Thirty-two years ago, my husband Leon and I came to Japan as missionaries. We were young and childless. After much thought and prayer, we decided to pursue adoption. As we talked with the adoption counsellor we assured her we would take a boy or a girl, but we could not take a special needs child as that would hinder our ministry. God must have been laughing at us: I will give them a special needs child and through him I will redefine their ministry. And so, 29 years ago, our son Jeffrey came to our family and the changing began. God began changing our ministry. He began changing us.
It took many years for us to understand what we were to do. We struggled with many things, not the least of which was the autism which was part of our son. It took a long time for us to understand him and how God had made him. We had to believe there was more than what we saw on the outside, and then we had to find ways to mine out the gold. It was painful and difficult, but so worth it to find the precious jewel God had entrusted to us. Once we believed there were great depths inside, our son began revealing himself.
As we progressed in this journey we came to know that not only was there gold in our son, but it was in others like him. Our hearts gradually opened to the needs of this community of the intellectually disabled. We saw young adults whose hurts went deep as society hid and ignored them.
Starting ministry in this community
We started by Leon volunteering in daycare facilities. The first goal was to reach their families, but the daycare setting did not bring us into contact with the families; it brought us into contact with the disabled. We were confronted by the fact that God loves them. He wants to save them. He can save them. But, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14 KJV).
So, we began to enter the facilities with new vision. We spoke the name of Jesus wherever we could. We knew we were the only link for these dear ones to the gospel. Our job was to deliver the love of Jesus to these people who are pushed to the outside of “normal” society. We began to open the doors wider and try to minister in newer and more creative ways.
We are still learning what those ways are, but we have found that participatory events which engage their bodies as well as the mind are effective. Therefore, Gospel Hula, singing, and dancing are able to penetrate to their souls. So far the most effective is to meet them on level ground as friends. We give help as needed and accept their help when they are able to give it, creating a mutuality of friendship.
No measurable results possible
One thing we had to face was that while we could deliver the message, we may never know the result. Some of our friends are able to communicate. Others are unable to even remember what happened that morning. Yet we had to believe that God could use extraordinary ways of communicating his truth to their hearts. We had to believe that Romans 10:13 was absolute truth: “Whoever will call upon the name of Lord will be saved” (NASB). How they call on the name of the Lord may not always be known to us.
We may never be able to give a head count of those who have believed to our supporters. Yet we know, from our son, that God does his work in ways we cannot always understand. The goal is not for us to understand. The object is for us to be obedient and deliver the love of Jesus. God is perfectly capable of taking what we deliver and doing more with it than we could imagine.
Satan has long held the gates to this community. He does not give ground easily. We are going into his territory, and prayer is the weapon we choose. We are probably the only ones who are praying for these dear people, and we must remain faithful to the task. I have listed their names in my kitchen so I can pray for them regularly by name. We must go on in faith, delivering the love of Jesus, believing the gates of hell will not prevail here. We continue, in anticipation of the day we stand before God’s throne, shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends in our new bodies in a new heaven and a new earth.
Our son Jeffrey, a key player in the birth of this ministry, has limited speaking skills, and yet he is able to communicate in writing what is in his heart. God has enabled him to share his testimony through the written word before many audiences. Jeffrey has consented to share his vision for this ministry as part of this article. Here are his words:
I am different. I am weird. Face it! I make most of you uncomfortable. But I have an important message for you. I am not a mistake. I am not an embarrassing failure of God’s hand. I, like you, am made in the image of God. My reality and yours are different, but mine is no less than yours.
God made me for a special purpose and work. Just as you must pursue the task God has given you, so must I. You have no more or less responsibility to be obedient than I have. God could have made me different from how I am. He could have healed me. He did not. Thus, I must take this gift of autism and use it for the glory of God. I must open my heart and let God’s love flow from my heart to those I have been sent to minister. My vehicle of ministry will be different from yours. But we must all be faithful in sharing God’s great salvation.
Those of us in the “disabled community” are often ignored or ridiculed. God, however, is not ignoring us. He is ready to encounter us. He will find us and save us, because he loves the world. God wants to give hope to those who perceive no hope. God has let me open the door for my family to embark on this exciting ministry to our friends in the disabled society here in Japan.
This community is shunned and hurting, and we know it. It is hard for us to trust the “normal” society because it is often the cause of our hurt. God does not allow me to use my mouth to speak for the disabled community, but nevertheless he has commanded me to speak for them. This ministry requires me to seek to know the heart of God. He draws all to himself. He draws us with all our flaws, and then covers those flaws with his overflowing grace. Hallelujah!
Leon and Cheryl Hill came from the US to Japan in 1985 as World Venture church planting missionaries. They live in Ibaraki-ken with their son Jeffrey, 29, partnering with Keisen Christ Church.
Photos provided by the author