In 2015 we initiated an ambitious building project for the Aomori Christian Center (ACC) in northern Japan. Since its founding in 1956 the Center has had a significant role in the evangelization of Aomori Prefecture. The potential opportunities for ministry through ACC still seemed boundless and exciting, but the buildings were all out of date and not up to code. They needed to be rebuilt. The sum of money required seemed impossible to many local believers, but generous gifts began rolling in and by the spring of 2019 we had one fifth of what we needed to complete the first phase of construction. Then a pastor/wife team of a supporting church in Hong Kong came to evaluate the situation and hear our vision. Within a few months the church in Hong Kong raised the remaining funds necessary to complete Phase 1.
In the autumn of 2019 we cleared the land and prepared the building site. We had a volunteer construction team in Canada lined up to manage the project. They shipped four containers of building materials and meticulously laid out a nine-week building schedule. The first new building—a multi-purpose refectory (dining hall)—would be completed by July 5, 2020 in time for the summer camp season.
But the building team never came. Over the winter, rumours of a novel corona virus gradually gained momentum and in the spring of 2020 the unthinkable happened—Japan closed its borders for the first time since World War 2.
We had to figure out a way to unload the four shipping containers of building materials without the help of the building team. Thankfully, local missionaries and pastors stepped in to help. And it turned out that four of us were qualified to operate a fork lift! God had prepared us.
We thought that surely the building team could come in the autumn of 2020. But the borders remained closed. Aomori Prefecture receives heavy snow each year, so we had to figure out a way to store the materials over winter.
When the borders remained closed in the spring of 2021, we knew we had to adapt. We hired local contractors to build the foundation.
We thought that surely the borders would open by autumn and the Canadian building team could finish construction then. They didn’t. We could not risk storing the materials through a second winter, so we hired local carpenters to build the wood frame and, with cost overruns mounting, we put the roof on ourselves.
To our dismay, the borders were still closed in the spring of 2022. Every time we were forced to turn to local contractors, we went further and further over budget.
For the past three years, this has been our daily prayer: “Lord, please bless this building project all the more for having been delayed.”
God could have made everything happen a year earlier, before COVID . . . but he didn’t. We could be in despair about our great “misfortune” . . . but we aren’t. Because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV).
By God’s grace, the generous gifts of God’s people to this project have kept apace with the cost overruns.
And through all this, our Bible camps continued to grow. For three years, we could not recruit short term workers from overseas, but local pastors, missionaries, and Christian parents stepped in to fill camp staff roles. Our limitations forced us to think outside the box. We integrated OMF Japan’s sports ministry into our summer camps and partnered with local professors and winter sports professionals to introduce igloo building to our snow camps.
The borders of Japan finally opened to short-term visitors in the autumn of 2022. The Canadian building team is preparing to travel to Aomori to complete construction in the spring of 2023.
All the program expansions we had planned for 2020, we are now planning for 2023.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12 ESV).
By Luke, an OMF missionary