|Jeremy taught at this ladies' Bible study in Nov 2010|
One of the many surprising discoveries I made on last November's visit to Japan was the fact that many Japanese men work extremely long hours. During my visit, I met several men who worked 18 hour days, 5-6 days each week. Pressure at work is high, and the company often rules the family's life.
Long work days obviously place a strain on families in general, but they also create a situation where men simply aren't available for interaction or relationships outside of the office. As a result, evangelistic work among men is often painfully slow. Gospel outreach to women, however, is welcome and is bearing some exciting fruit. During my time in Nagoya last November I taught at two ladies' Bible studies associated with Nisshin Christ Church. The photo above was taken at one of those gatherings.
I still remember meeting this particular group of ladies. As we introduced ourselves, I asked each lady to share a little about her family, what brought her to the church, and how long she had been a Christian. The delightful surprise was that several ladies in the group reported that they were not yet Christians but wanted to know more about what it meant to follow Christ. This was the case in every group I led in Nagoya, and it still excites me to think about it. Imagine sitting down at a Bible study in America where half of the members introduced themselves like this: "Hello, my name is Martha. I have been attending this church for several months now. I'm not a Christian yet, but my life is a mess, and I'm wondering if I should follow Jesus." That was precisely my experience on several different occassions in Nagoya last year! At first I wondered if I'd been set up...maybe I was being "punk'd!"
One of the ladies pictured above is Aiko (not her real name). I remember that there was a lot of celebration (even tears) when she arrived that day, because several of the ladies had been praying for her to know Christ. She is a friend of Michiyo, who leads the Bible study each week. Aiko had come for a while, but the group hadn't seen her in some time. Michiyo had been praying earnestly that she would return on that particular day, and she did! The group received her like a long-lost friend, and there were hugs all around - and praises to God for answered prayers.
Aiko was not a Christian, but her eyes were brimming with tears as we looked at a passage in Luke about Jesus crossing over the sea of Galilee to save a demon-possessed man on the other side. Unlike the idols in the Buddhist shrines, the man on the other side of the sea didn't need to clap his hands, ring bells, or burn incense in order to get God's attention. He didn't look attractive, and he didn't have it all together. Christ knew who and where he was and took the initiative to save him from certain destruction. And he has done the same for us on the cross. How shocking! Simply unheard of among the Buddhist idols! And such a powerful, merciful picture of grace! At one point, I asked, "Wouldn't you like to follow such a Savior?" Aiko replied, "I wish I could believe that he loves me like that!" A few weeks after returning to Asheboro, I received a an exciting email from the team in Nagoya. Aiko had surrendered her life to Christ. She'd become a Christian! The Spirit of God had shown her that he DOES love her like that!
Last week, I received the following update from Amy Newsome (the American missionary sitting opposite me in the photo above):
"Aiko...is continuing to move forward. Over the summer she helped with the Kid's Gospel Week, and her husband came with her for the concert and summer festival -- his first time in the door of the church! We hope to follow up with them as a family, having them over and trying to get to know him. She is growing and moving forward - praise God for his work in her life, and now she is praying for the salvation of her husband."
One soul at a time. Jesus loved Aiko enough to send missionaries across the Pacific to share the Good News with her (just like he loved that demon-possessed man enough to cross the sea for him). He loved her enough to send His Holy Spirit to open her heart to receive that Good News as her own. And it appears that He is now continuing that work in the life of her husband.
The Gospel has traditionally moved forward very slowly in Japan. Many missionaries have labored for long years and seen little fruit. But who knows what the Spirit has in mind for the future? Who can know the mind or timing of Almighty God? What we do know is that we serve a mighty, merciful God who takes the initiative in the lives of individuals and even whole nations. We also believe that this is the time to plant new churches in and around the city of Nagoya. Please pray for the MTW team in the city as they're doing heroic work. And pray for our family as we raise support and make the necessary preparations to go and help.