Marina Gruenhage quotes Mother Teresa: "Each of us has a mission to fulfill, a mission of love."
Marina took this statement to heart when she become a missionary 30 years ago. She said: "I believe everyone's greatest longing is to be truly loved unconditionally. My mission is to go to those with emptiness in their lives, those who feel there is something not complete, who are looking for answers. I want to share with others what I have found. It is my way of life."
Her story tells of a couple in a bicultural marriage who want their lives to achieve meaning and fulfillment. Both of them, separately, have had major troubles, and have come through. Both believe their religion saved them when they needed it, and they devote themselves now to succoring others.
Marina named herself when she was 4 years old. Her parents called her Maria. She was born an only child in the north of Germany in 1951. Her mother, a nurse, was 40 when Marina arrived, and her father, a Methodist preacher retired from banking, was 17 years older than her mother.
"We moved to a small, narrow-minded town in Hessen," Marina said. "I was glad to leave that town as soon as I finished high school. I studied psychology, pedagogy and sociology at the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Frankfurt. While I was a student I was involved with a rehabilitation program for young drug addicts. As I searched for a purpose to my life, I experimented with political activities as well as Eastern philosophies and religions."
Marina says that a "miraculous and life-changing encounter with the love of God" turned her into a missionary. She left Germany for mission posts, at first in Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. There she was trained as a child-care overseer and teacher. She worked also as an illustrator and layout artist for Christian literature.
From Europe Marina moved to India, where she met Mother Teresa. "It was at the inauguration of one of the Bombay hospitals," she said. "That day we had a lot of music, and set up songs and dances and fun for the children." Then she went to the Philippines. Her team there was assigned to "uplift the moral standard of military personnel." In 1987 she was invited to Japan, where she met her husband, Koji Sasaki.
Koji founded the organization Side by Side International. The son of a rice farmer in Akita Prefecture, Koji came from a home broken by alcohol and violence. When he was small he was passed around to relatives and neighbors to look after. A scarred teenager, he came on his own to Tokyo, where he found employment at a restaurant. In 1983 he joined a missionary team, and two years later established SbSI. After he and Marina married, they began a ministry for the homeless and an outreach program.
To keep expenses down, Koji and Marina and like-minded people who have been recruited into SbSI live and work together in a community. Marina calls it a family circus, but adds: "It's a concept like that of the early Christians. Being a small team allows us to be flexible and to act quickly." For many years they have been working for the relief of Cambodia. They reported: "In 1998 the whole country had only two ambulances. Since then, SbSI has supplied eight more, also medical supplies and equipment, computers for schools, orphanages and hospitals, and many other needed items." In this work, SbSI has cooperated closely with Bernard Krisher, well known for his outstanding initiatives on behalf of the devastated country.
Martina faced her personal crisis six years ago when she became very ill. "I was quite desperate," she said. "It was a big ordeal. I had to discipline myself to keep my mind on hope. At one point when I was in hospital, a little poem came to me. Later I entered it in a competition, and it was published. For my health I am now following an alternative, holistic method, and try to remain positive."
SbSI members dedicate themselves to making the world a better place. They say their hearts and homes are open for those looking for counsel, encouragement or simply companionship. They comfort the lonely, cook for around 2,000 homeless people every month, and prepare humanitarian aid shipments to send abroad. They aim to build a network of compassionate people who communicate, cooperate and coordinate their efforts for the benefit of those in need. They labor, they say, "to put love into action."The Japan Times: July 12, 2003
I don't want to put my father on a pedestal. He would not like that. Self-effacing as he was, I cannot remember him ever seeking honor for himself. If someone praised him he'd always point to His Creator and gave Him the glory.
Now - many years after his death - I have realized what a jewel of a dad I had. When he was still around, and especially during my adolescent years, I didn't treasure him as I should; I assumed that all dads were as kind and sacrificial as was mine. I didn't appreciate his gentle and long-suffering nature, nor did I respect his convictions; instead I put him down many times - insensitive to the pain I caused him.
Papa, now you know how sorry I am for hurting you so.
Now you know how proud I am of you and how immensely grateful for the way you effected my life.
Father was born in 1893. He could have been my grandfather: he was so old when I came along. When he was seventeen, he received Jesus as his Savior and decided to share Christ's love with everyone he met. Reluctantly he entered the First World War as a young soldier; he would have preferred to save lives rather than take them. Despite being faced with frequent opposition he talked about Jesus at every opportunity. A few of the men made it their sport to mock him and ridicule his faith, and sometimes they were quite mean.
"On one occasion", he recounted, "One of the officers grabbed my Bible to look for a certain verse he and his companions wanted to tease me with."
They were not able to locate the verse; instead they stumbled across his prayer list, which they read eagerly. To their astonishment they found their names written there. Sobered and humbled these tough, proud men returned his Bible and apologized. From that moment on they didn't tease him again.
He told us about one of his superior officers who had been part of the mocking crowd. He'd often crack jokes at my dad's expense; however on the battle field he seemed to look for shelter close to my father.
"Why are you always hiding behind me?" Papa asked him once, "I'm not bullet proof!"
