Jalen Ontoy, Junior Biblical Studies Major
To say that I have greatly learned during my pastoral internship would be an understatement. My time in Shannon, IL has given me much exposure to pastoral ministry.
I realized that pastoring takes intentionality. It takes intentionality to lead biblically and blamelessly. As Christ’s under-shepherds, it is our delightful duty to lead both the family and the flock. This does not happen overnight, however. This only happens once people come to trust us. But how do we build trust? We build trust by lovingly caring for others. This aspect of ministry is called shepherding. We shepherd the sheep by our genuine interest and involvement in their lives.
By God’s grace, shepherding came easily in Shannon. The population of the village (Shannon is too small to be considered a town.) is 800 people, and it only takes two minutes to drive across the village. Because the community is small, people naturally have more intimate relationships with others, especially at our church of less than 100 members. Every single night of our internship, Nik (the other intern) and I would have supper (They refrain from the term dinner in the Midwest apparently.) at a church member’s house. This allowed us from the very beginning to build personal relationships with the church. Some families had us over once a week, which gave us the ability to experience life with them. We spent hours with them going shooting, watching movies, boating on the river, or even babysitting their kids. All these unique opportunities gave us the chance to truly know the people we were ministering to.
Almost every Sunday night we would have a fellowship at a church member’s property. This allowed me to spend time with the youth group specifically. We would play basketball, volleyball, gaga ball, and other various games. This was a fun time because it gave me the chance to know the kids in an informal setting. Because of my age, I was able to relate to them and understand them. This opened the door for me to minister to some of them as well.
Shannon Baptist Church started in 1962. Today, there is one founding father remaining. This godly man has impacted many souls for God’s Kingdom, including mine as well. Each time we went to his house, he would share stories from the past. He told us of his amazing wife who entered eternity over ten years ago. Through this, he stressed to us the importance of finding a godly wife who was passionate about people and committed to ministry. His testimony opened my mind to the necessity of surrounding myself with godly mentors.
My main mentor this summer was Pastor Tim Lehman, the head pastor at Shannon. He has served God faithfully at Shannon for over 25 years. The main lessons I learned from him occurred outside of the church. Pastor Lehman graciously allowed us to stay with them in their home during the internship. This was the biggest blessing of all because it showed me how a pastor should deal with his family at home. The consistency that Pastor Lehman showed both “on and off the court” ministered to me in tremendous ways. His family taught me that there is no false dichotomy between ministry and fun. There is joy in doing things together as a family. Whether it was chilling at home to watch TV or going outside to cut wood, I found that making the most of every opportunity with family is extremely important to the success of the home, and therefore the success of the church.
Even though I learned many good truths about ministry, I also learned many hard truths as well. I realized that ministry is not easy. Pastor Lehman told us of how division in the church caused a split over ten years ago. He told us of countless individuals he spent hours discipling who no longer attend and even criticize the church. He told us of changes the church made that surprisingly caused separation. Yet these painful stories reminded me that nothing worthwhile is easy. My main responsibility is to faithfully serve God. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, says, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”
Overall, I left this internship amazed with God’s goodness and sovereignty. It was not luck that led me to this internship. God actively worked in my life to bring me to Shannon because of what I would learn. His goodness renewed a passion within me to pursue pastoral ministry. Yes, I am uncertain of where He will lead me. And yes, I am uncertain of the hardships it will bring. But I am certain that as I stay satisfied in my Good Shepherd, He will lead, and I will follow.
Takayuki Hayashi, BJU Alumnus (Uchinada Bible Church)
My wife and I are 2010 and 2011 alumni of Bob Jones University and Bob Jones Seminary. Since 2011, we have been serving in ministry in an established church in Canada, a church plant in Canada, and now as missionaries in Japan for the last three years at Uchinada Bible Church.
God has called us to be missionaries in a very difficult field. Japan is called the graveyard for foreign missionaries. According to Operation World, Japan is the country where Christianity is in second greatest decline. However, “returnees”— Japanese who became Christians abroad and are now returning to their home country—are having a substantial witness. We have the benefit of both understanding our home culture and having a native understanding of the most difficult language in the world (many foreign missionaries take up to 10 or 20 years to become conversant and still have difficulty in communication). Our children were already fluently bilingual in both Japanese and English prior to moving to Japan, which has allowed us to seamlessly adjust to daily life and school with limited challenges. My wife also continually studies Japanese and has had ongoing Bible studies and witnessing opportunities with English-speaking Japanese mothers she has met.
God has permitted us to reach many people in the last two years. We had further plans to reach the Japanese people in 2020 during the Olympics, but similar to the majority of missionaries, our plans changed because of COVID-19.
