Into the Hope Giver

I grew up in a non-Christian home in Japan. Japan is a highly academically competitive society. It is the norm for students to be enrolled in regular school as well as cram schools that provide intensive education in academic subjects. The purpose behind such schools is to equip students for junior high, high school, and college entrance exams that are known to be fiercely competitive. Every school is ranked whether public or private. The names of high ranking schools on a resume automatically promised prestigious jobs and success. Thus, it made perfect sense for my parents to send me to cram school when I was still in the fifth grade. Ever since then until my junior year in high school, my daily schedule looked like this: I would get up at 7am, attend school until 4pm, do homework and eat dinner until 6pm, attend cram school until 10pm, do more homework until 3am, sleep for a few hours, and repeat the same cycle. I was the youngest in my family and always obedient to my parents. They never nagged me to study, but I felt the silent pressure to please them by excelling in my studies and fulfilling their desire to see me succeed. And I excelled at it. I scored the highest GPA in junior high. Even in the nationwide tests held by my cram school, I was consistently ranked within the top ten, obtaining many medals with my names carved on them. I felt guilty even to have a little fun and sacrificed my social life for the sake of studying. My confidence was grounded in my grades and the prospect of success in the future.

This bright future, however, suddenly collapsed as I was seized by depression at age sixteen. The fear of death constantly haunted me. I was scared of dealing with numbers along with many other things. I could not do math because I believed I would die if the answer turned out to be either four or nine, since they represent death and suffering in Japanese culture. I counted up all of my actions in daily life such as gargling, chewing, and combing hair, in order to avoid finishing them on the fourth or ninth count. I was ashamed that a straight A student would struggle with such basics of life. I was too ashamed to even tell my parents about what was happening to me. For a while I managed to keep the secret to myself, but eventually the truth came out. One day I broke down in tears before my mother, desperately crying out for help. Then she literally dragged me to a psychiatrist to get some help, but my last bit of pride made me resist being labeled as a mental patient who needs professional help. After about two hours of struggling, I finally gave in and met my psychiatrist. Somehow, I found her trustworthy and decided that I would follow her instructions. She placed me on a tranquilizer and antidepressant for the next two years, and restricted my schedule to only two to three hours of being out a day. It was inevitable that I would fall behind other students. I barely passed my classes or advanced to the senior year. I was nowhere near being able to pass college entrance exams. My future was hopeless. And that hopelessness turned into devastation when my teacher stabbed me with piercing words I will never forget: “Only you can save yourself.” I screamed in my heart, “I can’t even carry on my daily life. How in the world can I help myself!”

While I impatiently waited for recovery, my mother also journeyed toward her own recovery. She was oppressed with guilt for causing my depression, and desperately needed liberation. She sought to unload her burden through secret visits to a Buddhist monk, a cult leader, and other religious institutions but to no avail. Many tried to exploit her vulnerability by demanding money. They were manipulative and unhelpful at best. Without finding answers in any of them, she ended up in a church. There people prayed for her and showed genuine concern for her situation. After hearing the gospel, she humbly accepted that her sin was forgiven by the blood of Christ. She was at last delivered from the haunting sense of guilt. Soon after she was saved, she took me to church. As I sang hymns, tears began rolling down my eyes and I felt as though I was being cleansed. After service, one of the elders of the church approached me and pointed me to 1 Peter 5:10 which reads, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I thought to myself that if I followed this God, He would take care of me. I would no longer have to toil to save myself out of the pit. I could simply surrender my life to Him because the future that He holds for me shall be good no matter what it might be. For the first time in a long while, I lived in hope again. But it was not a frail hope based on performance; rather it was the eternal hope in all-sovereign Christ. He saved me out of darkness and invited me to walk in his light.

More than a decade has passed since the initial encounter with my Savior. I am forever thankful for what Christ has done in my life. Now my husband and I are both in seminary, preparing to go to Japan as missionaries. Despite the common image of Japan as a wealthy, safe country with decent family values, state-of-the-art technology and fashion, its spiritual state is destitute. It marks the highest suicide rate among advanced countries, double the rate of the United States. Academic pressure for students is higher than ever, producing depression in many teenagers. Economic crisis entailed unemployment among middle age men whose entire life is work. Many of them quickly resort to suicide because they do not know any better that life is more than work. Japan desperately needs Christ. Because Christ once gave me hope, I am returning to Japan with the same hope of Christ. God has delivered me from hopelessness to transform me to be a hope giver in Him.

