Okinawa Neighborhood Church Renovation
Missionaries: Wes and Carol Mathis – February 29—March 15, 2012
Trip Arrangements and Purpose
During the closing days in theHaiticonstruction missions trip Bobby Basham, the Men’s Ministries Director of the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God, announced that Marty Jesski fromIllinoishad organized a similar trip toOkinawa,Japanand that he was looking for people that might be interested in going. I responded to Marty and he extended an invitation to me to be a part of the team. The total trip was from February 7 –March 22, 2012. Marty accepted me for the period of February 29 – March 15.
The purpose of the trip was to renovate theNeighborhoodChurchlocated inOkinawa. The Church is an Assembly of God church pastored by Wes and Carol Mathis. It has a dual function in ministering toUSforces stationed inOkinawaas well as to the local population. The services are in English with ear-phone translation into Japanese.
From time to time, the Church faces a unique problem of losing a significant portion of their Church Family because of troop rotation. They may lose as many as 75 people when a given unit is rotated out ofOkinawa. Then they start over to build up their attendance from the incoming units as well as from the resident units.
The Team and Work
The team was organized by Marty Jesski. He and his wife, Liz, stayed for the whole term of the trip, somewhat over six weeks. Another couple came the first couple of weeks. Two pastors, Mark and Paul who were skilled craftsmen, came from upstateNew York, also for the whole term.
The work consisted of painting, caulking, carpentry, some masonry work, electrical wiring installations, sanctuary and fellowship hall configuration restructuring, carpet laying, cabinets and countertops installations, suspended ceiling installation, and installation of appliances. I was able to contribute on a number of the tasks. The work is pretty taxing because we use muscles that we normally don’t use (speaking for myself), but I did OK. The first couple of days I did mostly painting and caulking/puttying — an integral part of the church renovation process. Subsequently, I assisted with carpet laying, did tiling and plastering, and assisted with cabinet and appliance installations.
Some of the church people would pitch in with the work from time to time as their work schedules allowed. They brought us hot lunches and dinners. Any thoughts of losing weight on this missions trip went out the window on the second day.
Okinawa and the People
Okinawais an island in theSouth China Seathat is about 67 miles long and varies from 2-17 miles wide. It is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight time. It is somewhat tropical in climate, but is susceptible to high winds of typhoon strength during the summer. Its population is 1.4 million people. It also has the poisonous snake, habu, that is nocturnal. Fortunately I did not encounter any. The island accommodates a number ofUSmilitary bases that occupy about 10 percent of the land area. The number of troops varies but may be in the vicinity of 35,000, perhaps up to 80,000 with dependents ( if memory serves me right).
On the Way There
I left Washington Dulles (IAD) about1:00 PMWednesday February 29 and I arrived inOkinawaa little after9:00 PMThursday, March 1. When I left we had standard time andOkinawais 14 Hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. My flight was good, although we had a delayed start. The delay caused me a little concern as my connecting time inTokyo(Narita airport) for theOkinawaflight got a little tight. But in Narita I was able to get through customs and then security in good time for theOkinawaflight.
On the flight from Dulles toTokyoI sat next to a Japanese young man who had been in the States with a tour group. He noticed my Bible that I had put in the pocket in front of me. So he asked almost in a state of wonder, “Is that a Bible?” I acknowledged that it was. That opened a conversation the led into a discussion with him about Jesus the Savior. I talked from John 3:16, 17, and 18. I noted the important role that verse 18 played in giving the hearer/reader the choice of accepting Jesus as the payment for sin, or rejecting Him. The consequence of rejecting is self-condemnation. I gave him a Personal Workers Testament (the Gideon modern English New Testament that included Help Sections, Psalms and Proverbs). He seemed to understand and thanked me for the PWT and called it his treasure. Join me in praying for him that the seed will be watered and that God will give the increase of eternal life for him.
On the way toOkinawaI sat next to a woman who is a Naval Officer stationed there. I talked to her about God’s grace in my life recounting the story of God’s intervention when we fled fromHungaryduring WWII. She also gladly accepted a PWT.
All told I gave out 8 or 9 PWTs on the way toOkinawa. Japanese airline people seemed to appreciate them the most.
While waiting inDullesAirportfor the first flight I met a Gideon brother from Florida.who was on his way toTaiwan. His connection inTokyowas tighter than mine, so with the incurred delay it was even worse. He loaned me his phone and I called my wife Grace to ask for prayer help. She in turn contacted our local Gideons and our Church Family. InTokyo, I got to the gate for the flight toOkinawaan hour early. I expect my Gideon brother reached his in time also. The Lord worked it all out.
Four and a half hours after arriving inOkinawaand getting settled in, I had to get up for work. Thanks for the prayers of the Church family at home.
