Why would I ever want to be a missionary? I hated bugs, considered myself a picky eater, and was rather fond of modern conveniences such as air conditioning and computers. In high school and college, I avoided making eye contact with missionaries because I was afraid they might ask me to become a missionary. However, God used leaps of faith by a pastor with a heart for Japan and a Japanese missionary to change my mind toward missions (and food!).
The first taste of Japan
Dr. Randy Gilmore, a pastor from Indiana and now Pacific Rim Director at Word of Life Fellowship, had a passion nurtured by God to share the gospel with Japanese people. He took a leap of faith by leading trips to expose college students to Japanese culture and ministry. My college agreed to offer one of those trips. Soon after, tucked away in the morning announcements, were the words, “If you’re interested in visiting Japan, please meet up front after chapel.” A short trip to Japan where we would serve God and see the culture sounded great; it wasn’t a real commitment to missions.
During this trip, I helped at Bethel Baptist Church in Iwatsuki, Saitama, under Baptist Mid-Missions missionary Joe Mita, who took the next leap of faith. During free times, he invested time and energy into finding out more about me, sharing about Japanese culture and ministry, and even offering helpful life advice. His concern for someone he had recently met and his love of God greatly affected me. God was gradually changing my heart.
Preparing to serve at home
On returning from the trip, I began seminary, where my focus remained on training for pastoral ministries in the US (my home country). God used my experience in Japan to crack my heart open and allow the idea of being a mission-minded pastor to brew. Taking trips to serve and encourage missionaries while exposing church members to firsthand experience of God’s work in other countries seemed perfect. Of course, Japan was near the top of the list of places to go. What a great way to help missions without committing myself to full-time mission work!
While I walked this life path, Pastor Gilmore took another leap of faith by asking me to come again to Japan as a team leader, offering added responsibility during the trip. God provided another opportunity to see Japan, serve him, and gain experience. In addition, I could reconnect with the Mita family. I returned to the US from that trip still convinced that God wanted me to pastor a church back home. Why else would I have received all this training and experience?
A life-changing year
The following summer, I graduated from seminary and married the love of my life. We started looking for a pastoral position in the US. However, God orchestrated things such that the day I confirmed a promising pastoral interview with a church, I also received an email from the Mitas in Japan. In a gigantic leap of faith, they asked if we would consider coming to Japan and helping Bethel Baptist for a year. They assured us they would not push us for further commitments. After much prayer and discussion with our church and Christian friends, including Pastor Gilmore, we accepted their offer. We then raised a year’s worth of support and moved to Japan.
God used that year to change our lives. The faith it took to invite relatively unknown newlyweds to move to Japan and help the church spoke to us. The Mitas kept their word, never pushing us to return to Japan full-time. That year spent serving the church and reaching out to the surrounding neighborhoods accomplished what pure logic and argument could not—it made me want to become a missionary. More accurately, I realized and joyfully submitted to God’s calling for me to serve as a missionary. I praise God that my wife also realized her call.
God can do amazing things
The teenager who feared becoming a missionary has now become an adult who can now think of nothing else in the world he would rather do. So please do not fear asking people to do great things for God. We must prayerfully consider reaching out and encouraging people to serve God in the ways he has enabled them to serve. Those two men not only reached out to me, they also stayed connected and prayed—even when I voiced my desire to stay stateside. We serve a great God who uses people to accomplish his will. What a great privilege we have, not only to share the gospel, but also to teach the next generation how to do the same.
Andrew Gonnerman and his wife spent 15 months living in Saitama and Nagano as short-term missionaries. This spring, they will arrive in Tokyo as Baptist Mid-Missions missionaries and begin language school.