Miho Buchholtz, January 2009


New Purpose

The summer at the age of sixteen brought me to a crossroads of purpose. Even though I became a Christian when I was five after talking and praying with my mom, God’s importance in my life had gradually diminished by high school. Through the course of several critical events, my purpose and direction in life began to drastically shift.

Up to this point, “success” was a driving factor for my life. My subjective expression of success was driven by popularity. Fitting in with the right crowd was crucial to me. However, no matter how many friends I had or cool parties I attended, I began to realize how fleeting and fickle popularity can be, as well as what it can lead you to become. I began to sense that this purpose and drive would not ultimately satisfy.

My idea of “success” also had a clear vision for my future life. Already I sensed a gift for math and an interest in business, which led me to dream about going to a good college to secure a good job to have a great, comfortable life. I somehow felt I had the drive and spirit to achieve some level of success in my career and earn a lot of money. A nice house and car would complete the picture.

This vision of “success” began to crumble that summer. Through hanging out with the wrong crowd and experiencing the consequences of this association, I began to question what I was doing and how I had got to this place. By working a part-time job, I began to experience the joy of having money and being able to buy music, clothes, and things for my car. Yet, no matter how much I acquired, it never seemed to be enough. These two strands came together to reveal how my image of “success” was lacking something.

One verse kept coming back to me, as if to haunt me. In Matthew 6:24, it talks about not being able to serve two masters….God and money. Reading it repeatedly revealed how convicting and true it was. The missing piece of my purpose in life lacked God. Somehow my instincts told me that no matter how many more CDs I bought, how nicer of a car I purchased, or how big a house I ended up in would ultimately satisfy. Having friends and possessions are not bad things necessarily, but poor drivers for our lives.

It was at a summer church camp in Missouri when everything came to a climax. I felt God call me into ministry by giving my life to Him and following wherever He leads. Whether it would be a lonely and poor path or a comfortable one was not the issue, but if I would be willing to follow God’s purpose for my life instead of my own creation.

That moment proved to be a turning point in my life. I began to step up and lead in my youth group. The following steps brought me to study at the Moody Bible Institute, missions in France, seminary at Gordon-Conwell in Boston, further study in Edinburgh, and Japan in the future. God has repeatedly reconfirmed this path for my life, as well as refine the focus of this purpose.

This new purpose has not always been easy or simple. It has brought me through times of living on a meager missionary budget, isolated from my closest friends by living in a foreign country, as well as watching friends around me purchase homes and cars while I drove thirdhand cars. Yet, I have learned like the Apostle Paul what it means to live with much or little and still find contentment. Following God’s purpose for my life has led me away from achieving the worldly standard of success. But, this path has brought with it joys and experiences that I would not trade for any coveted job or secure lifestyle. Having had the opportunity to speak or preach in half a dozen countries and across a dozen states in America would never have crossed my mind back in high school. Seeing lives changed and godly choices made by those around me is more thrilling than any idea of “success” I would have conceived of all those years ago.

Looking ahead at the journey God has in store for me, I realize that God’s purpose for my life does not mean that I am missing out on the good life, but leading a life that is truly living. Just as hard as it is to imagine how radical God’s new purpose to my life at the age of sixteen would be, I anticipate where His purpose will continue to lead me in the days ahead.

Grant Buchholtz- November 2009


  1. Happy to read your testimony. Wonderfull what God does! so nice to meet you soon Jean

  2. Good stuff from God there. Ive been a minor japonphile for a few years and my mother-in-law told me she supports ye so i went for a look-see at your website. Glad to hear that God is moving in Japan. We live in Dublin, if you’re planing to come this way please let us know.

    God Bless.

  3. Hello, This is Aki From IBF in Japan.

    I am very glad to read both of your powerful testimonies!! How Awesome to see what God does in people’s lives!!! Just so cool. I am very happy to know that He is leading you two to minister in Japan!! How Awesome that is and encouraging to many people in Japan!!! I could not really speak with you much during the time in Japan, but hope to chat with you two to get to know one another near future!!


  4. Your testimonies were inspiring!

    My wife and I were missionaries to Japan many years ago in Osaka (’84-’86)
    We are now pastoring in Dearborn, MI May God bless you greatly. Came across your web site quite randomly.

    Michael and Penny Ewert

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