From elementary school onward, Toru Ashida joined his church whenever possible in welcoming North American summer missions teams to Tokyo.
As the years passed, he knew he wanted to do something similar. This summer he had just that opportunity when he became part of the Reformed Church in Japan’s (RCJ) first overseas short-term missions team.
Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) missionary Ken Lee has encouraged the RCJ to send a team overseas for some time. In fact, that’s partly why he and Rev. Ashida, Toru’s father, have hosted so many North American volunteer teams. Until recently, however, many RCJ leaders struggled to see how such efforts could be possible.
“They knew that they were to submit to the Great Commission,” Ken says, “but it was difficult for them because they are a small denomination. [Additionally,] since they were used to being at the receiving end, they didn’t feel they were ready to give.”
Ken and Rev. Ashida, however, continued to stress the RCJ’s need to personally experience missions in another place. Soon many RCJ leaders agreed.
The RCJ started looking into mission field possibilities, wanting to connect with a place in which their international partners in Japan already worked. The church finally settled on Cambodia and South Africa. RCJ leaders wanted to send out a team in 2011, but Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami delayed their plans until this year.
In August, Ken, four adults, and six young adults went to serve on the RCJ’s behalf in South Africa. The team spent much of their time at an orphanage that the RCJ supports for children with HIV and AIDS. The members played with the orphans, worshipped at local churches, visited Christian schools and orphanages, passed out Bibles, and helped paint a building.
“Our goals were to build closer relationships and learn from each other,” says Ken. “[We wanted to expose people] to some of the diaconal projects that the RCJ has been involved in, expose young RCJ members to South Africa, and start networking with South African young adults.”
These goals were certainly met. One team member, a young adult, testified afterwards on understanding the importance of personally participating in the Great Commission. Another volunteer shared that she would like to return to South Africa as a missionary someday. Meanwhile, a pastor who had doubted whether the trip was useful came back celebrating how he had seen God at work.
“This was a very special summer for [my wife] Jeannie and I,” says Ken. “We had been praying for [the] day when the RCJ [would] send out a mission team overseas.” The RCJ will now build upon the relationships it has begun by sending teams to Cambodia and South Africa in alternating years.