Central Conference 23 Testimony ③Shion Otsuka

I had a great time at CC23! I am so glad that I was able to spend three days with Japanese Christians learning about God, playing together, and just having fun even though I usually don’t have many chances to meet Japanese Christians, let alone Japanese people themselves! Maybe it was because CC had its first youth program in the same year that I was going to be a youth, or maybe it was because so many youth came in the same year, or maybe this year was just the best, but for me, CC23 was the most fun I have ever had at CC. I had a great time praising and playing games while being surrounded by people who were more like me and could relate to me than the people I usually hangout at school. In addition, this year, since I became a youth member and started going to adult worship services, I was able to listen to sermons that were deeper and taught me more things than ever before. Through this experience, I learned that even though I am still in junior high school, I can and should spread the gospel. I had already been to youth group at my regular church, but there were many times when I couldn’t focus and couldn’t listen properly. However, thanks to the fun and interesting preaching at CC, I have been able to enjoy church more and listen to the sermons more attentively. I believe that God has blessed me with these two elements, a lot of fun and learning experiences. I received not only great messages, but also new friends, experiences, and motivation to continue to work hard and have these experiences again. (Shion Otsuka, IL)

Central Conference23 Testimony ② Samuel Kim

My name is Samuel Kim, and I am a 2021 college graduate from Minnesota. Growing up, I knew only a handful of Japanese people in my hometown. However, many seeds were planted throughout my upbringing that led me to be curious about the Japanese language and culture. Although I do not have a formal position in ministry, I have put a significant amount of time and energy into personal endeavors related to reaching Japanese with the gospel and learning the Japanese language. Since the COVID pandemic began, I have been a part of various ministry groups focused on reaching Japanese, both in person and online, and I have regularly attended a Japanese church in Minneapolis since the summer of 2021. At CC23, I received confirmation that my personal outreach efforts are not being wasted.

I believe that CC is a very special gathering since people of many different backgrounds come together for the unified purpose of encouraging Japanese returnees who put faith in Christ. At CC23, I was blessed to be part of a gathering where God’s Word and faithfulness were proclaimed in every way, and I was strengthened in my faith in the context of fellowship. I was encouraged and amazed to meet people who were gifted in praise, speaking, testimony sharing, prayer, and caring for others, among other gifts. I was also grateful for the strong sense of community and God’s love which permeated every part of the three-day program. I saw strong evidence that God’s love creates an environment that is ideal for spiritual growth.

CC23 helped me to confirm my personal calling to Japanese people. I would not go as far as to call it a “gifting”, but one area in which I have been highly focused and committed is Japanese language learning. I take inspiration from the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” My understanding of this verse has helped me to let go of my preconceived notions about Japanese people and culture, surround myself with native Japanese individuals as well as missionaries to Japan as much as possible, and find creative ways to learn as much about the Japanese language and culture as I can. My Japanese small group at CC23 was one avenue where this learning took place.

I faintly recall when I was filling out my registration form for CC23 on Google Forms that it asked me whether I wanted to be placed in an English or Japanese small group. I picked both options, leaving the language of my small group assignment to the luck of the draw. Much to my surprise, after the first plenary session on the first day of CC23, I found myself in a small group that was all Japanese individuals, except for me. I felt both excited and nervous at the same time. Since I had never lived in Japan and had only had interactions in Japanese that happened relatively sporadically, I knew that I had to rely on God’s grace and mercy to get me through the three days of Japanese-language small group meetings ahead of me. One takeaway from my small group experience is that God’s grace abounds and that God does not expect me to perform in a way that compensates him back for his grace. In fact, I realized there is no way I could possibly even do such a thing. I was blessed by my kind small group members who welcomed me in discussions and slowed down their pace of speaking whenever they noticed I needed help with understanding. I was also thankful for the opportunity to practice Japanese by sharing my own thoughts out loud on the discussion prompts we were provided with. Looking back, I wonder what it was like for the people in my small group to listen to me speak disfluent foreigner’s Japanese. Anyhow, I look forward to having more opportunities to practice speaking Japanese and being able to share my faith especially with unbelievers and also be an encouragement to Japanese brothers and sisters in Christ. I am looking forward to EC23!

 

 

 

Central Conference 23Testimony ① by Jessica Suzuki

I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity to share how God’s been working in my life through Central Conference 2023.

To be completely honest, CC or anything that involved being in a Japanese community was something that made me uncomfortable. I had been away from anything Japan related since coming to the States for college in 2016. For the past 7 years, I struggled with my identity as a Japanese American who grew up in Japan. I spoke the language less and less, I worshipped or read scripture in Japanese less and less, and my main way of expressing my faith became predominantly English. Japan and what it meant to me became less in my life over the years. Deep down, I believe a huge part of me grieved that.

In the past two years, a friend would always invite me to CC or other Japanese events, and I would always decline – I was hesitant to open that door back up again. A huge part of my hesitancy had to do with the Christian communities that I was a part of growing up in Japan. Growing up as a Missionary Kid in Japan, I had moved around at least 8 different times, and had been to 6 different schools up until college – but my home Church in Japan was the most consistent place I had growing up, attending there for 10 whole years. Unfortunately, the one place of consistency was the place that created the most pain. Looking back at my teenage self, I remember feeling nothing but spiritual loneliness. I wanted to know God deeper, I wanted to have conversations of depth, but felt as though the cultural and language barriers hindered opportunities for that. That loneliness turned into bitterness for me. I remember always asking God, “Where are you? I want to know you more, I want to be a part of a community that seeks you, but I feel stuck”. I know there are passionate Japanese Christian communities out there, but I’m sad to say that I’ve been to more churches that were spiritually dead than alive. Not seeing God move in such a dry space created this bitterness and hurt in my heart that I still am working through. However, after hitting rock bottom in early 2022, God’s been softening my heart to rediscover my identity in Him, and to seek out healing and transformation in all aspects of my life. This included rediscovering myself and my roots as someone who grew up in Japan. It hasn’t been until this past 2022-2023 year that I’ve been open and stepping into Japanese communities again.

 

Therefore, CC came at a perfect time for me to lean into that. I had no expectations for CC; I just knew that God was calling me to experience this conference with open arms. and sure enough, God moved and softened my heart. Meeting Japanese Christians that genuinely love Jesus with all of their hearts, meeting non-Japanese people that have a heart and passion for my home (some of them have never even been to Japan) broke me. God reminded me of His deep love for Japan and its communities, and how present He is and has been all along. I thought to myself, when was the last time I’ve prayed for my home? When was the last time I actually put my hope in God moving in a place like Japan? When was the last time I’ve prayed for a revival in this place? To witness other Christians fiercely praying for this revival made me realize how far I am from putting my trust in Him and how He can move in this place. Being surrounded by people passionate for change convicted me that it starts with me; it starts with the cold hearted, bitter, clenched-fisted me to change my heart in believing in something bigger than myself and my hurt. God kept asking me throughout the conference, “Jessie, are you ready to let go? Will you open your heart? Does your heart break for what breaks mine? Because I’m here in this place. I’m moving, even when you don’t see it. I love Japan and I have not abandoned this place. Will you make more room for me so that I can work in you? Will you make room so that I can work through you even more? I can’t work through you if I don’t work in you first, and I’ve got so much more planned for you”.

 

CC confirmed over and over again of my love for Japan. I’m beyond grateful that CC was the launching pad for my healing journey in reconnecting with my roots and meeting people that share the same passion and love. I don’t want Japan to just be a part of my past anymore… I have no idea what involvement with the Japanese community will look like for me personally in the future. However, I come with open arms and a posture to receive whatever He has planned for me.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36)

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