By Eileen Barkman in Japan — My idyllic image of a week just “chilling” in the nature of Hokkaido hit reality within minutes of our arrival. Choosing a vacation spot on the internet has its pros and cons. While we WERE at a “cozy” hotel in a remote mountain village, we certainly hadn’t anticipated relaxing on our lawn chairs in the middle of a gravel parking lot! And no one had told us about all the recent bear sightings. We had reserved this place for a week! Had we made a big mistake?

Although our plan was to just relax, take walks and read, we had to adjust our expectations to fit the reality of a village of 100 people and very few places to relax comfortably. At the community center (open three days a week), we found an announcement inviting everyone to the summer festival to be held that evening.

So we joined the fun – food booths, games for the children, a live band of local musicians using traditional instruments, an amazing display of fireworks, and lots of warm and friendly visiting.

And then it happened – a lady ran up to me and said with a big, beautiful grin, “I’m a Christian!” She couldn’t stop smiling. She said she’d heard from someone in the group that we were Christian missionaries and she just had to meet us. We acted like long-lost family members who had at last been reunited!

“Monica” had been born in this village, then moved to Tokyo as a child. That’s where she met Jesus. About 8 or 9 years ago, she sensed God directing her to move back to her hometown, arriving with very little money and a carload of sheep wool. Sheep wool? Yes, she didn’t have a clue why, but someone had given her this “gift.” Believing that God wanted her to use what she had, Monica learned how to spin the wool to make crafts. She has opened up a little shop where she sells her handiwork and teaches others to make crafts from wool. She is boldly sharing her faith, seeking to be a light in a dark place.

Monica’s wool art.

The three mornings that we had remaining in our stay, we visited Monica in her shop. Being the only Christian in the village, she was hungry for fellowship. (The closest church is over an hour away.) And what a delight it was to sing hymns, read and discuss Scripture, pray, and worship our Lord Jesus together!

Our week at this “idyllic” vacation spot passed quickly. Yes, we found many delightful things to do, even if it meant driving an hour one way down from the mountain village to the valley of dairy farms and fields of hay, grain and vegetables. There in the valley villages, we found some lovely flower gardens and quiet parks. We sampled some of the most delicious food ever, played park golf, did some bird watching, and enjoyed times of just sitting and reading (NOT in a parking lot!). But my husband and I both agree that one of the biggest highlights of our vacation was our times of fellowship with Monica.

Had we made a big mistake in choosing this vacation spot? Not from God’s perspective. He combined our need for rest and Monica’s need for Christian fellowship and gave all three of us hearts filled with joy and thanksgiving.

More on missionary vacations

Why I don’t talk about my vacation: Vacation is something ministry people don’t take very often, and when they do, they often worry about what people will think. If global workers don’t take vacations, though, it’s disastrous.