December 2011

IMB missionaries train Japanese leaders

December 1 2011 by Tess Rivers

NAGOYA, Japan (BP)—Five Japanese men shuffle into the room quietly and bow to their hosts, IMB missionaries Wang and Rose Lee. Even though they’ve been coming for fellowship and leadership training for a while now, they still fidget nervously like a bunch of schoolboys on test day.

Louisiana native Linda Lee, who is no relation to Wang and Rose but works with the California couple as IMB (International Mission Board) missionaries, quickly puts the men at ease by teaching a new song. Soon, everyone is comfortable, relaxed and ready to share what they’ve learned from God’s Word since their last meeting.

“Did you bring your Bibles today?” Wang Lee asks. By Japanese custom, he addresses the men only by their last names — Fuji, Yamanaka, Shimizu, Kawagoe and Nishi.

Shimizu nods. Fuji produces his immediately. It’s an unlikely group sitting around the table searching through the Scriptures. Until a few months ago, all but one of the men was homeless, living under interstate bridges and in local parks. Now, they are blossoming house church leaders, understanding in a way only the homeless can that “house” is not essential to “house church.”

Fuji lived in the park when he first met Wang Lee. He had no house but plenty of time to read and think about life. Fuji found a copy of God’s Word at the local library, and he spent hours soaking in Scripture. The words of John 3:16 spoke to him. Within a few weeks, Fuji prayed to receive Christ.

Learning Scripture — understanding what the Bible says — is not only an important element of spiritual growth, the missionaries attest, but also of moving the group to become “church.”

“Those who read lots of Scripture are the ones who really grow,” says IMB missionary Hank Lee, Linda’s husband. “We put as much emphasis on learning Scripture as we do on prayer.”

Scripture also led Shimizu to a personal relationship with God.

“I believed in all kinds of Japanese gods,” Shimizu says. “In God’s Word, I began to understand the living God.”

Homeless men sleep in cocoon cardboard boxes and sleeping bags along the shutters of department store entrances closed for the night as commuters pass by in downtown Tokyo, Japan. “I used to walk by, too, before working with the homeless,” IMB missionary Mark Hoshizaki says. He and other missionaries began to take notice and started a ministry of reaching out to the homeless.

One of the ways the two sets of Lees model “church” for their new leaders is to discuss what Scripture the men read during the week. They sit comfortably around the table and talk about a wide range of spiritual matters — from God’s plan for the Israelites to the importance of taking short-term mission trips. For Nishi, who was baptized in January 2010, the discussion is sometimes confusing.

“I have been reading in Genesis,” Nishi says. “It is hard to understand, but I started at the beginning because I want to know the history of God’s relationship with man — how it all began.”

Another key element in planting a church is teaching new believers to share their faith with others even as they are learning themselves. This helps to solidify the truth in the mind and heart of the new believer, Mississippi native Hank Lee explains. Often, others also come to Christ in the process.

Again, Fuji is a good example. As Wang Lee shared the gospel with Fuji each week, Fuji shared what he was learning with his friend, Yamanaka. Yamanaka also prayed to receive Christ. Lee baptized both men in November 2008. From there, God’s Spirit really moved.

“Really, the homeless ministry took off with these two,” Hank Lee says.

Meeting together regularly is essential to becoming “church.” However, according to Wang Lee, it isn’t necessary to meet in a church building — or even in a home. Any place where believers gather together for the purpose of worship and Bible study becomes “church.”

“Wang understands that you must be careful what you put into the initial DNA when groups begin to form,” Hank Lee says. “With new groups, we keep it simple so they can remember and take it with them.”

This is even more important as both sets of Lees plan to retire within the year. With no current plans to replace them, the weekly church planting lessons take on greater urgency as the five learn to continue the ministry.

The men have taken the challenge to heart. They share their faith with those they meet on the streets inviting those interested to meet regularly in parks and local restaurants to study the Bible. In fact, Shimizu, a retired salesman who lives near the park and the only one of the five who has never been homeless, first heard about Jesus from Fuji and Yamanaka. After meeting with them for a few weeks, Shimizu prayed to receive Christ and was baptized in July 2009.

Both Kawagoe and Nishi host a Bible study in the open areas of their government-subsidized apartment complex. They meet openly to draw others in. Although the men have been working in pairs, they are now talking about going out alone so that they can share with more people.

As these five men continue to grow spiritually, Wang Lee believes these men have the tools they need to facilitate a church planting movement within Nagoya’s homeless. All they need is the help of the Holy Spirit.

“These men know everything I know now,” Wang Lee says. “Now, we just have to pray for them.”

