Earlier in the year one of our church members, Mary, travelled to Japan on a short-term mission trip. We recently heard Mary speak about the trip at one of our online fellowship meetings, but for those who missed it (or want to know more!) she has written this blog post:
In February this year, by God’s Providence before Covid-19 changed worldwide travel, I went to Japan for three weeks to help a church plant in northern Japan. This was the unexpected result of a very last minute trip I took in September last year when I was performing with the Royal Opera House on tour in Tokyo and Yokohama. It was then that I realised properly how much Japan needs Christ. Less than 1% of the population are Bible-believing Christians and many churches lack sound teaching. I came home with an unquenchable thirst to learn more. Through reading and praying I got speedily to the point of applying for a short-term mission trip with Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) and so, five months after returning from Tokyo, I was heading back to East Asia, this time to Hirosaki City.
I was sent to Nozomi Church (“nozomi” means ‘hope’), a church plant pastored by OMF missionary Martin Ghent with his wife Ruth Mae, also a full time OMF missionary. Originally from North America, they have been in Japan for over 35 years, raising their four children and Nozomi Church is their latest ministry, started in 2015. A large part of the work involves relationship building through English classes held at the church (for both adults and children, always with an age-appropriate Bible talk at the end), one to one Bible studies (for seekers and believers), a weekly fellowship lunch after the Sunday service and the English Café for high school and university students. The site is sizeable so they have a lot of maintenance to do, and one day will finish the building when they get the funding!
Martin undertakes much of the building work as well as the pastoral work and acts as team leader for OMF in the Tohoku region (overseeing about 26 missionaries). My role was to help wherever needed, and there was always plenty to do. During my time at Nozomi I was involved with all the more overtly Gospel-based activities such as teaching English and opening the Bible with students during classes and giving short testimony talks at the English Café, to practical duties including regular cleaning, cooking (never for fewer than 6 people per meal as there were other short term workers there as well as whoever else had dropped in) and snow shovelling. There were definitely challenges including the harsh living conditions, it being -8 degrees Celsius for most of my first week there, but it was a blessing to be stretched and learn some new skills.
The highlights of my trip were the two English Café sessions and a Testimony Concert. The English Café were exploring Romans and we spoke about being on ‘Team Jesus’ and the next week about God’s love (a suitable theme for Valentine’s Day which is a big deal in Japan!) I loved having in-depth conversations with the students, who were eager to practice their English but also really open minded and honest. One young man said he knew he wasn’t a good person deep down and that knowing Jesus as his Saviour would be “so much better for me” but he wasn’t ready to give his heart over to the Lord. Becoming a Christian in Japan goes against the predominant group mentality of putting the good of the whole before one’s own personal preferences or expression, and Christians here usually have to sacrifice an immense amount in their lives both practically and socially to follow Jesus. So many people I met at the church had an incredible knowledge of the Bible but it hadn’t (yet) translated into a heart of faith. Ruth Mae told me that it is not uncommon for her to study the Bible for over ten years with someone before they actually are converted, and often even after years of painstaking Bible study there is no fruit of conversion, which is sobering for long-term missionaries.
By the second week, news of my job back in the UK as a musician had spread, and one church member was determined to find me a harp so they could all hear it for themselves. By a miracle the local Junior High School had one which we were only allowed to get two days before the concert, but I had my Bible verses translated into Japanese for a powerpoint and all my pieces ready to be practiced efficiently. The rest of the team baked British treats – welshcakes, millionaire’s shortbread, Victoria sponge – and Martin and Ruth’s daughter Naomi translated my introductions to each piece as well as my full testimony at the end. Over 70 people braved the snow to attend, mostly hearing about it by word of mouth. During a Sunday service there are typically between 15 and 20 people, around 10 of them believers so it was a real blessing to see the church so full. I felt so blessed to be able to share not only my music but also the story of God working in my life in such a direct way with a community that I had quickly come to have a real heart for.
I came home with so much to give thanks for, a more informed perspective of the needs of Japanese mission work and lots to pray about. Two contacts I made whilst there are still in touch. One professed faith in the Lord a few weeks after I left and is now preparing for baptism and to tell her family about her new life in Christ. We clicked on so many levels and are enjoying our shared passions for physical letter writing (Japanese stationary is extremely pleasing). I’m learning the first of three Japanese alphabets and can now write out Bible verses to her in my letters. Another friend is a harpist I have known for over half my life from summer music camp who is now raising her four children in Tokyo. On my way home through the capital, we went for a walk to catch up and she asked me about how I became a Christian, afterwards admitting that since seeing me in September she had started going to church. It was such an encouragement to have that conversation with a friend I already love so much on my final day in Japan.
I went on this trip with the aim of learning, and I’m so grateful for all God taught me about Himself, about the Japanese and about my own heart. I was kept safe by His grace and encouraged daily with messages from folks back home that reminded me of the care of God’s people, no matter how far apart we may be physically. I’m currently seeking ways to translate my heart for the Japanese into action, most likely here in London, all the while praying with a more informed mindset. And I’m still reading! Japan is a fascinating country with a remarkable history and the more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn. Of course, now added to the many prayer needs of Japan is the global Covid-19 situation, and that has potentially put some of my ideas, and indeed some missionary outreaches in Japan, on hold temporarily, but everything is in the Lord’s hands during this season. While I was in Japan, my daily readings were from Isaiah. The following words from Isaiah 55 really stood out to me as such a prayer for Japan and a reassurance for all missionaries, and today as I write all the more so, for Japan and indeed the whole world:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on Him while He is near … “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither My ways your ways,” declares the Lord … “My word which goes out from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”