Minako and Maki in English Village Program
Gospel Ship-Fukuin Maru
Islands of the Inland Sea
Pastor Khup of Mukaishima Christ's Church
Mrs. Kimura baptized by Rev. Jerry Gano in the 1950's
Another letter in such a short time, but ….before I move on to the present…
After the joys of Christmas, I stepped into a “regular”
schedule about the second week in January.
It has been “the beginning of the end” so to speak, with requests for
last rites, dates set for farewell events. All month I’ve been reminded of the story of
the Seeds. “The farmer plants the Word…” (The Message)
Brush With The Community I was asked to speak in English at the Yokohama YWCA in a special program held once every two months. More men than women came, and most of the thirty people were retirement age. I thought there might be more Christians present than there were. I gave my testimony and then spoke about some customs, practices and issues in Japan that I had difficulty adjusting to over the years. It wasn’t exactly a complimentary speech but was an honest one revolving around problems regarding practices that prevent people in society from intimacy and freedom of choice.
The MC closed the meeting with a time for questions from the audience. Only men asked questions, but they were interesting and challenging. One man identified himself as an agnostic. He had two questions. “If Protestant missionaries have been in Japan for 140 years, why has the number of Christians not changed from the 1% plus level?” That’s a good question that you might ask also. This question was intended as a barb but I was determined to stay sweet and give the man something to think about. His next question was intended to mock Christianity, for sure. “Why would a Christian school in Japan ever have discipline problems?” His question stems from a common criticism of non-Christians who think that a Christian is a person who thinks he/she is perfect but isn’t. For him, the assumption was that a Christian thinks of himself as better than others. Of course, the behavior and attitude of Christians reflects outside the church and school. Non-Christians are watching us. He was not aware, I’m sure, that only 10-25% of most Christian schools have Christian staff. A second man asked, “how do I know if God communicates with people about what He wants (referring to my testimony about being called to be a missionary as a child). He continued with a story of a friend of his who said “God told me…” and now he was an active Christian in a Catholic church. A third man thanked me for not just filling my speech with how wonderful the Japanese are, as other foreign speakers do (I said “whoops” in my heart), because it gave him some ideas to think about and deal with. When I meet you all, I’ll be able to share how I answered these questions! “Some people are like the seed that lands on the gravel.”
A Waiting Game Two new friends have indicated that they want to try to attend church. The church where I attend is costly and more than a three hour round trip by train, so I can’t ask them to go with me.. To avoid having to be absent from my church, I have decided to attend the evening service recently begun at the new Oppama Chapel just on the border of Yokosuka and Yokohama city line. I can walk there in about 15 minutes. Oppama Chapel is a new endeavor of Kanto Gakuin Church. The church has always used the University’s chapel as their church. However, recently, the government has insisted that the law be followed for having churches meet off campus if the school receives even a little government aid. The church might eventually have to make that building their regular place of worship but for now, when there are no exams scheduled at the university, they continue to meet at the campus chapel. At Oppama chapel they have started a Sunday evening service. This works well, as a place to introduce others to the body of Christ. Eventually my target ladies will need to meet with the larger body, I imagine. One lady I mentioned a year ago that indicated that she wanted to become a Christian has once again resurfaced with that desire. But as before, she remains elusive although she says she wants to attend with me. Winter weather has prevented her from going recently and so she has yet to attend. Pray for Minako and for me because I don’t know how to catch slippery fish. The other person, someone I met at the sports club, has attended once with me. She’d like to do it again but she cares for her 90-year old parents and finds it difficult to leave them at night. Pray for Ivy (nickname). “The seeds cast into the weeds represent the ones who hear the kingdom news, but are overwhelmed with the worries of all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard and nothing comes of it” or so It says.
Seeds Turn Into Young Plants Recently I made a quick two-day trip with a friend to the Inland Sea area of Japan near Hiroshima to an island named Mukai-shima. I had been asked to bring greetings at the building dedication of our Baptist church there on behalf of International Ministries. The reason I was asked was that this church was planted by the evangelization efforts of the “Gospel Ship” or Fukuin Maru (1899-1982) back in the late 1940s. In the first half of the 1950s two missionary couples, the Brannens and the Ganos, helped to establish a preaching station on Mukaishima. . With the help of young Japanese evangelists, a lasting work was established. Other missionaries followed to help tend the flock. It was the pride and joy of American Baptist and Swedish Baptist missionaries for many years. Since then, their building had been added to and repaneled, and patched up. They saved the pews! Quaint, but was saving them really necessary? People back then must have been tiny people! It was thrilling to meet those evangelists who were beside themselves with joy on this day. It was also wonderful to meet some people who came up and introduced themselves as having been baptized by Noah Brannen or Jerry Gano 60 years ago, people who had stuck with their faith all these years in such an isolated place! My connection to these missionary men is that I admired the Gano family so much in the late 50s as a child, and later Jerry became my boss when I arrived in Japan. Mary Jean taught me many customs. Noah Brannen was my language mentor. I used a great language textbook that he had written.
In my short speech, I urged the congregation to continue to
look outside of themselves as these missionaries had. I continued that I wish
the church would put up a sign above emergency exit signs that say “ENTRANCE.”
I got a lot of “?????” looks on the audience’s faces. “Leaving the building is your entrance to the
world, your mission field. All of you
were at one time or another, on the other side of the ENTRANCE sign and were someone elses
mission field.” This rang a bell in the hearts of several people who commented
about it later. My friend and I then
took the 6 hr. trip back to Yokohama and began another busy week. “But the seed planted in the good earth
represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond
their wildest dreams.” Seeing how the seeds have sprouted and grown is one of
the “perks” and great blessings of being a missionary, even though someone else planted the seed.
Thanks for allowing me to stay on to see some of the harvest. You have truly blessed me with your kindness!
In Christ, Roberta Stephens