messy ministry

The moment I stepped off 0f the plane in Manila, Philippines until we left for the USA, I was so excited that I couldn’t… I was hot.

Not kidding, it was super hot and super chaotic, and I was praying just to make it through.

Let me tell you, Manila is not my favorite place on the face of the Earth. It might be my least favorite (remember, the vision statement of this blog is to be “fearlessly authentic”).

But this post isn’t about trash-talking Manila, now is it? (I do love the people there. They were very helpful and nice.) So let us move on further into the journey….


 

When I woke six hours later, groggy-eyed and slightly confused, I found that I was in Maria Aurora, my home for the next nine days. It was about 11:00 PM, and though the air was still warm, the beautiful stars and peaceful buzzing of bugs (some of which I later found did not come in peace) calmed my anxious heart. And the journey that we had been anxiously awaiting began.

Through the laughter with children, super-competitive card games during late hours (the Filipinos whooped American tail), and worship on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but learn and be reminded of things about our God.

#1) Our God gives joy that is beyond reason and circumstances.

Each week day we would either visit schools (This included singing songs, reading the story of Saul to Paul in Acts 9, a drawing competition, handing out school supplies, and a game) or visit homes of believers and some nonbelievers (This included talking and praying with women —with the exception of one man during our time there— meeting their children, and basically visiting them), each event taking place in morning and afternoon.

During home visits I was struck by the joy of many of the elderly women. (I noticed a trend with elderly women.) Some, even with tears in their eyes because of the pain that this broken world causes, explained how great God is and how He keeps true to His constant promise to provide. Through watery eyes, they smiled at the goodness of our Lord. From a wealthy American’s perspective the incredible joy of the women did not make sense. It was slightly hard to comprehend how the women continued in the faith, eagerly urging me to do so as well. My faith felt imaginary compared to their mustard seed.

But guess who granted them such a joy?

You got it— Jesus.

Yes, it is He who gives such a joy. It is He who reaches beyond the excruciatingly difficult times and into the hearts of believers to give peace and joy that pass all understanding.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

#2) We are defeated, but Jesus has conquered.

So… I might have broken down once during the Philippines.

And if you know me, you might have patted me on the back and given me a high-five. Only once!

But after a day full of sweet children, praying with believers, observing poverty unlike any I had ever seen, and exhausting heat, I was feeling a little defeated.

And guess what?

I was.

After a day of experiencing a world of brokenness, poverty, difficulty, and trials, my heart was a little torn in two.
I was defeated by darkness, destruction, and despair.

Many of these people had so much gratitude! The children sang and laughed and danced and played in the 110 degree heat of the day! How did they sing to God when there was so much difficulty.
But then I remembered a Jesus that conquered it all, because He knew we couldn’t bare it.

A Jesus who bore the weight because He knew it would defeat us.

A Jesus who had already won the battle.

A Jesus who would never— no, not ever— let His children drown.

We are defeated, but He has conquered it all—- even death itself.

Because you will not abandon me to the grave, you will not let your holy one see decay. – Acts 2: 27

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Corinthians 5:57

#3) Ministry is messy…. but it is worth it.

Many have a view that ministry is either:

A) Extremely hard, dirty, and not fun. People just do it because they feel guilty. They feel like they have to.

B) It is wonderful! Every one loves and accepts the Word. It’s always rainbows and unicorns. Sure, there’s some dirt and such, but it’s mostly just success.

These are extreme examples, but I’m sure that you have had one of these views of thoughts before. I can almost guarantee it, because we are all sinners with sinful thoughts. I have had both of these views before (and still caught myself having them)! We are all marked by fault.

But here’s a better picture. Let’s try choice C.

