With over 60 years of experience and tens of thousands of children in participation during that time, Redwood Chapel Community Church knows a few things about Vacation Bible School (VBS). It was only natural, with their focus on ministry in Japan for the next decade or two and our local church with a vision to reach the thousands of young families in our community, that God would bring us together in partnership. What we weren’t prepared for was the depth and breadth of God’s work was going on behind the scenes, long before we even came together as a team.
Redwood Chapel sent a small vision team to meet with the leaders of our church about planning an English Summer Camp (or ESC, the contextualized name of VBS here in Japan) for the summer of 2016. In our minds, 100 kids was a stretch for a first year program in Japan and one which would comfortably fit in our above average sized church.
The Redwood Chapel team brought us 5 essentials of preparing for ESC, all rooted in the Bible. Number 2 on the list was: Dream and Set Goals – “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities.” Isaiah 54:2-3
It was during the course of the meetings that we realized we had not dreamed large enough for God’s plan and He made it very clear to us. Rikko Preschool, a large preschool which our pastors have developed a strong relationship with over the past few years, was one of the sites we visited with the team to attend our pastor’s weekly devotional for the parents of the children. We were surprised when the head of the school showed up to the devotional time, unaware of our special guests from California. When we explained to him why the team was here and what we were planning, he exclaimed very plainly, “You should do the ESC program here at Rikko!”
I should explain the significance of his offer before we go any further. First, Rikko is a large preschool which is currently in expansion from 450 children to 700 children. We would be the first outside group to use the new facilities and obviously if the ESC program were to grow in size over the years, it would take a while for us to reach capacity. Second, though Rikko was founded by Christians over 100 years ago and maintains a religious organization status, the school has been mainly secular in nature. However, the current head of the school has invited our pastor to restart “religious activities” at Rikko, which is basically an invitation to plant a new church service. The ESC program would be a huge jump-start to that service.
As we spent time together as a team, the threads of God’s handiwork started to become clear. One of the leaders from Redwood Chapel was strongly influenced to become a Christian when our pastor’s father preached at a conference in California decades earlier. Another Redwood Chapel member likely visited the original site of our church on a short term mission trip to Japan in the 1980’s (and possibly met our pastor as a college student). And the whole idea that what we originally envisioned as a typical English outreach for children was becoming the catalyst for a brand new church plant.
In a nutshell, God transformed our plans, stretched out our vision and made something much greater. Currently, we are planning for 300 children in two tracks: preschool and elementary. The majority of our volunteers will come from the mothers of the children, nearly all not-yet-Christian. Taking our plans from 100 to 300 children in the first year will be a stretch in many ways, but we believe God will be with us each step of the way. You can partner with us as well, in your prayers over the next 10 months as we make this vision a reality for God’s glory here in Tokyo.