and parents from Tomobe Higashi Special Support School, the local school for children with disabilities. Through that, Pastor Haga was able to invite people to check out our support groups. I started to see how God was working through our program to reach people in Japan even while I was in Washington. He gave me hope.
These were the kinds of conversations that Kim Zehfus was able to have during 2020 and 2021. Thanks to Zoom calls, Kim was able to continue to serve despite strict lockdowns in Japan.
Finally on April 8, 2022, I arrived in Japan. Just before I deployed, a member from my home congregation said to me, “You must really believe in your program if you waited two years to go.” My answer is, yes! Yes, because of the relationships I had formed with these people thousands of miles away.
Now that I’m in Japan, there are new challenges. In America I would work with one child for 2-3 hours each day 5 days a week. In Japan I only get to spend a few hours with the children each month, always in a group setting. But I still get to know each child. Arashi likes trains and thinks dinosaurs are the coolest. Shion loves Pokemon. Tatsuki favorite thing is Thomas the Tank Engine. Jyotaro loves reading books with photos. Once I find a way to connect with each child, it is such a blessing. During our meetings together I combine activities that will be fun for each child. Sure, they often talk in Japanese so fast that I struggle to fully understand, but I still feel a genuine connection to them.
The parents who attend these support groups are much like the parents I worked with in the United States. They need someone to encourage them, support them, and show them how to connect with their child. I listen to them and offer what I know. I might not be able to meet with them each day, but I know that the Christian support and encouragement I provide to these families and kids provides true hope.
My dream is that this program becomes a place where these families can come together and have a sense of community, where children can interact with one another in a safe environment and parents can receive support and encouragement. But most importantly, that these children and their families will experience the love of God. Because our program comes with a promise: God loves us, knows us by name, and through Him we can have an abundance of hope.
Now that Kim Zehfus is in Japan, parent support groups have been able to take place in person. Here are some of the images from a few of the summer activities.