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Heart of the weeping missionary

How might our communities be changed if we shed tears of compassion for the lost?

Heart of the weeping missionary

Busy shoppers in Tokyo (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP)

A while ago, while interviewing Cynthia Ruble, an American missionary in Japan, I asked her what were her biggest challenges. I knew it was a personal question—but I didn’t expect her to start tearing up. As she recollected the helplessness and anguish of the people she serves, Ruble wiped her eyes and said, “It’s just so, so, so sad, some of these stories. ... These people have a lot of misery. Japan is a very wealthy country, but it’s full of unhappiness.”

Ruble is a 55-year-old single woman living in a foreign country with a 10-year-old adopted son who has Down syndrome. In secular eyes, she’s slid a long way from her previous position as the vice president of the second-largest advertising agency in Atlanta. But looking back, Ruble says she led a “tremendously sinful lifestyle” with little hope or purpose. After a divorce, she lost all taste for her career, her sports car, and her fancy clothes, and she wandered through life searching for meaning until she found Christ at age 35. It was a revolutionary moment for Ruble: Her life, she knew, now belonged to God, along with her desires and dreams. Three years after her born-again experience, she flew to Japan as a missionary and later founded Life Hope Network, a volunteer nonprofit that offers support to Japanese women with post-abortion trauma or crisis pregnancies.

More than a decade after moving to Japan, Ruble has rarely seen in her mission field the kind of radical personal transformation that she herself experienced, and that breaks her heart. It may take years for a person in Japan to finally profess faith in Christ, and even then, when the person’s desires don’t seem to change, when he returns to performing ancestral rites or praying at the shrine, Ruble wonders if he was ever truly converted in the first place.

Courtesy of Life Hope Network

Cynthia Ruble and her adopted son, Micah (Courtesy of Life Hope Network)

And so she weeps: Why? Why can’t people see the supreme value and beauty of Christ? Where is their desperation for God? And yet she sees that these people are suffering and longing for something more. As one by one her Japanese friends age and die, Ruble grieves: “It’s heartbreaking that so many people are going to hell, even though they’ve been told the truth. One day they’ll remember and regret not taking the truth seriously.”

Ruble reminded me of my father, who’s a Korean missionary to the Chinese people. I was 4 years old when he followed God’s calling into full-time missions, and I remember growing up in a tiny studio at a Bible college in Singapore, playing hopscotch and Power Rangers with other missionary kids from all over the world. I remember my father frequently telling me, “Today, 151,600 people died in this world. How many of them are now in God’s arms in heaven?” And his voice would always break, because we knew that, most likely, the majority of these souls were not with God. Heaven is for real—and so is hell.

It’s a sobering and terrifying fact that many of us Christians (especially me) somehow forget. We forget it in our daily mundane activities, forget it in the way we read the news, engage in politics, and interact with our neighbors. We forget it in the way we choose and perform our jobs, date and marry, and raise our kids. We even forget it when we worship and pray—and that’s when I notice my own relationship with God turning stale, because by then all I’m doing is murmuring, murmuring, murmuring a stream of consciousness without awe and wonder for my undeserved salvation from eternal damnation.

I used to tell my father to stop being so dramatic. I have so often seen him weep at the pulpit—with sobs and trembling words and tears rolling down to his collar—as he preached about the masses who each day move one step closer to hell, about the sleeping self-professed Christians who still shuffle within the cell of religious works and lifeless rituals. I used to call my father a Weeping Jeremiah and admonish him, “Abba, you’re depressing the heck out of everyone. Will you stop it?”

But I later realized that Biblical characters also wept such tears: Isaiah, Hosea, Daniel, Nehemiah, Paul, Peter. None of these, though, dwelled on their tears. They cried, they repented, and then through their tears they preached the truth, even if their heart-wrenched words pinged off deaf ears. They also continued rejoicing, knowing they were sharing the afflictions and glory of Christ. (Jesus, too, wept over the stiff necks of His people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [Matthew 23:37].) But I wonder: If there are an estimated 2.2 billion Christians in this world, how many of us share this kind of lament and joy?

I remember singing the worship song “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters at my church one recent Sunday. As 300 congregants from all ethnicities and ages and professions sang in one voice, “Shout it! Go on and scream it from the mountains, go on and tell it to the masses, that He is God!” I felt chills shiver down to my bones. 

Imagine! What it would be like if that were true—that us members of this one church in the heart of Hollywood would scatter out to our relative social and professional webs singing and crying out “Hallelujah.” Imagine! What it would be like if we had the weeping missionary’s heart like Ruble’s and my father’s. What would happen? How would our city, our nation, and our world change? Somehow, I can’t imagine they would stay the same.


  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sat, 01/06/2018 06:39 am

    On the tears of the saints and blood of the saints so is the church built.  Let us pray for an awakening to happen in Japan. Recently, I was there and did see the toil of missionaries working to bring Christ to the lost. It is a thankless job where years of service may just see a few believers come to Christ.  But I am excited to see what a great God will do to penatrate the darkness and bring the true light  opening the eyes of the lost and sowing real joy in the lives of the people! Japan is due for revival so let us diligently pray for one! Put it down on your New Years resolutions list to pray for Japan!