There are many ways for churches to support their overseas mission partners from a distance. But one of the most meaningful is visiting them in the places they serve.
Park Church in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK has supported OMF workers Chris & Kesia Pain for many years. Earlier this year, Jon, the pastor, and his wife Wendy visited the Pains in Tokyo. Chris is OMF Japan Field Director and Kesia is part of the Third Culture Kids advisory team for families serving in Japan. They are both involved in a local church plant.
We caught up with Kesia and Wendy to find out more about why the visit was so significant, what they learnt along the way and their advice for others considering paying their missionaries a visit.
Why were you keen for the visit to happen?
Kesia: ‘Basically, it’s encouraging! When people visit us and so see our lives here in Japan, they understand so much better what our ministry is and what our lives are like. This in turn informs their prayers, their sharing at both large and small groups, and their communication with us. It’s also encouraging for us to see them enjoy and learn to appreciate aspects of the culture that we have come to love, as well as better understand some of the frustrations.’
Wendy: ‘We have a heart for supporting missionaries and have found in the past that it is so much easier to pray for them when you have a personal connection with them.
Our church has been supporting Chris & Kesia in their ministry in Japan, long before Jon became pastor here. We wanted to build a genuine friendship with Chris & Kesia. We hardly knew them and had very little understanding of what their life in Tokyo was really like. We also wanted to understand the cultural context in which they were serving and Jon really wanted to taste proper Japanese Raman!
It is also much easier to pray for a country and its inhabitants when you have been there, met some of them and understand the cultural context. However….. Japan is such a long way from England! So when our daughter decided to study abroad in South Korea and we noticed on the map how close Japan was we decided to plan a trip. We also visited two other sets of missionary friends whilst in Asia.’
How long did it take to set up?
Kesia: ‘It started with a casual conversation with Jon & Wendy, when we were back in the UK and I jokingly suggested that they needed to visit their missionaries in Japan. Little did I know that they had a daughter studying in South Korea who they were planning to visit and so it had been on their mind already! From our side the set up was easy – we arranged mutually convenient dates, but I have no doubt that it took considerably more planning for them as they tried to organise to visit a number of different people across Asia.
Jon and Wendy came from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon – giving us a weekend together. It was a good length of time as we could show them our work and church, as well as have some fun together, but it didn’t feel that it was impeding our work.’
What did the visit involve?
Wendy: ‘We went for a long weekend, joined in with family life, talked lots, and visited the OMF headquarters and met people there.
Some of the things we did:
• Enjoyed lots of yummy Japanese food. Sushi was a highlight.
• Joined the family on their Friday evening prayer walk around the local area.
• Made Ichigo Daifuku (Strawberry Big Blessing) with Kesia. This is a Japanese sweet treat that Kesia was making to enter into the culture and share with her neighbours as a way of building friendships with them. We discovered you can’t ‘out-give’ the Japanese as they will repay you with another gift – Kesia returned with two melons from her neighbours!
• Visited tourist attractions around Tokyo.
• Cycled to church with the family. We enjoyed experiencing being part of the small church Chris and Kesia attend. We enjoyed meeting brothers and sisters in the Lord. Chris translated for us so that we could understand.’
What were some of the encouragements from the visit?
Kesia: It was great to hear first-hand news of life in the UK, of the church and individuals – it brought them into my living room. We also had more time to build a relationship and share more stories of how we have seen God at work. Getting to know Jon & Wendy better means that when we next visit Stoke-on-Trent I feel more able to ask for help to find accommodation etc.
The visit was also important for helping our children realise that these people that pray for us really care. Next time we visit, the children will know them and have someone to talk to who they have a history with when we visit the church.
What did you learn?
Wendy: ‘We understood much more about the reasons why becoming a Christian is such a big deal for Japanese people. As we passed shrines in people’s gardens and on the property of almost every business as well as many temples, Chris & Kesia explained these are related to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that prayers and rituals for their ancestral spirits protect the community. This means it can be difficult for people to make a personal decision to follow Jesus. Whilst we can read about all this in a newsletter, being in Japan and seeing shrines on every corner brought a new level of understanding of the challenges that missionaries face.
We also learnt about what life was like for Chris and Kesia’s children as Third Culture Kids. The challenges of growing up feeling Japanese in many ways, but being seen as a foreigner there. Being part of a culture where local Christian friends are very hard to come by. Having to make choices between boarding school abroad or long commutes. Going to university on a different continent to where the rest of your family live.’
How do you hope the visit will help the connection between the church and their missionaries?
Kesia: ‘Having developed a closer personal link with the church I hope that we and God’s work here in Japan will be on their minds more. Rather than just being a photo on the church wall, they know us more as real human beings like them with similar joys and struggles.
I hope this will also lead to a higher profile for world mission in the church in general so that more people will get involved in prayer, welcoming internationals and even serving cross-culturally themselves.’
Wendy: ‘Praying for them is so much easier now that we have a more personal relationship with them and can understand their context more. As the pastor, this has meant Jon has been able to talk about them and their context in church in a much more educated way which has enabled the whole church to feel more connected to them and pray for them better.
Also, during the church service at our home church in England, the Sunday that we were in Tokyo, we organised a live link-up where we interviewed Chris and Kesia and prayed for them during the service. We also recorded a longer interview with them and sent it out to our congregation by email for them to watch and inform their prayers. As I head up Sunday School in our church, I interviewed two of Chris and Kesia’s children so that I could play in during our Sunday school lessons and our Sunday School children could feel a better connection and pray for them.
Excitingly, one of our young people at church is considering serving with OMF in Japan in their gap year. This is a direct result of hearing about the variety of opportunities to serve with OMF from Chris and Kesia whilst we were there.’
How would you advise others considering visiting missionaries they support?
Kesia: ‘If you want to visit only one location then maybe see if there is a prayer journey or something that you can join, and add on some time for the individuals that you want to visit so that you are not a burden to them.
Also, it was a particular encouragement to have the pastor and his wife visit us – it was lovely to have other Christian leaders to share with who understand the joys, pressures and struggles of leadership. So, if it’s possible for church leaders to be involved in the visit, that could be a real encouragement.’
Wendy: ‘We would say that there is nothing that can replace actually being in a country to help you understand to context that missionaries are serving in and to understand and motivate us to pray well for our missionaries and support them.’
- Consider getting in touch with your mission partner to see if a visit would be appreciated
- Continue praying for your mission partner