International Ministries

Friendship, Encouragement, Outreach

September 16, 2013 Journal
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Dear Journal Friends,
The World Mission Offering time is here again.  Last year at this time I was in the USA sharing about my work in many churches.  What a great time I had because you were great hosts waiting with an open heart to hear about what God is doing in Japan.  I really felt you embracing the cause of redemption in Japan as the country continues to heal and its people find a new identity. This year is truly a year of celebration because of the 200th Anniversary of the landing of the Judsons in Burma.  It’s a great chance to ask ourselves “what cause are we embracing? Am I trying to embrace too many causes leading to a hectic fractured daily existence?” At least that’s what I’m asking myself.  Abraham’s effort to “embrace the cause” of following his God into an unknown, godless place took time.  But once there, he finds that God is already there and was leading him in a cause that we continue to see the fulfillment of. Give now to the World Mission Offering and join God’s Cause.

The Images of the Summer...

Are still fresh in my mind.  I had the opportunity to receive several groups of volunteers. Preparations began shortly after I returned from my short home assignment and continued right up to their arrival.  All the groups were clustered in June this year.  What a variety of people came bringing a variety of skills and gifts!  If any of our Japanese friends met more than one person, they would soon become aware of how blessed we were with multi-talented people.

       Friendship Evangelism Volunteer group #1 arrived two days after the end of the Japan Baptist Women’s annual conference…crunch!  Seven people came from First Baptist Church, Pomona CA.  Their purpose was friendship evangelism.  They were good at it.  The first week they spent making friends with university students at Kanto Gakuin in clubs and the lunchroom.  I really didn’t have a schedule completed. That didn’t matter because they just kept finding people to introduce themselves to.  Forming relationships with those they met were important to them.  As they met students in the university cafeteria, very quickly there were sounds of laughter coming from the lunch groups.  Soon they were getting to know each other and playing language games they’d prepared. The lunch hour passed quickly with name cards and face book information being exchanged.  Some people think that you have to have Japanese language to be a witness.  But this group was not bound by way of thinking.  The love of Christ shown through them and the Japanese young people were able to meet genuine Christians who dared to share. 

One day several of us were out for a walk.  When I turned around I saw some of them lagging behind talking an older man.  The next day, they discovered that this man was a guard at Kanto Gakuin close to my house.  For the next few days, the group dropped by the guardhouse to say hello. How friendly was that! Oh, that all volunteers would be this motivated and self-directed.

The second week they spent in NE Japan helping out in three different locations.  All three assignments were related to outdoor work. Two of the work places were at our Japan Baptist Union churches, and the third workplace was in the middle of the tsunami washed rice fields.  We all worked together to make a large community garden that would be used to entice men out of temporary housing who had holed themselves up due to lack of purpose in life.  The salt drenched fields proved to be good for gardens but not good for growing rice.  We worked the whole day sifting out the debris.  It was a humbling experience to think that a number of people had died right in this spot as their houses washed in from the nearby coast. The Pomona team continued friendship evangelism here but primarily with adults in the tsunami area.

      Encouragers Volunteer group number 2, Drs. Michael and Vivienne Friday from Bellevue, Nebraska arrived June 22nd.  They stayed at the Japan Baptist Seminary, about 50 minutes on foot, by train and subway from where I live, and at my apt. for the last four days.  The first week, Michael divided his time between the consultations and class participation at the seminary and commuting to Kanto Gakuin high school to share with seniors high school students.  Vivienne, on the other hand, commuted daily to help in a variety of ways, mainly in ministry with children.  She and I went to Kanto Gakuin kindergarten for a few days and to the children’s overnight camp.  She also had the chance to visit and put on a day program with kids at Seiro church nearby.  Since Vivienne is a nurse teaching at a Jr. College in the USA, she was well suited to give a lecture on “Nursing and Christianity” to the brand new class of the new School of Nursing at Kanto Gakuin University.