The peak of COVID-19 in Japan was towards the end of March into April. However, Japan never shutdown—the government just gave advisories to wear masks and practice social distancing. There were also advisories to restaurants, etc. to close earlier, and schools were closed April until May. Churches were never asked to close, but attendance dropped from 30-130 to around 10 people in each of the 2 services in April. We had to cancel regular ministries including the public library English time, nursing home ministry, and medical hospital Bible studies, due to restrictions on sizes of gathering and limited access to medical facilities. We also had to cancel large outreaches that gathered over a hundred people.
On the other hand, there are three new ministries which God providentially brought to churches through COVID-19. First, meetings and gatherings are online. Second, we can use sports to reach the lost during this pandemic. Third, small and suffering churches in Japan are coming together to help one another. Let me explain these three points in detail.
First, online services are benefiting a greater number of people. For example, we did a Biblical Counseling training seminar in Japanese through Zoom rather than in person, and as a result we had 462 people register across Japan and from the USA. We had six different teachers from the United States teach six different topics. Compared to last year, there were 4 times more people who attended and benefited from the Biblical Counseling Seminar.
Another example is our Bible Conference. We usually have about 200 people attend our yearly Bible conference, but in 2020 we only had about 60 people who attended the conference in person. We were disappointed with the small number of attendees, but the video of the conference has over 700 views on YouTube now. Believers and pastors from all over Japan are watching the Biblical Counseling Seminar, Bible Conference, and weekly Sunday Services. We praise the Lord for the larger reach.
Other ministries we are doing online are the Children’s Sunday School and Awana Club meetings. Several new children are attending the weekly meetings over Zoom. These children were never able to attend in the past because of their parents’ work. We also have people from the other side of Japan attending our regular Bible studies online. God is good!
The second area we are able to minister through is sports. Despite all the changes in Japan due to COVID-19, one area that seems to be immune is athletics. This may be because people know the benefits that come from physical exercise or because athletes must train for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Most gyms and sports facilities allow people to take their masks off during the exercise. Playing sports and eating together are the few times when people can get together without wearing a mask. The government does not force us to wear masks, but it has become socially acceptable to do so since the SARS outbreak of 2003.
Young adults and children are still able to get together to play sports. We have met a lot of new people through playing a variety of sports this year—badminton, basketball, ultimate frisbee, soccer, tennis, and table tennis. Through these times, we have had some good spiritual conversations. One mother started to share her marriage problems with a Christian lady after 30 minutes of a walking class. The camaraderie that playing sports creates allows us to build relationships with people very quickly.
I would like to share one example of how we used sports to reach many people during this pandemic. In November, we organized an Olympic Sports Festival Outreach. Even though the COVID-19 cases were a record high for the week of the festival, we believed God wanted us to proceed with the plan. The city gave us permits, and several other large athletic events were held on the same day, which helped us to make the decision. We invited a Christian Taekwondo bronze medalist to the event. The city leaders were very excited to be part of this sports festival because so many large events were canceled this year for children. The Board of Education in our town handed out the festival flyers to all the children in the town for us. One city recommended the event to all the elementary schools, and over 9,000 flyers were handed out directly to the children by public school teachers. There were over 760 people who registered for the sports festival, but we had to limit the number to 600 people and spread them over two sessions outdoors in order to avoid crowding.
The bronze medalist, Yoriko Okamoto, shared her life story in two elementary schools, two middle schools, and one kindergarten. After teaching Tae Kwon Do to the children, she shared with more than 300 students that believing in Jesus was much more rewarding than receiving the bronze medal. One student asked her what she dreamed of doing after being a third-time Olympian and receiving an Olympic medal. Yoriko Okamoto told the children her dream is to tell other people about Jesus.
The goal of the sports partnership is to have about 500 sports festival outreaches around Japan. We would like to have about 20 sports festival outreaches for different local churches in our area to connect people to the local churches.
The third way God has used COVID-19 in our ministry is bringing small and discouraged churches together to help one another. The average church congregation in Japan is about 30 people, and 89% of the congregation is said to be over the age of 50 years old in Japan. Churches have very few physically capable adults to volunteer for outreaches or ministry. Even though there are fewer people attending churches and less outreaches happening because of COVID-19, we have been meeting with other church pastors to pray for one another and encourage one another. We also gathered young adults from different churches to conduct the Sports Festival Outreach. About 10 evangelical Bible churches came together, and we had about 60 volunteers for the sports festival outreach. Other churches are now also interested in taking part in sport outreaches next year.
