2024.04.11 Pre-departure Newsflash

Greetings from Kobe, where the Sakura (cherry blossoms) charmed us once again! The dawn of a bright spring was, as always, introduced by (Japanese) Nightingales’ energetic melodies all-around. Our long-awaited departure is coming up soon, so I share just a few snippets about our recent work. Please click on available links to read and see more. 

Great gathering in Okayama

The gathering of 250 Christian believers in Okayama—representing 54 RCJ congregations from the broader West Japan region—was a real privilege and joy to experience (20-21 March). After an inspiring time of worship and sharing eucharist, we were reminded (by our main speaker Prof. Takashi Yoshida) of the grace that we are created by God for embodied, in-person fellowship. So that Christ’s body can flourish, for the sake of the world. We discussed many topics, e.g. how to make the church a safe, welcoming space for everyone where people are cared for holistically, often starting from enjoying a meal together. A shared vision, which includes shared resources, vulnerabilities andknowledge/experience was also part of small group conversations. The church embodies the Kingdom of God in a unique way in (whatever) town/city. No other social organization can fulfill this calling!

Deeply encouraged by Hoopstad visit

We all need a healthy dose of encouragement, don’t we!? It’s exactly what we gratefully received through a blessed and strengthening time of fellowship with supporting friends—Johan and Elsabé du Plessis from Hoopstad—during the last few weeks. Together with co-missionaries Tobie and Annalie de Wet from RCJ Niihama, we shared our thoughts on Christ’s suffering from the Bible, sang, prayed, and enjoyed some delicious meals together. We also shared some tears and a lot of laughs. This was a very special (first ever Mission Japan) ‘Retreat’, made possible with NGK Hoopstad’s huge contributions and support. We experienced that the suffering and glory of Christ brings new hope in each of our unique situations while we celebrated Easter together.

Niihama ministry feedback

The ministry at RCJ Niihama has had its ups and downs since the De Wets started there a year ago. Keeping the focus on the basics of building community trust and evangelizing when opportunities arise, can be easier said than done. The recent visit of our Hoopstad supporting friends was a significant one at a challenging moment. Read more here and see photos of the events and interactions as Tobie and Annalie share about their experiences.

Graduation and Initiation @ KRTS

In Africa we say: you need a village to raise a child. Well, in Japan, at Kobe Reformed Theological Seminary (KRTS) it’s much the same: you need a faith community to raise and support a theological graduate. As we celebrated and congratuled those who graduated, we also recently welcomed a new team of four students who start a fresh journey to know God deeper and serve His Kingdom wholeheartedly.  Please pray for them to have a dynamic and meaningful start.

New book released about Mission Japan 

We are excited to share the good news about a new book that was recently published by CLF, coinciding with the 50th celebration of Mission Japan’s work. The book is titled: “Die liefde van Christus dring ons – Missie Japan”. The author of this book is dr. Pieter van Jaarsveld (previous Moderator of the DRC Free State), who serves on the management team of Mission Japan. Pieter visited Japan numerous times and, as pastor of DRC Bothaville congregation, received many guests from Japan. He continues to support Mission Japan as an enthusiastic, retired pastor. Click here to find our more about or, even better, to buy and read the book.

Earthquake disaster’s damage continues to challenge many

We stay involved, albeit more indirectly this time with the aftermath of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Noto Peninsula on January 1. The disaster claimed 245 lives and injured 1,545 people; 27,661 houses were totally or partially destroyed and 7,484 people are still living in evacuation centers in Ishikawa Prefecture. Water supply is still cut off in many places and its restoration is still in progress, causing many challenges to those who have returned to their homes from the evacuation centres.

Mental health care for those affected by prolonged evacuation has become a major issue, with people experiencing sleep deprivation, fear of strong aftershocks, worsening dementia, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts. Several churches were in the worst affected areas. Two churches in Wajima, which were particularly close to the epicentre of the earthquake, were completely or partially destroyed. Worship services must be held at evacuation centres and other places. Many elderly members of these churches especially feel the deep loss of not having a place of worship. Please pray with us for God’s comfort and encouraging presence amidst their fear.

England and Scotland visit enroute to South Africa

I started teaching Missiology as a subject at KRTS in 2023, as part of our training of theological students for church ministry. Mission Japan, in collaboration with KRTS’s faculty in Kobe, approved a research opportunity (which already started in April 2022) to help me prepare a curriculum for this. During May I will visit the Oxford Center for Mission Studies (OCMS) for research (study leave), discussions and giving a lecture, as part of OCMS’s Guided Research Programme. This visit, and the three-year long research program, is primarily made financially possible by a generous scholarship from KRTS, as well as by my own research funds (through publications). It is also supplemented by contributions from Partners in Mission (DRC Free State Synod) and a benefactor friend. All the support is humbling and sincerely appreciated. 

This visit will happen along with Carina and our children and we’re looking forward to a unique educational and formational opportunity. We will also make a short stop in Scotland at the Edinburgh Theological Seminary to meet a colleague in Mission Studies. I am also very grateful to have received two preaching opportunities on the Isle of Arran, and a free manse to utilize as a family for a couple of days. 

Other ministries, encounters and events

The past month or so included quite a few other events, encounters and other work that I only briefly list here below. The photos tell the stories further.

l  I recently completed an article titled Proclaiming and Embodying Peace in Pacifist Japan. Click here to read about its background, and the article itself.

l  On Easter Sunday I preached at RCJ Shinko Church and I shared a Bible message about Christ’s resurrection on a Christian Radio Station.

l  Some of our Mission Japan leaders and RCJ Shikoku leaders discussed a review of the existing MOU which aligns our missionary partnership. 

l  We (as a family) received many other guests, from New Zealand, Netherlands and USA at different occasions (Carina’s plate was full with hospitality responsibilities over and above her work at RCJ Kita Kobe and as homeschooling teacher). 

l  I attended the RCJ Western Presbytery meeting (9-10 April) where many new church leaders were welcomed and reports on the presbytery’s relationship with churches in South Africa, South Korea, USA and Hungary were reported on.  

l  I joined the RCJ Diaconal Study Tour group members, who held a meeting in Takarazuku recently. We discussed and finalized some important issues, in preparation for our upcoming visit to South Africa at the end of August. I will introduce the group members in a next newsflash. 

l  Thankful for opportunities to preach at RCJ Niihama and Otokoyama (Kyoto) congregations in March. This weekend (14 April) a last opportunity awaits at RCJ Shiga-Setsuri.

l  We also shared the joy of Annlie’s ballet concert for which she trained very hard, as well as being part of two beloved (Japanese and Korean) KRTS students’ engagement ceremony.

  We deeply appreciate your ongoing support and involvement and eagerly look forward to meeting you in South Africa (from 24 May) or elsewhere in person soon. We request and value your prayers for the ministry opportunities mentioned, for God’s grace, protection and blessing in everything.

May the joy and peace of Christ direct your every step.

Stéphan, Carina, Annlie, Cornelius, Lodewyk, Stephan