This past August, we wrapped up our 4th year of English Summer Camp. It was significant, in many ways, as from the beginning, we didn’t know if there would be a 4th year. Our partners in California committed to 3 years and after that, it would be up to the Lord to lead us. Well, the Lord led us to continue, and we could tell by this year that where He leads, He leads with great blessings.
About 370 children attended camp this year, about 100 more than last year. From the start, the camp had a different feel to it. Instead of wondering if there would be enough kids to have camp, we started wondering if we could fit all the kids who were coming into the rooms we were using. Instead of the friction we had with various authorities, there was just kindness. Instead of the burden of bearing the cost of sending a huge team put on one church from California, we had team members from three churches (and a special guest from Chicago).
I want to share two stories that really demonstrate what the Lord is doing through this ministry.
Transforming A Family
The M family have been an integral part of our church for many years. A couple with 3 children from elementary to high school age, they are active in several ministries of the church. Last year, while Mr. M was on leave from work recovering from surgery, he used his free time to serve at ESC for the first time and enjoyed the experience. He met many of our partners from California and developed friendships with them.
Last fall, the M family took a trip to the Western US, visiting with many of the friends Mr. M had made during the ESC week. They even had a chance to visit Redwood Chapel, the partnering church that enabled us to start the program here in Tokyo. It was during this trip that the M’s realized the people who came to help at ESC were just regular people like them. They had regular jobs and busy lives and they sacrificed their time and money to spend two weeks every year to put on the ESC program.
So this year, it was the M family who sacrificed their vacation time to serve at ESC. For the entire week, the family served and at the end of it all, Mr. and Mrs. M testified in front of many church members about their wonderful experience, and how they are looking forward to serving again next year. I believe their moving testimony will inspire others in our congregation to give their time sacrificially for this ministry.
Sharing The Load
The first two years of ESC, almost the entire team from California was from Redwood Chapel. The first year they sent 20 people to help us. As you can imagine, that is a huge financial burden for a church to bear year upon year, so over time, we prayed other partner churches would be willing to help share the load by sending team members.
This year, Pathway Community Church of Pleasanton and Lord’s Grace Church of Mountain View sent team members to compliment the Redwood team. This greatly reduced the number of people Redwood needed to send to staff the core leadership roles. Above and beyond that, we got to share the blessing of the ESC experience with two new churches.
We had some wonderful new team members with skills and experiences that complimented the Redwood team. Though all were blessings, I will mention a few specifically. A couple of the Pathway team members had studied Japanese and were able to have good conversations with people, especially the Japanese university students who volunteered as helpers. Building friendships with university students is an important part of our church ministry apart from ESC, so we were grateful for that. The Leong family from Lord’s Grace Church were so versatile and flexible, they served in anyway they were needed and stepped into roles they had not planned to fill.
Of course, we always appreciate the veteran leadership of the Redwood Chapel team and their experience is critical to making the camp run with such precision and ease. And the friendships the long term members have built with people here in Japan is so important and precious. But it is great to see other churches joining up with Redwood to serve under their leadership and make it easier for Redwood to continue to send a team every year.
Looking to the Future: 2020 Olympics and beyond
Next year will be a challenge with the Tokyo Summer Olympics scheduled at exactly the same time as our camp. Though we discussed changing our schedule to avoid the Olympics, there is simply no way to do it based on the Japanese school schedule and the availability of our partners from California. So we are pressing forward, trusting in the Lord to help us navigate the giant obstacle that is the Olympic games.
With the momentum we now have, we know children and their families are already looking forward to next year’s program. With several other programs launched at churches in our community, we realize now hundreds of children and their families are able to hear the gospel message each summer. Every year, new seeds are sown, watered, and soon will be sprouting. At our church, we are strategically planning on how to engage the children and families who want a deeper understanding of the gospel.