by Edo Kiyoshi, pastor
Oku-nakayama Church, Iwate, Ou District
I believe that the joy of worship in Oku-nakayama Church comes from experiencing the life that each of us receives from God and also from sharing the gifts that God has given to each of us. So looking at our past and present, I will try to introduce the ways in which we have experienced this reality.
First, let me describe the path by which Oku-nakayama Church has become what it is. Located in a pioneer village, the church is situated at an altitude of 450 meters and at a latitude of 40 degrees north. It is at the base of the Ou Mountain Range, where the snow is deep and the temperature reaches minus 15 degrees centigrade. It is about ten minutes by car from the town’s ski resort and hot springs, which lie in a beautiful natural setting. The area was famous in the Meiji Period as a producer of war horses.
After World War II, in an effort to increase food production and as part of a national emergency development plan, several Japanese colonists returning from Manchuria were employed in the area. The leader, assistant leader, and secretary of the development group were all Christians, and through their efforts, the church was planted. The church first met in a shed belonging to the group leader. At that time, most of the children of the group, because they were needed to work with their parents or because they had no lunch to bring, were not able to attend school.
Saturday School. There was a request that at least the children should learn to sing some Christian hymns, and so with the help of a missionary and the cooperation of Uchimaru Church in Morioka City, a Saturday School was started. At first, the church school met outdoors, with the students seated on tree stumps and logs.
As the Saturday School began to grow, older youth began to attend. Bible study began, and through the use of a record player, music appreciation was taught. The next step was the establishment of a new church. At that point, with pastoral leadership provided by the minister of Uchimaru Church, the new church was founded. Support was provided by offerings from district churches, funds from the Kyodan’s Rural Evangelism Department, and money from North American mission boards, and with the material and moral support generated by events like work camps, the first church building was built.
Canaan Gardens. The next significant development was the creation of Canaan Gardens. In 1974 Christians and other volunteers in Oku-nakayama and several churches worked together to establish Canaan Gardens, a care facility for mentally challenged children. On the occasion of its opening, children and staff gathered to worship, filling the building.
The Present Building. With the vision for a new building, money was collected. Knowing the church’s situation, people gave large amounts, and the present wonderful building was erected. Along with the growth of Canaan Gardens came the establishment of San Ai Gakusha, a high school for students with disabilities and Chisaki Mure no Sato, a facility for adults. This brought many diverse people together and brought new blessing and joy to our worship.
Our Worship Pattern. For more than 15 years, our worship has been evolving in new patterns as we search for ways to adapt to our new situation. As children and adults worship together in a combined service, we had to find ways in which all could participate. Children were invited to lead the opening and to read scripture. Hymns were selected from a variety of sources, such as the children’s songbook, gospel songs, and the old and new hymnals. While singing, we naturally began to clap hands and move our bodies, and some participants would step forward to lead the singing. Staff members of Canaan Gardens transferred their membership, and since they came from various denominations and traditions, elements of their worship were added. The result was a worship experience of depth and breadth. During the worship service, “songs of testimony” began to be offered not only by church members but also by some residents of the care center.
At present, one-third of the members of Oku-nakayama Church are members of Canaan Gardens and have been with us since the founding of Oku-nakayama Gakuen. Worship attendance sometimes exceeds 100 people. I believe that this church has always tried to avoid alienating the least of God’s children and instead has placed them at the center. So we have always proceeded by asking, “What is best for the church?” I personally constantly keep in mind that God is continually inviting the least among us, and so I want to serve them.
From last April, our worship service changed. A person who has great difficulty in reading became our liturgist. Since then, five more people with similar limitations have also led our service, and I have come to believe that this is normal. All of these, without pretension, are serving God just as they are. Their speed is slow, sometimes with long pauses. Sometimes an assistant will pronounce the words first, and the liturgist will then read them to us. We hear the scripture slowly and deliberately. For me, each syllable being uttered is both a testimony and an exposition of the text.
Sometimes the reader cannot imitate the assistant’s pronunciation. The congregation may hear only the attempted sound, but I experience then that God’s word is Spirit. The word is not just mere information. Even in the periods of silence, we feel God’s presence.
The Lord’s Supper. In these ways, our worship has grown fuller. We can feel God working in various ways. Richness can be felt in things like our prayers of intercession and the prayer for the offering. Half of the people who attend the worship service have not been baptized. During the celebration of communion, the pastor places his hand on the heads of participants who do not receive the elements and recites a prayer of blessing. Some of those who do receive the sacrament also ask for a prayer of blessing. Each time we celebrate communion, there are those who ask for the blessing twice.
