Nothing is useless
This small church in Tochigi Prefecture has a lively small group ministry
“Nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless” (1 Cor. 15:58 GNT). What an encouraging word to the Christians in Corinth from Paul, a great evangelist! It is also true for us now, who tend to think what we do is so little or insignificant compared with what happened in his time.
How God led me into my current ministry
My late husband, David Gray, worked as an English teacher in Okinawa Christian University for 23 years. One day, he came home with a big smile and told me that one of his students decided to get baptised after a long time of counseling. I don’t know how many students he helped in this way during his time in Okinawa. Not many, I think, but certainly he was sincere in his Christian life and willing to share his faith as an English teacher. Even after David’s death, his faith is still living in the lives of the students he taught and witnessed to. When I visited Okinawa last year, I met a former student who told me that David was her teacher and that she became a Christian later on. I could almost see my husband with a big smile in heaven.
During our 2004 summer holiday in my hometown, David went to a swimming pool by himself and was later found drowned. That was a big turning point in my life. I was led to dedicate my life to the Lord as a single woman. I stayed one more year in Okinawa teaching English to children and helping the ministry at a UCCJ (United Church of Christ in Japan) church. Then I flew to England to study for two years at Redcliffe College, a centre for mission.
After I returned to Japan looking for a place to work, a church in my hometown, Kanuma Kirisuto Kyōkai, invited me to work as a lay worker. It is one of the churches of Fukuin Dendō Kyōdan, which was started in 1955 by the work of M.A. Burnet, a missionary from England in 1927. I have been a member of this church since I was baptised. They had been praying for us and actually helped me financially while I studied in England. When I still couldn’t decide whether to accept the offer, my daughter encouraged me by saying, “Mummy, you’d better go where you are wanted.” So I did!
The small group ministry of my church
Kanuma Kirisuto Kyōkai is a typical Japanese church, not large but with a congregation of around 20 people. Most of them are women. However, the women’s power has been great in sustaining the ministry of the church. When I started working there, the pastor was trying to introduce cell-group ministry into the church. Several women were willing to open up their homes to start groups. Now we have a different pastor, who has one more church to look after and is also happy about the group ministry. At the moment, there are thirteen groups, of which five are held at a leader’s home: one is reviewing Sunday messages and the other four are sharing the Bible. Six groups are held at the church building: one is sharing the Bible in Japanese and English, one is a tea salon mainly for elderly people, one is sharing haiku, and three others are English classes for children and adults. We also have a youth group and a group that visits an old people’s home. We leaders meet with our pastor regularly and have an evaluation time.
These small groups are good ways to meet people locally and invite them into the church life, so we might call it “pre-evangelism.” There was one lady who came to learn English who also came to Sunday worship, and by meeting Jesus, she was set free from one of the new religions. There are some people in the groups who are reluctant to come to church but are willing to read the Bible with us. For our children’s English class, a child is usually brought by a family member, and they all participate in the class and learn together. There is also a time for Bible stories shared by our pastor. It is such a blessing that he comes to the class and becomes familiar with the people there. It was such a lovely sight to see one boy of eight, who couldn’t live with his father, sitting on the pastor’s knee as if on his own father’s.
The groups are not only a place for getting to know new people, but also for the church members to deepen fellowship, which we cannot easily do if we are just going to church on Sundays. One of the ladies who goes to a home group commented that if it weren’t for the group, she couldn’t have continued to go to church. When we think of the needs of newcomers, it is also important not to forget to care for church members. Small groups are effective in both ways.
Nothing done in God’s service is ever useless
In our church we don’t see many dramatic changes in people’s lives or see them coming to the Lord like in the first-century church. Even bringing one person to Christ takes a long time and needs a lot of prayer and Christian witness. If we are not careful, we tend to feel little and powerless, and we start wondering whether what we are doing is right. I am sure that some of you who are reading this article share the same feelings. However, let us firmly hold onto Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth. He did bring a lot of people to Christ himself, yet he encourages us now by telling us: “Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless” (1 Cor.15:58).
We never know what good will come out of our work. What we do now is an irreplaceable piece of work for God’s kingdom to come. May the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ be our guide and strength in all we do for the Lord! Amen.