Little Voices Magnified

Yesterday, as I watched the mini-bus full of our Redwood team pull out of the preschool on their way back to California, I felt the tears welling up. For a week, we had transformed the rooms and halls of the preschool, normally unused during vacation periods, into places of joy and laughter for over 200 children. They danced like no one was watching, sang at the tops of their lungs, and gave praise to a God they were only just beginning to know, but One who knew and loved them before they were born.

Their little voices echoed in the hallways of my memories, their little footsteps literally running into the chapel excited to sing and dance their hearts out for Jesus. In those moments, it wasn’t difficult to understand the joy God feels for us, His creation, and what He intended our relationship to be with him: children running with joy to spend time with their Father.

Dozens of volunteers spent hundreds of man hours preparing for and participating in English Summer Camp this year. Many people, most who didn’t even attend the event, gave time and resources to support this event: prayer, financial, labor. And many volunteers here in Japan sacrificed their vacation time to spend time with these children.

I’m so thankful for the breadth and depth of our local volunteers this year. Some came from other churches to help, some from other ministries, like a great group of young people from YWAM. Some were local university students who love children. Some were mothers of participating children who wanted to be more actively involved.

Some of our volunteers said that by participating in camp, they came to a fuller knowledge of who Jesus is and what Christianity is about. A parent said that she had never seen her child as full of joy as they were during English Summer Camp. On the last day, there were already requests to do a mini-camp in the Fall, maybe with a few members of the Redwood Team returning to lead it.

This is all we pray and hope for; the opportunity to build deeper friendships and relationships based on the foundation of God’s love. Through our friendship, we hope to help our Japanese friends gain a clearer understanding of God’s great love for them. We want to stand with them in their times of joy and times of sorrow, their triumphs and trials. For Jesus called us to live out his love in the world in action, and not just words.

Sharing some of the beautiful moments of this year’s English Summer Camp: children worshiping their Heavenly Father and being loved with the love of Jesus through our leaders and volunteers.

 

We Love Japanese Students!

(For the sake of accuracy, we should say we love ALL our International students, like Pui, who is from Thailand but was visiting Tokyo this month!)

Over the past few couple of weeks, I have had many opportunities to meet with many of the former university students whom we spent time with doing international student ministry in California, as well as meeting some current students who attend English and Bible classes taught by our pastor’s wife at a local university. I always find that Japanese university students are warm-hearted, friendly and eager to become friends with people from other countries.

This past week, our good friends Jeff and Wendy visited us from California. Though it was their vacation, their priority (other than eating as many different kinds of delicious Japanese food as possible) was meeting up with former international students to see how they are doing and encourage them. As a result, our family was also able to reconnect with many student friends that we had made in California. It was a real blessing to spend time with the students and see how they looked back on the time we all shared together in California with fond memories.

Some of the students made tremendous sacrifices to spend time with us. One student came from over 2 hours away just to spend 90 minutes attending church service with us. Another student met Jeff and Wendy on their arrival in Tokyo after 11pm and walked them to their hotel from their arrival point. Still another student worked until 1:30am one day so he could make sure he could get off work early the next day to meet them for dinner. These are some examples of how much the students value the relationships built with us while they were living overseas.

Another theme I found from talking to the students is that they relish the opportunity to speak English with native speakers, especially those who spent time overseas. One of the things that was important to us in student ministry was that it should always be a safe place for students to practice their English conversation. We were always encouraging and gentle in correcting any of their mistakes. Most students learned to enjoy English conversation with members of our ministry because they didn’t have to be embarrassed about making mistakes.

Spending time with Jeff and Wendy and our former students has rekindled a desire to reach out to university students again. There are 3 universities within a 5-10 minute walk from our church. Our church is large with plenty of room to organize a gathering of students. We have several native English speakers at church and many others who speak English very well as a result of spending time living overseas. And we have a pastor whom I believe can speak to the hearts of students in practical ways, giving them advice from the Bible that can be applied to many of the things they are going through: relationships, job hunting, emotional healing.

We have already started some high level brainstorming with those who might be interested from church on what this kind of ministry might look like. God willing, we’ll launch a monthly gathering early in 2015. Please be in prayer with us as we allow God to guide us in how this ministry should be structured and ask Him to bring many people with a passion for building friendships with university students to serve them.