Written by Marijke Rombeek, MDiv ’00
Called By Name
My name is Marijke Rombeek. Having an unusual name means that I have often gone by different versions and pronunciations, but the nickname my grandfather gave me as a baby is what sticks these days: Rijke (pronounced ‘rye-ka’).
I find it ironic that I have a name that is easier for the Japanese to say and remember than it is for Canadians. As there is a Japanese name with exactly the same pronunciation, it seems to be part of the workings of God.
I am an OMF missionary serving the homeless and marginalized in Tokyo, Japan.
Brought Back by Prayer
I grew up in the Ottawa area in a Christian family. My father went to Bible college but chose to be an electrical engineer. My mother had wanted to be a nurse in the mission field, but God lead her elsewhere. My parents discussed and debated faith and in turn modelled how important it was to keep the Bible relevant to daily life. I may not remember many of their conversations, but I know that I am indebted to them for how I engage scripture.
But this also led me to rebel from the faith at the age of seven. I was bullied every day in school, and I rationalized that God either did not love me or that he was powerless to intervene in my situation. I willfully turned my back on God. But when I was a teenager, God called a Christian friend to pray over me to bring me back into faith. I knew my Bible – knowledge would not bring me back to God. That could only happen in the power of prayer.
I have received several callings in my life. Most prominently to ministry, missions, and to the country where I serve. There are a few points that stand out in each of these callings. First, there was a distinct time when I knew I was being called. Second, I was surprised at the call or found it unexpected in some way – it was not a natural continuation of wherever I was headed. Thirdly, I could look back from the call and see how God had already been preparing me, though I had not seen it.
Connecting the Disconnected
I serve the homeless and marginalized in Tokyo. Probably not the ministry that would first come to mind when you think of Japan. Yet in a country where people largely define their identity by how they are connected to their society, there is a great need for those who are disconnected.
As it happens, I also came to Japan after seven-and-a-half years as a frontline social worker working with the homeless in Canada. I had not expected God would make that my mission in Japan as well.
In Japan there is no government funding for homelessness and only few shelters (all non-governmental organizations) – woefully inadequate to meet the need. You may think that churches would naturally try to fill the gap, yet Japan is an unreached country, with fewer than a 1% evangelical Christian population.
Even adding mainline, Catholic and Orthodox Christians to that brings the Christian population to less than 2% according to Operation World.
Japan simply does not have the Christian basis of the west that makes caring for the less fortunate a priority unless those who are struggling are already connected into a community. The sense among many Japanese churches is that it is their primary calling is to care for their members and not prioritize outreach or charitable work. All of this makes reaching disconnected people even more important.
Come for Community, Stay for Christ
Nakayoshi Church – the lay-led church where I worship – is an unusual church that prioritizes outreach to the homeless and poor. I also work in Yoyogi Park, one of Tokyo’s main parks, where an estimated 100+ homeless people live – some for as long 30 years.
Sidewalk Chapel was started as a church for those who live in the park. People come first for the food, come again for the community, and stay for Christ. When they first come, they come because we hand out free food. Yet the natural yearning for community brings them back, willing to be part of, or least connected to, a Christian community just be part of something. Yet, some of the regulars have been coming weekly for 15 years and a few even choose to remain homeless so that they can focus their lives on sharing God’s love. So many of them are living examples of just how powerfully God can transform a life. It is a great honour to be a part of this ministry day after day, year after year.
An Invaluable Lesson
My years at ADC were crucial to my ministry.
Have you ever had someone come up to you with a God-related question you would never have thought to ask? My brother is a presbyterian minister, and I can assure you we do not ask the same questions of scripture.
If those different questions exist in the same family, how many more differences will exist across cultures?
The people of Japan certainly bring different questions and a different understanding of the world to God and scripture. How do I know how to answer their questions or present scripture to them in a way that they can understand?
The answer is simple: by knowing how to study my Bible. Not to answer my own questions or for my own cultural interpretations but for what the words themselves actually say. I need to be able to bring someone else’s questions, concerns, and even culture to the sacred words of scripture.
I said the answer was simple and in some ways it is. In other ways it is a daily struggle that constantly brings me back to scripture and prayer. That is the invaluable lesson that ADC taught me, and what ADC can teach you.
Image credit: Alexander Fung
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Marijke (Rijke) Rombeek (MDiv, 2000) is an OMF (formerly the China Inland Mission) missionary in Tokyo, Japan. Rijke was raised in a Christian home near Ottawa, Ontario. She received a BA in World Religions from the University of Ottawa (1997) before coming to seminary at ADC. She has been serving with OMF since 2009 mostly in Japan, but also for a few years in Canada. She is a singer and a lover of stories and has training for both, but sharing God’s love continues to be the prime focus of her life.