International Ministries

Birth Of A New Church

March 14, 2013 Journal
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Dear Journal Friends,
If I’m honest, overall declining church membership really bothers me, especially when it seems that I can’t see how to make a dent in those statistics.  Looking at the current big picture is not always the best way to deal with the frustration.  However, I have received some encouragement and hope by looking far back.

Persistence This might have been the experience of former missionary Rev. Ruth Kalling.  After serving many years at Hinomoto Girls’ School in Himeji Japan, she began some discouraging years in leadership of a small Preaching Place.  Then the opportunity opened up to do pioneer evangelism in a city with deep historical roots.  The city is called Mito and is located at the very upper end of the Kanto Plain north of Tokyo.  It held a famous school of Confucian learning that understood early on that taking on western ideas would contribute to technological development and international strength.  Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the city has been open to western learning, hiring many native speakers of English.  Two of those teachers in Mito were Nellie and Ernest Clement. They became American Baptist missionaries in 1889 and went on to begin the seed school of Kanto Gakuin where I work. Ten of our missionaries since then went to serve in Mito.  True to form, missionaries, one after another, were persistent until finally a church was formed.  But after World War II the church elected to align itself with the United Church of Christ in Japan instead of the Japan Baptist Union.

New Birth Almost 50 years passed before Rev. Ichiro Ono of the Itako church began a Bible study that began yielding fruit..  Ruth Kalling was called to open a Preaching Place called Mito Keisen (Fountain of the Valley) Christian church. The Lord brought in a faithful few before Ruth retired in 1992. She passed away in 1995.
    Since then, the little congregation has been under the leadership of several pastors, continuing to meet in the same house where Ruth lived.  They just don’t give up here!
    In 2010, yet another evangelist, Etsuko Nakamura, fresh out of seminary went to Mito.  Infused anew with enthusiasm she and “the few” bought a brand new office building that couldn’t be sold in the bad housing market!  What a miracle it was! Its six parking spaces are the envy of many churches and another confirmation that God had his hand on this work..  Shortly afterward, Nakamura sensei was ordained. How this all came together so quickly I don’t know.  Mito Kessen Christian church only has 18 members of the normally required 20 members, but on February twenty-third, seventeen churches gathered together to vote on and witness the birth of a new church…and Ruth Kalling was surely smiling from above.  Baptist support for missionaries who first did evangelism so long ago has borne fruit.  Thank you so much for continuing with your attention and support.  We now can witness the fruit of the seeds of the past.  Others will witness the seeds planted from now on.

Echoes From the Past On March third, I had a very different experience.  The first Baptist church in Japan had its 140th anniversary.  It started with four people, the Nathan Browns and the Jonathan Gobles.  “From these four,” one speaker pointed out, “there has been a thousand times increase with there being now 4,000 members” in the Japan Baptist Union.  OK, so that is another perspective requiring looking not just at the narrow present, or the wider picture of the present decline but looking much further back, and it gives me more hope.

No Quick Fixes Please have hope with me because you are a huge part of all of this.  We want a quick fix and see the results.  We don’t want our investment to just fade away or be washed away.  But the reality is different.  It is in God’s timing, as our huge efforts seem to fade and then reappear. That concept for me is illustrated best in the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1-4.  The widow was praised not for the amount she gave but for the fact that she GAVE, and she gave ALL she could even though it was small.  Was she disappointed that it was so little or did not seem to have such a great impact?  We don’t know because that was not the point of the story.  Whatever people gave in the past is important to God, even if the evidence of success was lacking for us.  In God’s perfect timing his mission will be accomplished.  The question is will we be a part of it now even if the results are not seen until sometime in the future when we are no longer here. 

With a thankful heart, Roberta Stephens