Saturday, April 21, 2012

How God Called Us to Japan (part 3 of 3)

A quick review:  In my first two posts, I shared how God used two seemingly minor episodes to call Gina and me to pursue cross cultural missions.  In part 1, I described our move from rural Randolph County into the city - and how opportunities for ministry increased based on the increased needs in our community.  In part 2, I wrote about how God used a pastor in Lithuania to open our eyes to the need for Christian leaders in unreached countries.  Now, let me explain why we believe God is specifically leading us to Japan.

After our return from Eastern Europe in 2008, cross-cultural missions began to dominate our conversations.  For the first time, Gina and I began to seriously consider whether God was calling our family to go to the mission field.  This was a big change from how we'd previously seen our life-calling, so we invited insight from trusted friends.  The first place we turned was to our elders at Grace Fellowship.  I told them the whole story, assured them that we had not yet reached a decision, and invited them to join us in seeking God's will - both for our family and Grace Fellowship.

Wayne and Amy Newsome
With our elders help, we developed a plan to help us test and discern God's leading.  Part of that plan included attending a missions retreat where missionaries from all over the world shared about their respective fields.  That's where we met Wayne & Amy Newsome and heard about their work in Japan for the first time.  We loved hearing about missions in Japan, but we were especially struck by the Newsome's willingness to share openly about their failures on the field.  While Amy was speaking, Gina leaned over and whispered, "...if I could work with anyone in this room, it'd be that couple!"  I laughed out loud and replied, "Honey, you're never going to work with the Newsomes...I'm not sure where God is leading us, but I'm sure it's NOT Japan!"  I'm pretty sure God's throne room erupted in laughter at that moment!

As we sought God's face, two things became increasingly clear.  First, we grew very secure that God was calling us to leave Asheboro and become cross-cultural church planters.  Secondly, we grew confident that God wasn't leading us to work in Eastern Europe.  At first, we felt confused, because we'd assumed that if God were calling us to missions, He must want us in Latvia or Lithuania.  But slowly, it dawned on us that we were feeling drawn to a particular "job description" rather than a specific place.  We felt like our greatest contribution would be made on a field where:
  1. A team was in place and had already established a healthy, local church.
  2. The team was ready to plant a 2nd generation of "daughter churches" in the city.
  3. There was a seminary (or equivalent) to help train future national pastors and leaders.
Nisshin Christ Church, Nagoya, Japan
We imagined that our "dream scenario" would be hard to find, and were surprised to learn that it actually exists in countries all over the world!  MTW plants churches and is committed to raising up national pastors and elders to lead those congregations.  The organization has been at this for several decades, so it wasn't hard to find a team at exactly the stage we were dreaming about.

Christ Bible Institute, Nagoya, Japan
Most notably for us, the above pieces all come together on the team I said I'd never join!  The Newsomes' team in Nagoya had already planted Nisshin Christ Church and founded Christ Bible Seminary.  They were ready to launch several daughter churches throughout the city and had been actively asking God to send new team members to do so!  There were also many other factors that made the team a good fit for our family, but space won't allow me to list them all here!  I finally gave in and admitted what was obvious to everyone except me...God was leading us to Japan!

Since then, we've come to understand our calling in a much fuller way.  The Japanese people make up the world's largest unreached people group with less than 0.5% professing faith in Christ.  Unlike much of Europe, Japan has never been extensively reached with the Gospel, and missions tend to move very slowly.  Over the last decade, the astronomical cost of living combined with slow progress have caused many missions organizations to abandon Japan altogether (a 24% decline in Western missionaries in the 7 years prior to the tsunami).  In the meantime, MTW has been adding teams.

Last year's tsunami served to strengthen our sense of calling to Japan.  Unity among evangelical churches and opportunities for church planting have never been greater.  All of our teams are pushing out, and we're hearing good reports form the field.  We're amazed at God's wisdom and timing in calling in reinforcements a year before the tsunami.  Our trajectory was already set, and the need on the field has never been greater!

So, that's how God called has us to Nagoya.  It's not especially dramatic - no bright lights or booming thunder.  The experience has been more like the gradual change from darkness to light just before dawn.  Through divine providence, the Spirit has slowly and steadily turned on the lights for us and solidified our sense of calling to Japan.

And maybe God - in His providence - is leading you to partner with us in this journey.  We believe God has called us to move to Nagoya and plant churches among the world's largest unreached people group, but we can't do that on our own.  Our two greatest needs are (1) prayer and (2) financial support (in that order).  Right now, God has raised up an army individuals who are praying for us regularly.  If you'd like to join that group and receive regular prayer updates, you can register at www.news.grace4japan.com.  If you'd like to partner with us financially during our first term, you can communicate that desire by using this form.  As of this writing (April 20, 2012), God has already raised up financial partners who have pledged 80% of our budget, and we're prepared to move to the field as soon as the remaining 20% is pledged!  Thanks for your prayerful consideration!

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