It has been a long time since we have sent an update, in part because we have been anticipating the chance to make a big announcement. That time has come! We are thrilled to announce that we have been called to serve as leader of a new church planting team in center city Chiba.
The new church will be named Kizuna, the Japanese word for “Bonds.” This name represents a big part of the vision for the church, to be an inter-cultural community where the Gospel is lived out amidst deep bonds of fellowship. I have often said that in Japan, especially in the Tokyo area, people are constantly surrounded by others (38 million others!), yet it is one of the loneliest places in the world.
Karen and I love Japan. One of the beauties of the culture is the deep desire for relational harmony. People feel a great sense of duty to those around them – to their families, to their companies, to their neighbors…it is part of what makes Japan such a clean, safe and polite place, but the flip side of that is the crushing weight of expectation that people feel they must live up to. It is part of what leads to overwork, depression, hikikomori, and suicide. This new church will seek to be a community that embodies the “one another” calling of the church (love one another, welcome one another, comfort one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens…), but is rooted in the comfort found in the Gospel: that our value does not come through the approval of others.
We are very excited about this new direction for our ministry and want to try to answer questions you might have about it…
Where is Chiba?
Chiba is part of the Tokyo Metropolitan area, the largest metro in the world. Chiba city sits in the northeastern corner of Tokyo Bay, across from Tokyo proper, which is in the northwestern corner. The city of Chiba itself is the 15th largest in Japan with just under 1 million people in population, making it about the size of San Jose, California (and larger than Austin, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, or Washington, DC).
Weren’t you already in Chiba?
We have been living in Chiharadai, in Chiba Prefecture (a prefecture is somewhere in size between an American state and a county), very close to the edge of Chiba city. In fact, CCSI (our kid’s school) and Oyumino Church (our partnering church), which were only a 10-minute bike ride from our house, are actually inside the city limits. Chiba city is made up of six wards and Oyumino Church is in one of the outer ones. This new church will be in Chuo-Ku, or Central ward, near the heart of the downtown.
Will you have to move?
Yes. During our first term we lived in a team-owned house close to our church and school. When we return to Japan we will seek a new house or apartment within the Chuo ward. We are not yet sure of the timetable on that, whether we will move straight into a new place, or return temporarily to our former house. Despite the change, our kids will continue to attend the same school, they will just take the train instead of being able to walk or bike. We do anticipate that our housing costs will increase due to living closer in to the city center.
What are your timelines?
First, we are still hoping to return to Japan in September. We are currently at 73% of our pledged support needs, so this may delay our return. We need to be at 100% funding in order to return. Please join with us in praying for our support to come in. We are still talking with many churches and individuals about joining our financial support team. I must confess, raising support is the thing I like least about being a missionary. It is often frustrating and discouraging, especially because Japan is such an expensive mission field. But if the resourced churches of the US do not send missionaries to Japan, there will never be an opportunity for the church in Japan to grow and be established, so we press on.
Second, when we return, our first goal will be to finish our language training. During our first three years in Japan, Karen and I did part time language classes, while being very actively involved in ministry. We learned quite a bit, but we still have a long way to go to achieve an acceptable level of communication ability. We can navigate daily life, but cannot yet preach or lead Bible studies, participate in group meetings, or have deep heart level conversations in Japanese. We will need to work hard to protect our study time and will not be allowed to re-engage in our ministry work until we finish. We are eager to learn, but feeling trepidation as well. Japanese is a hard language, but we desperately want to be effective in our ministry.
Third, when we have completed language school, we will help to launch the new church, hopefully by early in 2021. We anticipate this being the focus of our ministry for the next 10-15 years, at least.
How were you led to this new direction?
Our goal has always been to help plant churches in Japan, so it is not completely new, but it is definitely a change. By way of background, this new team was actually formed during our first term in Japan. Initially the church planting team was gathered and led by Rev. John and Rose Evans, Australian missionaries partnering with MTW in Japan. Unfortunately, due to health issues in the family, they ended up having to return home from Japan. In November John contacted us on behalf of the Kizuna team to ask if we would consider joining the team to fill his role as church planter and team leader.
Our initial thought was, “thanks, but no thanks.” We knew that the team was already formed and wanting to move forward with the plant, while our schedule called for nearly a year (at minimum) of time in the US, plus up to two years of language school. In addition we felt like the team was already far down the line with planning and preparation, and we didn’t want to just come in at the end. Finally, we were very happy with our work at Oyumino Church Alive International and had no desire to seek an immediate change.
We did agree to pray about it, and as time went on our hearts began to open to the idea. It sped up our timeline, but it would move us toward our long-term goal of church planting. The big issues were timing and fit with the new team. We entered into a “courtship” process with the other missionaries committed to working with the new church (including Matt and Carly Chase, who many of you know). Those conversations reassured us that the team was willing to wait for us, and that our visions were very similar. The final stumbling block has been our reluctance to leave Alive International and the people with whom we have worked closely. Over the last six months we have struggled with this and mourned the potential ending of our time there, but in the end we felt that we could best help serve God’s kingdom in Japan by joining this new church planting team.
- Support raising – pray for good favor with all those we talk to. We have had a lot of great response and are making progress toward raising our new, higher budget, but we still have a long way to go. Pray that we wouldn’t grow discouraged.
- Timing to return to Japan – Of course, we want to get back as quickly as possible, but we also are dealing with other factors. If we have to delay our return, that will mess up our kids’ schooling, especially for Josiah, who will be starting his senior year of high school and wants to be able to do that in Japan. We also are renting a house and our lease ends September 15th. If we can’t return as scheduled, we don’t know where we will live.
- Kylie’s transition – Karen and I went with Kylie to orientation at James Madison University (our alma mater) this past week. I feel like it was only yesterday that we were graduating and now we are sending our first child there. We are incredibly thankful for the scholarship that Kylie received to go to JMU and for the wonderful community we will be leaving her with here in Harrisonburg (plus extended family a short drive away). All parents have to go through this moment of “launching” their kids into the world. Ours is a little harder, knowing that we will be returning to the other side of the Pacific with the rest of our family, but we are proud of her and feel confident that she will do great. (ok, getting a little emotional here…)
- Alive International – please pray for this dear congregation that we had the pleasure of working with. Pray especially that the Lord would provide a new English-speaking pastor to partner with my wonderful friend Pastor Dedachi to help minister to these people that we love so much. (getting more emotional, I just need to end this letter…)
Thank you for your interest in our ministry and for your prayers. If you would like more information about joining our financial support team, please email me, give me a call or text (540-810-9962), or check out our giving page on our website www.themirabellas.wordpress.com/giving/
With gratitude in Christ,
Tom (for all the Mirabellas)