This time the officer spoke sincerely and without scorn, "There is just so much peace around you," he acknowledged, "Somehow when I'm near you I feel safe."
My father's voice filled with emotion as he talked about the barely nineteen year old soldier who panicked and got caught deserting before a major battle. He was to be immediately executed, but Papa begged for his life.
"Please, only give me a little time to talk to him", he reasoned with the officer in charge. Reluctantly his request was granted.
Papa told the young lad about Jesus, the Man Who faced his fears and gave His life for us, and they prayed together. The young soldier then marched bravely into the battle, which he knew would cost him his life. They found him shot dead with his face baring the most peaceful expression and a tract on his chest given to him by my father. The verse on it read:
"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deut. 33:27
After the war was over, Papa studied to become a pastor, but voluntarily gave up his dream to rescue his parents from a devastating financial crisis caused by his own brother and sister.
With a family and five children to support he was not able to resume his studies.
This didn't hinder him to continue to share God's love wherever he went. He founded a Sunday school and regularly led Christian fellowships at his local church, at many occasions standing in for the pastor. Visiting the sick, the outcast, and the lonely was one of his favorite pastimes.
I was the youngest and only child from Dad's second marriage. We adored one another and spent countless precious moments together.
When I grew older and turned my back on God's love and the faith of my parents, Papa went through many heart breaks. I barely communicated with him during my teen years, as I didn't want to hear any of the sermons I expected him to preach to me. My mother already preached enough I concluded.
So Papa opted to remain silent, while Mom and I argued a lot. Dad would tell her: "Why do you talk so much with your daughter? It might be better to talk with God about your daughter!"
Sometimes my heart cringed at the way he looked at me with eyes full of sorrow. Our sweet father-daughter relationship had faded away, and his hurt was hard to bear. But I didn't want to admit how miserable I, too, felt inside and put on a tough front.
Papa talked to God about me, and God listened to him: At the age of 21 I experienced a miraculous transformation in my life, when, like a prodigal daughter, I returned to Jesus and asked him to take care of me. He answered my call and gave me the love and fulfillment I had been longing for so long.
Papa was so glad! What a joyful reunion we had! Mom told me how over the years he had not ceased to pray for me desperately and with strong determination:
"Lord, help her to find You, no matter what the price!"
Thank you, Papa, for holding on for me and for helping me to find true happiness!
When Father went to Heaven a few years later, there was a small newspaper article published about him. It said: "It's a rare thing to encounter such heartfelt kindness and patience as Mr. Gruenhage showed to others. Those who met him could feel that 'he had been with Jesus' (Acts 4:13b)."
It never ceases to amaze me to what lengths our Heavenly Father is willing to go to make His children on earth happy. He reads our thoughts and knows our heart's desires. If we could only have the faith of a little child, He would be able to pour on us more than we dare to dream!
One such experience happened to me when I was five years old. From a very young age I missed having a grandmother in my life, as both sets of grand parents had died before I was born. My parents were already advanced in years when they had me; that was why.
I grew up with my elder sister's sons, two of which were a little older than me, and the third was only one year younger. We had tons of fun together, but then my parents and I moved to another town, and I remember some lonely play times under the trees across the street from our new home.
Occasionally passing by where I played was an older lady who gave me the sweetest smile. I don't remember which one of us started the smiling business, but we soon began greeting each other with big broad grins and a cheery hello each time we met.
It didn't take long until we became engaged in animated conversations. Our little encounters turned into special times we looked forward to.
I found out that her name was Mrs. Engel, which translated from German means Angel. Over the next few months a sweet friendship developed between the two of us, which I often chatted about with my parents.
Christmas was approaching, and as usual mom baked the Christmas Stollen* a few weeks before the feast. While I was helping her to stir the batter, she asked me: "What would you like for Christmas this year?"
I listed some of the items I liked, such as a stuffed animal, a buggy for my doll, etc. Finally I said with a sigh: "I wished I had a grandmother who could visit us for Christmas!"
Then I added wistfully: "Mrs. Engel would make such a nice grandma!"
A few days before Christmas I approached my parents with a question: "Do you think it would be ok to ask Mrs. Engel if she would like to be my grandmother?"
After giving it some thought mom and dad both agreed that it wouldn't hurt to ask. I was both nervous and excited.
Next time I met my new friend I shyly ventured out: "Mrs. Engel, I always wanted to have a grandmother, and I asked Jesus to give me one. Then I met you, and I really like you! Would you mind if I'd call you grandma?"
To my great relief Mrs. Engel was delighted. Her kindly face broke out into a big sunshine smile with little wrinkles pointing like rays in all directions. Her shiny silver hair might her look even brighter, and I jumped for joy when she responded:
"I've wanted to suggest exactly the same thing! By all means, I'd love to be your grandma!" We hugged each other profusely.
On Christmas day Grandmother Engel visited us, and our little family was complete. She took us into her heart as we took her into ours. For the next twelve years she was as faithful and loving a grandmother as one could wish for. She cherished and spoilt me, and never forgot to do something special for my birthday and for Christmas. When I was ten her daughter gave birth to her first child, and Mrs. Engel's grandmotherly duties expanded. She completely included me in her care for little Christina, even asking me to be the baby's godmother!
