The Work of the Green House Youth Center in Yokohama

by Nathan and Nozomi Brownell, missionaries
Yokohama, Kanagawa District
True to the meaning of its name, we purpose the “Green House” to be a safe place for youth to be nurtured and to grow. No matter how inhospitable the climate outside, a greenhouse is a place to set the atmosphere and environment for vegetation to grow and blossom or produce fruit. Those who observe modern Japanese culture and society note a certain unfortunate hardening of the hearts among a surprising number of youth. In too many cases, this can lead to crime or even suicide. We purpose the Green House to be a place for youth to experience a sense of wholeness and life through Christ. The facility actually is a green house, but we vision it to be an actual greenhouse for the hearts of the youth.

The “Green House” is the former home of Yokohama Union Church. Several years ago, the Reformed Church in America helped support the building of the new church building next door. The RCA then designated this facility to become a Christian youth center. At that time, a missionary of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Zebley, in cooperation with the short-term missionary English teachers who were serving in the area’s Christian schools, began gathering junior and senior high school students to participate in an after-school program. The program was centered on fellowship, with Bible reading and testimony time. After Zebley’s return to the United States in 2007, we (Nathan and Naomi Brownell) were sent by the Reformed Church in America to lead the Green House efforts. We come with the experience of an eight-year pastorate at the Japanese American United Church in Manhattan, New York.

As a youth center, we are planning and actually reaching out to a range of persons, all the way from infants to young parents. In the wider sense, we are also planning to support those who are serving the next generation.

Children and Worship program
In recent years, the C&W program, which began in North America, has successfully been spreading across many denominations and even around the world. We have established a C&W center at the Green House, with all the materials and wooden figures necessary to hold and offer the program. The C&W program, which was originally inspired by the Montessori method and interpreted into the Protestant way of worship, offers a chance for children to experience God in worship rather than teaching them about God. The Bible stories are told with materials, such as three-dimensional wooden figures, following the church calendar and lectionary. In this way, the children can also experience and journey with us through the Bible stories.

Presently, once a week, we hold chapel time for the children of the neighboring Yokohama Union Church preschool. We also hold seminars and training sessions, introducing Christian kindergarten, elementary, and Sunday school teachers to this valuable program. We are pleased to announce that the Japanese version of the “Young Children in Worship” textbook is being translated and will be available soon. We hope this will help share this precious worship experience with more and more children. Having completed her degree in Religious Education and having been certified as a Children and Worship trainer in the United States, Nozomi now comes eager to help the team, which has already been hard at work here in Japan, to share this program with the churches. We are also planning to help support a drama and puppetry ministry in the future.

English fellowship for junior, senior high school students
We have been working to provide consistency and continuity for the junior and senior high school students’ after-school program. Approximately eight short-term missionaries, who are serving as English teachers in area schools, pray and whole-heartedly serve the students. Depending on the season, the gathering can reach several dozen students. The program begins with refreshments, games or interesting activities, followed by singing hymns or praise songs and listening to a Bible message or a testimony by one of the foreign teachers. Sometimes we have a brief time to pray for a student’s request. We have seen tears well up in the eyes of some students as we pray for their heartfelt concerns. To say it another way, we seek to help water the seeds that have been planted during the students’ life at the Christian schools.

Returnees’ fellowship
We want to respond to the heartfelt needs of those returning to Japan from overseas. Unfortunately, it is said that as many as 80 percent of those who come to Christian faith during their time as international students, or living abroad, do not connect with the churches here upon their return. While there are several reasons for this phenomenon, we believe that by gathering these individuals and providing a place and time for each to share his or her Christian experience, we can encourage one another to find a church home here in Japan. We believe that this will not only benefit the returnees but also the Japanese church.

Coffee Hour: young parents’ program
Two days a week, from morning to early afternoon, we are opening the Green House. This program is primarily for parents of children attending the preschool of Yokohama Union Church. (Others are welcome). We want to respond to the heartfelt needs of these young parents. One such practical need is for a safe place for parents and other small children during the Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) time. We offer cooking, crafts, and intercultural activities. We also recognize that many of the parents need support. Two times a month we plan special activities, with a firm Christian foundation, which are focused on nurturing these couples and families.

The purpose of the Green House is to support the youth outreach of the Kyodan. We are all aware of demographics and the aging of Japan and of the churches. We are keen to help the churches welcome the youth and to pass on this precious inheritance of our faith to the next generation. We want to become a window through which youth can glimpse the church or, better yet, become a bridge over which they can eventually walk into the Christian life in a local congregation. This is our sincere hope for the Green House.