by Takada Teruki, staff Kyodan General Office, Tokyo
A three-day missionary conference was held at the base of Mt. Fuji at Torchbearers Yamanakako from Monday, March 20 (a holiday), with the theme, “Joy at the Household of God” (Acts 2:42-47). Including missionary families and Kyodan staff, a total of 37 persons attended, among whom 23 were missionaries.
The Site: Torchbearers Yamanakako
The Torchbearers, which originated after World War II from the mutual friendship between the churches of British Wales and Germany, was founded for the purpose of opening Bible camps throughout the world. The one in Japan is a retreat established in an area located one kilometer from the shore of Lake Yamanaka and made to resemble closely the forests of Germany and the countryside of Canada. The wooden building felt soothing to me. The fragrance and heat of the wood burning in the fireplace warmed not only the participants’ bodies but also their hearts. This was different from a hotel or a Japanese inn. The immediate feeling of “narrowness” sensed by those who came—that very cozy closeness of space—shrank the distance between the participants, and relaxed relationships were instantly formed. In the midst of this cozy atmosphere, free of tension, the messages at the worship services and the testimonies reverberated deep within our hearts, and we experienced a noticeable rise in our ability to concentrate.
The message at the opening worship service on the first day was offered by Pastor Imaizumi Nobuhiro of Mukonoso Church (in Hyogo, near Osaka), and following a delicious supper, we split into small groups to introduce ourselves and pray for one another. It snowed from the morning of the second day. That morning, testimonies were given by Elizabeth Mbundu and Karen Strydom, teachers at Kyoai Gakuen High School, and following breakfast, under the direction of Kyodan Executive Secretary Kato Makoto, there was a treasure hunt and a ping-pong tournament. During individual free time that afternoon, we went to a nearby hot spa and other places. The evening campfire was canceled due to snow, but instead we warmed up the meeting room and held a candlelight service during which Nishinasuno Church (in Tochigi) Pastor Ban Hyung Wook and Sheila Norris, a teacher at Kwassui Women’s University (in Nagasaki), gave testimonies of their personal struggles of evangelizing in Japan.
From the morning of the third day, the weather was fine. The program began with the testimony of Uotsu Church (in Toyama) Pastor Ruth Ester Waehrer, followed by a worship service commemorating deceased missionaries led by Kobe Jesus Band Church Pastor Claudia Genung-Yamamoto and a communion service, with Rev. Thomas Goetz of Hokusei Gakuen University (in Sapporo) officiating. During the final meeting, the next year’s planning committee was chosen. Then Rev. Akiyama Toru, chair of the Kyodan’s Commission on Ecumenical Ministries, gave the message at the closing worship service. Throughout the entire meeting, Josephine Kimura of Ferris Girls’ High School (in Yokohama) provided the music.
From Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south, attendees were able to gather together from throughout the country. First-time participants were Mrs. Carol Imaizumi from Mukonoso Church, Rev. and Mrs. Lee Meng Jer from Tokyo Taiwan Church, Rev. Lin Mei-Ying from Saitama Chinese Worship Mission Church, missionary Karen Strydon of Kyoai Gakuen Gakuen, and Yuka, the adopted daughter of missionaries Jonathan and Satomi McCurley. There was sparse participation by missionaries from Korea and Taiwan and only Akiyama Toru, moderator of Kanto District, who also serves as chair of the Committee on Ecumenical Ministries, represented the Kyodan districts.
The Special Blessings of this Missionary Conference
I have worked in the Kyodan Office for the past ten years, but I have never before experienced as great a blessing as I did at this missionary conference.
1. The site was separated from daily life, a place free from our regular work and interpersonal relationships.
2. On the contrary, the institution was in the middle of nature, and when you tuned your ears to God’s Word, strangely it was a place where that Word reverberated in your heart.
3. Again, this time especially, there was a blessed chance to hear the testimonies of senior missionaries who had given their lives and struggled for a long time during their mission work in Japan. Sheila Norris’s testimony about her work of teaching and overcoming difficulties particularly struck my heart.
For this reason, participants soon opened their hearts, and as if they had been acquaintances for many decades, they were mutually able to deepen their trust relationships. It was a heart-cleansing experience.
The Planning Committee
What we must not forget about the missionary conference is the existence of the planning committee. On the last day of the 2016 Missionary Conference, held in Sendai one year ago, the following four persons were chosen and have borne that heavy responsibility:
1. Rev. Imaizumi Nobuhiro (United Methodist Church), Mukonoso Church),
2. Rev. Timothy Appau (All African Baptist Fellowship, Asian Rural Institute),
3. Rev. Chang, In-Hye (Korean Methodist Church), Hizume Church), and
4. Ms. Devora Umipig-Julian (UMC, Yoyogi Uehara Church).
At the initiative of Secretary Kato during the first consultation held in the Kyodan conference room in July 2016, the place, theme, and Bible passages were decided. Then while staying overnight at the site of Torchbearers Yamanakako, the committee proceeded to draft the schedule as well as to decide the division of responsibility. During the five days prior to the conference, when we were so busy with preparations, the flexible coordination of Devora Umipig-Julian was particularly helpful, for which I am very grateful. (Tr. RT)
Rev. Imaizumi Nobuhiro (UMC, Mukonoso Church), Rev. Timothy Appau (All Africa Baptist Fellowship, Asian Rural Institute), Rev. Chang, In-Hye (KMC, Hizume Church), Ms. Debora Umipig-Julian (UMC, Yoyogi Uehara Church).