Tsunami Relief Effort Shifts Ministry Perspective

March 31, 2011

Kent Muhling, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

Today we went back to Kesennuma and brought supplies to the places we visited yesterday. It was a good day.

We went back to the evacuation center and brought some items they had asked for – boots and shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, clothesline and clothespins. Doesn’t sound like much, but they were needed, and much appreciated. The Japanese Self Defense Force probably wouldn't bother to look for clothespins for one evacuation center, but that’s precisely the small need that a small outfit like us can fill. And, for those families living in a school gymnasium with no way to hang their clothes up to dry, it really matters.

The staff was quite surprised to hear that we had driven two and a half hours to make the delivery, and they were very appreciative.

Before the evacuation center we returned to the Baptist church with the kindergarten, who had asked for supplies for the children for their graduation tomorrow (Saturday). We brought 96 hygiene kits, one for each child.

But the best part of the trip was getting to sit down with the pastor of that church, along with his wife. We drank tea and talked for about 45 minutes. He is 76, and has been a pastor for 50 years – and still going strong. It was a great, encouraging time for all of us. The pastor and his wife appreciated so much that we would stop and take the time to see how they were doing, encourage them, and offer our help in any way we could.

Before we left we prayed with them, and they both had tears in their eyes when we were finished. We all felt so good to have been able to minister to them in that way.

I’ve been thinking about what we’ve been doing up here, and it’s changing my perspective about "ministry" a little. I've been taught to focus on sharing the gospel and making disciples, and rightly so, I think. But it is easy to turn that focus into an agenda that pushes out other important aspects of who I am supposed to be as a follower of Christ.

What I mean is: In the past I would not have thought much about simply sitting down to listen to a pastor for his encouragement. "Real" ministry would have been to teach or equip, not just listen and small talk. I would not have thought much about bringing relief supplies if there we no opportunity to share the gospel. "Real" ministry would be sharing the supplies and the gospel message.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I do want to take every possible opportunity to be a witness for Christ, to share the gospel, to tell others that the reason we’re helping is that the love of Christ compels us.

The question is:  what if there is no opportunity to give a verbal witness?  Is it still worthwhile to do mercy ministry? My answer earlier might have been, "I've been called to make disciples and so I won't get involved if there’s no opportunity to share the gospel."

But now I’ve begun to think not only in terms of what I’ve been called to do, but who I’ve been called to be.

Again, I do want to share the gospel every chance I can, and be a witness whenever I can. But even if I can't witness with words, I am still supposed to love my neighbor, show compassion, and do good to everyone as I have opportunity, and especially to other believers.

That's what we did today, and it felt good to do so. I hope that through our efforts, Japanese people will come to understand that Christians are compassionate, loving people.

May we truly be the people God wants us to be, so that our verbal witness will be supported by our life witness.

Please pray that through our presence and example, Japanese Christians will be encouraged to reach out and BE the people He wants them to be.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18).