Friday, March 30, 2012

Church Planting in the Wake of the Quake: Praying for a Tsunami of Grace

The following article was written by Eileen Lass in the newsletter, FYI4, Feb 2012, vol 1.  To read the entire newsletter, click here.  You can reach Eileen at LassProofer@yahoo.com.

     The greatest need of the tsunami-devastated area in northern Japan (called Tohoku) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some 20,000 people were killed by the tsunami. This rightly saddens us so much. But 32,000 people committed suicide last year in Japan. This happens every year. 320,000 Japanese have killed themselves over the last decade.
     127 million Japanese people desperately need the HOPE of the gospel of Jesus Christ. More than 99% are non-Christian. Some estimate that fewer than 5% have ever heard the message of Jesus in an understandable, even brief, way.  Yes, the greatest MERCY MINISTRY we can do in Japan is bringing the gospel of hope. And, the best way to bring this gospel to Northern Japan is by STARTING HEALTHY, REPRODUCING CHURCHES!
     March 11, 2011 brought a triple disaster to Japan unprecedented in the history of the world with the 9.0 earthquake, huge devastating tsunami, and the resulting nuclear disaster. MTW Japan immediately responded together with our Japanese partners in a large relief and recovery effort that continues today. 2,700 Christians and churches have given more than $1.4 million through MTW to help us bring relief and recovery to the people of northern Japan (see below).
     Now we urgently need to follow this ongoing mercy ministry with church planting in the devastated region. God has used relief efforts to make many people more receptive to Christians, and some people more receptive to our Christ. We are developing a 10-year plan with our Presbyterian Church in Japan (PCJ) partners to plant a presbytery in North Japan as we pray and work towards a Biblical church planting movement (CPM).
     We need funds to send the first Japanese church planters north to begin more intentional evangelism and church planting ministry in tandem with the ongoing relief, recovery, and rebuilding ministry. Without funding it is very difficult to recruit for this effort that needs to begin immediately. Church planting soon in partnership with the ongoing mercy ministry and relief teams from Japan and abroad would be ideal.
     The earthquake brought devastating tsunami waves (many over 100 feet high) to 300 miles of the Japanese coast. We are now praying for an even more powerful TSUNAMI OF GRACE to flow
over this most resistant part of Japan that has so little gospel witness and so few churches. This wave will not come in one day like the March 11th tsunami. We are committed to persevering in this huge effort for northern Japan over the next ten years. But we do need to start immediately with the first church plants. 
     Often we hear of ministries that can't keep going due to lack of funding. We fully believe God will provide all the funding we need for this new ministry, but even with 100% of the finances, the ministry of church-planting in Tohoku can't get off the ground without MINISTERS. We are looking for people who will commit to pray DAILY that the Lord of the harvest will raise up church planters for this project, both missionary and Japanese. Will you join us?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How God Called Us to Japan (part 2)

Note:  This is part 2 of a 3-part series.  Click here to read part one...

During October 2008, Gina and I had the opportunity to join a team from Mission to the World on a "vision trip" to Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania.  MTW has several church planters in that region surrounding the Baltic Sea, and the trip was an opportunity to see the works and pray for the missionaries in person.

To say the trip impacted us is a great understatement.  Over 10 days, we visited three church plants in Sweden, spent time with MTW church planters Carl and Becky Chaplin in Riga, Latvia, and heard a presentation by one of MTW's national partners in Vilnius, Lithuania.  At every stop, we were struck by the great opportunities for the Gospel as well as the recurring need for more missionaries.  Jesus' words in Luke 10:2 came to life in new ways:  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

In Stockholm, I had the joy of leading a Bible study made up of young professionals who dreamed of planting a new church in that city.  I don't remember the passage I taught from, but I do remember the expressions on their faces - how open and hungry they were for God's Word.  I also remember their gratitude.  They were so grateful for our willingness to travel so far to spend an evening with them in God's Word.

The time we spent in Riga was especially memorable, and we were captured by the stage of the work in that country.  MTW partners with several Latvian pastors who'd already established two churches in the city.  They'd also founded a seminary called Baltic Reformed Theological Seminary to train new leaders for church planting throughout the whole region.  Although Gina and I weren't looking for a new job, we talked about how we could see ourselves contributing to the work in Riga.

On the last day of the trip, we visited Vilnius to hear about the state of the Church in that country.  Most of the Lithuanian ministers (at least those in our circles) are very old and nearing retirement.  A dear brother named Algamonte shared with us about the need for Christian leaders in Lithuania.  As he closed his presentation, he became emotional and said, "My friends, the fields here are so ripe for the Gospel.  If I had 10 men who would simply read my sermon manuscript before a group each week, I could plant 10 new churches next year!"  At that moment, Gina and I looked at each other, and I think we both knew that our lives were taking an unexpected turn.

