Hold the Rope

This post is a testimony I gave at Evergreen SGV’s All Church Summer Conference two weekends ago, as their first career missionary. The conference theme was “One Story, God’s Glory.” Please do not share on social media without permission.

Weaving Strands and Stories

What difference can one church make in Japan?

Three weeks ago, our Tokyo church plant had our first two baptisms. One was for an elementary school girl.

Do you know why that baptism took place? One reason is because a specialist in learning disabilities came alongside me. We weren’t sure how we would walk this young girl through the basics of the faith, as she has difficulty communicating. But this specialist offered her counsel, expertise, and most of all, prayers. By God’s grace, the girl confessed her faith and was baptized.

That specialist is Evergreener Joyce Inouye. Through her ministry Child D, she has given hope to hundreds of parents and children in Japan.

With Joyce on her second Child D trip in 2013

Joyce’s son Garrett also served two years in Sendai, Japan.

What difference can one church make in Japan?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to lead worship for a conference that gathered around 800 church leaders in Tokyo and Nagoya.

Do you know why that conference took place? Because a church in LA felt a burden for Japan, partnered with a seminary in Nagoya and sponsored the conference. They even sent one of their pastors for a month to direct the conference.

That church is Lighthouse Community Church, a plant of Evergreen SGV. The pastor they sent was Gavin Kajikawa, a former Evergreen SGV intern.

Serving with Gavin (3rd from left) on my first short term trip to Ibaraki, 2003

With Gavin and fam in Tokyo yesterday

By the way, the seminary in Nagoya is doing another conference this fall. Unfortunately, the speaker isn’t nearly as famous. Just some random guy from So. Cal. by the name of J. Hori (Evergreener).

With J. and S. Hori in Tokyo, last summer

A Gospel Rope

God is taking the small, individual strands and threads of different people from this church, and weaving them together to form a rope, if you will – a gospel rope – that He is lowering into Japan to rescue people for His glory.

If you don’t believe that, listen to this next story.

Several months ago a friend of mine quit her job to work for a Christian adoption agency in Tokyo. Adoption is a foreign concept in Japan, often associated with secrecy, even shame, and this friend initially had no interest.

Do you know what changed her mind? A conversation she had with her roommate, who shared how adoption reflects the heart of God the Father, and the gospel itself.

But do you know why this roommate came to believe that? Because she grew up in a church that had a culture of adoption, and raised her to see its beauty.

That missionary is Sabrina Yee, and that church is Evergreen SGV.

With Sabrina at a place that may have soft serve. Maybe.

But it gets better. Do you know how Sabrina got to Japan? Because she’s supported by a mission organization whose Executive Vice President happens to be a member and former intern of Evergreen SGV, Elliott Snuggs, serving with Asian Access.

With Elliott in Shizuoka, 2012

But do you know why Sabrina ended up living with this roommate? Well, because the previous roommate moved out. She got engaged to her former co-worker: a wine sommelier, and son of a Zen Buddhist monk.

You know why she married him? Because 5 years ago, this gal was attending the same church as my roommate, and one night she brought him over, as he wanted to learn the guitar. I taught him three chords, one strum. We sang two worship songs, shared our testimonies, then shared the gospel. That night on the train ride home, he confessed his faith. He’s now in seminary, preparing to be a pastor.

Discipleship dinner

But do you know the only reason why I was living with that roommate? Because 8 years prior, I got connected to him through a man doing ministry in Japan for several decades: Evergreener Don Saguchi.

Don Saguchi (far left) and my former roommate (3rd from right) in LA, 2006.

[And side note: do you know why I was able to disciple this new believer for a year afterwards? Because when my roommate switched jobs and I needed to find a place to live, another family took me under their wings, became my guarantors so I could sign a housing contract, and became my neighbors, just a 3-min walk away: Jim and Mari Kagawa and their four kids, also Evergreeners.]

With the Kagawas in 2014

But going back to that roommate, do you know why the timing worked out for me to live with him? Because when I first got to Japan, I was able to spend three months with a homestay family so I wouldn’t have to rush to find housing immediately.

Homestaying in 2012

And do you know why they agreed to host me? Because 29 years ago, a missionary family obeyed the call to Yokohama, where the husband taught at the same school as this homestay mom. Through this missionary family, my homestay mom came to Christ.

Homestay family (Inomotos) at our wedding, 2016

That missionary couple is Evergreeners Ron and Carol Miyake, and that homestay mom is Atsuko Inomoto, sister of Evergreener Midori Yamada.

The Miyake family, 1990

Ron Miyake photo revealed for the first time!

Atsuko Inomoto and…hmm…who are those two on the right?

But do you know how I even made it on that flight from LA to Japan to live with the Inomotos? Because an engine mechanic for American Airlines generously gave me his flying privileges. (Evergreen SGV: the only church that sends their missionaries first class!)

That engine mechanic is Brent Kajikawa.

And do you know why Pastor Cory approved me to get on that plane? Because for 13 years, as an attendee, member, intern, and pastor, this church loved me, grew me, trained me. And in the Fall of 2012, members of this church committed to support me financially, and in prayer to be a missionary.

And do you know why I ended up being at Evergreen SGV? Because in 1999, as a Junior at Schurr High School, a friend, along with his family, reached out to this sarcastic little teenager, and shared the love of Christ with him and invited him to this church.

That friend is Cory Hata, and his parents are Ruth and Dale.

With Cory (second from the left) at graduation in 2000

Dale and Ruth at the Shibuya Scramble, 2017

Do you know why they reached out to me? Because Dale said to Ruth, “You know, sure he’s kinda annoying, but if we love on this little punk, I think in 19 years, there’s this little Christian adoption agency in Japan that just might benefit from this.”

Probably not.

You can’t make up these stories. Only God could sovereignly weave such threads together. And through the history of Evergreen SGV, God continues to take the strands of our little lives to form a gospel rope that reaches Japan for His glory.

Hold the Rope

On Oct. 2, 1792, 12 pastors in England formed the Baptist Missionary Society, launching the greatest missionary movement up to that time. Among the 12, was William Carey, missionary to India, now known as the Father of Modern Missions.

There is a famous story recorded by one of the 12 who wrote:

Our undertaking appeared to be like going into “a deep mine, which had never before been explored, [and] we had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” But before he went down . . . he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that “while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.” (Peter Morden, Offering Christ to the World, 153–54)

Evergreen SGV, by the grace of God, hold the rope.

For the people of Japan, hold the rope.

For the glory of God, hold the rope.

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  • Lawrence Tan says:

    Amen brother!

  • Christie Gilmore says:

    Love hearing (well reading) the pieces and details of the story God has been weaving and writing for so many years. This post makes me smile and tear up at the same time! Sorry to have missed hearing you share it in person, WAMU!

  • Miyako says:

    Hearing how God’s perfect plans for His beloved children unfold right before our eyes is humbling. Can’t wait to hear what He does next! Please keep us updated

  • Hillda says:

    Brilliant weaving of story strands, Ian. Loved hearing this person, then reading it, and most of all, seeing the old photos.

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