Persevering Through Ministry Challenges on a Mission Trip to Japan

By Alyssa Kranz

He stepped outside his Airbnb onto a crowded city street.

He thought to himself, something is different. Something is missing.

Was it the strange quietness? Even in the commotion and busyness, there were no car horns honking or yelling.

Micah Peterson looked around. He wasn’t used to being in a foreign place. Kobe, Japan looks and feels like an urban city, but seems like a rural community. He wasn’t used to that. Fortunately, that slight discomfort reminded him why he was there in the first place.

Peterson, six other Crown students, and one staff member went to Kobe for 10 days in May in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus at a local church, desiring to help in any way possible. Many of the lessons learned by the team were about flexibility and using the tools and opportunities God provides.

How the trip happened

Kobe is a city located in central Japan and is home to over 100 international corporations. With a population of over 1.5 million, it is known for its famous Kobe beef and the Arima Onsen hot springs.

Staff leader Liz Blancke connected student leader Mena Lor — a senior Communication student and the 2018-2019 student chaplain — with a church ministry in Kobe after hearing Lor express interest in leading a missions trip. For Blancke, it was also a dream come true — as the Director of International Service Learning at Crown, she once lived in Japan during the first five years of her life, as well as during a summer in college.

The team partnered with Mustard Seed Christian Church in Kobe.

They worked with Pastor Kevin West, who first served with church planting network Redeemer City to City before planting Mustard Seed Church in January 2017.

Pastor Kevin’s wife, Nozomi, had come to the Lord when she was an international student in Omaha, NE. She was mentored by Julie Arant, who has a huge international student ministry through the C&MA. Blancke knew Nozomi when she lived in Omaha and was excited to bring a team of students to partner with her and Pastor Kevin.

The big surprise for the students? Ministry in Japan doesn’t quite work the same as it does in the United States.

“The age demographic in Japan is much older, and therefore it seems like the youth are almost ignored,” says Peterson. “The youth respect their culture and want to honor their families, but they want to do more than just live life and work hard.”

Mustard Seed runs a program for the toddlers, school-aged youth, and adults of the community, but nothing for the teenagers. This observation helped Peterson realize church ministry faces challenges reaching people when the ministry is short on space.

New beginnings

With only a small stage, a modest sanctuary, one bathroom, and a small upper level kitchen, the students noticed how much they would have to improvise. The church followed the typical Japanese living style with minimal interior decoration and a maximized usage of space.

As part of a renovation project requested by Pastor Kevin, the team added a wooden panel backdrop extending from the floor to the ceiling. Inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, Pastor Kevin says it was exactly what he wanted because it enhanced the space. “It cost the team a lot of sweat and hard work, but it looks so much better!” They even added LED lights to enhance the stage.

The sanctuary doubles as a meeting space, and now Pastor Kevin says it feels more like a comfortable living area instead of a boring conference room.

“What struck me as different was the intentional fellowship after church,” says Blancke. “Once a month they host a family meal where everyone is invited. Even on Sundays when there is no family meal, the young adults stick around for some informal fellowship.”

Blancke loved the fact that the church service isn’t rushed. The members did not compartmentalize their time together. “They simply enjoy engaging with one another in extended fellowship.”

The Crown team even got to make and serve the family meal on their first Sunday at the church.

Other opportunities

To help visitors feel more welcome, the church sings songs in both Japanese and English, and always has the translation on the screen. They sang familiar songs like, “Blessed Be Your Name,” and “Holy is The Lord”.

Another outreach event held by the church was an English party. Pastor Kevin asked the students to hand out flyers to the community, even though there were language barriers. Twenty-five people ended up attending, playing games and learning common expressions.

Lor was thrilled. “It was a packed house! God definitely provided and brought everyone who was supposed to be there,” she says.

Some of the non-Christian attendees started going to the church after the class because they enjoyed the Mustard Seed community so much.

Pastor Kevin also organized a farming day for the students with a daycare for special needs kids. They loved on the children while joining them in a fun activity. It’s not common to share the Gospel with these kids in Japan, since they are viewed by society as inconsequential.

“This one little girl clung to me,” says Peterson. “She sat on my lap, hugged me, and gazed in my eyes. Her caretaker told me she was surprised because this particular little girl always took a long time to warm-up to anyone, especially males.”

It was inspiring to the team that even during their limited time here, they made a big impact, and the church made a big impact on them.