Christianity has been decreasing in Japan at a rapid rate, but we believe God can bring a revival to Japan even through COVID-19. One final testimony: in the beginning of December, I was contacted by a man who had recently become a Christian and desired discipleship. He is a well-known, former athlete and owns several gyms. He found out that all the staff members of one of his gyms were also interested in Bible study. So, we have done numerous studies in the last number of weeks. All seven of the staff members had individually purchased their own personal Bible and were seeking on their own. When I asked one staff member at the gym, “Who do you believe is Jesus?” the staff member responded, “Jesus is the Son of God. I want to know more about him.”
Pray for these people in Japan, who are thirsting after righteousness, that God would bring them unto salvation.
God is good—this truth never changes. Whether I was diligently seeking to serve others, or wasting His time away by going through YouTube videos for hours… despite my fluctuation, God is always good. On the one hand, I see God’s goodness more because He has chosen to take some things away from my life. I miss my brothers and sisters in Christ. I miss people. I miss going out to eat. It would have been great to go to Japan for my internship this summer. I would have loved visiting my parents with my girlfriend for the first time. Whether it be a daily routine or a special event, I realized there were many things which I have been passively enjoying without actively glorifying God by giving thanks to Him. On the other hand, I see God’s goodness more because now I have more time to appreciate His blessings. I am thankful for having a phone to stay connected with others; for my friends who are so willing to give me a ride to a grocery store; for my fridge, microwave, and stove; for my couch; for the protection I have in my apartment; for the hot shower I get to take every morning… the list goes on. Everything I enjoy cries out, “… gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4). So what can I say? I echo the psalmist: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71). My God is good. -Moses
As a millennial American, life has always been fast-paced. Greenville is a growing city and with that comes unending possibilities to fill my schedule. As a lay-pastor, I have found that weekends are often busier than the work week. So, as I entered 2020, I decided this needed to be a year of “no.” I was beginning to recognize that being busy did not make me more spiritual. In fact, it was wearing me down and making me less patient with others and more hurried in my personal time in the Word. But 2020 was shaping up to quite the busy start.
Like many of you, I felt the initial sting of moving away from in-person community to virtual communities. Emails rolled in day after day of cancelled events and meetings. Then came the scramble to move our church online. Then, after the scramble, came the blessing.
Through the frenzy, our Church leadership landed on a study through Psalm 23 for our virtual small groups. It only took a couple of weeks before I realize what the Lord was doing in my life through this season. As Covid-19 cleared out my calendar, the Lord was using it to “make me lie down in green pastures.” I don’t like to “be still,” “to lie down,” or “to wait.” Maybe some of you out there are just like me!
As it turns out, God stepped in and said “no” to almost everything on my calendar. The Lord has given many of us an unusual time to rest! So tonight, I will enjoy Jeopardy with my family. And tomorrow, I will have another unhurried time in the Word! -Jordan
A lot of plans have changed in the past month. As a graduating senior, most of what I was hoping for has fallen through or has been put on hold. It was very easy to feel discouraged, confused, and hopeless amid so much uncertainties. This past month I have been studying 2 Corinthians, and the unshakable truth of the presence of the Holy Spirit has been a great encouragement to me. I have been rebuked that I do not always realize the weight of the truth that God lives in me, and because of the Gospel I get to directly experience His glory. This should cause us to have hope and not give up amid uncertainties and trials. The Gospel can encourage us because it gives us the power to overcome pressure, confusion, abandonment, and despair—Christ carries us from victory to victory. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we have everything we need to overcome every situation—including discouragement, illness, chaos, and even death. So instead of thinking about all what could have happened, I am thankful I get to witness God’s glory--which is far better. And I know that experiencing His glory will cause me to trust in His plans. For further encouragement, read 2 Corinthians 3-4. -Patricia
This time of relative isolation has been very instructive to me on a number of levels. Primarily it has reminded me of the frailty of life. If I cough or feel a little under the weather, I wonder, “Oh no, do I have the virus?” I have felt anxious at times about how a tiny, invisible bug could alter or end our lives.
All of this has reminded me that the Lord is unchanging. He is not susceptible to the things that can cause me harm, either physically or emotionally. So He is the Anchor on which I must depend. He is stabilizing and strong. The reality of His immutability has been impressed on me through this quarantine period.
Like everyone else, I am learning how to engage with others over digital media in new ways. During these weeks I have mostly served my students through online interactions. I have tried to think of ways to enhance interaction with students without adding to their overall workload. I really enjoy chatting with students and learning how they are weathering this season.
Because of the enhanced emphasis on internet communication, I have been interacting lately with Christians from around the world through prayer meetings and webinars. It really reminds me just how big the church of Jesus Christ is and shows me that I don’t have to travel to have serious conversations or to serve people in helpful ways. I am also being reminded that the things that unite us in Christ are far greater and far more important than the things that can so easily divide us. Sharing a common experience reduces the sense of difference that often becomes an obstacle to genuine Christian unity. -Mr. Vowels
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.