Missions / Student.Go

Student.Go 20-year anniversary

By Lucas Newell

I served as the first Student.Go intern in Japan under the Foushees while they were in Tokyo at language school. I worked in tandem with several churches and their preschools/kindergartens as an assistant teacher and church intern. This was a period of discovery for everyone involved, and the responsibilities shifted from week to week as I learned cultural differences and grappled with speaking Japanese.

My parents were part of the first batch of missionaries CBF commissioned. To be honest, I never intended to do a Student.Go internship. “My life has had enough of the mission field,” is what I thought at the time. But Student.Go seemed to appear at the right time. I had just fought my way into a last-minute study abroad in Japan when my boss at CBF of Georgia, where I had taken a part-time job, mentioned the Foushees might be looking for a Student.Go intern. Some emails later and it was snappily arranged. I would be the first Student.Go intern in Japan.

Little did I know that the cogs had been set in motion years before.

It was during the bi-annual CBF General Assembly that I met a Japanese pastor named Yasushi Tomono. We talked a bit, and I left with some CDs his church recorded and a card. I briefly listened to the CDs and went on my way. I was surprised when I learned that he would be my primary contact for the internship, and that his Church in Tokiwadai would be my home base as I bounced around churches and kindergartens in the greater Tokyo area.

At the time, the Foushees were in the middle of an intensive semester of language school, and their long eight-hour days of study prevented them from being able to be as present as they wanted. The pastor I just so happened to have met some years before suddenly became my supervisor and mentor as I blindly navigated life in Japan. 

How could I have known that the following period as a Student.Go intern would impact me in ways I cannot thank everyone enough for?

I had never been a teacher in any capacity. There were a lot of firsts and anxieties. Were the kids gaining anything from my presence? Was I being a good role model for the students? I often felt like I wasn’t doing anything right, and the fears of missing cultural queues kept pushing that feeling to the front of my brain. That’s where a little troublemaker, call him Calvin, came in. 

Calvin did not want to participate in class activities. At all. At the start of each activity, he would dash to a corner of the classroom, ignoring both teachers and classmates as they tried to include him. I was no exception. Over the course of the internship, I would slowly learn more about Calvin. It wasn’t fruitful at first. I would try to sit next to him in the corner, but he would get up and dash to another. Try to speak to him and he would turn his head. But what Calvin didn’t know is that I was as stubborn as he was.

Perhaps I saw a little too much of my younger self in him to leave him alone! Regardless, eventually my stubbornness would pay off. 

He started to open up to me. A response here and there. Dragging me to play a game, first just with him, and later with his classmates. By the end of my internship, he was participating in activities with everyone else. Occasionally he would still retreat to a corner, but that was far and in-between compared to just mere weeks before! 

While that rascal may never know it, he gave me the confidence that I could make a positive impact as a teacher despite all my shortcomings. A confidence that would later allow myself to be a teacher, a profession I had been known to actively avoid even the notion of doing.

Five years later, as I sit under my kotatsu (an electrically heated coffee table with a quilt and my favorite winter friend) writing this retrospective in my little apartment situated in the alps of central Japan, I am hit with the realization that had it not been for the people I met back then, I wouldn’t be in Japan.

And so, I selfishly take to this final paragraph to offer my thanks. To the Ishihara’s. Thank you for inviting me into your family. To the youth minister, Yamashita Makoto. Thank you for your gentleness in helping me and the youth you ministered to. Your empathy knows no bounds. To Tomono Sensei and family. Thank you for the kindness you shared, and the infinite patience you showed me when I didn’t deserve it. Like that the time I left the BBQ early without realizing how rude it was. That was really embarrassing. Or the multiple times I was late in writing a speech or finishing a drawing. I was a mess. To the staff of each preschool and kindergarten. Thank you for helping me along in classes when I was lost. Thank you for letting me take part in the field trips, for allowing me to lead an art class. For patience with my inability to speak Japanese. For the opportunity to make use of my passion for illustration. To the church members and leaders, thank you for your welcoming arms. To the kids that made every day a joy no matter how tired I was: Thank you. I hope you all are growing up into wonderful men and women.

You all saved me from giving up on my dream of moving to Japan.

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