I’m extra excited to share with you today’s blog, because it covers the best day of the week, Sunday! Remember that Saturday night was the evening all the hotels in the city were booked due to the ever so popular fireworks show, so Matt and I stayed at the Greer’s and Mark and Mike stayed at the Philip’s. We slept in the living room on a Japanese futon, which is the traditional bed of choice here. It differs from an American futon because it does not have a frame and the dense mat lies directly on the floor. I don’t know whether we were just exhausted or if it is actually a comfortable way to sleep, but we were down for the count in a matter of minutes and slept like babies. Maybe this country of millions is on to something with their bedroom furniture, or lack thereof rather.
When we woke up, it was time to get moving for church. Although the service didn’t started until 11:00, the set up process begins at 8:00 every Sunday. Being the man of good hygiene that he is, Matt prepared to take a shower. I shared with him the instructions that were given to me by Caitlin – to stand in the middle of the room for his shower, holding the shower head over him, rather than standing in the bathtub. Matt looked at me like I was trying to trick him into doing something ridiculous in the name of fitting into the culture. Ha ha, he swore I was hoping he’d do something embarrassingly stupid. How could he doubt me? I’m shocked to my very core. Finally, Jay confirmed my instructions to Matt, and the new approach to showering was implemented.
At 8:00 all of the church staff and our team met at the Mustard Seed office, for the purpose of loading an entire van full of gear for service set up. The 8 of us formed an efficient assembly line, passing speakers, instruments, chairs and snacks from storage to the back of the van. Oh, but right before this we spent time in prayer, specifically praying for the impact of the message, the hearts of those in attendance, and that God would bring some of the people we’ve spoken to throughout the week.
During load-in, we met a staff member that is new to the Osaka team. His name is Ryan, and he will be in charge of ministry finances, as well as helping with the language exchanges and outreach. Ryan has been in Japan for the past 18 months, attending language school full time. Can you imagine how difficult and wearing that would be to learn a new language day after day for a year and a half? But they’ve all done it in the name of ministry and furthering the Kingdom of God. Ryan is the only single guy on staff, and he’s a hoot. So ladies, if you’re interested in becoming a church planter in Japan, send me your digits to forward to him.
Anyway, once we loaded the van, we were on our way to the service location. Because the city is so overpopulated, most facilities are used for multiple businesses. For example, the building in which church service is held every week is also a dance studio and a bar nightclub.
Week after week after week, the Mustard Seed staff have to load all of the equipment needed for church, drive it to the service location, set it all up, tear it all down once service is complete, and take it back to the office until the following week. I hope you’re understanding that this is a lot of work, and demands dedication and awesome attitudes. We are so spoiled at Knott Avenue Christian Church because we are able to leave all equipment in place, just tweaking the setup of chairs and microphones for each event. But Mustard Seed has gotten the movement down to a science, and their smiles indicate that they know it’s all part of the deal of church planting in Japan.
Once the dance studio/bar was fully transformed into an inviting service venue, band rehearsal commenced. I gotta tell you, it was pretty funny to see Matt leading worship in his socks. How inappropriate would that be back home, yet here it’s not even up for discussion, you MUST lead in socks or bare feet.
Check out this video from rehearsal, and be sure to catch a glimpse of the very unique guitar – unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!
I thought it was a little ridiculous that we had to meet three hours prior to the service start time, but it turns out the staff knew exactly what they were doing, because once everything was set up and ready to go it was 10 minutes to 11:00. Everyone mingled and grabbed snacks and coffee as they made their way to their seats. There was a palpable energy and buzz in the room, one that made my stomach jump up and down. I wasn’t sure exactly what made me feel this way, but I think it was the fact that I was now apart of something special, participating in something that most will never have the chance to.
Jay, being the Senior Pastor, began his sermon once the worship set was complete. The worship rocked by the way. It is so beautiful and moving to hear a mix of Japanese and English, knowing that the two different languages are both understood by God in the same way, and both accepted as music to His ears. Everyone sang along in the language they were comfortable in, sometimes going back and forth between the two, because remember, church is an opportunity for them to practice their English.
So back to the sermon. Jay preached on Matthew 13:44-46, which is about the man who found an amazing treasure on a plot of land, so he sold everything he had to buy the plot so he would then own the unimaginably valuable treasure.
The sermon focused on just these two verses so that Jay would be able to teach on one concept and really drive it home. Remember, the average Japanese person has never heard a lick of the Bible, and therefore groundwork needs to me laid, and laid directly and carefully. Using visual aids, Jay went on to say that these verses teach us what it is like to become a Christian. There are several things you might or must give up, but they all pale in comparison to the unimaginably valuable treasure you will get in return.
As Jay preached, a Japanese interpreter stood by his side, relaying every word he said in Japanese as well. Matt jokingly whispered to me, “Can you imagine if we had our messages interpreted back home? We’d be in church all day!” Ha ha, yet another reason why the concept must be simple. Simple it was, but easy it was not. Jay was showing them right up front what they can expect to give up to become a Christian. He didn’t want there to be any surprises as to what they were getting into, but he also wanted to visually show them that no matter what is required of them to give up, what God gives them in return is so much more and lasts far beyond this lifetime. Although I don’t believe it was intentional, the sermon also paralleled the life of a cross-cultural church planter, like all the staff at Mustard Seed. There is definitely a list of things they had to give up to serve here in Japan, but that list pales in comparison to the list of what is gained in this life and the next because of what they’re doing here.
To give perspective, about 80% of the Japanese people in attendance were non-Christian. What a crazy opportunity! We never see anything like that at our churches back home. And guess what! BIG NEWS! The lady we told you about in our video blog a few days ago, the one we met at the language exchange…SHE CAME! She came to church! Praise the Lord! We all grew enormous smiles on our faces when we saw her walk through the door.
After a powerful sermon, you know what happened next? If our home church is anything like your church, you would probably guess we rushed out of that building as fast as we possibly could, eager to get to the next activity or errand or nap. But that’s not what we did. Instead, every single person who attended church stayed and hung out for about an hour, talking and eating and enjoying one another’s company. It was an amazing time of fellowship with a bunch of non-Christians.
The guys had the opportunity to pray with the woman from the language exchange. When they were done praying over her, she said she was still not a Christian, but she felt the power of God come through them during prayer. I mean, come on people, that’s amazing! Here is a pic of Mark and her:
After church and mingling time, the bulk of us headed to an Indian Curry restaurant, and continued the party there. Matt and I got to sit with Seth and Megan, and their 6-week-old baby, Asher. They are a very young couple, doing very mature things for the Lord. They speak Japanese and seem to be involved in nearly every aspect of Mustard Seed. It was amazing to hear them talk about their transition into the culture and how even though their commitment here is only 3 years, they can’t see leaving this country anytime soon.
So we started preparing for church at 8:00am, and by the time we finished lunch and unloaded the gear, it was 5:00pm. Now that is a day of church, I tell you what. Needless to say we were all blissfully exhausted, and turned in for the night quite early compared to other evenings.
Now I’m off to breakfast. I can’t wait to share with you our experiences from today. Thank you so much for reading and giving me feedback so this blog can be more of a conversation. Until tomorrow!