Report on Trip to Japan (Sep. 18-24, 2015)
By Pr. Ben Skadiang (Grace EFC)
On September 18 the Malaysian delegation flew together from KLIA2 to Haneda Airport, Tokyo. There were sixteen of us in the delegation including two pastors representing six Free Churches from Emmanuel (8), Faith (3), Seremban (2), Hosanna (1), Malacca (1) and Grace (1).
The purpose for my trip was to:
1. Attend the EFC Asia Young Leaders Conference (AYLC) 2015 from Sep. 20-23.
2. Speak at the two workshop sessions during AYLC.
3. Speak at the Sunday Service of Keyaki Street Christ Church, Kawaguchi City, Saitama on Sep. 20.
4. Attend the EFC Asia Committee Meeting on Sep. 23.
This was my first time participating in a Young Leaders Conference as well as my maiden visit to Japan and the first impressions were good. The Japanese hosts went to great extent to show their hospitality from meeting us at airport close to midnight and transporting us to the various host families where we stayed for two nights and participated in the local Sunday Services. During the free day before the Conference started, I was shown around some parts of Tokyo city by my host, Pastor Makoto Asano of Keyaki Street Christ Church. I had the opportunity to fellowship with his young family and some members of his church over meals at the pastor’s home and with the congregation after Sunday Service.
From left: Richana (Nepali in work-study program); Tomoko (church member); Fumiko (wife of Pr. Makoto) and Pr. Makoto 2
On Sunday I spoke at Pastor Makoto’s church, which had a typical size of many Japanese churches, between 30-40 members. This was the first time they had ever invited a foreigner to speak at their church. What struck me very much about this church was that most of the leaders belong to the older generation (above 60s) and their Sunday Worship Service is still conservative by our standards (solemn with hymns and piano). The elders chair the Services and also served in areas where we in Malaysia would delegate to the young people like in the distribution of flyers for their upcoming gospel music meeting. There was much about commitment in service I can learn from them as I grow older! Pastor Makoto, who is in his late 30s, is one of the younger pastors in the Free Church of Japan who form about one half of all their pastors. My impression is that there seems to be some form of ongoing renewal in the Free Churches with more young pastors. Many, if not most of the churches own their premises despite the relative small congregational size.
Keyaki Street Christ Church and members folding flyers for distribution.
At the Conference:
On Sunday afternoon I followed Pastor Makoto with Pastor Tamio of Higashi-Kawaguchi EFC and drove up to the conference venue at the Kuruwabi area near Mt. Fuji. Once again I had another opportunity to fellowship with another younger pastor who was our driver.
The theme of the Conference is “Spread the Love – the Kingdom Generation”. Officially the Conference had 391 registrants with 254 (65%) from all over Japan. The numbers was most encouraging not only for Japan who is hosting it for the first time but also when compared to previous conferences.
The main purpose of AYLC is to:
To reassure that everybody is a builder of the church
To deepen our relationship with fellow Christians in Asia
In many ways the purposes was achieved as the talks were challenging and reminded us of our purpose in God’s mission. In terms of relationship, the young people interacted quite easily with others from different nations. There were many opportunities for them to share, pray and outdoor group activities and fellowship time. Personally I had met people from at least 6 different nations from pastors, missionaries, students and marketplace adults.
An impromptu session was also arranged to gather all the pastors and their wives for sharing. We shared as a group and prayed for one another. My prayer partner was with a Korean pastor, Pr. Kim, who had been serving with the Free Church in Japan for 23 years.
Pastors in my group from Hong Kong, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore and Japan.
There were two main Conference Speakers namely Professor Masanori Kurasawa (former president of Tokyo Christian University and Chairman of Japan Missiological Society) who spoke on “Deeply Understanding the Love of Christ”; “Securing a Connection of Love with One Another” and “The 4
Presence of Being a Christian Will be Valued” and Dr. Chua Chung Kai (associate pastor of Covenant EFC, Singapore) who spoke on “Embracing a Radical Love”; “Growing a Heart Set Free” and “Building a Legacy that Lasts”. Professor Masanori gave the big picture on the mission, whilst Dr Chua challenged the heart in clear biblical and practical steps to respond to God’s love. Many responded to the challenge to commitment.
Over two days, there were 18 workshops offered each day for the delegates to choose from to attend. At least half of these workshops were catered specifically for the Japanese speaking delegates. I spoke on the topic of “Challenges and Opportunities of Christian Living in a Diverse Society” and had a total of about 20 people (from Singapore, Japan and Philippines) for both sessions that I took.
Pastor David Low and I attended the EFC Asia Committee Meeting after the Conference ended. Since a number of us were relatively new to the Committee and with each other, the Chairman allocated a lot of time for each one to share our lives and the structure of each of the national body from each country. This helped us all to get to know each other better apart from the business meetings as well as to understand how each national body functions. Some countries like Hong Kong have full time staffs at their national office. Others like Malaysia and Singapore do not.
Some of the decisions made was to confirm the dates for the next All Asia Conference in Malaysia (Sep 20-23, 2017) and the general theme would be about “Bridging the Generational Gap”. Another decision was on the confirmation of Singapore as the host for the next AYLC in 2019.
EFC Asia Committee Members with Pr. David’s son, Joel and Dr. Chua’s wife, Tina. 5
Apart from the inspiring messages there are other positives for me in this trip.
1) This was my first international outing to speak at a local church and take a conference workshop. Despite the great sense of inadequacy, the journey in preparing and presenting it was certainly valuable experience for me.
2) The fellowship with local Japanese believers and those that labour for the gospel in Japan including American, Filipino and Korean nationals was most inspiring. There was genuine collaboration of work. The commitment and discipline shown by the local believers to serve and evangelise despite their small numbers was most commendable. I heard snippets of stories about what was happening in different places that was encouraging. An older pastor I met before is now serving in a rural area. There was a Japanese brother whom I talked to, is a farmer for the Lord. He uses his farming skills as a means to help people for the gospel.
I was glad to have caught up with some brothers whom I met at the last All Asia Conference in Hong Kong (2013). One such brother was involved with the Ishinomaki Christian Center (ICC), which was started by four church/mission groups including EFC Japan in response to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. The Center is at an area where little Christian ministry was done. Today it has grown and is slowly impacting the community and bringing the churches together. There is even now a new Free Church called Ishinomaki EFC. The Free Churches in Japan seem to be quite mission-minded and making some positive progress.
3) The exposure in working with the other EFCs to plan for future collaboration was a real learning experience. They did not just share about their work but also their personal lives as I hear their own struggles and challenges. There was indeed an openness with each other that bodes well for the future working relationship. What an encouragement it was to hear from my Filipino counterpart of how 3 churches were planted in the Nagoya area working with Filipinos residing there. Now they have two pastors working to take care of the churches.
4) The delight in seeing young adults making friends and showing interest and passion for the Lord was most encouraging. The connections they make now are going to be invaluable in the future if there is more follow up at both a personal and corporate level. I must commend our own young adults who are enthusiastic and willing to serve with the right encouragement and support. I am so glad to have met them despite the little time we had together to interact. They could form the core group of young people to help mobilise others to work together for future events that we are hosting like the All Asia Conference that Malaysia is hosting in 2017.
There is more that we can learn from each other and do together not only in Malaysia but beyond our shore. When I pray now for nations, there is now at least a face I can see of those whom I have met and know who are serving our King. For all these and many more things I give all thanks and glory to our Father.