December represents the greatest opportunity for Christians to share the message of Christ with their family and friends and Japan is no different in that respect. Perhaps December is more critical of a time for us to share about the reason for Jesus’s birth here because the historical and cultural context of Christmas can be used to share about spiritual matters. People who might shy away from spiritual conversations are interested in understanding Christmas from a historical and American cultural standpoint.
Like many other churches in Tokyo, our church, the Biblical Church of Tokyo, makes an enormous effort to introduce the story of God’s love for mankind during the Christmas season. This year, we held a variety of events that people in our community would be excited to attend, regardless of their knowledge of Christianity.
There were four major events and activities for the community this year: a Christmas musical, a Gospel Choir concert, a Christmas Festival, and a Family and Children’s portrait session.
The Christmas musical at our church is an outreach to the community in a special way: you don’t need to attend our church to be a part of it. In fact, many of the people involved in the production of the musical get involved because they learned about it through participation in peripheral activities that use the church facility: juku (after-school tutoring), karate class, Moms and tots programs, and others. The philosophy is that it allows people to get to know Christians by working side-by-side with them. The musical becomes a joint labor of love, and many people from outside the church are invited to come and see it. This year, the 300+ seating sanctuary was filled to capacity with at least half of the attendees being people who do not regularly attend Sunday service. The musical itself was professionally done, written by a woman who works in the film industry, directed by a former television producer and musically scored by a professional musician. The cast auditioned for their parts and rehearsed for six weeks before the performance. Some people commented that they had not expected a church produced musical to be as good as it was.
The Gospel Choir concert was done by the same group that regularly puts on concerts using our church facility, but this time, had a Christmas message and theme. Gospel Choir concerts are wildly popular in the Tokyo area, but this time, we had folding chairs in some of the aisles and people standing in the back of the sanctuary. The choir raised the roof and our pastors Seiji and Kathy Oyama gave a brief message in the middle of the concert. Gospel music still seems to be the least threatening way to share the gospel message with those who have never heard it before.
The Christmas festival and family and children’s portraits were done on the same day. The festival was geared specifically for the children; there were games and activities for them. Again, the primary goal is to bring people into the church who would not normally step into a church setting, much like Harvest Festival at our church back in California.
Family portraits was my specific contribution this year. Families both from the church and from the local community were invited to take portraits. Many families forgo family portraits because of the high cost of going to a professional studio, though many would like a family portrait to use for New Years cards. We set up a very simple setting and with some help from a couple of wonderful translators, I shot 25 families. 10 families were from the community.
Jayne helped design and create a creative frame to be used to for the pictures of the children. She spent an afternoon working with one of the other ladies from the church assembling the frames. 46 children took photos this year and 15 of them were from non-church families.
Overall, we praise God for the opportunity to reach many new people from our community with the gospel message, whether through musicals, concerts, festivals or portraits. Each of these activities helps us build relational bridges to people, inviting them to get to know us a little better and in turn, a chance to see a glimpse of our Lord Jesus in our lives. It reminds me of Psalm 34 where David invites people to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” and “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing”. We invite people in for a taste of the goodness of the Lord and encourage them to keep seeking after Him. Please pray that the relationships built using these events over the past month are able to be nurtured and grown over the coming months and years.