In Their Own Words: Veritas Project Japan 2016

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Thank you to everyone who made Project Japan 2016 possible!

For the 6th summer, Veritas students joined the Nisshin Christ Church (NCC) missionary team in Nagoya for Project Japan. They left on June 1st and returned July 27th. Here’s the story of their summer.

The Team enjoyed building friendships with Japanese college students during a Mongolian camping adventure:

Project Japan 2016: In Their Own Words:

  • What being on summer mission meant to their spiritual lives.
  • How their faith grew.
  • How they saw God at work in their teammates’ lives.
  • How they saw God at work in their Japanese friends’ lives.
  • What they found most rewarding about their summer.

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Eddie:
This summer, I learned that God’s plan is good. Because of that truth, I learned God can and should be trusted in all circumstances. Learning about this and growing in trusting his good plan brought peace for me. When things were unexpected, confusing, or painful, I learned to find refuge and comfort under the shield of God’s good and trustworthy plan.

I saw God at work in a lot of the Japanese girls who were genuinely excited about studying the bible with Jensen, Ragan, Katie, and Raina. I also saw God working in students when Katie shared her testimony at Mongolian camping.  Many of the students had questions for her and lots of the guys got to have unusually genuine conversations with the other male students.

I think the most rewarding part of my summer was meeting students like Koudai. I was having a rough time moving past the small talk phase with the Japanese guys and was praying for a change. The next week Koudai introduced himself to us and we quickly found out how blatantly honest he was. This was a gift from God and it gave me the energy to continue to meet with other students that were more guarded.

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Danny:

  • I think the biggest way God grew my faith this summer was teaching me the importance of having complete reliance on Him and His plan. By no means am I saying that I came out of the summer having perfect reliance on Him and trusting his plan, but it’s something I think I grew in. When I get busy with school or other commitments, it’s really easy for me to box God out and feel like I have complete control. I start to get in the mindset of “Yeah, I know God has a plan, but I need to take this into my own hands.” That’s the mindset I took with me to Japan. People from past trips told me it was going to be hard. I was warned that halfway through the trip I was going to get the feeling of “what the heck am I doing here?” and that the pace of ministry in Japan can be discouraging. I heard it, and I kind of believed it, and I even told others about it. But in the back of my mind was the belief that either I was going to be content with God’s plan and with whatever pace ministry in Japan went or that I was going to be so good at connecting with students that I was going to see real, tangible growth. I was pretty far off with both of those assumptions. It was a hard summer. The mindset that the growth I saw in guys was correlated to my abilities as a missionary quickly became suffocating. Veritas staff and the missionaries at NCC reminded us time and time again that we were there to walk in the plans that God had laid out for us. Even when it felt like we might not be doing anything productive, we learned to trust that God was using us for his plan.
  • It was really easy to see God working in our team. From the very start, our team was loving and caring. We became a really tight knit group, and I think one of the biggest reasons was because of how God helped us give each other grace.
  • I think one of the most rewarding parts for me personally was a conversation I had with a guy named Daiki. Daiki wasn’t someone who spent a ton of time with our team this summer, but when he did come around he was extremely honest. I was able to set up a bible study with Daiki that turned into a really open and honest conversation about our lives and faith. I was able to share what God had done in my life and how different my life has been since becoming a Christian.

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Ragan:

  1. This summer in Japan, the Lord used my lack of comfort to humble me in unexpected ways. Being in a country where nothing felt familiar to me, I was left with the choice to either seek comfort where I could or throw myself into the unknown of the summer and trust that the Lord would equip me. Time and time again I was reminded of how little I am in control of and how much God loves to provide for His children. I was reminded how real a provider God is. Whether we were praying for big things – like a Japanese students heart to be softened to the gospel – or something small, like energy to get through the day. The Lord always came through. I was so humbled by that reality in Japan.
  2. thumbnail_img_4190When I think about how I saw God at work this summer, the first thing that comes to mind was the real and visible love I saw between my team and in the Japanese students. From the very beginning, our team had so much love for each other that it came naturally to continue learning and serving each other. I think about the times when were past the point of exhaustion towards the end of summer but we still made it a point to have honest conversations and encourage each other. In the Japanese students, I saw an astonishing amount of love. Between each other and towards us. All of the friends we made made Japan feel like home. We built true friendships and the Lord was in every inch of it, whether they knew it or not. I think of a student named Izumi who became a Christian a few years ago and continues to serve the college students and the church without a single complaint. She is the most amazing example of Christ’s love.
  3. There are so many rewarding moments of the summer but one of my favorite moments was when a student asked to start a bible study with Raina and I. Towards the beginning of the summer, a student named Haruka asked Raina and I to start a bible study with her (which is a huge deal and extremely rare in Japan). Raina and I almost fell out of our chairs when she asked but we were so excited. As the summer went on, a few more girls joined the study and we started with the basics of the gospel and who Jesus is. It was incredible to start from square one and be reminded myself who God truly says He is and how much He loves us. I was so humbled to watch the Lord work and be a tool in His plan.

