It has been more than a year since this post was first published (February 2013). After some revisions and updates, I thought I would republish it here for two reasons:
First, I’d like to give thanks to God publicly for being so faithful in providing not only our needs, but the needs of the ministry. As a tent-making missionary, I am of the believe that a need is different from our various unnecessary wants.
Second, we’re in a unique time in our ministry where we’re faced with unique challenges with regards to funding. It’s also an unique and wonderful opportunity to stretch the muscles of our confidence in God who is our sole provider. Sometimes, I tend to write things only to realize how relevant it is for the present situation after a year or even years later. So after reading this again, I realized it was a timely and a much needed word for me. I also hope this will be of some encouragement to you as you seek to walk by faith in a world where we’re easily distracted and driven by things that are visible.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding”
(Proverbs 3: 5).
This verse is a famous one among Christians. It was also the verse that my pastor planted in me at the sending off ceremony before I came to Japan in 2004. There’s nothing like the sovereign leadership of the Spirit in helping us choose our steps. We’re commanded to trust in God, and not lean on to our own understanding– in all things (including making decisions for our missionary endeavors). As we acknowledge Him in all our ways, the promise is given for us that “He will make straight our paths.” (Prov. 3: 6).
When my wife and I first moved to Kawasaki (2011), we had enough savings just to last us a few months. It took faith in God then, and it takes faith in God at the moment. Back then, we knew if we stepped out from our location in Nagoya, we would not have the same salary, the bonus or whatever else entailed etc. We had no western churches to support us when we first began. Both of us come from developing countries where our churches currently don’t have the financial capacity to support our mission work in Japan. There was a time in history (I’m thinking of William Carey- Father of Modern Missions- or better yet George Muller or Hudson Taylor) where missionaries could barely receive any adequate financial support. Some think those days are over, but not so for many Asian missionaries. Also it took those earlier missionaries months on a boat to arrive at the mission field; and it would have taken them months to go back home on a furlough. So many missionaries left home to spread the Good News among the unreached–with the view that they would die in the mission field. Today, we can fly back and forth, though not all missionaries have the luxury to do so even during Christmas holidays. And so most missionaries stepped out trusting God literally that He would provide. In reading various missionary biographies you will see how faithful God was in their work. I’m thinking of a wonderful lady, Irene Sensei (meaning “teacher” in Japanese) who went through a great deal of hardship with no money when God miraculously gave birth to Ochanomizu Christian Center in Tokyo through her. Today, there are various Christian meetings held there all around the year.
As I write, I’m sitting on my comfortable sofa and thinking about my brothers and sisters in India and others serving among unreached people groups who are daily hit by the harsh realities of life and embracing suffering for the sake of the Gospel. For some pastors, in some of those places, having a high-speed internet is a luxury they cannot afford. I recall one pastor who has to cross another village to go to the city to an internet cafe and send us email updates. I am more comfortable than them and I find it undeserving that I have a roof over my head and an air conditioner to keep us warm during the cold winter, while my brothers are stripped of their dignities and flogged for the sake of the Gospel.
Having said this, our own context presents itself with unique sets of challenges. As non-western missionaries the task of raising both financial and prayer support for all our missionary endeavors felt daunting and doubly challenging back then, and it is equally challenging today. To this day, we’re glad to have had a handful of faithful supporters for whom we’re truly thankful. It has not been easy, but indeed rewarding. I’m also aware that other sufferings will come and we must prepare our hearts prayerfully to embrace them as they come.
One thing is clear: God has given us much grace to walk this path. It has truly been a joy to make much of Christ. Romans 8: 32 is a beautiful promise: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” He did not spare his own Son and gave him up for us! What a glorious gift! And He has given us graciously all things in Christ. All that we ever need is already given to us in Christ. This is a very real and rock-solid truth for a time such as this, and in the days to come. Jesus is all we need, and all we’ll ever need, in this mission of making Him known. And with Him, God has given us all things we need– including our day to day basic needs– in the past 10 years in Japan. I have no doubt that He will be very faithful for the next 20 years or more if He will grant me the privilege. And as John Piper once said, “Missionaries who suffer the most speak of Christ in the most lavish terms.” Many missionaries who had gone before us have said that they never made a sacrifice. Indeed nothing is a sacrifice if seen in light of eternity. And some of the most generous people I’ve met are fellow missionaries who understand what it means to be in the front lines together.
Furthermore, Paul (the greatest of missionaries) writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine [or economic uncertainty] or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (v. 35). Now, add to that list! And the answer is: nothing whatsoever shall separate us from the love of Christ. “No, in all these things [that is, in all our present set backs and sufferings] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). Not just conquerors but more than conquerors. The love of Christ is our rock solid unchanging hope. Nothing can add to the love of Christ. And nothing can take us away from the love of Christ.
