Hans Bouwman, Japan - 9 - New Home Country

New Home Country

The education of missionaries’ children is one of the most difficult problems to be faced on the mission field. Often in prayer meetings the missionary’s name is mentioned, but may we be challenged not to forget to pray for this particular matter. For the missionaries there may be different options such as, a correspondence course, a native school, or if available a ‘foreign’ school—usually an American school. Whatever decision is made, it is never right to criticise a missionary for it, as he is trying to do what is best for his children. These children unknowingly sacrifice a lot because they live in a foreign country. On the other hand they also have the advantage of living in a different culture and speaking two or more languages. Since Dutch was spoken in our home, Japanese outside and in the assembly, and English in the American school in Tokyo, our children were raised in three languages. The disadvantage for our children was to be away from home in a boarding school. How difficult it was for a six-year-old to come out of a Dutch home into a completely American environment, unable to speak one word of English! However, children learn easily and naturally, and since our children got their school education in English, it was not long before it became their first language. By the time our oldest daughter Linda graduated from high school we faced another problem: What do we do with a Dutch girl, living in Japan, who graduated from an American High school? Because of further education, the normal thing to do would be to send the children back to the homeland. Since an American high school diploma is not recognized in Holland, it would be very difficult to find an entry-point into the Dutch school system, and it would have meant a loss of at least three years.

Back in 1975 we had received invitations to come over to Canada and the USA. We appreciated the kindness, but it
remained an exercise of prayer for us to arrive at the Lord’s will in this matter. There is a rich blessing in store for those who wait upon the Lord and never act in a hurry. Accordingly, we waited another two years, and assured of the Lord’s guidance we applied for immigration to Canada. It took some effort to get all the records together, but after we handed over the documents to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, we received the immigration papers within three months. When our second daughter Marion graduated from high school we made preparations for our journey to North America. It was quite exciting for us to travel to countries where we had never been. Together with Mr. and Mrs. Currie and two of their children we flew into Los Angeles, where our brother had made arrangements for us to buy a station wagon cheaply. This car served its purpose well in transporting a family of seven, together with all our luggage. On our way to Canada we were able to pass through some of the assemblies along the west coast, and in Salem, Oregon, I was privileged to preach the Gospel in English for the first time. Whether in English, Dutch or Japanese, there is no better message to proclaim!
On a beautiful sunny day in the beginning of August 1977, we crossed the border and arrived in the country of our adoption, where we were welcomed by some believers and guided to the Missionary Home in Burnaby, British Columbia. Though we had come as complete strangers, we were made very welcome by the believers, and we received so much genuine care that it was not difficult to feel at home right away. It has been our privilege to be with believers in assemblies where the presence of the Lord is felt and deeply appreciated. That is not to say that we found perfect assemblies in the new countries, for each assembly will be characterized by human weakness. Yet, we were impressed to see that the believers had a great dedication to the Lord in observing the Scriptural principles regarding gathering in the Lord’s Name, and there was also much zeal in preaching the Gospel in all the assemblies with which we became acquainted.

Since the assembly at Hilversum in Holland, which originally commended us to the Lord’s work, had ceased to exist, we were very thankful that assemblies in Canada and the USA were willing to re-commend us to the Lord’s work, and in 1979 we left
again for Japan to continue where we left off. This time, however, our family had shrunk since we left Linda and Marion behind in Canada, later followed by Carla, Monica and Robert after their graduation from the American high school in Tokyo. Eventually, our children’s marriages accumulated a total of five nationalities—an international family indeed!

Becoming Canadians
As we continued in our missionary work in Japan, we faced difficulty in keeping our Canadian Immigrant Status. With a ‘Returning Resident Permit’ we were only allowed to be out of the country for a maximum of two years at a time. We felt this to be a limitation in our work, and in order to solve this problem we decided to apply for Canadian citizenship. Although we requested the necessary documents from the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, we knew that we did not qualify for citizenship since we had not lived in Canada for the required number of consecutive years. When returning the documents, we included a letter addressed to the Minister of Immigration at Ottawa, explaining our circumstances as missionaries, and we politely asked for an exception in granting us the privilege of obtaining Canadian citizenship. Not long after, we received a reply in which we were asked to appear in a lawyer’s office in Vancouver. In the meantime we were advised to study some facts about Canada, which were contained in a booklet we received. When we sat down at the lawyer’s desk, he asked us about ten questions, and we gave the right answers except for the date of ‘Canada Day’, which I promptly set on July 4th instead of July 1st! We learned that our application for citizenship was not a normal procedure and that the Ministry of Immigration in Ottawa had to give special approval, and so we were asked to phone the Lawyer’s Office the next day at two o’clock in the afternoon. I remember the moment so well when we heard that approval had been granted. The ceremony took place about two weeks later. Since Holland does not allow dual citizenship, we lost our Dutch citizenship, but whether Dutch, Canadian or American, the citizenship which will count for eternity is our citizenship of Heaven!
“For our citizenship is in Heaven from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil.3:20).