As of today, I have been in Japan for one year! Settling into a new lifestyle as a missionary, integrating into a completely different society, taking on a new language and learning the marriage life all at once has been an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to God’s plans for the future. I’ve also been blessed to make some wonderful connections with others in the ministry who have helped me to discover more about the unique issues facing the church here. I sense that there is a shift happening in the way people are focusing on ministry in Japan. I personally have began to understand more about my own role here and why God has given me a heart for building up the body of Christ, as more of an ‘Apollos’ (one who waters) than a ‘Paul’ (one who plants) (1 Cor 3:5-9). Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for the saints to be equipped and how God has given gifts to the church for this purpose (Eph. 4). In America there are plenty of opportunities for people to be equipped, there are healthy churches and small groups full of people that God has given to build up the individual and the congregation alike, but there are so few here in Japan. It’s not uncommon to find congregations here that don’t have a pastor, and at the same time it’s far too common to find churches with believers who look up to pastors and missionaries so much they become dependent on them, which keeps them from operating in their own giftings which were given to build up the body of Christ in love. My prayer is that God would send more people here to ‘water’ (as there are already so many who are planting) so that there would be growth in the lives of individual believers, leading to growth in congregations, leading to solid footing for new believers (and ‘returnee’ believers who often come back to Japan and have difficulty finding a healthy congregation to be a part of). The percentage of believers in Japan is somewhere around 0.84%. That seems dire, and the ‘logical’ response is to multiply the numbers, but it’s my conviction that we should be focusing on strengthening that 0.84% as much as possible, helping individual believers to grow in their faith. I understand now that this why God has given me a heart for authentic, rich fellowship among believers. From a logical point of view, this sort of ministry can be frustrating, because while it’s easy to measure the success of a ministry by numbers, it’s impossible to measure success according to the growth in the heart of one single follower of Christ. Only God can measure that, because it’s God that causes the growth (I’m just here to water). So, how do I show results, since people like to see results? That’s something I’ve yet to discover, but I trust that there will be fruit. Ask any missionary in Tokyo and they’ll tell you it’s a very slow mission field (so much so that a lot of missionaries have given up and left their ploughs to rust in said field), and that’s why we can’t measure our success by numbers, or else we’re so easily discouraged and defeated.
That said, I’ve been amazed to see how God has led my wife and I this past year, and the opportunities that have come (not by our own seeking, but by simply walking in faith). We continue to be encouraged and amazed by random encounters and the unexpected adventures that God takes us on. It's these things that not only keep us going and give us direction in ministry, but have helped our marriage to grow as we learn what it means to walk in faith together in different ways. This year has indeed been formative for our ministry and marriage, and God has been faithful to carry us through, guide us along and take care of our needs. I know this season is only the beginning, a preparation for things to come, which will no doubt have its challenges and failures, but will also be full of blessings and stories to share of God's faithfulness.
The worship project that has been mentioned in previous newsletter/blogs is almost ready to be printed! I finished production last month and it’s currently being mixed by my brother in Christ back in Nashville, Galen Crew, and the songs are sounding fantastic! The project is called 祝福の盃 "Shukufuku no Sakazuki" or "Cup of Blessing". I’ve posted a sampler below so you can hear a few of these hymns and worship songs. Please be sure to send me a message and let me know if you are interested in receiving one of these once they are printed up (hopefully sometime in October.)
We’ve also been very blessed to be able to use a house in Higashi-Kurume for core ministry purposes (as in fellowship and hospitality). We’re very thankful to have had the opportunity to host visitors to Tokyo and give them a relaxing atmosphere, fellowship with believers, and of course, to enjoy my wife’s amazing cooking! We’re also grateful for the large living area where we’ve hosted many gatherings and given brothers and sisters in Christ a place to come fellowship in a relaxed (non-formal or ‘churchy’) setting, and it’s wonderful to see how sharing a meal can open up people to share their hearts with each other. Once again, I’d like to thank Mike and Teresa Sherrill for allowing us to use their house for encouraging and building up the body of Christ here in this little corner of Tokyo. We continue to pray for the provision to be able to get a loan soon to officially make the home ours and continue the (wood) work that Mike started and the ministry that God started here.
In October, my wife and I will be leading worship for a conference hosted by RJC for returnees (those who become believers while overseas and return to Japan). The event will be held simultaneously in Tokyo, Osaka, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Dallas, Chicago, LA, DC and at the Japanese church I served at in Nashville. The conference itself will be done panel style, with returnees and those who are ministering to returnees sharing their stories and answering questions. I’m excited to learn more about this area of ministry that seems to be quite unique to Japan. As stated above, I believe returnees are directly affected by the health and strength of the church in Japan. To find out more about the RJC Multi-site Conference, click HERE.
Please be in prayer for us as we move into this next year of ministry in Japan, that God would show us the next steps, guiding us by His Spirit, and that He will equip us for the work of building the Kingdom here. I’m very thankful for those of you who have been praying for us and also to those who have supported us financially. If you would like to sow into what we’re doing here, please visit this page. We are a ministry department of A.C.T. International, which operates as a 501c3 non-profit organization, so all donations are tax deductible. Finally, if any of you feel a calling to come be a part, please let me know! We need more willing hearts to serve in Japan!
Kyle and Ai