When some friends hear of the economic fluctuations, I know why many of them panic. It’s easy to do that, because we’re not robots though we live in high-tech Japanese society. To live as a missionary in Japan is challenging not only spiritually and culturally, but also practically due to very high cost of living. Some missiologists have called it The Missionary Graveyard because of the hardness of the soil and other factors that present challenges. “Since 1992, Tokyo has been the most expensive city in the world for all but six years.” This source below from CNN says:
“Despite Japanese deflation, a weaker yen and rising prices throughout the world, Tokyo has resumed its position as the world’s most expensive city, according to the latest Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit.” (CNN)
Among the 10 most expensive cities, Tokyo (Japan) and Osaka (Japan) are number one and two in the list. Whereas, Mumbai (India) and Delhi (India) are second and third among the least expensive cities in the world to live in. As an Indian, it is tempting to “wipe the dust off my feet” and go back to my country for very pragmatic reasons: 1) I know some of the languages. 2) I know Delhi (North India) just enough not to get lost. 3) The cost of living is way cheaper than Tokyo. 4) India is also largely unreached with mega-unreached people groups.
It’s helpful to think of what Jesus said when He sent out His disciples, He said, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals” (Luke 10: 4). Though this is a description, there is a principle there. Trusting God often means taking risk, knowing that God will provide: “for the laborer deserves his food” (Matt. 10: 10). In other words, Jesus promised to provide for them all that they need in order to accomplish the mission for which He had sent them. Later on Jesus asked them again in Luke 22: 35, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”” This is both humbling and encouraging. And God provides miraculously through His people. I recall briefly how a young Korean lady, who hardly knew us, was sent by God to support our mission work. But elsewhere in verse 36, He also tells them to raise their own support to buy tools that they would need: “He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” Yes, we live in the mission field knowing full well that ultimately it is God who provides. He provides when we remain trusting in Him, even though we may not currently have every ministry support we need. He provides by way of ordinary support raising, which can include selling our own possessions: “let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” So far we’ve never had to sell anything, but as tent-making missionaries (e, g: apostle Paul, Priscilla and Aquila) we also work part and full time jobs, and we are humbly inviting others to be partners alongside us.
Though the disciples, obviously, didn’t have much, yet Jesus said elsewhere: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Luke 12: 33). In all honesty, that is how we feel about the needs in this ministry. So we’re setting aside a portion of our savings and inviting others to be partners in this mission of reaching the 2nd largest unreached people group with the Gospel. In any case, sacrifice and trust in God is always required and He who did not spare his own Son will also provide all we need. We can put other people’s need ahead of our needs as we grow in our understanding that God did not spare His son for us. God provided for our greatest need on Calvary. God commissions, and God provides to fulfill His call. We will lack “Nothing.” We can trust in Jesus’ words:
“Truly, I say to you, there IS NO ONE who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10: 29, 30).
The hundredfold promise is not literal “brothers and sister and mothers and children.” The promise is made to those who leave houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for His sake and “for the gospel.” When a church is birthed through missionary endeavors in unreached places, we do receive all that we need including houses to live, and spiritual “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” and “lands” (a geographical location) entrusted to us for ministry. But we should also expect persecutions. Because the promise is “with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.“
So, risk simply means counting all things–including our current jobs and possessions–as loss for the sake of Gospel advancement (Phil. 3: 8). Not everybody is called to leave jobs or home or lands or houses. But a person may not be called to leave his current occupation or home, and “count everything as loss” by living sacrificially for the Gospel. We are able to do this only “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” Everyone is commanded to love the Lord more than family, houses or lands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10: 27). And everyone is commanded to make disciples (Matt. 28: 19). But His commands are not options. So, to the degree we understand the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus paid on the cross, we will also be able to lay down our lives and live for others in sacrificial love.
This is at the heart of what it means to live as a missionary in your own neighborhood and culture. Would you say with Paul, not only with your mouth and computer keyboard, but with your entire life: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things….in order that I may gain Christ.” The goal is to gain Christ. The goal is to make much of Christ in all things, and to love your believing and non-believing neighbor. Everything is gain, nothing is a sacrifice. To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Note: Meanwhile lots of good things are happening in our ministries. Please pray for:
1. December 13th, 21st and 25th for our music and Word-driven events, The Bridge evangelistic outreach and Christmas celebration.
2. Once in two months Grace City Movement Meeting of like-minded church planters who are Gospel-centered, City-Focused, Movement-Minded. We have been a part of this since earlier this year.
3. The discipleship group that meets every week in our living room apartment and the one on one discipleship and meetings at other times during the week. We’re slowly growing organically.
4. The potential team members and church leaders who are showing interests in joining and partnering with us.
5. The many wonderful Japanese non-Christians people who have let themselves under our care.
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