C) Ministry is hard. It’s messy. Because God is using imperfect, broken people to serve other broken people. It’s just regular life— lived for the gospel. A regular Christian, following where Jesus leads, which is often into hard places. It is tiring, laborious, demanding, and sometimes even boring. But it is also rewarding, satisfying, and enriching. It is purposeful, full of life even on the hard days when it doesn’t feel like it. It might not always be a day of success, and sometimes it might be a day of failure. But the Potter is molding the pot and the Gardener is pruning the bush the entire time. The gospel is expanding, and it is a privilege to be a small laborer for the kingdom.

So is ministry messy? Absolutely.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

The blessings far outweigh the hardships, and I am so lucky to be a small part of it.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. Open wide your hearts also. – 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, 13b

 

 

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no mistake

Before June 13, 2014, I had never exited my home country, the United States of America. But on that Friday, I landed in Tokyo, expecting to never see any of the city except the airport. However, Jesus had different plans.

When we (the crew: Taylor, Conner, Alyssa, and myself) arrived at the airport, a flight attendant held a sign Conner’s name printed on it. She stated that we had a small problem; however, we had a feeling it was a big one.

Long story short, because of a passport complication, we had to stay in Tokyo for four days. We were irritated, tired, and anxious to arrive in Manila. Staying in the sixth most expensive city in the world (deemed by CNN) was not on our agenda. However, God showed us that it was on His.

During our time there, Alyssa contacted some local missionaries who were more than happy to guide us to their church on Sunday. After many subways and much walking, we arrived at Grace Harbor Church. It included a small gathering of people (about 40) above a restaurant in a mall. The bilingual service was not extravagant, yet very beautiful. A simple body of believers gathered together above a restaurant to worship on Sunday is enough to make a heart stir.

Side note: this church does not need a stained-glass window. This is the most amazing view of any church I have ever set eyes on.

A few more key facts about this church: It is the only church in the Toyosu area, home to about 126,000 residents. My town has a population of about 15,000 with at least forty churches, so this was astounding news for me.

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After church, a missionary couple, Mr. Bob and Mrs. Sharon, ate with us at the food court. Mrs. Sharon shared with me how God called her to assist in church planting with her husband. Here is her story:

She had been a missionary in Japan for three years, and she and her husband planned to move back to the States in 2014. She explained how she longed and prayed to be a grandmother to her six grandchildren in the States. However, her husband felt called to stay in Tokyo. No, she thought, I want to go be a grandmother! Jesus was tugging at her heart, and an inner voice told her “Your grandchildren have Christian parents, Christian Church, and Christian community. These people do not.” And her heart melted for the people, so she and Mr. Bob stayed in Tokyo to assist in the ministry of Grace Harbor Church.

My heart was so encouraged after hearing her story.

After lunch, her husband shared some insane facts about Christianity in Japan:

–       Less than one percent (estimated 0.22%) of the population claims Christ.

–       The country has the highest depression rate in the world (based on prescribed and bought depression medication). It is estimated that one in every five Japanese citizens suffers from depression.

–       The country also has one of the highest suicide rates.

–       The Japanese are considered the second-largest unreached people group.

–       Most people have never ever heard the gospel.

–       There are three alphabets in the language. One alphabet is of foreign, not often-used words, and Jesus Christ is in this alphabet.

 

So our problem that day in the airport—- it had an answer.

And I believe that the answer is this:

I would have never known about the brokenness of Japan if it were not for those four days.  And if I had not known, I would not have written this blog post. And you, reading this right now, might have not known.

So maybe I will be a missionary there one day. Maybe you will be or the person you share this with over email or at the coffee shop will be the one God calls.

Maybe if each of our hearts is broken a little more each day for this country, and we commit our prayers, then each day the city of Tokyo and the country of Japan will experience more restoration and more of Jesus.

And I must say that four days in Tokyo is most definitely worth an eternity of Jesus.

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:13-15

 

You can read more about Grace Harbor Church and redemption taking place in Japan at Seima Aoyagi’s (GHC’s minister) blog-site: http://radkelifeintokyo.blogspot.com/2013/05/blog-post.html.