How omakase and God’s call went hand in hand for this missionary couple in Japan
Fong Ming Hui & Jiamin Choo-Fong // July 24, 2023, 2:15 pm
"One beautiful word that God put on our hearts was 'makaseru' or 'to entrust'," said missionary Jiamin. "This is the same root word for 'omakase', where the diner entrusts the meal to the chef who has the diner’s interests at heart." All photos courtesy of Fong Ming Hui and Fong-Choo Jiamin.
It is the season of “tsuyu” (梅雨) and it has been raining all day. The blue and purple hydrangeas in our quiet neighbourhood are drinking in the summer rain through their petals and blooming beautifully.
Our OM (Operation Mobilisation) team members have gathered in our rented apartment in Kameyama, a city of 50,000 people and one Japanese church.
After a morning of ministry updates and a home-cooked fish curry lunch (thanks to the spices sent from family in Singapore), we watched the movie Silence, a sombre reminder of the martyrs who clung onto their faith in Jesus in the midst of fierce persecution over 400 years ago in Japan.
It led us to reflect on why we left everything familiar back home, to now live among the people here.
The road to missions
Even before we met, in our single years, God had been working in our lives, equipping us through ministries in church and Christian groups on campus, and drawing our hearts nearer to His through mission journeys among the nations.
Jiamin’s heart for Japan began in her 20s, when she went on mission trips to Nagoya with Cru and to Niigata with the OM ship, Doulos. She was amazed by how polite and thoughtful the Japanese were. Yet, at the same time, she was burdened by the nation’s high suicide rate.
As for Minghui, since his university days, his desire to share God’s love grew with every mission trip he went on, to countries in the region such as Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
The Covid-19 pandemic was when we sensed God calling us to prepare to head out to serve.
It was this common desire to serve God in missions that led us to meet for the first time, on a September morning in the OM Singapore office.
During our dating days, we often talked about wanting to set aside a season of our lives to serve God in missions as a family. This was some 11 years ago, and in that time, we graduated from seminary, got married, served in church and continued to mobilise others for God’s mission.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a key period where we sensed God calling us to prepare to head out to serve, once things were more stable. There was also increasing clarity with our ministry timelines aligning and with various “green lights” signalling God’s work for us in Singapore was coming to completion and the time was coming to go.
As we prayed and sought God for direction, we felt drawn to Japan, especially after learning about the critical state of the diminishing church due to the country’s super-aging phenomenon.
Even though Japan is the world’s eleventh most-populous country with 125 million people, less than 1% identify themselves as Jesus followers. According to the Joshua Project, this makes Japan the world’s second-largest unreached people group.
Currently, 70% of Japan’s pastors are over 60 years old.
It is also estimated by 2030, 1 in every 3 people will be 65 or older. This means that half of Japan’s 8,000 churches are in danger of emptying out and closing, as pastors and members reach their life expectancy age. Currently, 70% of Japan’s pastors are over 60 years old.
In 2021, we began the process of exploring opportunities to serve with OM in Japan, as OM’s mission is to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached. The OM leadership prayerfully decided to send us to join the pioneering team of four missionaries in the “inaka” (countryside) of Mie prefecture – where farmers and fields of grain are aplenty.
Home to the “thousand rice terraces” and Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine, the Ise Jingu, Mie has a population of 1.8 million people. There are an estimated 80 churches in Mie, most of which have fewer than 20 members, and some that no longer have pastors.
Over the next year, we handed over our jobs, raised the financial support needed, built our prayer team with the churches and friends who would partner with us in God’s mission, and got our one-way tickets to Japan.
The year 2022 was also significant as we both turned 40, which we saw as a new season, a time to offer the first fruits of our forties to the One who first loved us and breathed life into us.
Step by step
One beautiful word that God put on our hearts when we began this mission journey was “makaseru” (任せる), which means “to entrust”.
This is the same root word for the famous “omakase” (お任せ) Japanese meal, where the diner does not choose what to eat but chooses to “entrust/leave it up to” the chef who has the diner’s interests at heart and will completely decide what to serve and delightfully surprise the diner for the best experience.
In a similar way, God desires for us to trust Him, the “Big Chef” who knows us completely.
Even though we do not know what the future holds, we choose to surrender our need for control and to leave it completely to Him to surprise us with whatever “appetisers, main course and desserts” that He has prepared for us to encounter on our faith journey with Him in Japan.
Since arriving in Japan in the fall of 2022, we have experienced many firsts:
- living in the countryside surrounded by rice fields;
- encountering typhoon season, where we battened down the old wooden traditional Japanese house we were staying in for training;
- shopping in supermarkets without English signs;
- registering our status as residents in Mie prefecture;
- driving on narrow, dimly-lit roads;
- harvesting persimmons;
- facing strong spiritual warfare;
- gathering a group of young Christian men to study the Bible;
- Christmas carolling in the cold and rain;
- house-hunting in Japanese;
- giving Manga Mission to restaurant owners;
- prayer-walking in cities with no churches;
- changing from summer to snow tyres, and back to summer tyres;
- making friends with our neighbours and congregation members in the churches we visit.
We have learnt that just doing life is a big part of God’s work for us here: Loneliness is widespread, and sometimes by offering the gift of our presence – to chat or even hug someone to let them know they are not alone and that God sees them – can mean so much.
God is in the ordinary
It is in these daily, seemingly ordinary things that our faith in Christ is lived out and passed on.
We have learnt that just doing life is a big part of God’s work for us here.
Together with our OM team in Mie, we help to support a monthly prayer gathering of pastors in the prefecture.
On one of these occasions, after the prayer meeting ended, our team leader invited the pastors out for dinner and five were quick to say, “Yes!”
It was the first time that they were eating out together, and it was a joy to see them merrily chatting away until closing time!
It was particularly precious for one of the pastors, whose wife had been in hospital for the last three years, and because of Covid-19 restrictions, he had not been able to see her in-person all this time. It was her birthday that day, so we recorded a birthday greeting to bring her some cheer.
God desires for us to trust Him, the “Big Chef” who knows us completely.
Another pastor commented that after the time of fellowship at Jolly Pasta (the name of the restaurant), they were all leaving as jolly pastors!
We realise how vulnerable the pastors can be when they feel isolated and burned out, as they often shoulder church responsibilities by themselves since it is not easy to ask for help from small and elderly congregations.
So, we are intentional in our support and care for them, as we believe that vibrant pastors will lead to vibrant churches. This can take the form of speaking words of affirmation, cooking curry (and 25 cups of rice) for a pastors’ gathering, or helping a pastor move house.
Last weekend, we drove 120km and through 27 tunnels between our home and the southern coast of Mie. Pastor Shimada of Owase Church had reached out to us and invited us to serve alongside her and minister to her church members.
We stayed the night in a neighbouring village and made our way to church the next morning. There at Owase Church, we were glad to worship with the faithful congregation of 10.
Minghui gave a message “When Life Gets Hard” (Ruth 1) and Pastor Shimada helped to interpret. It was a privilege to share God’s word with the congregation.
One of them was in tears while saying the offertory prayer. We later found out that the message had touched her, as she had been a widow for eight years and even though life had been hard, she was comforted that God remembers her.
While the number of Christians may be small in Japan, each one is precious and each one is a witness of the difference Jesus makes in their lives to their families, friends and neighbours.
For this season in Japan, we pray that we will continue to be a bridge to those who do not know Jesus, and to be hands and feet to love and serve the local churches, not relying on our own understanding, but trusting our “Big Chef” with a heart of makaseru (Proverbs 3:5-6).
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