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Warcry: More Than Serving Tea

Melissa Templeman-Twells tells her story to WarcryMelissa Templeman-Twells

‘More Than Serving Tea’, I looked down at the title of the book I had just been given by my American co-worker in Japan, a 28-year-old youth worker. I laughed out loud, because that was exactly what I had been thinking all year!

Growing up in Australia, and being involved in The Salvation Army, I had never felt that I’d missed out on an opportunity because of my gender. At the age of 33, moving to Japan to work at The Salvation Army Training College, I was quickly introduced to subtle but defined gender workplace practices. To start with my husband was given many more classes to teach than I was, and I’m the one with a teaching degree! I thought to myself, ‘I’m not teaching much, what am I going to do all day?’ And that is when I discovered the teapot. 

There is a men’s office and a women’s office, and the tea pot is in the women’s office. As the men arrive in the morning the women serve them a hot cup of green tea. Guest lecturers are also given tea. One day, I asked one guest lecturer if he would prefer tea or coffee, just as I would ask someone in Australia. He said he was fine, he had brought a drink with him. This was huge cultural mistake. In Japan, you don’t ask guests if they would like a drink, as they will probably politely refuse whether they are thirsty or not. Shortly after entering and being seated by the host, guests are given a drink. I was shown how to place the cup in front of the guest with the beautiful side facing them. Serving tea is an art form.

Along with the rest of the world we were shocked as we watched devastating images on TV of the tsunami in 2011, and subsequent nuclear disaster. We had just applied for passports to work here. More than 20,000 lives were lost. 

Our hearts and minds raced with fears and doubts. What would it be like in Japan? Was it safe? But overall we had an amazing peace from God. This was what he wanted for us, this was where we were meant to be. 

When I arrived in Japan, I felt confident in who I was as a person and, having served five years as a Salvation Army officer in Victoria, I felt that God had helped me become a good leader. But after a few months of being here, I felt so frustrated. 

‘Why can’t the men make their own tea’, was one of the thoughts that crossed my mind. I remember thinking, ‘I’m so annoyed at the injustice of this situation—imagine if I was in Africa or India where there is terrible injustice. Where there are still child brides. I wouldn’t be able to accept it as a cultural norm.’  

After long discussions with God, I felt he was preparing me for greater responsibility in the future. I was reminded of Jesus stepping down from Heaven where he was the King, to earth to serve. God reminded me that my worth was in him and nothing could change that. So I decided to be content, serving and helping the people around me as best as I possibly could.  

My journey to Japan started when I began studying the language at high school. I then went on exchange for one year to a very strict girls school in Tokyo where I had a wonderful time. When I returned to Australia, I studied Japanese at university and became a teacher.

After training to be a Salvation Army officer, my husband and I moved to country Victoria, where we quickly made Japanese friends, who tutored us as well. I still see my Japanese friends who I met when I was on exchange. If they’re married they usually don’t work. They look after the house and cook all the meals. One advantage of this is that the women are usually the ones who control the money. He earns it, she spends it. Maybe, it’s not all bad! 

Soon I will be changing appointments (jobs) within The Salvation Army to the Youth Department, and as an assistant corps officer (minister). I’m sure there will be a teapot there. I am very excited and I know this is what I have been preparing for this past year. I will miss working at the college, especially when the cook still gets a shock every time my husband washes his own cup in the kitchen. She bashfully giggles, and says, ‘Christian men are so kind’.