She came into the entranceway of the home where our house-church was meeting this morning, and dissolved in tears of joy in his arms. Mariko* hadn’t seen Mike for a year and a half, since his team from Hawaii had first come to Ishinomaki to help us for ten days. Mike and his wife Kathy had met Mariko and her husband Hiro* at a Hawaiian BBQ that their team had cooked for different friends in our community. Taka works in a different prefecture, but happened to be back that weekend. The four of them sat together that afternoon and ate, bonded, and became Skype friends. Despite meeting with Mariko frequently over the past two years, I’ve never seen her light up like she did today!
Over the past eighteen months, Mike and Taka have talked weekly, exchanging English and Japanese lessons. Mostly becoming steady friends. Taka has shared much of his grief about the tsunami with Mike – heart-talk that he has not shared with others. The wives have joined in now and again.
Today they were reunited. Taka, Mariko, and their daughter came to worship. They stayed for lunch. They went with all of us to a baptism at a beach.
It was the first time that Mariko has gone anywhere near the ocean since the tsunami swept through here two and a half years ago. They came back for a tea time, and participated in a prayer time for the Ishinomaki high school girl Rena* who had just been baptized. They beamed all day.
This morning we were also so happy to have Reiko*, her husband, and granddaughter come to worship for the first time. They had hosted our short-term intern Sabrina on a homestay this weekend. They took her all over and she had a magnificent time. They brought her back this morning and decided to stay for our house church. Others who watched thought they were regulars – they fit in so well. I loved seeing them sing worship songs for the first time.
As we broke up into small groups at the end of worship to share needs and bring them in prayer before Jesus, I looked around the room. I marveled at how God specially uses those He is sending here for shorter time periods. For sure, the on-the-ground presence of long-term missionaries is irreplaceable. But I see Him doing something unique – breaking through in a special way – through love-filled people who come and devote days or weeks or months investing in those we love.
Today’s baptism of Rena was also because of a short-term overseas trip. Her good friend Natsuko* spent two weeks with a Christian homestay in Texas two summers’ ago. Natsuko came back to Ishinomaki excited to find a church, and met up with Jonathan and Michiko, missionaries serving here. Natsuko was baptized last spring. And today Rena. Those two weeks of being loved on by Christians across the world made all the difference for Natsuko – and now Rena too.
I’ve read numerous articles questioning the benefits of short-term mission trips. Some of the points are very valid – we need to use our resources wisely and evaluate the long-term potential negative effects to places where we send teams. And on the receiving end of short-termers — it can be exhausting on those hosting! We need to prepare well, make sure that we don’t overextend (!!), and find appropriate ministry outlets for those who come often without much language or background. But over my twenty-some years of serving in Japan, I have continued to see God uniquely use the abounding enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and servant hearts of many individuals and churches from around the world who are committed to loving the people we love. Today was a beautiful example.
*I’ve changed the names of our Japanese friends.