Yesterday marked one year to the day since Emi and I moved to Japan. And as if He were honoring this anniversary, God has been providing us with more and more chances to serve in the community and local church. True to the maxim, “when it rains, it pours,” it has been and seems that it will continue to be a busy and stretching season in our lives. Praise God for having three weeks school vacation to let me catch up on work!
Although it’s been a bit overwhelming, we’re thrilled at the opportunities we’ve had recently to do what we came to Japan to do.
Probably the biggest development is the launch of a house-churchish fellowship aimed at serving the needs of students in our apartment. When we first came to Japan, we felt God speak to us clearly about getting an apartment with a large common space, and we’ve received a number of words from others about using that space for the Lord’s work. Now, after nearly 11 months in our current apartment, we’re starting to use that space for just that purpose.
I’ve had the great blessing to study beside a number of other missionaries at the YMCA, something I’m informed is actually quite rare. Among them is a really passionate pastor and minister named Shalom, who over the past six months Emi and I have come to count among our closest friends. Shalom came down to Kansai (Osaka region) from Tokyo about 9 months ago to pastor a couple of small Japanese-Filipino churches and started at the YMCA around the same time.
Not so long ago another Christian classmate of ours from Taiwan, On (pronounced ‘own’), Shalom and I were out at a café. On was trying to find a convenient time to visit New Hope Osaka with me for Sunday service, and we discovered that for students, weekend days are a precious commodity, and the invitation to spend 3+ hours of a Sunday afternoon was quite a big ask. Somehow it came up that we could just do our own kind of church, a small fellowship based out of my apartment, which is only a two-minute walk from the language school. Shalom and I had already discussed the possibility of him leading a Sunday fellowship at our place on the weekend, so we were both open the idea. However, having the activity on Tuesdays right after afternoon classes made it convenient for students, and it made it easy for us to invite our classmates. So we decided just to go for it.
Ironically (or perhaps according to plan), the coffee shop where we made our plans photographed us on Instagram during our meeting. Our table is on the back left, closest to the wall.
In our model, we try to keep the service short and allow for a lot of time for fellowship. For foreign exchange students, one of the biggest needs is true friendship. In Japan, it’s easy to make a lot of acquaintances, but true, deep and meaningful relationships are hard to come by. Hence, on Tuesday nights, whoever shares tries to keep the message really short to allow more time for interaction and group discussion. Our goal is foster a community where every member contributes as an owner and where everyone feels connected to one another.
It’s really thanks to Shalom that were able to get the fellowship off the ground and going in the first place. His big personality and evangelistic anointing draws people to him naturally. He preached and shared his testimony at our first meeting, and we had around ten people come out to hear it.
I had an opportunity to share this most recent Tuesday, and I’ve been really happy to see our little group starting to bond. Please pray that God leads Shalom, Eri (our worship leader), Emi and me as leaders and continues to encounter all of us on Tuesday nights.
New Hope Osaka Youth
On the New Hope side of things, the departure of Kenneth (another awesome YWAM missionary at our church) to return to Canada left some gaping holes in the ministry. Besides being the entire church’s go-to-guy for all things tech-related, Kenneth ran New Hope Osaka’s Youth Group program, helped with weekly bulletin publishing and often ran sound and ProPresenter for worship. A number of church members stepped up to fill these roles, and being among the few twenty-somethings in attendance, Emi and I were tapped for Youth.
I doubt I have more than two readers who will remember this, but my only real youth group leadership experience was as “Assistant Youth Pastor” at Rabat International Church in Morocco about four years ago. As “Assistant Youth Pastor” (a self-ascribed title), I assisted my friend, roommate and official “Youth Pastor” Dan in the myriad responsibilities of running a youth group that averaged five in attendance. Good times were had by all.
Now that I’m writing this, I also recall my summer as Christian camp counselor at SpringHilll back in ’06. While I’ll not downplay the significance that summer had on my growth as a Christian minister, my six to ten-year-old campers hardly match the current youth demographic at New Hope.
Working with the young adults so far has been truly rewarding. The New Hope youth group members are truly amazing! Some of them have already overcome so much in their lives, yet they seem eager to know Jesus more and get along with one another quite well. International churches by nature see a lot of people coming and going. Attendance, which can range from two to ten or more depending on the week, can be difficult to prepare for. Our young adults from all types of cultural backgrounds – Japan, Taiwan, Korea, America and even Argentina. Finding a message in English that relates to everyone can be a challenge; so when it comes to teaching, we try to stick to the Bible.
Before taking over, the youth group was able to meet once a month because of restricted schedules. However because we believe consistency is really important in these young adults’ lives, Emi and I talked with them and we’re going to do our best to meet at least twice a month—once for talking and teaching, and once to go on an outing (last time was bowling, today will be Karaoke).
Emi and I are thrilled to be stepping into what for us will be a challenging opportunity, and we ask for prayers that God would encounter all of these young believers during youth group.
This past weekend also saw our third time visiting Tokyo area where we were able to provide prayer ministry in support of my father-in-law Yuichi’s Christian group counseling ministry. Compared to previous sessions, this time was better than ever. We saw far fewer demonic manifestations and were able to pray and prophesy over nearly everyone. According to my father-in-law, three members of the group are now ready and have asked to be baptized! Please pray for us for wisdom as we look for a chance to help them receive baptism.
Language Study at the YMCA
Some days I feel confident in my Japanese, but most days I’m constantly reminded that I have a long way to go. Just a few days ago I concluded my first year of full-time language study. When I look back at where I was when I first came to Japan, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come, thanks to our amazing teachers and the heaps of homework they pile on us nightly. Sadly, the end of this terms marks the graduation of three more of our now tight-knit group of friends studying language together. It also means that as we move into more advanced levels, we have to say “mata ne (see you later)” to some of the teachers who have nurtured us for the past year through introductory and mid-level Japanese. But we look forward to what’s to come!
Please pray that I can continue to build my vocabulary and that as I approach fluency, my listening and speaking abilities would improve (they’re still the weakest).
At the same time as we’ve stepped into these two new roles as ministers, I’m looking forward to a few other activities:
- October 4th: preaching at Osaka’s “One Grain” church on.
- October 7th: volunteering to translate and offer guidance for new students at the YMCA’s fall orientation.
- October 12th: a charity relay for the YMCA on (“Sports Day” in Japan). The majority of the runners from the school are comprised of my classmates.
- November 1st: preaching at “City Blessings” church in Shiga prefecture (the church Shalom pastors).
Of course, even as all this progresses, Emi and I continue in the daily grind of work. Please pray that we’re able to balance all of our new responsibilities, volunteer opportunities, work and school in the coming season.