Take One Step Forward: Attending Central Conference 18

Izumi Miller (in Illinois)

I am a new Christian that got baptized last year on Memorial Day, exactly one year before this year’s CC. I didn’t know anyone and it was my first time attending, but I realized that you can open your heart and connect with others on the sole common ground of believing in Jesus. Any fear I had of participating in CC at the beginning soon disappeared, and I was blessed with meeting many people. Since I am usually thinking about what I need to do next during my daily life of work and household chores, these two nights and three days of coming face-to-face with God was a relaxing and blessed time. And what I gained at CC very much exceeded my expectations.

I learned a lot from the gifted speakers and discussions with my small group–actually everything I heard was what I needed to learn–and all the lessons from the Bible they taught resonated with me. And among those, what left the strongest impression on me was this quote by Pastor Tetsuo Kagiwada:

“There are many teachings in the Bible that seem absolutely impossible for humans who are sinners. One of those is Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” We have times that we can sincerely rejoice, but when we are crushed by sadness or suffer from sickness both physically and mentally, there is no way we can always rejoice. Do you give up like that from the very beginning? That’s no good. If you can’t truly rejoice, let’s keep rejoicing, even if it’s just on the surface.

Internally, I was doubting with thoughts like “It’s not just always rejoicing; we humans can’t forgive or love our enemies either. Can’t we pray and wait on the strength of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we can do those things? Isn’t it meaningless to act like that on the surface if I don’t really think so from my heart?” Then Pastor Kagiwada continued as if he knew what was going on in my heart.

“There is also a mindset like this:  ‘God, please give me peace before telling me to rejoice. If you give me peace then I can rejoice too.’ I think that’s true too. Since I can’t do it even if I’m told to.”

I did not grow up in a Christian home but I heard about Jesus for the first time at a very young age. Since then, God persistently worked in my life through six years of a Protestant middle and high school, church, and by giving me many Christian friends once I became a working adult and came to the U.S. Even though I was impressed by the lifestyle of my devout Christian friends and influenced by them in many ways, I stubbornly thought “I will not become a Christian.” I had absolutely no right to receive His grace, but the Lord performed a miracle for me. Three years ago, I believed in the presence of the Lord and began to pray everyday, with the sincere intent of responding to my longtime Christian best friend’s feelings. The Lord understands us better than we understand ourselves. I hadn’t even been praying about my father, who I had been disconnected from for 16 years. But the Lord knew that my bitterness, hatred, and unforgiving heart towards my father was the reason I thought “I can’t become a Christian.” Before I knew it, He completely healed the wound in my heart, and had taken away my anger and hatred. I was able to reunite with my father and had a blessed time with him this past March for the first time in 17 years. So in my case, it’s not that I was able to reconcile with my father because I made an effort; it was absolutely impossible for me. It’s just that the Lord miraculously changed me. The Lord takes unique approaches for each one of us: 10 different ways for 10 people, and 100 different ways for 100 people. I know that God will not necessarily work in someone else’s life the exact same way He did in mine, but because of my experience, I strongly believe that even if we don’t make an effort, the Lord will change us for His will.

Pastor Kagiwada further continued with this:

“The person that thinks they cannot always rejoice will never be able to rejoice. But when we try to obey the Bible even though we know we can’t, or when we try to rejoice even though we know we can’t rejoice, or when we try to give thanks even if we can’t be thankful, the Holy Spirit works in us. If we try to take one step forward and obey, we are able to rejoice and give thanks from our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit.”

And lastly:

“No matter how sinful we are, if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, the Lord will save us. But let’s have faith much much bigger than a mustard seed and go to heaven unashamed! Let’s completely trust in the Lord and do more and more things that are pleasing to Him.”

Though it has been a month since I have heard this message, it continues to encourage me and has given me the courage to take one step forward as a Christian.

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