In the spring of 2011 I began my assignment at Toyota East Christ Church, a Mennonite Brethren church in Toyota City, Aichi prefecture, an area famous for its large concentration of automobile-related companies. In October of that same year, Setsu Shimizu, a leader in Japanese Christian Fellowship Network (JCFN) and a long-time friend, unexpectedly showed up at our church. JCFN is a ministry to follow up those who become Christians overseas and then return to Japan. During this visit she exclaimed, “Pastor Nozomu, God has been doing something exciting in Michigan!”
A large number of Japanese people live in and around the cities of Detroit, Novi, and Ann Arbor as employees in the automobile industry. Area churches have built a cooperative interdenominational network and have been offering English conversation classes for these employees and their family members. According to Setsu, this missional effort has been going on for some time. As a result, many Japanese people, especially wives, have heard the gospel. Moreover, most of these people return to Aichi prefecture after their stint in Michigan.
As I heard Setsu talk about what God has been doing in Detroit, I got so excited that I shared the story with the other pastors in our Toyota City pastors fellowship. They responded positively. And thus began a collaborative effort among our member churches in Toyota to welcome returnees from Michigan. In addition to my church, members of our fellowship include Toyota Hope Chapel (Pastor Koji Yamamoto), Toyota Kamiike Christ Church (Pastor Kei Sano, and since April 2017, Tsugeru Irie), Toyota Christ Church (Pastor Kiyokazu Takayama), Toyota Gospel Church (Pastor Yoshinobu Sasaki), Toyota Bible Church (Pastor Sang Jun Park), and Toyota Minori Christ Church (Pastor Ryuji Imori).
Our collaboration with JCFN opened a way for Pastor Kei and me to go to Michigan October 26 to November 2, 2015. We visited Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Oak Pointe Church, Crossroads Community Baptist Church (Japanese congregation), and Faith Covenant Church. In each of these churches, we observed the wives of Japanese businessmen in the automobile industry cheerfully attending English conversation classes and Bible studies. We saw that the English classes were so popular that host churches had to put people on waiting lists. While some of the churches employed paid staff to teach these classes, others had unpaid volunteers who were effectively building friendly relationships with Japanese business people and their family members. We also witnessed the faithful offering of fervent intercessory prayer for Japanese people behind the scenes—especially for business people and their families by local church members and volunteer staff.
To be honest, until I saw how God was at work in Michigan, I had my doubts. It’s good to see Japanese people showered by love in the USA in a cultural context quite different from that in Japan. However, I felt it quite impossible that these people, once back in Japan, would get connected to a local church. What I witnessed during the Michigan tour gradually affected my perception. God had provided Japanese people with a natural exposure to the gospel. God so loved Japan that he had moved people in Michigan to evangelize and bring salvation to the Japanese. Furthermore, God was already sending Japanese people back to Japan who had become Christians in Michigan. I clearly saw God at work in ways beyond my comprehension and imagination.
Building on our years of cooperation, this summer we are expecting Michigan Bridge Builders, a mission team from the cities of Detroit and Novi, to visit Toyota City from July 19 to August 2. The team consists of ten English conversation class teachers who are involved in ministries to Japanese people at four churches. The goal of this mission trip is to build bridges between returnees and Jesus, between returnees and churches in Japan, and between churches in Michigan and Toyota City. During their stay in Toyota, various events are being planned in an effort to connect returnees with local churches. There will be a reunion of returnees, and teens and kids English club events. The team members will experience homestays and attend worship services at different Toyota churches. The trip will culminate in a Motor City Summit on July 31. Attendees at the summit will share about their current situations and the historical and religious backgrounds of their respective churches in Michigan and Toyota City. They will also discuss challenges and difficulties in incorporating returnees into a church, and will pray for each other. Both groups, Michigan Bridge Builders and the Toyota pastors fellowship, are eagerly looking forward to the summit. We have been holding regular Skype meetings in preparation.
I can’t foresee how God will guide our collaborative efforts. It might be short-lived. A new church of returnees might be launched out of the cooperation among the Michigan and Toyota churches. God might have other plans to promote the integration of returnees into churches in Japan. Whatever happens in the long run, the Toyota churches have been greatly encouraged by their connections with the Michigan churches. Our partnerships have been growing stronger. I accept in faith all that God has been doing, even if it is beyond my understanding and experience.
As we navigate new uncharted waters of this trans-Pacific partnership, I want to move ahead step by step with expectation as to how God will work.
Nozomu Kashima graduated from Evangelical Biblical Seminary in Osaka, Japan, in March 2011. Before committing his life to Christ, for ten years he was a surfer following the waves up and down the Japan coast and as far away as Indonesia and Hawaii.
(Translated by Atsuko Tateshi and originally published in the JEA Japan Update #73, Summer 2017)