Last Christmas, a person was baptized who for 40 years had not only been attending the worship services but also prayer meetings and the early morning Bible study. Although baptism had been desired for a long time, the family situation had delayed it until last year. The person had asked me the simple question, “Why am I not permitted to receive the bread?” I had answered many times, but the same question kept coming. Each time I felt that the Lord Jesus was asking the same question. Each time we worship, I feel that I am being asked, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Through this person’s baptism, the church members and I are being made aware of and taught many things.
Prayer Meeting. Our “Bible and Prayer Meeting” is attended by over 20 people, 70 to 80 percent of whom are residents of or participants at Canaan Gardens. We read one chapter of scripture at a time. Each person reads one verse in turn. Those who are unable to read alone read along with the person next to them. For prayer, the group is divided into smaller groups of three or four persons. Some people repeat the same prayer time after time; others use only the same petition, “Lord, protect me. Amen.” Others pray long prayers, and all of us wait until everyone finishes. Some who are sick, experience healing. Some who have no words pray in silence. Basically, the prayer meeting is a fellowship of the Spirit more than a class for learning.
In Conclusion. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is near.” In this world, we are waiting and hoping for that kingdom. We must walk and pray together so that no one will stumble and be left behind. The church’s worship and the witness of our prayers together are not something extraordinary. They are simply reporting what is happening in our daily life. Accepting our everyday existence, as it is, provides an occasion to give thanks to God, who gives life for each day. Even when we are troubled, this is the path of joy in living for each one of us. (Tr. GM)
–From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)
江戸 清 えど きよし／岩手・奥中山教会牧師
「神の国は近づいた」 とイエスは言われました。この地上に神の国を待ち望んでいます。だれもが疎外されずに歩めるように、祈りを合わせています。教会での礼拝や祈祷会での証しは、何か特別に行ったことではなく、日常生活で起こった出来事をそのまま話しています。日常のありのままの「存在」を受け止めることは、今日という一日を生かしてくださった神に、感謝する場となっています。一人一人が困難な状況であったとしても、「生かされたという喜び」へとつながっています。 —–
by Edo Kiyoshi, pastor
The first Japanese Christian Family Camp in Asia was held Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2011 at Inna Putri Bali Hotel in Bali, Indonesia, with 70 participants, 30 of whom were from Japan, including myself. At the same time last year, the first Missionary Work Forum in Asia was held in Hong Kong where, during prayers for preparation of a second forum, the plan for this Family Camp was proposed to the members, which led to its being held.
There was no need for any qualifications for participants, but I was a little surprised that some people there were from the “Non-church Movement (Mu-Kyokai).” The other 40 participants were mainly from Japanese Christian churches outside Japan, such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and India. What drew my attention concerning the names of these churches are the letters “JCF,” as in Jakarta JCF and Singapore JCF. These letters stand for Japanese Christian Fellowship. Although called a “fellowship,” they are each formally recognized churches in their respective countries in Asia. Interestingly, no approval of the use of the term “JCF” is required from any denomination or group. Each JCF regards itself as an independent ecumenical church. The Kyodan has currently dispatched a missionary, Matsumoto Akihiro, to the Jakarta JCF in Indonesia. The plan and management of this Family Camp could not have been carried out without the selfless efforts of Matsumoto and the members of the Jakarta JCF.
Bali is famous as a tourist resort. The hotel was filled with tourists, and there was a beautiful beach 50 meters away. When I saw the program of the Family Camp, I realized that I had to discard my image of “camping.” With the exception of meal times, we were in some sort of conference from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. For the first time in a long time, the term “working bee” came across my mind. The conference was rich in variety, with reports and discussions.
One of the most memorable things for me was a power point presentation on what was called the “Rembrandt Concert.” I heard that it was originally planned with the collaboration of a travel agency. The presentation is a practical model of missionary work intended for Japanese non-Christians, who are 99 percent of all Japanese, and provides an opportunity to come in contact with Rembrandt’s faith naturally by visiting the actual places depicted in his paintings and listening to a commentary on what is being portrayed. There was a report at the end of the Camp that a young Chinese woman from the church in Shanghai had decided to be baptized. Considering that the only non-Christian participant was led to baptism, I believe that the significance of this camp was enormous.
Needless to say, missionaries have strong relationships with the church that sent them. So far, however, Japanese Christian Churches in Asia have had a weak relationship with other Japanese churches or JCFs in other countries, even if the church itself uses “JCF” in its name. Perhaps due to the geographical situation, I think I was given the vision of the scattered Japanese Christian churches in each country teaming up to cast a net of our Lord Jesus’ salvation in Asia. This is because missionaries who have been given such visions are already at work. (Tr. SM)
–Kato Makoto, executive secretary