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Katie:
1. I am utterly dependent on God.

As we began our ministry in Japan, we were energized. We were so happy to follow God’s call, and we were very fulfilled in our work. But as the weeks went by, we began to lose that initial adrenaline. We started drooping and losing speed in our conversations with students.

On an especially bad day, we all came to the church with bags under our eyes and dragging feet. One of the guys on our team proposed that we pray every day for strength. At first, I was a little confused. I had never prayed for energy to make it through the day. But as I thought more about it, I realized that’s exactly what I needed. Without the Lord’s help, I was helpless. I couldn’t make it through one more lunch at the university in broken English or another hospitality night without God.

In a foreign country, you always have to be “on.” You have to consciously think about what you’re doing every minute of the day, whether that be driving on the left side of the road or taking your shoes off whenever you come inside. These constant efforts to “fit in” scattered with a few embarrassing moments really took a toll on our strength and energy levels.

After that morning prayer time, I still felt groggy and sleep-deprived. But I began to think about the passage in 2 Corinthians on Paul’s vision and his thorn. I realized that my thorn at home was my anxiety and my thorn in Japan was my inability to understand the culture fully and my fatigue. Only in my weakness could I accomplish anything because only in my weakness was I relying fully on the Lord.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am made strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I saw this passage manifest in my life again and again. It was on my most down-trodden days that God used my Bible study with Mayu, one of my Japanese friends, to showcase His love. It was on my most frustrated days that God gave me patience during Kids’ Gospel week. It was on my most discouraging days that God gave me the encouragement of my team and the other missionaries at Nissin Christ Church.

I was humbled again and again as I was reminded of how ill-equipped I was for missionary life without my Father’s help. I realized that God could’ve used anybody for this trip. There is nothing special about me. I have so many obvious weaknesses and sins. But that’s the best part yet. God uses weak people so that through them, He might proclaim His glory.

2. thumbnail_img_4023I am merely a small piece in somebody else’s story.

In the same way that countless people have written on my story in my walk with the Lord, so also I am merely a small handprint on the canvas of somebody else’s testimony.

In my Bible study with Mayu, my heart would often grow prideful. I would congratulate myself for sharing the Gospel with her and then carry a smug grin for the rest of the day. But then I remembered that she actually heard the Gospel from two girls last summer, and someone else would continue the Bible study after I left. And then I remembered how much greater God was in her story. He gave her the curiosity for the Bible, and I was only an instrument used by Him to share the good news with her. I relied on my team leader to check my pride at every possible turn because I would easily fall into that same sinful pattern.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Psalm 127:1
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

I meditated on these verses to continuously remind myself of my small role in the stories of the Japanese girls. While I wish our trip was longer for a lot of reasons, I think God allotted us such a limited amount of time with these people to show us how small we truly are.

3. God is good even when I can’t see it.

As we got into the heart of the summer, and we began to form real friendships with the Japanese students, I began to have doubts. I questioned why God hadn’t saved these people yet. I questioned why God gave me a heart for unbelievers and placed so many unbelievers in my life only to rip them away from me for eternity. I honestly questioned if God loved people as much as I did.

I was really angry with God. I couldn’t go to Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples without bursting into tears. Statistics and percentiles became real faces and people that I cared about. I didn’t understand how a loving God could keep these people in the dark or send people to Hell. And honestly, in a lot of ways I still don’t understand this.

But I came to realize through the help of my team and mentors that God is a loving God because He is a just God. His characteristics aren’t mutually exclusive in certain books of the Bible. There isn’t a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. He is the same forever. And when we begin to question God’s goodness, we must ask ourselves: “What do we think we deserve?” If we fully understand that grace is a gift, lavishly poured out on us then we must recognize how much God loves us and how good He truly is.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

I am still learning a lot about grace, and honestly, I am still a little bitter toward God. But I have seen His goodness in my life again and again. He has delivered me from so many temptations and rescued me from my worst fears. He is good even when I run away. So He must be good even when my blindness cannot see it.

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Raina:
1. [God] broke me down to realize I can only do his work by asking for his strength. He used this to show me my utter need for him in every part of my life. I saw how much I needed to rely on God to do ministry in a foreign country but this only showed me how much I need to fully rely on him in all areas of my life all the time.

He also showed me how much he loves me. God really pressed that into my heart and I saw how the Holy Spirit was able to connect my head knowledge about God’s love for me to my heart.

2. [Ways I saw God at work.] There was a lot of curiosity about the Bible and Christianity from Japanese students. We had a few Bible studies going with a few of the girls and I know the guys had some really cool conversations as well. I think this summer the students were more curious than in the years past. I’m really thankful for all the hard work previous teams have done to bring students to the ministry because it was really cool to see how God used this team to foster the students’ curiosities about the Bible and Christianity.

