Title: Utterly Amazed: Following the Call of God in Japan
Author: Miriam Davis
Genre: Memoir / Religion
Utterly Amazed is the memoir of an English teacher and missionary’s life experience working in Japan. As a young woman questioning her faith and future, Miriam Davis experienced what she interpreted as a personal and professional calling, and she set off to Japan to teach English as a second language. That decision led to a multiple-decades-long career. From first arriving in 1975 without knowing the language or cultural ways, to her permanent return to England in 2017, Davis takes the reader through a story of near constant change, challenge, dedication, introspection and transition.
Though no doubt of interest to Christian readers, especially those involved in cross-cultural work, the book is fully accessible for non-Christians as well. Brief explanations of church and mission life go far in helping others understand a context they may otherwise not be familiar with. Similarly, Davis does not delve too far into particulars of her faith or bible study, opting instead to focus on personal experiences, thoughts, prayers, and motivation for the work she is doing. Included at the end are a Glossary of Japanese words, a bibliography, and citations for her Bible references.
Each chapter focuses on a specific time in Davis’s life. Short vignettes introduce many people she worked with, taught, or coached in different capacities and allow a glimpse into life in Japan at different points in time. Through relevant Bible passages, poetry, and letters, the reader is brought into the relentless effort required of Davis’s work, but also the comfort she finds through signs that she is on the right path.
Davis’s voice is personable, sincere, and humorous. Her experiences of heartbreak, loss, and depression are told with vulnerability and sensitivity. Of particular interest may be the author’s description of life as a newcomer unable to understand the language, and therefore absolutely dependent on others for basic daily tasks. Cross-cultural faux pas and inadvertent miscommunications are included, of course, and conveyed with a lot of humor.
Despite the intimate nature of some passages, the reader is not brought into many specifics of the religious concepts Davis and her coworkers taught. Absent are more controversial topics that might have otherwise been too sensitive to mention. This may have simply been irrelevant to the story Davis wanted to tell, or it may have been a deliberate choice to avoid alienating those who disagree, to maintain the book’s appeal to the broadest possible readership. For some readers this may be a conspicuous omission, while others may not be bothered by it.
Utterly Amazed will no doubt be of interest to those contemplating, or involved in, cross-cultural missionary work, or to those who are interested in the history of religion in Japan. A broader audience may also find it appealing as a personal, thoughtful memoir of forging a life someplace unexpected and alien. Book clubs will find much to discuss, and the author has helpfully included questions for discussion at the end.
With Utterly Amazed, Miriam Davis has written a Christian memoir that is engaging and accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike. Through compelling vignettes, the reader participates in cross-cultural contemplations of how to live a good life, how to treat others, and life’s ultimate purpose. Intermingling thought and prayer, deep faith and introspection, Davis has created a unique and memorable memoir.
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