Because the Fridays are originally from the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica) and Japanese in our area are not accustomed to interacting with people of different races, their presence brought an unusual visual and cultural element into their service.  The only thing the adults knew about these cultures was steel pan and calypso music…of which the Fridays knew little about! (maybe they kept it a secret from me!)  This was of course true of the kindergarteners.  Vivienne shared a number of times about the culture of her childhood.  One dear child came up and scratched Vivienne’s arm and then looked at her fingernail to see if the color rubbed off!  The response from Vivienne’s lecture at the university stands out in my mind.  Students are normally reserved in their reactions to lectures but these students all wrote their comments and questions to her.  She responded with a short letter to all who wrote.  How thrilled they must have been! Michael showed us his gift of words both in preaching and conversation.  Even without translation, the high school students were very blessed by him, they said.  He preached a sermon at Tokyo Peace church that truly came directly from his heart. The Japanese pastors who had conversations with him continue to talk about him.  The seminary continues to exchange ideas with Michael even now. Everywhere the Fridays went they encouraged people just being available and willing to step out of their comfort zone.

      Outreach The third group arrived from Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle WA one day after the Fridays arrived, on June 23rd.  The group was comprised of four Junior High/High school students and four adults.  Each person is Japanese American or of mixed ancestry except for their youth director, Akiko, who is a native of Japan.  Akiko and I did much of the preliminary planning, but she did most of the leading once they arrived.  Although on paper, the adults were the caretakers, in the end, they received as much from the trip as the youth did.  The group’s purpose was embedded in the title of their group “Youth Outreach Trip 2013.”  They were able to sit in classes at Kanto Gakuin and have a more in depth personal experience at Soshin Girls school.  Thanks to the hard work of Missionary Lee Ann Hwang and Soshin’s openness, they visited classrooms, clubs and had 3-nights home-stay. Best of all they participated in chapel.  Their last four days were spent in NE Japan where three churches helped show the Outreach group many things about the earthquake and tsunami.  The group came back to Yokohama with eyes and ears wide open.

Preparations enabled the four youth to blend in well and not stick out like a sore thumb.  The youth even came with jumpers and blouses similar to the school uniform and indoor shoes.  When the girls could show a small kindness to someone, they took advantage of the opportunity.  One day while riding the train a youth jumped up to give her seat to an older person.  The older person refused.  The youth jumped up anyway and proceeded to dig out a friendship bracelet from her bag to tie on the lady’s wrist.  Even though complicated words could not be exchanged, I guarantee that the Japanese lady will remember that JBC youth.  A chaplain at Kanto Gakuin commented that she intends to teach the Jr./Sr. High school students about genuine Christianity, but it’s not real to the students who have never met a Christian student.  They think it is just ancient history.  Having the four JBC youth in their school for four days made a deep impression on them.  It was their first time to meet kids just like themselves, but who had faith in Jesus.  Japanese Baptist Church (JBC) was clearly behind sending this group and made a great effort to make sure that this was an affair of the whole Body of Christ and not just a private endeavor.  Their reward was to see eight team members returning who had all grown in many ways.

Taking A Risk

I probably risked loosing some of you because this has been so long.  My main reason in sharing these details (only shared a few) is for you to see what kind of attitude and actions make a good volunteer who has chosen to truly embrace God’s cause.  If you would like to get in contact with any of these groups to hear more of their story, please let me know.

Lastly, I would like to ANNOUNCE one last opportunity for volunteer service with me before I retire.  I need two women who would be willing to come between Thanksgiving and Christmas to help me with details of putting on a number of parties during the Christmas season.  I’m expecting to have a few more parties than last year since it will be my last Christmas in Japan.  These volunteers need to enjoy baking, cooking and serving.  The approximate time span is November 30th  (leaving USA on 29th) to December 20th.  I will send you details if you or someone else is interested.  Just email me at

Now may the peace of God which passes far beyond all understanding be with you.

Roberta L. Stephens