In Japanese there is a word, senpai, which is translated as senior, superior, upperclassman, elder. It is hard to define in one English word. Yes, we have people at work who have been on the job longer than us, who are more experienced than us, people at school who are a grade or more ahead of us.
One of the meanings I think should be part of senpai is mentor. Although, in Japan, that is not always part of the definition, it can be. My middle school English student who just started tennis club talks about her senpais who are teaching her about tennis and being part of the group. Those who live in Japan and understand the culture even better than I do know that this word is used often and has a wide range of meanings.
Today, though, I am using it to describe a couple who have been an incredible help to me as a missionary, especially after I moved to Osaka. Doug and Sharon Woyke arrived in Japan the same week I was born. Yep, they have been here that long! They have had a wide variety of ministry experiences which adds to their wisdom.
I had the opportunity to work with them at the Kongo Bible Church for a year. Then they went on home assignment for a year and entrusted the ministry to Paul Ewing and myself. During that year, though, I got to observe their ways of interacting with the church people and the community, their ways of interacting with the mission family, and even got to travel with them.
(Here we are on the Great Wall of China!)
Today they returned to the U.S. The portion of their journey that includes ministering directly in Japan has concluded. They are now moving on to the next step. As I reflected on the past few years we have been working directly together here in southern Osaka, I found they have impacted my life more than I even realized-and I will probably continue to discover more areas of impact as time goes by!
A large group of people took time out of the middle of their day in the middle of the week to go to the airport to see them off. We had a lovely time of chatting, prayer and lots of hugs and tears. God has been glorified through the ministry of this senpai couple. They will be greatly missed! We are so thankful to have had the privilege of serving God together with them. I look forward to how God will use them in the next phase of ministry.
Thank you, Doug and Sharon!