When I consider this passage, I think about it two different ways.
On one hand, I consider the Bible and how it prophesies of the coming end of this age. Often when I am sharing the Gospel, people will say to me that every generation has wars and world issues that seem to suggest that “this may be the end of the world”. Reactions to the political situations in the US and the saber rattling of North Korea expressed here in Japan are mixed. Certainly it is cause for pause no matter where you live.
On the other hand, without diminishing the fact that I do believe we are in the “End Times” the Bible talks about, I think there is something we should consider about mankind that I often hear while sharing the Gospel. Yes, mankind has, throughout history, always been plagued by sin. We have always done terrible things to each other, and that should give us pause.
The Truth that matters, though, is that none of these events, or our human condition, catches God by surprise. From before the foundation of the world He has had a plan. We need to keep looking to God for the Hope we have; that He is doing a redemptive work that is beyond the belief of the man who does not know the Grace of God.
The short version:
John - Ministry at home:
One of the really huge challenges for us is that we still have family in California. After serving here in Japan almost 12 years this summer, our family has truly been great with their acceptance and support of our call to the mission field. That being said, they still look to us for support and understanding for them as well.
Since the beginning of this year, our focus has had to not only be on the work that God has us doing in lives here in Japan, but also on those at home. Both my mom and her husband, Frank, were hospitalized last December, and were then admitted to an extended care facility. This was the beginning of a series of events that required our attention and also brought many ministry opportunities at home.
In February, Frank passed away. Last month, my mom, 92, passed away. I knew this was coming, as her health had been declining over the months. My mom and I were very - very close. I had prayed many times to God with a deep feeling of sadness that I would not be able to be there for her on the horizon of her passing away, since I was serving so far away in Japan.
Well as it turns out, although I was farthest away, I was the only one who was actually able to be at her bedside before she passed. I had been notified about her health becoming critical on a Friday. I first considered leaving on the following Tuesday, but I felt a strong prompting to fly out Monday instead. Because of that, I was able to spend a wonderful day with her on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday morning. She passed away on Wednesday while I was at her side. God heard my prayer and allowed me the privilege of being with her.
Throughout the process of making arrangements for the memorial service and taking care of all that comes with a death in the family, we had countless ministry opportunities. Everyone in the family had a part in the service, and I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel in a message.
With all that going on in my family, Belinda also had her heart turned towards home as her father underwent surgery for colon cancer. They caught it early and the surgery was completely successful with no need of radiation or other treatment. We were able to visit them while we were in the U.S. and he is doing very well.
Ministry in Japan continues:
As most of you know by now, Belinda is the administrator of the small international school here at Grace Christian Fellowship. The year is always filled with events, but it feels like they increase as the year comes to a close.
One of our students, a high school senior missed almost half of her first semester this year because of deep depression. Through much diligence and prayer support, she was able to return to school and will be graduating this June as planned. She has been one of those special relationships God brought to us to minister to here.
Another blessing of ministering through relationships happened on Mother’s Day. Two of the moms in our church, one divorced and the other with a husband who was relocated to the northern part of Japan almost 10 years ago by his employer, were left on their own on Mother’s Day. Their children were all off doing other things, so Belinda and I “adopted” them and took them out to lunch. We shared a wonderful time together in fellowship and getting to know each other more. Sometimes Jesus calls us just to be there for others and to love on them!
Ministry inside the church:
Besides the school, the worship ministry here is far more than just playing songs and leading the congregation in praise. Every member of the worship team is someone to disciple. Roles change and members come and go.
For example, one of our primary worship team members is pregnant with her first child, so she will be focusing on being a mom soon. Belinda has been able to step away from the sound and media ministry, for the most part, and is now looking to focus on women’s ministry. We have a new sound person whom I have been training, and we have a new media person with whom Belinda and I both are working. I am also training up a new vocalist. Her husband plays guitar a bit. He’s next *grin*.
Some of the ways we are able to reach out to people are: Teaching English classes, maintaining a church website, handing out gospel booklets, and a yearly Vacation Bible School, as well as through the divine appoints God sends our way.
Ministry outside the church:
Besides what goes on at Grace Christian Fellowship, Belinda and I both continue to teach English part time. It not only helps pay the rent, but I love how it blesses us with interaction in the community God has placed us in. Belinda and I have both been able to invite people from our classes to visit GCF for Sunday services or special events.
In the Japanese culture, people will not come to church unless they are personally invited. John works hard at keeping our Web presence up and current, and that has been bringing some in the door – most often people from the nearby Yakota Airforce base, but there are other people in the community looking for a church as well. We have also been, as a church, going door to door in the surrounding neighborhoods with gospel booklets, handing them out to each neighbor or leaving it in the mailbox. Still, a personal invitation is key.
Here comes summer!
As the school year winds down, we will shift into summer mode. With that comes short- term mission trips; sometimes groups visiting from abroad and, one of the really extraordinarily fruitful events, VBS.
Each year we either create our own curriculum, including all the media and music, or purchase a pre-made VBS program. Either way, the songs must be recorded in both English and Japanese, which John has been doing every year.
It’s always a huge undertaking, but worth the effort. Ministry happens with those doing the work of preparation, as well as those who come to the VBS event.
In Japan, as elsewhere, it seems the most reachable are the young people. These precious kids come to VBS and, of course, their parents come with them. Many of our members began coming to the church because they had brought their children to the summer VBS event.
You can be involved too!
There are many opportunities (the harvest is great) and few workers. This is true throughout the world, and Japan is no exception.
Here are some of the ways you can be involved:
Belinda and I want you to know that over the last 12 years you have been praying, encouraging and supporting us, and it does make all the difference in the world. Not just in this world that is falling away, but in the one that is to come.
We are honored and blessed to be some of your “hands and feet” here in Japan!
How to support:
Again, we want to thank each of you for all of your prayers and support over the years. Our financial support process has changed slightly, so if you would like to give, please click on the support link to find out how.