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A Stronghold for Christ

July 3, 2024
Resonate missionaries equipped Mrs. Chieko Ishii to lead her church in joining God on mission in their community in Chichibu, Japan.
Resonate missionaries equipped Mrs. Chieko Ishii to lead her church in joining God on mission in their community in Chichibu, Japan.
Photo: Resonate Global Mission

Chichibu, Japan, is known for its many Buddhist temples and a large collection of Shinto shrines. Tourists and pilgrims travel from across the country—and even across the world—to visit the 34 ornate temples scattered throughout the city. Only a handful of Christians live in Chichibu. 

But through support from Resonate Global Mission, the Christian Reformed Church’s mission agency, local leaders like Mrs. Chieko Ishii are reaching the community with the hope of the gospel.

Coming Back to God

In a city that desperately needs God, Ishii was born into a Christian family and grew up going to the Chichibu Church, which Resonate missionaries helped to plant many years ago and still support with leadership training today. Ishii cherished her memories and the roots she had built at Chichibu Church.

But while living in a city with people deeply influenced by the Buddhist and Shinto religions and traditions, it was hard to find the support Ishii and her family needed as Christians. Life got busy, and Ishii’s family started missing worship gatherings every once in a while. And eventually they stopped gathering with their church completely.

Without the community of the church, Ishii began wandering away from God. She didn’t know it at the time, but she needed her faith. Without it, she began to feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Trying to find peace, she poured her life into painting and dancing. She would paint all day long and take flamenco and ballet classes in the evening. But nothing gave her peace or made her feel fulfilled in life.

She knew something was missing.

A Hopeless Community

Talking with her mother, Ishii realized she had never felt so anxious when she was part of a church community and pursuing a relationship with God. She and her mother both decided to return to their home church, and Ishii decided to profess her faith in Christ. 

Ishii and her mother were overjoyed to be back, but Ishii quickly realized the church was struggling to keep hope. The congregation was discouraged. They longed to grow their small church community but struggled to reach people in a community rooted in other religions. Ishii was growing in her personal faith, but she knew the church also needed guidance and encouragement to work on living out God’s kingdom plan and reaching their community.

At around that time Ishii met Resonate missionaries Jeong and MiSook Gho, who equip pastors and other Christian leaders in Japan to join God on mission.

The Ghos saw the challenges that Ishii's church was facing and wanted to help equip her to make a difference. They worked with her to offer training and to start a Global Coffee Break Bible study.

Ishii wanted her community to experience the spiritual encouragement she received from the Ghos, and she invited everyone to participate in the training and Bible studies.

But on the first week only a few people showed up. Then, on the following week, no one new joined in. Nor did anyone new come when the group met again the next week.

Sharing God’s love

Ishii was disappointed, but with encouragement and advice from the Ghos, she persevered. Slowly Ishii’s enthusiasm for God started to change the atmosphere of the church. With her fierce encouragement and joyful spirit, a few people were drawn to the Bible studies—and they were hooked! 

“Mrs. Ishii has been a spark plug and cheerleader for the congregation as they struggle to find ways to be more effective in serving the community and reaching out with God's love and the good news,” said Resonate missionary Lawrence Spalink, who also works with the Chichibu Church.

As the church leaned into God’s truth in Scripture, they felt hopeful again. Now almost the entire church attends the Bible studies.

Through their engagement in Bible studies and with the Ghos’ encouragement, the congregation has found creative ways to reach people in their city. The church has begun hosting local choir group practices, flamenco dance lessons, and art classes to provide activities for the whole community.

The church has seen the positive impact their new outreach has had on the community. More people are walking through the church doors, and the church is having productive conversations with community officials. There is still a lot to be done, but the church now has a renewed faith in God’s mission to their community.

Ishii said she’s grateful for the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s investment in her community through Resonate.

“I pray that our study of the Bible will deepen, and that many brothers and sisters will come together,” she said. “I pray that we will be a church of people who are building a stronghold of Christ's peace in their hearts.”