The Neighborhood Church
The missionary, Pastor Wes Mathis, has prayer meetings at the church on Mondays and Fridays at5:30 AM; and on Sundays at8:45 AM. Each one lasts about 45 minutes. I guess we aren’t the only ones emphasizing prayer. That is encouraging. Following the Sunday prayer meeting the various Sunday school classes begin. Those are then followed by the morning worship service.
My first Sunday at the Church (March 4) we had a service in the sanctuary. It looked pretty good after having undergone some renovation work the previous several weeks including receiving a primer coat of paint on the walls, but Monday we gave it another coat of paint and did other minor things.
In the service the congregation prayed for our team. The prayers were in English. Then Pastor Wes asked someone to pray in the Japanese language. A lady responded with a heartfelt prayer. I was reminded of the prayer offered atCenterpointeChurchthe Sunday before I departed forOkinawa. Pastor Keith led in prayer with the Church Family joining in. I was commissioned to go. Then our sister Ayako came forward at the prompting of the Holy Spirit to offer prayer for me in the Japanese language. I shared this commissioning with the Okinawa congregation and how, as a result, the Lord opened the opportunities to share His Word with people I met on the way, especially the Japanese young man who sat next to me on the IAD to Tokyo flight with whom I shared the Gospel. The Okinawa Congregation was blessed and encouraged.
After the service we had lunch at a Japanese steak house. While there Wes told of a case of a Japanese man who accepted the Lord. Being the eldest son it was difficult for his father to accept his faith in Christ. So the father disinherited him. But the man stayed true to the Lord and paid the price of being disinherited. Then the man’s young daughter took sick with some kind of virus. She became very ill with a high temperature and was bed-ridden. In desperation the man called on Pastor Wes. Wes came to the home where the sick girl lay in bed. The father and his father were there. Wes held the girl’s hand and prayed that God should touch her spiritually and physically. Momentarily, she sat up and the fever had broken and she was well. The grandfather said to his son that he was back in the will. The man (the son) had paid the price of accepting Christ and the Lord Jesus restored it to him.
Also, in the restaurant, one of the waiters said in broken English that he was Assembly of God (AoG). He had been a drug addict and went to Teen Challenge (an AoG ministry to drug addicts. He graduated from there and is serving the Lord in a Japanese AoG church.
Praise the Lord for his power to set the captive free! It looks like the Gospel of Jesus is making inroads in the Japanese culture.
Wednesday Special Service
The climate inOkinawais very nice this time of year in spite of the rain. It rains pretty hard some days but it didn’t matter since we worked indoors. On Wednesday night we had a service at church where one of our team members, Mark, led the worship (singing and playing the piano) and gave his testimony how the Lord got his attention at the start of his senior year in High School. He had had an accident and shattered his right knee cap. This was devastating because he had received a baseball contract from the Kansas City Royals (as a junior) for over $1,000,000 per year. After his accident his baseball career was over; but a new ministry resulted. After the service he and I went with Wes and Carol Mathis to a Starbucks at a mall for a scone and latte. Then we went through the mall – store complex. The store complex is a huge department-like store but instead of departments they are separate stores – no partitions, it looks like one huge department store.
Lost and Found
That Wednesday and the next day I had been working with Marty on counter tops and installing cabinets — including electrical work. When I got to the Mathis’ home where I stayed, I was taking my things out of my pocket and, guess what, no wallet. I looked all around the room and through my things, but mo wallet. Marty and his wife Liz took me back to the church to look for it and then to Starbucks. I was put to the test about praising the Lord in tribulation (Romans 5). I had been tested on that Scripture before after I had taught so passionately about “Rejoicing in Tribulation.” It was difficult, but I did come to realize that in this inconvenience, the Lord was still my Lord and I belonged to Him – no matter the lost wallet. By-the-way, it contained a significant amount of money as well as credit cards and other cards of value.
It occurred to me that maybe at Starbucks I need to give a PWT to some one (I happened to have one in my pocket). At Starbucks one of the servers, a young fellow, knew a little English and we explained to him what my problem was. He took us to the lost and found department of the store complex where they looked in their record book but found that nothing had been reported. So they took my descriptive information of what I had lost and logged it in their book. I then offered the young fellow a PWT. He did not understand right away that it was a gift to him. Marty said to him that I was giving it to him. I then affirmed it. He was pleasantly surprised and was greatly pleased.
So, when I got back to the house I went into the bathroom and on the floor, not readily visible, was my wallet. Praise the Lord for His goodness – and for the opportunity to give out a New Testament!