Grandmother Engel - a true angel sent to me by Jesus as a most treasured Christmas present - returned to her heavenly Home when I was seventeen. I will never forget her, nor the love the Lord showed me through His special gift. All we need to do is to ask and to receive, and often He brings the answers to our prayers right to our doorstep!*a fruit-cake made from yeast, which has rum and "marzipan" in it
JAPAN, HERE I COME! Full of eager anticipation, I boarded the plane in Manila, en route to my new assignment. Coming from a hot and sunny climate, I shivered when arriving in Tokyo on a cool, bleak October day. It seemed that the reserved reactions of some of the dear inhabitants of this land reflected the chilliness of the autumn weather. I was a little concerned as to whether I would be able to carry out my dream of sharing God's love and His message of hope with the people there.
Then on a visit to one of our outreach posts I met Koji, a young Japanese man who had been witnessed to by our missionary Family a few years earlier, received Jesus, and joined the Family International full time soon after. We began working together, and one time when out on a cold winter's day, he compassionately took my freezing hand and put it in his coat pocket. That little gesture touched me so that I could not forget it. I knew I had a friend.
And friendship was all I expected then. I was 36 years old and had successfully evaded all opportunities to get married, always unsure whether I was ready to commit myself for the rest of my life. After several heartbreaks and disappointments, I gave up my dream that one day a prince would come along. Instead of praying to find a husband, in my prayers I told Jesus that I would be content with a friend I could be close to.
I appreciated Koji as a dear friend, but thought it unlikely for our relationship to ever go beyond that. He was nine years younger than me; our cultural background and upbringing were totally different; we barely could speak each other's language; he had dropped out of school at the age of 15, whereas I had pursued long years of higher education. When he started to confide in me about some of his troubles and trials, I felt like his big sister, responsible to comfort and encourage him. It was far-fetched to think that he could fit the picture of the glorious and mighty Prince Charming I had dreamed of at one time.
But that didn't matter anymore, because I had determined that for too long I had looked for someone to make me happy. From now on I was going to look for someone whom I could make happy.
Koji remarked later about this period in our lives: "I thought you were beautiful-and a lot more spiritual than me! Out of my reach, in fact. I didn 't expect you to ever be attracted to me!" He compared himself to the frog in the old fairy tale who turned into a prince when the princess kissed him!
I began to spend more of my time off with Koji, at first because I felt he needed someone to share his heart with, but soon because I enjoyed his company very much. I noticed with surprise how much I missed him and his gentle manner when he was not around. And yes, I finally kissed him! However, he didn't turn into my prince right away. In fact, he was wondering which one of the several ladies who adored him should become his wife, and told me, his "big sister," all about it-having not the slightest idea that I was falling in love with him!
To top it off, one of the women in question, a single mother, often talked to me about her affectionate feelings for Koji. With a romantic twinkle in her eye she would mention her hopes to marry him and that he would be a father to her children. Koji was inclined that way too. "Maybe I will marry her," he told me. "She is a sweet girl, and she does need someone to help her with the kids."
At those words, my not-so-carefully guarded heart went to pieces again! His loving kindness and noble motives impressed me so much that I loved and desired him even more! What a fierce battle I went through to willingly let go of him for the sake of someone else in need. I asked Jesus to help me to leave the whole matter in His hands, telling myself that she did need him more than me, so she should have him.
But God had other plans. He was about to show me that He gives the very best to those who leave the choices up to Him. As I decided to trust the Lord for the outcome of this situation, He brought about His solution. The single mom was offered an opportunity to join a very caring team of missionaries in a neighboring country, as her stay in Japan came to a close since her visa could not be extended. In her new home the welfare and education of her children were well provided for. Receiving all the help she needed made it possible for her to become part of a program to encourage hospitalized children with long-term sicknesses on a regular basis. She was happy and fulfilled!
Around the same time, I went on a trip to a neighboring country. It was then that Koji realized how much I meant to him. He anxiously awaited my return, praying desperately for me to come back! "I told the Lord," he said, "that if He would let you come to Japan once more, I would ask you to marry me, so that you'd never have to leave again!"
We got married that same summer, 13 years ago. Koji has indeed turned into my Prince Charming; the more I get to know him, the more sure I am of it. I have discovered how truly golden his heart is, as he goes about giving a helping hand to those who need him. He has shown me how to relate to the Japanese, bringing them the Lord's message of love in a way tailored especially for them.
He had a troubled childhood, growing up with an alcoholic father, having both of his parents desert him, being forced to start working at an early age. Yet he didn't allow all this to embitter him, but rather to serve as a springboard to a life of sacrificial service for those in need-the poor, the orphaned, the homeless.
When I was seriously sick in the hospital for three months, he spent every spare moment by my bedside. He never holds it against me when I get angry, impatient, or make mistakes, but always forgives and forgets.
Koji is more than a Prince Charming-much more. He has taught me that dreams can indeed come true and that it is possible to live happily ever after. For the deepest magic is love, and its power is greater than any differences or obstacles.
© 2004 Marina Helene Gruenhage