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Faithfulness She Never Forgot

Faithfulness She Never Forgot

As a Christar team in rural Japan knows, cross-cultural ministry is a God-paced endeavor. When cross-cultural workers uproot their lives to live out and share the gospel where there are few or no known believers, they go with no guarantees about fruit or timelines. As they seek to establish churches and cultivate Christ-honoring transformation in least-reached parts of the world, the Lord sometimes leads them through seasons that require resilience and perseverance as the results of their efforts are hidden from view.

This church-planting team has been faithfully planting seeds and making disciples for the past 30 years. One church established by the team is attended by a consistent group of approximately 15 individuals, but its sister church in a nearby city is struggling to get off the ground. When team members look at their communities and the culture at large, it might appear that they’ve made little progress. The region is still deeply rooted in Shintoism, Buddhism, superstitious beliefs and traditional practices like ancestor worship.

Over the years, team members have witnessed local believers profess their trust in Christ only to walk away from the church later down the road. Building relationships typically takes considerable time, and discipling new Japanese believers is nearly always a long-term, collective effort of both local followers of Christ and cross-cultural workers. Sometimes, workers don’t see how God is using their efforts until years later, when He brings someone like Saotome* back into their lives.

Saotome’s Story

Though her parents weren’t Christians, Saotome started attending an English class at a church planted by Christar workers Nathaniel and his wife, Trudy, when she was in 2nd grade. Speaking English is a valuable skill for many Japanese people, which opened the door for her not only to learn the language but to hear the Bible stories shared at the end of every lesson. Through the class, she learned about the Sunday school program at the church, and began participating in it as well.

Saotome recalls, “Through the teachings of Sunday school and the worship services I came to believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sin, that He was buried and that He rose again on the third day. I also learned that those who have sin could not go to heaven. Though I was little, the night after I learned about it during the worship service, I prayed 'I believe in Jesus. Please forgive my sin. Let me go to heaven.' I still remember it clearly.”

Though she asked God for salvation as a child, Saotome was never baptized. She shares that in middle school, “I misunderstood the meaning of baptism, thinking that I was not pure or righteous like other Christians and I was not worthy to be baptized. … I did not understand God’s love and grace so deeply, so I always felt somewhat lonely and alone.”

By her high school and college years, Saotome had drifted away from the church, but she never forgot the lessons she had learned in Sunday school. During college, while studying in the United States, a Christian woman invited her to attend worship services, which brought to mind her experiences as a child. And as an adult, though she didn’t fully understand what it meant to accept Jesus as her Savior, Scripture she had memorized as a child would come to mind and encourage her when she was troubled.

She recalls, “I prayed to God asking for help many times, and each time He graciously helped and enabled me to endure. … I realized that I was seeking God, but there were so many things about God that I did not understand. I wanted to learn more.”

In 2014, both of Saotome’s parents fell ill, so she moved to their city to be with them, continuing to seek to go deeper in her faith. The following year her mother passed away without knowing the Lord, and Saotome continued to live with her father, a doctor and a member of a local cult.

After several years of spiritual searching, Saotome wrote a letter to reconnect with Nathaniel and Trudy. Over 15 years had passed since she’d last been in contact with them; and they excitedly went to visit her. They answered her many questions and arranged for a Japanese believer from the church to disciple her online.

Despite her father’s opposition, Saotome started intentionally reading her Bible downstairs where he could see her. At first, he openly opposed her interest in Christianity, especially when she expressed her desire to get baptized. However, after experiencing her love for him and seeing the positive changes that her faith was making in her life, he begrudgingly permitted Saotome to go to worship services and has become more open to learning about Christianity.

Discipleship Continues

Last fall, Saotome and another Japanese woman named Yoko shared their testimonies at their baptismal service in the presence of both believers and non-believers. In her testimony, Saotome quoted the Parable of the Lost Sheep, conveying how God hadn’t stopped pursuing her since she was a second grader in English class. She shared, “Even though I was being led by God and surrounded by Christian brothers and sisters, I lost my way and turned my back to God. God did not give up on me. He had prepared the way for me to come back to the right way.”

Nathaniel affirms God’s faithfulness through the whole process, and he’s encouraged by the two women’s faith. He shares, “Although it may take many years before fruit is borne from the seeds that are planted in the proclamation of the gospel, God is often working behind the scenes.” It truly is a blessing to see fruit in peoples’ lives, and Nathaniel and Trudy have been greatly encouraged by Saotome’s compassion for others. “[Her growth and discipleship] didn’t stop when she was baptized,” Nathaniel says. “She wants to disciple others.”

As Saotome cares for her father, who’s living with cancer and has endured numerous surgeries, she continues to share the gospel, praying that the seeds that have been planted in his heart will grow. He’s begun asking questions about Christianity and has read several books about it; and while he once refused to meet Nathaniel and Trudy, he’s now open to talking with them.

Though the progress is slow and the results may be unclear, Nathaniel, Trudy and their teammates know that God is faithful in drawing people to Himself in His timing, and trusting Him, they persevere. They’ve seen His invisible hand slowly working, and they praise Him that they’ve witnessed fruit they never would have expected.

Participate by Praying

  • Praise God for His faithfulness and the testimony of these two believing Japanese women!
  • Ask the Lord to give Japanese believers discernment as they are surrounded by idolatry, as well as boldness in sharing the gospel in a culture that values avoiding offense.
  • Lift up new workers who are preparing to join the team in Japan and are waiting for the border to open. Pray they will be able to begin overseas ministry soon.

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