My Japanese Friend Jim
Around 1970 we had a young Japanese man living with us in the States. When he came to us we gave an American name, Jim – which he liked. We were his American family and Jim was his American name. He had come to the States to live with an American family so that he could learn to speak English properly, having studied it in the university. He came to church with us and felt the peace of the Lord there. We talked about becoming a Christian but he was counting the cost of how it would hinder his personal goals of becoming rich and advancing in society. We stayed in touch Over the years. So, when I had the opportunity to go toOkinawa, I e-mailed him that I was coming. He immediately replied and wanted me to come early and stay a day in his home. I had already made my reservations, so he said he would come toOkinawa– about 1,000 miles south of where he lives (just north ofTokyo). His oldest daughter’s father-in-law, Morio, lives inNaha, the chief city inOkinawa.
He and Morio came to see me at the Church on Sunday afternoon of March 11. I had Brian, a brother from the Church, with me. We talked at length of God’s plan of salvation, the importance of accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord. Jim is open to these things but is so steeped in his philosophy that his doing good (he is a very generous person) will be reckoned to him and he will benefit, in this life. He does not believe in heaven or hell nor in life after death.
Jim is appreciative of my concern for his spiritual welfare but his mind is made up that there is no life after death. The next evening, Monday, we went to a very Japanese restaurant sitting on cushions on the floor by low tables. Morio and his wife Sachiko were hosting us. The food was delicious: sashimi, sushi, fried chicken, Japanese noodles and other things. And lots of green tea.
My friends Brian and his Japanese wife Rumi were good company at the dinner. Rumi is an Okinawan and became a Christina in her early twenties. Jim was very interested to hear how she became a Christian. In addition to Brian and me talking about Jesus, Rumi was the main speaker. She gave her testimony in Japanese, of course, it was well received especially by Morio and Sachiko who did not know much English. They had not heard much about Christianity before and had not had dinner with Americans either. They were pleased with this occasion.
At the end I told Jim I would continue to pray for him that the Lord would reveal Himself to him. He said OK. He appreciates that we care about him. But his mind is firm that he is OK the way things are now. Before I met with them I was under a heavy load but afterwards the weight lifted because I had “delivered my soul.” Ezekiel3:19(KJV). We made the effort and sowed the seed and now we ask the Lord to send others to water the seed and then give the increase of his salvation. We continue to nurture the friendship.
On the Way Home
TheNeighborhoodChurchgave me a generous send-off. There were heartfelt goodbyes from the Church people. Shortly after I had arrived a young girl, Toni, (maybe age 5) had taken a liking to me. I would swing her around and she would hug me. On my last day at the Church she came with a sad face to say goodbye. She said, “Mr. Henry, you are the best old man.” I was warmly touched by that.
My trip home was somewhat eventful as it took 29 hours fromNeighborhoodChurchdoor to my door. It was comprised of three legs:Okinawato Tokyo (NRT),Tokyoto Los Angels (LAX), LAX to Washington Dulles (IAD). From NRT to LAX I was able to share the Gospel with my seatmate, a Korean woman who was returning home toLos Angeles. I basically explained John 3:16-18 — v.16 God’s love demonstrated through the giving of His Son Jesus; v.17 Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save; v.18 the choice is ours, He does not condemn us but we condemn ourselves by not accepting the gift of His Son. Also John 14:6 Jesus is the only way to God. She accepted the PWT and stated she believed in Jesus.
The last leg of my trip was from LAX to IAD. The airline had an airplane change in LAX. The new plane also was a Boeing 767 but was configured for overseas travel with many more first and business class seats; thus, reducing the number of economy class seats. The result was that 40 people did not have a place to sit. Fortunately, I did. But the replacement plane was late in arriving and then had an electrical problem that grounded it until it was fixed. Instead of departing LAX at1:00 PM, we departed at about5:30. I arrived at IAD about1:00 AMand home2:00 AMFriday. While waiting in LAX I met an Australian family with three young girls. One of the little girls (about age 4) started to tease with me. So we formed a casual friendship.
As we were waiting for about four hours, it occurred to me that I should stretch out my hands toward the plane and pray for it. I walked over to the window overlooking the plane, reached my hands up and then lowered them to a horizontal position and said a short prayer. No sooner had I ended when the gate agent announced that the plane was fixed. How could this be? There wasn’t enough time for my prayer to have any effect, I thought. Then I was reminded of the Scripture, “Before they call I will answer.” (Isaiah 65:24, KJV). So why not fix it sooner, Lord? It came to me that the Lord wanted to show me that He was there. The time spent waiting was for me to befriend the Australian family. Because, as we arrived in IAD, I was able to offer my last PWT (of 20) to the father and he accepted it.
My Pastor and church prayed for me before I left, essentially sending me on this construction missions trip to Okinawa. From time to time I would think of the sending and sought to prepare myself for any opportunities the Lord would send my way. I had taken 20 Gideon New Testaments along to give
out and came back with none. In the process of giving them out the Lord afforded me opportunities to share a testimony and/or talk about the Lord.
For the Glory of our Risen King Jesus,
Henry Weigel, Missions Coordinator
Centerpointe ChurchatFair Oaks