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)

Related stories
‘Yellow shirts’ give Japan’s quake/tsunami survivors hope
Missionaries help Japan’s homeless find hope
Formerly homeless couple seeks next steps in ministry
Japanese businessman goes from high finance to homeless

12/1/2011 2:23:32 PM by Tess Rivers | with 0 comments

Formerly homeless couple seeks next steps in ministry

December 1 2011 by Tess Rivers

TOKYO (BP)—Sunlight filters through the windows of apartment 201 in a small green building on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan. Outside, blue skies and the first hint of cherry blossoms signal the beginning of spring. Inside, the small, two-room apartment is immaculately clean with minimal furnishings. The only ornament is a small stuffed bear wearing a Giants outfit. Like most Japanese, Hironobu and Mitsuko Honda are baseball fans.

Hironobu is a tall, thin man in his early 60s. Mitsuko is a small woman, her graying hair pulled back in a bun and secured by a wide headband. As Mitsuko bustles about the kitchen preparing tea, Hironobu provides mats for each guest as they take their seats on the floor in traditional Japanese fashion.

Just a few months before the Hondas’ lives were radically different. They were two of Tokyo’s 4,000 plus homeless people.

“They were living on the street with only 20 yen ($0.20) in their pocket,” says International Mission Board missionary Wendy Hoshizaki, a New Jersey native.

After Hironobu lost his job at a cleaning company in July 2009, the couple lived on the streets of Tokyo for weeks. Every night they faced the challenge of finding a safe place to sleep. Every day they worried about where to get their next meal. Hironobu was so distraught he talked of jumping in front of a train.

Greater Tokyo, a population of 34 million, is seeing increased response to the gospel among the homeless, a segment of Japanese society receiving greater attention due to recent economic hardships many families have faced.

In fact, suicide and depression cost the economy nearly $32 billion in treatment fees and lost income in 2009, the Japanese government reported. It is the first time the government has released such figures. The numbers, though, don’t begin to grasp the hopelessness Hironobu felt with no job and no prospects for work.

To Hironobu, along with more than 26,000 other Japanese who committed suicide in 2009, death seemed the best way out of an unbearable situation.

To Mitsuko, though, the very idea of suicide upset her so much that even the sounds of the nearby trains terrified her.

“I kept thinking about how my body would look if it was run over by a train,” Mitsuko recalls. “It made me shudder and I couldn’t bear the thoughts.”

Stubbornly, the Hondas pressed on, mingling with the crowds of Japanese businessmen by day and avoiding the throngs of young people that swarm Tokyo’s streets at night. Because of the agony Mitsuko felt at the sounds of the trains, the couple moved to Yoyogi Park and joined the extensive homeless community there. Mitsuko liked it because it was quiet; there were no train stations nearby. Life remained difficult, though, and the nights were still very dark.

“I had a small flashlight that gave me just enough light to see,” Hironobu says. “I kept it with me all the time.”

The Hondas still had little protection from the weather and nothing to eat. As they settled into life in Yoyogi, however, another homeless person told them about a food distribution by a group of Christians.

“We hadn’t eaten in three days, and we were getting hungry,” Mitsuko explains. “We heard there were only 70 meals, so we rushed over to make sure we got a number.”

At the food distribution, the Hondas realized there was something different about this ministry. There, they heard about Jesus for the first time.

Two days later, a typhoon hit Japan. The wind and rain from the typhoon made conditions in the park even more difficult. Many of the makeshift shelters were damaged. The Hondas still hadn’t eaten properly, and Mitsuko collapsed from exhaustion and lack of food. A worker from another agency helped Hironobu get his wife into a local hospital. A few days later, Hironobu called IMB missionary Mark Hoshizaki, Wendy’s husband. Hoshizaki and IMB missionary Josh Park visited the hospital the next day.

When Mitsuko was released from the hospital, the couple moved to government housing in Tokyo. About a month later, Hironobu found work. They contacted the Hoshizakis again and began meeting with them. Within a few weeks, the Hondas prayed to receive Christ.

“If they hadn’t met us, we probably would have been dead,” Mitsuko says. “They changed the direction of our life.”

Today, the days of homelessness are fading into memory. The Hondas live in their own modest apartment on the outskirts of the city. A small quiet park is within walking distance. As they lunch beneath the cherry blossoms, they talk of their new life in Christ.

“Now the Word of God is my flashlight,” Hironobu says. “The Light is always pointing us to the place we should go.”

The Hondas also want to help others in similar situations but believe it involves more than simply providing food. They recognize that most Japanese have never heard of Jesus and don’t believe in eternal life. God has given them a unique opportunity to share the reality of eternal life with the homeless, Hironobu said.

“We’ve been there,” Hironobu says. “We’ve experienced it. We understand the mindset and attitudes.”

Mitsuko sees their experience as fitting into God’s plan not just for them but also for the Japanese people as a whole.

“He has a purpose in everything,” Mitsuko says. “He is getting us ready for the next step. We just keep asking, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’”

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)

Related stories
‘Yellow shirts’ give Japan’s quake/tsunami survivors hope
Missionaries help Japan’s homeless find hope
IMB missionaries train Japanese leaders
Japanese businessman goes from high finance to homeless

12/1/2011 2:13:14 PM by Tess Rivers | with 0 comments

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