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Making Jesus known in Japan: Checkpoint Spring 2021

CMS missionaries Adam and Helane Ramsay, along with Steve and Sandra Parsons, are serving in Japan. Whether church planting or supporting in other ways, they explain their desire to see God’s people take every opportunity to grow his kingdom in a hard place.

Adam writes

We didn’t come to Japan to church plant. We came so that Japanese people would hear about Jesus.

Along the way, however, we joined a new church planting team in Chiba city centre. Five years in we said goodbye to that team and are now putting our energy into helping a young local church in the suburbs. Both those initiatives—to help church plant, and to move to a new congregation—have been in service of just one aim: to make Jesus known.

‘Church planting’ can mean different things to different people. In our case it meant, first and foremost, developing relationships in our neighbourhood and working to share the gospel with our friends and acquaintances in that place. As part of a church-planting team we had a presence, and people in Chiba were beginning to know who we were. The team gathered twice a month to worship together. In our minds, we were indeed church planting. We were laying a foundation for a stable community of believers to worship together by proclaiming God’s word.

Others in our team were waiting, hoping and praying for further developments, such as a building or a weekly service. Could we be confident that we were church planting before those developments materialised? This was a question we all asked ourselves along the way.

That initial church-planting team doesn’t exist anymore. But the conviction that drove all of us continues. Each of us wanted to encourage and disciple local Christians in their faith, and in sharing the good news about Jesus with their neighbours. We all desired (and continue to desire) to raise up new leaders for churches in Japan. Speaking for Helane and myself, we continue to offer whatever skills and experience we might have to help develop ministries, at the same time leaving significant space for our Japanese partners to contribute and take ownership.

Bible study with an English and Japanese Bible.

A change of plan

What most matters in this picture is making Jesus known. But plans can and do change.

Helane and I are now working within a local church, focusing on a young congregation (around four years old). We have been tangentially connected with this local church since we arrived in Japan. We have seen this church work through changes and challenges. We have seen people come and go. Above all we have seen the church’s faithful commitment to gospel mission in their community.

Offering to work with this local congregation was a change of plan. If we had come to Japan just to church plant, that change might have seemed like a failure. But church planting was never the primary goal. Rather, our prayerful ambition is well expressed by the CMS vision: a world that knows Jesus. That is the vision that guides us, and we seek to achieve it by whatever means possible.

Wonderful opportunities

As a result of change we have had some wonderful opportunities. Along with two women in this young congregation we have restarted a children’s ministry. This is a combined effort. We are partners together in mission. Helane is gaining opportunities to disciple women in the congregation, and learning much in return. I have had the opportunity to practice preaching and leading in Japanese, and to see the inner workings of a Japanese church. The church itself has grown, and we now have
the privilege of working with a new minister in shaping the direction of our congregation. For all these things we thank God.

 

Steve writes

Why do we stay committed to the growth of God’s churches in Japan— whether old, new, or just beginning? Here are some of our own reasons:

1. God loves his Church. God has decided to use the Church with its strengths and weaknesses, just like you and me! Japanese people need to hear, see, and experience God through his people. We want to be a part of that.

2. Japan is gospel-poor; well over 90% of the population are destined for eternal punishment, without true purpose in life and no real hope.

3. There’s potential in Japanese churches. Japanese Christians, like us, have a rich purpose in life because of their hope in an eternal future. But they struggle to share their faith in a country conditioned to reject the gospel. We’re keen to work with Japanese believers to discover effective ways to combat this barrier in a culturally sensitive way.

As challenging as life and gospel ministry can be, it’s an absolute joy to be here serving God in Japan. The Church in Japan welcomes the support of Christians from around the world. We are excited to be a part of encouraging and equipping churches alongside Japanese Christians, with the hope of reaching heights beyond imagination in God’s strength.

Youth praying at a camp.

There are many ways to serve. Some in Japan have started churches from scratch—church planting through cafés, English classes, and community groups. Others have gone into struggling churches to assist in revitalising them. Some have resourced churches through media, literature, family support, retreat centres, and student ministries. Still others attend church to rub shoulders with others, being a shining light in the community through everyday activities and promoting spiritual growth through Bible studies, ladies’ meetings, English conversations and music.

Churches in Japan are groups of people seeking to love and serve the Lord. Our role, as part of CMS and as fellow workers with Japanese Christians, is to encourage and challenge leaders and other Christians to focus on who they are in Christ. In everything, God is the miracle-maker who is moving in and through his people in this spiritually dry land.

CARE

Church planting requires slow and non-obvious work, often with unexpected changes of plans. If you know missionaries experiencing these changes, consider making contact to assure them of your continued care in potentially difficult times.