by Sagara Masahiko, Kyodan missionary pastor
I was sent to New York to work in Japanese Ministry for three years, from the spring of 2008 to 2011. I served as program director of the Special Ministries to the Japanese and as the pastor of the Union Japanese Church of Westchester. SMJ is an outreach program for Japanese families and people with care and love in Christ. SMJ has been supported in the Tri-State Area by the Kyodan, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Methodist Church for over 30 years. Programs and services have been supported by such individual churches as, in New York, the Japanese American United Church in Manhattan as well as the Union Japanese Church of Westchester and Hitchcock Presbyterian Church, both in Scarsdale; in Connecticut, Long Hill UMC in Long Hill and Golden Hill UMC in Bridgeport; and in New Jersey, the Church of the Good Shepherd in Bergenfield and Tenafly Presbyterian Church in Tenafly. There have always been prayers and support for the outreach of this Japanese ministry.
As one of the main SMJ programs, a two-week bilingual summer camp is held every year at Camp Quinipet, Long Island, in the UMC’s New York Annual Conference. As a result of the summer camp, a youth Bible gathering in Tenafly and the Bergen County area in New Jersey was begun to help nurture the growth of the junior counselors who attended the summer camp. There are several cultural programs, such as Japanese classical art performances and lectures about U.S. history and religion, which hopefully will serve as a bridge between the two cultures in U.S. and Japanese society.
SMJ’s summer camp is named “the Discovery Camp.” We hope that the campers will discover or find something important for them. But the truth is that each of them are found and embraced by our Lord there. We have the good news for all people to tell, live out, and share–that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord. As we gathered amongst our own uniqueness and special talents for helping each other, we became one family before the Lord. During the camp, we experienced cooperating and complementing each other with our abilities as well as with our inabilities. From there, we experienced praising and worshipping the Lord every moment in our camp. The camp is a good opportunity to be nurtured and grow in the presence of the Lord, especially for the parents and family of the campers but also for the counselors and the campers. For those who have not heard the good news, the camp is an experience of Christian fellowship full of joy and the richness in living our daily lives as praise and worship before the Lord. This photo was taken in the dining hall during the 2009 camp. Even in the midst of the noisy lunchtime preparations, this camper was intensely reading the New Testament. It was the first time he had ever held a Bible in his hands. The Word of God had been given to him. The encounter with Jesus Christ in our daily lives has surely started here at this wonderful place.
According to the mission statement of the Union Japanese Church of Westchester (founded in 1989 out of an SMJ worship group), where I served as pastor, the church was at first a particular congregation of the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Methodist Church. The purposes of this church are to worship God, to help Japanese-speaking people study the Bible, and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people around us. To this end the church aims to be joined firmly together with Christ as our sole head, to be one in prayer, to love our God, and to serve our neighbors. Also, as a church planted in the U.S., the church strongly desires to have Christian fellowship with its brothers and sisters here and to serve our neighbors in the U.S.
The programs held at UJCW include a weekly Japanese prayer meeting and a monthly English book club that is intended to help and to support young mothers with small children by introducing good books for them to read to their children, as well as by introducing life in the U.S., such as enjoying the change of seasons and festivals.
There are also programs and meetings held outside the church building. In New York City, there is a home worship service in Manhattan, with a communion service for members in need, another home meeting at a parsonage in the Bronx. In Connecticut there is a multi-lingual worship service in Ansonia, a home meeting in Greenwich, a home gathering and prayer meetings in Trumbull, and as requested by members of the Trumbull meeting, a family Bible gathering was started at Bridgeport with the cooperation of Golden Hill UMC.
We are given a different and unique faith as we are all unique in the eyes of the Lord. What we need to see in each of us is whether our faith in the Lord is alive in us. The important and blessed truth within us is that when we truly love our Lord and God, we can understand that our faith is sufficiently genuine before the Lord. That love makes us people of worship and one family of God. We want to continue to hold worship services and to celebrate the Lord’s Day here because of this love. We pray that we may love our Lord more as we continue to walk in the Lord’s presence and as we experience the grace of our Lord day-by-day.
“So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:1-7
As long as there are people waiting for the Good news of the Lord, our ministry continues there. After my return to Tokyo this Spring, Rev. Takako Terrino serves SMJ as program director and Rev. Yoko Asada serves again as UJCW pastor.