…says Proverbs 11:14, so it was a blessing to have the opportunity to visit many advisors around the country last week on our centre visit. A “centre visit” is a chance to visit other OMF ministries in other parts of the country, partly to help us to think about where we would go after language school, and what we might be doing. So we spent a weekend in Sendai, and just over a week in the greater Tokyo area. It was very hot down south, so we were glad to get home to the cooler Sapporo!
Whilst in Sendai, Rod Thomas (OMFer) drove us through some of the areas effected by the tsunami – it was a bit like driving through an old war zone: upturned cars in rice fields, deserted half-demolished houses, often nothing left of houses but their foundations… Their church is planning to set up an outreach centre with OMF in the area to give people aid and share the gospel with those who have no hope.
I find it hard to articulate exactly what we learnt on the trip, but I’ll share some of the nuggets we picked up.
- Opportunities often come where/when you least expect. One missionary seemed to find most of his contacts and ways into universities came through people he knew, but in ways that he wasn’t expecting or looking for.
- Expect challenges. Another missionary said that church planting can be a thankless task: constant criticism from all angles, always a “crisis” – someone gossiping, not getting along, threatening divorce, wanting to kill themselves… It’s a lot easier to cope with if you just accept that is part of normal life in church planting and just get on with it!
- Those “crises” are teaching opportunities. So when those “crises” happen, it’s a chance to open the Bible with people. Find some people gossiping? “Let’s look at what the Bible says about this…”
- Interaction is vital for language learning. This was said mainly with regard to Ethan learning language and the importance of him having plenty of opportunity to interact with Japanese speakers, but I think probably applies to us just as much!
- To prevent hikikomori, give them time and listen. Hikikomori is the common phenomenon in Japan of young people shutting themselves in their own home or room and cutting themselves off from society. I was told that this could be avoided largely by giving them time to talk about their feelings and by listening to them. I wonder how much this applies to other mental illnesses…
- For student ministry, you need very good Japanese. Teaching English has some benefits but, as one Japanese student worker put it, it will only ever be a door for students to come to church, nothing more. Few students in Japan will ever be able to really talk about their deep feelings and thoughts in English, he said.
- Study your target group. One couple I met had spent 2 years studying the area and the people they were trying to reach before starting to plant a church there – what do these people read, watch, listen to, what are their fears, hopes & dreams…
- Serve the community. How can you serve those people you’re trying to reach? It could be as simple as throwing a party to provide a place for people to have fun, meet others, build community…
- Team ministry is the ideal. If you’re in a team, you don’t have to do everything yourself and can concentrate on what you’re gifted in. It also means there is more support, a variety of gifts and skills…
- Make mistakes, especially in the early days. Our first term (1st 4 years) is the time to try things and not be afraid to make mistakes. That is when people will not have high expectations, we’ll still be in training in some ways, and they will make allowances for our bumbling Japanese, or cultural blunders… By our third term, it’ll be more awkward to make basic language errors and people will be even less likely to correct them. But even later on, the gospel of grace means that we don’t have to pretend we’ve got it all sorted – we can make mistakes and still be accepted. Not that it’s an excuse for sloppiness!
- No one size fits all! I’ve been wrestling with questions about how important it is for a Japanese church to have their own building. My thoughts on it depends largely on who I’ve spoken to last! I can see there are pros/cons with both views. Also the diversity of methods of ministry or styles of church, be it traditional, modern or Hawaiian (one church we went to was self-consciously Hawaiian style!) is a good thing. Some people are attracted to one church, others to another. Some church-planters are suited to one style, others to another. I’m beginning to think that rather than there being one method/style which is THE one way to do it, different methods/styles suit different people and reach different people. (Those of you who remember essays at Bible college, I’m thinking BOTH Homogenous Unit Principle AND Multi-Ethnic Church!) Again, I shouldn’t use that as an excuse to not think hard about what is the best way to do things – the most effective and God-honouring (there are obviously some biblical boundaries to work within!).
- Please pray for us as we process what we’ve seen and heard and think to the future of where we should go, what we should do and what our vision should be (We need to give OMF a report and vision statement soon)
- Pray for more wisdom for us as we continue to wrestle with these kinds of questions