3. Really getting to know some of the students past surface level [was most rewarding for me.] I got really close with the college ministry intern, Izumi, and would now consider her a really good friend. We had some really good and hard conversations about our lives and our struggles and she was really honest about how hard it is to be a Christian in Japan.
Also seeing the way our team loved and cared for each other and the Japanese students was really awesome. It was very encouraging for me to be surrounded by a community of people like that all summer.

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Taylor:
1. I was very humbled this summer because I was forced to rely on God on a daily basis. I could not have done this summer without Him. There were days where I was so tired I would literally have to pray for the energy necessary to continue pouring into the students. I was completely dependent on God this summer which caused my faith to grow.

2. I think I saw God at work in the students with some of the girls’ desire to start a Bible study with genuine curiosity about Christianity and why we believe what we do. I also saw Him in the relationships between my teammates in the fact that we were together in close proximity all summer and still loved each other well and grew together this summer.

3. Some of the most rewarding parts of this summer were probably when a student named Koudai sought us out after hearing there were Americans on campus and befriended us. Koudai came to almost every event after meeting us and began coming to Hospitality Night- even bringing friends. I am hopeful that Koudai will continue to be a part of the college ministry as their new school year starts up in a few weeks.

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I also really enjoyed Kid’s Gospel Week and will never forget the droves of children running every which way in the church, so excited for the day to start. It was cool seeing a whole gospel concert come together in just five days and the kids got to hear the gospel through it all, which is amazing.

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Jensen:
1) This summer, the Lord taught me so much about the reality of the Gospel.  I grew up in a Christian family and have gone to Christian schools all my life until Mizzou. I have known the stories in the Bible since I could talk, but so often because I have known them for so long, I forget how real they are.  I heard stories about miracles and angels and I wasn’t affected by them.  I became immune to the awesomeness of God.  But while I was in Japan, I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study with one of my good friends Yuri.  And as I was sharing these stories that I have known for so many years, she was asking questions like, “Do you really believe this?” “Did he really get raised up from the grave?” and “How do you know that this is all true?”  Questions like that really make you stop and think, “Yeah, I really do actually believe that angels have appeared to humans, that God created humans in a garden, and that Jesus really did die and then come back to life.” In our culture of science-is-fact and what-is-real-is-in-front-of-your-face, really believing these things can be hard.  We can say the words, I believe, but how often do we think about what we really mean when we say this?  Well in Japan I was confronted with how important it is to really know what we believe in and actually experience those truths as reality and not just stories we grow up hearing.  And the Lord has used that to change my outlook on how I live my life, what choices I make, and what really has eternal importance in this life.

13882346_10210173596679687_4712812125614789059_n2) I saw the Lord at work in the life of my good friend Yuri.  Last year when I met Yuri, she loved spending time with our team, but she did not ask that many questions about my faith.  I had a few conversations with her, but she was pretty reserved throughout the summer.  Then she came to Mizzou in February to do a home stay with The Crossing. I think that this time with a Christian family and the time that Veritas teams had spent with her brought her to a place of genuine curiosity about Christianity.  This summer when I got to Nagoya, one of the first things Yuri asked me was if we could do a Bible study. I spent this summer pouring through Bible stories and answering some tough questions with Yuri. She was so curious and hungry for more stories and information about the Bible. At the last Bible study of the summer I asked her what she really thought about everything we had been learning. She told me, that it was hard for her to believe some of the stories that seemed too fantastic, but she believed that Jesus was a real person and then she told me that she wasn’t a Christian yet, but that she didn’t want to stop learning about Christianity. When our team left, she continued to do her Bible study with an intern at Nisshin, Izumi. I know that Yuri isn’t a Christian yet, and I don’t know if she ever will be, but I can clearly see the Holy Spirit at work in her heart, giving her genuine curiosity and a thirst for more knowledge about our faith. She sees something different about Christianity and it is so evident that she wants to be able to believe it wholeheartedly.

3) I think one of the most rewarding parts of this summer were the relationships.  This was my second summer and it enabled me to strengthen and deepen a number of relationships during my time with Japan. I got more invested in missionary families’ lives, I got to know more about students’ lives, their struggles and I also was able to get to know the other team members more than I thought that I would. I came out of this summer knowing more about the people I interacted with than I thought would be possible after only a short amount of time. These are relationships that I get to bring home with me and continue to invest in and I think that, that is why it was the most rewarding.

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Tune in to ESI Mission Spotlight next week for more about the NCC Team and ways you can pray for and encourage their work for the gospel among the people of Nagoya, Japan.

Video Credit: Taylor Stone

Photo Credits: various Project Japan 2016 students

Guest Author: Alex Gray, a Veritas staff member and former NCC full-year mission intern, led Project Japan 2016. She contributed all of the guest posts related to Project Japan 2016.

For more details about the Project Japan 2016 itinerary and an overview of their trip, read the first post below. Then find more background on the spiritual needs of Japan in the second post below.

Veritas Project Japan: Summer 2016 Team

Mission Spotlight: Japan

 

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