I just got back from a trip to Asia this Monday, and my last stop was in Tokyo, where I witnessed something pretty amazing.
First of all, I attended worship at one of our partner church plant projects, Grace City Church Tokyo, on Sunday. Tokyo is one of the most expensive and secular cities in the world. The average time I'm told for establishing a self-supporting, self-sustaining, self-governing church in Japan is about 7 yrs, and the average church size in all of Japan is about 30.
The church was packed to standing room only with over 80 people. Currently the church plant is in its third year and still growing. Now that the church has reached its limits in space it will have to find a bigger venue in order to continue growing, which means greater financial costs. The cost for a pastor and his family to live in central Tokyo and rent a venue for worship gatherings is one of the reasons so few churches are being planted in the heart of one of the world's largest cities. However, it's amazing to see the church's faith and growth in spite of the enormous financial challenges and other challenges that they have to confront in such a city.
But all of this wasn't the most amazing thing for me. It was what I witnessed in the worship service. In the middle of worship, the pastor, Rev. Makoto Fukuda, announced that the worshipers would have the opportunity to contribute to the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy during the offering. In the midst of their own financial needs, they still felt it was important to come to our aid in New York City just as we did when they suffered the 3/11 triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami, and radiation.
That disaster happened when the church was just about one year old, and proved to be pivotal for the ministry. Seima Aoyagi, who had just been with us in New York as part of our International Intensive training in 2010, and Roger Lowther, an American missionary and worship director of the church plant, immediately began to pull relief together and make trips up north to the devastated areas. In the process they built relationships with many neighbors in Tokyo and up north, providing many opportunities for ministry. (The same is happening here in New York with some very new churches after Hurricane Sandy, by the way.)
Generosity is a manifestation and fruit of the transforming power of the Gospel and I had the privilege of witnessing that. This is what our work at Redeemer City to City is all about.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.... For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. —2 Corinthians 8:1-3, 9