On the flight home, we talked at length about our experiences in light of Algamonte's challenging statement - which was still ringing in our ears.  Algamonte was praying for 10 "manuscript-readers" and no one was willing to come.  I imagined that if I resigned my position at Grace Fellowship, at least that many men would apply to take my place.  In our own denomination, there are more trained leaders than pulpits and I was occupying one of those.  Was I really in the place where I could be of maximum benefit to Christ's Church?  More importantly, might God be leading us to move?

During the coming months, the trip continued to dominate our conversations.  Gina and I found ourselves wrestling with how over-staffed the American Church is when compared to the ones we'd seen in the Baltic region.  Here, we have the luxury of choosing a particular church based on the personality of the pastor and the style of music in the worship service.  In Stockholm, Vilnius, and Riga there are only a handful of Gospel-proclaiming churches in he whole city!  And those have limited resources and very few members who are qualified to teach or offer spiritual leadership.

We also took stock of our own ministry here in central North Carolina and thought about how small our impact has been.  Don't write that off as hopelessness or false-humility.  We know God has used us, and He's done some big things in people's lives through us.  We rejoice in that and don't take it for granted.  At the same time, the church in America will barely notice when we leave.  There are hundreds of Christian leaders who are ready, willing, and able to fill any small gaps we leave...that's just reality.  In contrast, the Church in a country like Lithuania (or Japan!) may be forever changed by our coming.  It's just another example of the same lesson God taught us after we moved from our house in the country (from part 1 of this series).  If Gospel-opportunities increased based on a relatively small into the city, how much might they increase if we went to a place with a much greater need?

As I shared all this with a friend over coffee one day, I asked him to pray that God would make his will clear to Gina and me.  His response jolted me when he said, "Brother, it sounds to me like He's already been clear.  And it sounds to me like you've already left."  I knew he was right.  I'm pretty sure we made the decision while Algamonte was sharing his heart with us that day in Vilnius.

I realize I promised to tell you how God called us to JAPAN and so far I've barely mentioned that country.  As I shared in my first article, the Spirit used several small, related stories to send us across the Pacific.  Ultimately, He used a trip to Eastern Europe to open our eyes to the need for Christian leaders to move overseas for the sake of Christ's Kingdom.  As we wrestled with that, we always assumed He was calling us to Riga or Vilnius.  In retrospect, He simply used that trip to loosen our grip on ministry in America.  He was leading us to Nagoya all along, but that part of the story will have to wait for now.  There's still one more chapter to go...

(To be continued)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Post-Tsunami Update (1 year later)

The following are highlights from Bruce and Susan Young's most recent prayer update that we received this week.  Bruce was born in Japan while his parents were serving as long-term missionaries, and the Youngs have focused their whole lives on church planting in Japan.  Note that words in parenthesis are mine.

Dear Friends:

On March 11 it will be exactly one year since the catastrophic 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan, causing massive destruction. Looking over these past 12 months we see the terrible effects it has had in four areas—physical damage, emotional damage, nuclear damage and economic damage:
  1. The tsunami which was at some places 90 feet high, killed over 15,000 lives! And there are 3,320 still missing; it will take 245 billion dollars for reconstruction;
  2. Emotional damage that resulted in increased suicides, depression and emotional stress (throughout 2011 earthquakes continue to shake Japan—there were over 19,000 earthquakes in the 3.0 category and 2200 5.0-5.9 magnitude quakes!)
  3. Exposure to nuclear radiation and the shut down of the power plant which resulted in the loss of 20% of Tokyo’s electricity and the scare of contamination of food, water and the air.
  4. It was a blow to the all ready hurting Japanese economy by the loss of production and increased debt from having to pour money into repairing the infrastructure and care for the affected people.
Could there possibly be anything positive come out of such a tragedy? Yes, (here are) four ways God is using this:
  1. The evangelical church has become unified in their efforts to work together to reach the affected areas.
  2. Our Presbyterian denomination has committed to starting several (new) churches (which will form a new presbytery) in one of the least churched areas of Japan!
  3. The reputation of Christians in Japan has taken a turn for the good. Many Japanese are impressed at the unconditional help and concern shown by Christians to those suffering from the tsunami.
  4. Local churches have become visible in their community. Neighbors have entered churches for the first time to bring contributions to be sent north for relief work!
How You Can Pray:  Pray that God will use the one year anniversary of the terrible tsunami in the ways listed above—that the testimony of the church would be a means for many to hear the gospel and turn from fear, apathy, loneliness, discontent to the Lord Jesus Christ!


Bruce and Susan Young
MTW Spiritual Life and Japan

To see the whole prayer update in its original, unedited form, click here.  If you'd like to get in touch with the Youngs to ask questions or partner with them in their work, you may email them at Bruce.Young@mtw.org .