Amami Oshima [ah-MAH-mee OH-shee-mah] is an island in the southernmost part of Japan. The island is known for its pleasant tropical climate and beautiful beaches. But in spite of years of effort, it has proven frustrating to establish an Adventist presence there.
For more than 40 years literature evangelists from the nearby island of Okinawa have sailed to Amami Oshima to sell literature and introduce people to Jesus. But few Japanese people responded.
However one woman, Kazuko [KAH-zoo-koh], welcomed the literature evangelists. She was a Christian, but she knew little about the Bible.
The literature evangelists showed her some books and magazines they had brought. Kazuko jumped up and took a book from the shelf. It was warped, and its pages stuck together. “My son found this book floating in the river,” she said. “He brought it home and dried it. I’ve read the book, and I believe what it said is true.”
The literature evangelists looked at the book and smiled. “This is an Adventist book,” they said, showing her a copy of the book, Steps to Christ. Kazuko asked to study the Bible, and in time she was baptized. She became the first Adventist on the island.
Kazuko opened her home for worship services, and a few others came to study the Bible. Evangelistic meetings eventually added to the number of believers. Occasionally the mission president visited the congregation, but without a regular pastor, most of the new believers stopped attending. Sometimes Kazuko worshipped alone.
A lay pastor came to serve for a year, and another came to work for two years. The congregation grew, and they rented a large room in a building that houses a restaurant and a bakery. At last they felt as if they really were a church. But when the lay pastor left, the believers struggled on alone with only an occasional pastoral visit from a mission official. It seemed that they would never grow beyond eight or nine believers.
Then in 2005 Pastor Lee and his family were called from Korea to lead the church in Amami Oshima under a program called Pioneer Missionary Movement, a program sponsored by the Northern Asia-Pacific Division.
Pastor Lee and his family realized how different the Japanese culture is from their own Korean culture. “The Japanese are quite reserved,” Pastor Lee says. “They keep their beliefs to themselves and hesitate to invade their neighbors’ privacy, even to share God’s love.”
The church members were cautious of him and his family too. “We didn’t want to be pushed into doing things we weren’t comfortable with.”
The pastor and his wife set out to love the members any way they could. “We did everything we could to let the members know that we loved them and were there to serve them in Christ.” Pastor Lee said. “We held cooking classes, taught Korean, and showed people how to give massages. And we prayed over every member every day.”
In time their prayers and efforts began to pay off. Some former members returned to the church, and current members began inviting family and friends to attend church programs. Members began to realize what a blessing it was to share their faith with others and to love those who came into their midst as Jesus did.
In the five years that Pastor and Mrs. Lee served the Amami Oshima church 15 new believers were baptized, and two people who had left the church years earlier have returned. Currently the church in Amami Oshima has about 30 members, and several more who are preparing for baptism. It doesn’t sound like many, but in Japan 15 new members is a lot.
The church continues to meet in its room above the bakery. But now they have a new dream, a dream to have a simple church on the ground floor where everyone who wishes can enter. Sister Kazuko, who helped start the church in her home, cannot walk or climb stairs. She’d be so pleased to worship with the little group that has grown into a full-fledged church.
Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help provide the believers in Amami Oshima with a place in which to worship, where people can enter easily and learn that Jesus can make a difference in their lives.