I love being inspired by biographies of Christian leaders and saints — especially women — who have gone before and whose lives are worthy of emulation. (See previous entry on mentors). But I’ve also realized what a privilege it is that sometimes God uses real-life women who are in-the-flesh in our lives to teach and stretch me. This week I’ve had a chance to be with two such women.
ON SUNDAY, I went with Annie and Mary to the airport to say goodbye to Reiko T. She has been serving on our Kansai team for the past three years. She moved to L.A. from Japan when she was 16. She was Buddhist, and while raising her family in the L.A. area saw her family one-by-one becoming believers. She was in her 40s — the last one in her family — when she finally gave her life to Jesus. Her husband passed away, and when she was able to retire she left her children and grandchildren and came to Japan for three years. Reiko used a lot of her own funds to minister in Japan, and was a wonderful encouragement and inspiration to the small church plant that she worked with here. She also was an amazing example to our family and others in how she served — without any regard to her own needs.
What I learned from Reiko: following Jesus is always worth the costs involved, and that serving Jesus is on His terms, not ours. Reiko faithfully taught English for three years — and she doesn’t even LIKE teaching English. But you wouldn’t have known that. Thanks, Reiko, for your witness among us.
ON TUESDAY, Eric, Olivia, and I went to a church about 45 minutes away where I had worked as a summer advisor about 18 years ago (eek!). The senior pastor is a woman — Makiko Shimojo. She had such a huge impact on me when I had worked with her. It was wonderful this week to visit her again, and have Eric hear her testimony firsthand.
Pastor Shimojo felt called to the greater Kobe area when she was a young woman. She moved into a small, ten-foot one room apartment and started a church from there. One day she went up on a tall mountain to pray for revival in Japan. She looked over the sprawling cities of the region before her, and saw the huge Koshien baseball stadium. In her heart, she felt the Lord give her the vision– what if there could be a huge crusade conducted by a Japanese evangelist in this region that filled this stadium with people praising God? There had never been such a thing. Billy Graham has come to Japan a few times, but never a Japanese evangelist. This vision was planted in heart as a young woman.
She continued her church planting efforts– the church now has a daughter church, three associate pastors, and about 240 members! They prayed for this vision. And in 1993, through some amazing acts of God, her vision came to be. Here’s what one writer said about the Koshien Revival Mission:
The Koshien’s Mission Crusade’s three days of seminars and conferences and three nights of powerful messages by Japanese Evangelists made spiritual history. There was no focus on a “foreign” speaker, and the enormous cost was funded by Japanese believers. The evening meetings, alternating with 15 minutes of praise and worship, ministered to approximately 124,000 people and 20,000 came forward to register a profession of faith in Christ Jesus.
It absolutely stuns me to think of this happening — in Japan! (I was in the U.S. when this happened). God is amazing. Pastor Shimojo held tightly to this vision, trusting God for what is impossible.
It was wonderful to see her, and her assistant pastor Rev. Kanbe again. She is a hero of the faith for me. She teaches me to hold onto the dreams God has given me; and not to be afraid to dream of things even greater. Her faith reminds me that God is much bigger than the God I worship– I do not need to be afraid to let Him grow larger as I worship and believe.
Who are your in-the-flesh heroes of the faith? And what dreams has God imbedded in your heart? Don’t let go…