Guided by Signs from Above

My path up to this point has been truly supported by the prayers of many. I wholeheartedly believe I would not be where I am today without Jesus Christ’s guidance.

I am a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where I earned my Ph.D. in linguistics.

My Prayers Answered in Mysterious Ways

When graduating from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, in 2008, I was not sure what to do from there. I happened to find a program to study abroad in Japan and was accepted to Hokkaido University of Education.

Later that summer I attended a young men’s meeting of Makuya in search of answers on whether studying abroad was truly the right decision for me. Before going to the meeting I received a call from a scholarship committee member in Japan suggesting that they might grant me an award, one that I had previously rejected. At the meeting I prayed hard with the thought that if I were to receive the scholarship, I would accept it as a sign that going to Japan was the right decision. A few days later I was notified that I had received the scholarship. This was one of the few times I had experienced answered prayers.

I ended up staying in Japan for two more years after my studies, and I taught English in the small town of Oumu-town in northern Hokkaido. Afterward I was led to Illinois, then Pittsburgh, for my graduate studies. I have no doubt that each step had been paved by prayer and guidance from God.

The Nurturing of My Soul

I grew up in Alaska, and Makuya meetings were regularly held at my house on Sundays. From the time I was in middle school I had to attend each weekly meeting—but it was not with joy. Had I not participated in the meetings my mother would have thrown down the hammer; thus, I attended— reluctantly at times.

As an adult when I moved to places located far from the nearest Makuya, I slept in on Sundays as often as I liked for the first time in my life.

One Sunday, however, I had an opportunity to go to Sapporo and decided to also visit Sapporo Makuya. It had been a long time since I had attended a Sunday meeting.

As I sat in the meeting room hearing the first hymn, my eyes filled with tears. I was at such peace being in that holy atmosphere. I realized at that point how blessed I was to have grown up in such a holy environment. All those Sunday meetings and prayers of my teen years were moments that had truly nurtured my soul, and though my mind had at times been in different places, I realized Christ had always been by my side.

My Inspiration

Embedded in all my research is the inspiration I draw from my friend Monty Dickson. Monty and I were accepted to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program in 2009 and became language teachers. Monty, who was assigned to Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, lost his life in the tsunami that destroyed the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. That morning Monty was asked by a friend to translate a phrase from Japanese to English. Monty wrote it on a slip of paper: “There is nothing as beautiful as dedicating oneself for a cause” (Koan’s Torch, by Ryotaro Shiba).

I truly believe that dedicating oneself for a cause is a quality Monty had and something I draw inspiration and motivation from in my research. Throughout the past year while writing my dissertation, I could truly feel my friend’s presence and received much strength from above in completing the writing.

During the concluding remarks of my dissertation defense, I was filled with tears as I thought about how I had been able to finish this project. I certainly would not have been able to accomplish that without Monty’s help. While he may be physically gone from this earth, I can truly feel that he sends strength and power from above, for which I am very thankful.

A Time of Change

After graduating, I started my postdoctoral research at the same university but was suddenly contacted by a major company in October 2017. After a series of interviews, I was offered a job. I had never thought of working for a tech company, as I had for many years been guided in my studies in mysterious and wondrous ways. So I had always thought my path was in academia.

The day before I had to make a decision, I simply prayed at a Sunday meeting, “God, I am not sure which way I should go, but whatever decision I make, please continue to walk with me, protect me, and guide me.”

After the prayer I felt at such peace, and all of my apprehension disappeared. I had a reaffirming feeling that it would be alright to go in a new direction, and subsequently, I accepted the job at this company. I was glad that I waited until the last day to decide and that I had done so through prayer.

Noriyasu Harada Li
(Boston, 2018)