International Ministries

"Let Patience Have Its Perfect Work"

April 18, 2013 Journal
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I appreciate your support in so many ways.  I feel very inadequate to thank you enough and tend to be very late in sending thank-you letters.  Please consider my monthly letters as a personal “love-letter” to you until I can thank you by correspondence until you hear from me personally.


There has been a slight pause in the rush of activity in between school years between March and April on the Kanto Gakuin (KG) campus where I live, and it has given me an opportunity to do a lot of catch-up work.  I’ve had some time also to reflect back on the past as I’ve had the opportunity to speak two times on history-related topics, and attend the opening ceremonies of three new buildings significant to life on the KG campus.  These are not such interesting topics to you, perhaps but I feel compelled write about still another coming up event.


Being a Young Green Plant “Long, long ago,” I arrived in Japan as a young green plant.  I needed watering and care. I received it partially from God’s Word. Though not understanding any sermon for many years, I was sustained by a group of people who invested hours of their time in me.  This was the small congregation of Shokei Church.  I couldn’t understand most of them very well but they were extremely patient and spoke “baby” sentences to me and I answered back with the same. The Pastor-couple, Rev. & Mrs. Akiharu & Ayako Nasu were my mainstays in English, teaching me the “culture” of Japan and Japanese churches.  Without those sometimes-hard lessons, I would still be ignorant of many things.


Two examples: I was accustomed to tithing regularly before I arrived in Japan but I gave the tithe once a month.  My “offering” behavior was observed by church members, and I was called on it! I was not giving something every Sunday!  This was an offense to God, a bad example to members when I passed the plate on by!  The Japanese understanding of “tithes and offerings” was taken seriously, and on the Sundays I did not put in my tithes, I should be thanking God by giving a free-will offering.  I sulked for a while at the sting of the cautionary word as I watched…and even to this day if I choose to “watch” I’ve never seen an exception.  Everyone gives something every Sunday. There are probably 1000s of these examples I could give of mentoring that led to becoming a mature “twig that bears fruit.”.


The second point worth mentioning here is the training I got in sermon preparation and delivery.  I resisted this bi-monthly assignment vigorously. In those early years, having just gotten out of language school, I tried writing my sermons in Japanese.  It would take me two months to prepare, with each minute of sermon taking three hours of preparation.  Rev. Nasu would return the script so covered with red ink that I could barely distinguish my original characters. This was a very disappointing experience considering the fact that I had never made a speech in front of people before my send-off to Japan.  If you were one who prayed for me during my early years, these were painful and difficult things you were praying for.  My struggles with that task have not abated but I have come to understand that it is worth the struggle because often people are blessed and encouraged by my messages.

Test of Patience This loving group of people cared for me and helped me for 18 years before I moved on. With their help and patience my verbal skills continued to develop. But one concern I had from the beginning was regarding the unique “round” church building.  It was showing severe signs of age even back in 1977.  Other priorities consumed the congregation’s attention and resources until one dark day on March 11, 2011.  Everyone was totally unprepared for the giant earthquake that finished off the elder “round” church.  Giant cracks appeared, on the outside and inside and the building was condemned.


"Perfect Work" Delayed As American Baptists rallied to give generously, I pushed for help from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) funds.  The gift of $115,000 was truly generous.  However, the church ran into great difficulty.  The bank would not finance a loan for the remainder.  The yen/dollar rate was so bad that turning the money into yen almost seemed like poor stewardship. American Baptists wanted to see their gifts used right away for relief efforts…but there were no architects, no carpenters and no building materials to be found.  All the companies they contacted said “come back in 18 months.”  It bothered the church deeply that they could not inform American Baptists about the use of this huge OGHS gift for rebuilding. International Ministries also was concerned that those who gave wanted a report.  These were stressful days for us all. But Shokei church kept searching until they found a company that imported wood from Canada at a reasonable price.  And gifts from other sources began to pour in as plans were made.


Construction began in December 2012, twenty months after the disaster.  When the gift from International Ministries was exchanged for yen around March 1st, 2013, the yen/dollar exchange had so greatly changed, that there was $2330 more than there would have been when the gift had been received eighteen months prior.  Praise God for help in being patient and trusting that God is in charge! 


Resurrection Sunday came with Shokei Church congregation nestled comfortably in their new church, with Pastor Tadokoro leading in a celebration-worship.  On April 29th there will be a church dedication ceremony for the general public. That will be a joyous time for all of us who have helped bring this about. I wish so much that you could be here.  Please pray for Shokei Church that they will catch a new vision for ministry, especially for those who are still in dire need of rebuilding their own homes and lives.  Sending my Love,  Your representative in Japan, Roberta Stephens