Yesterday [at the time of my writing] was our Christmas party.  It was an incredible amount of fun, planning and coordination (think 40 people, different types of activities and rearranging tables in a Japanese sized space).  There were moments of chaos and afterward I wanted to collapse on the ground.  Fortunately, I waited until I got home on my couch to completely pass out for 45 minutes or so.

We started talking about this party (in theory) in September.  We started putting it into form at the beginning of November.  And slowly but surely the plans came together in the last few weeks.

It came at the end of a study we’d been doing on prayer.  It was a goal to be praying for, reaching out, and had a prayer challenge at the end (which is still ongoing). It was also one of my first real involvements in working with the new church we’re now serving here in Japan.

One of the things we discussed amongst ourselves (my husband and I) when we were planning on moving to this church was that our goal was not to become the great leaders ourselves but to raise up leaders and to equip the people that we’re serving.  However, being in a small church and especially having serving as a full time job– it’s really easy to become the front leader in many things.

We’re also part of an organization called World Indigenous Missions.  Indigenous is a word that sometimes throws people– but it means native to that land (essentially that’s my definition).  WIM believes that the church established ought to be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating (runs and organizes itself; financially supports itself and does the outreach itself).  That’s not to say there’s no room for a national organization or denomination or anything like that– just that it ought to be a reflection of a mature, healthy church representing that culture and not the foreign culture of the missionary.  I think someone once said that a true indigenous church sometimes makes the foreign missionary uncomfortable with the way they do things and deal with them.

A church and a people that does these things must depend on the Lord– and not the missionary.  Though of course, advice and guidance can be given by the missionary.   There’s a progression in the relationship of the missionary with the believers, much as there is between a parent and children.  But I don’t want to get that much into that.

Our question and journey so far has been how to use these principles in an existing framework.  And that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong at all with the place that we’re serving, so please don’t interpret it that way– just how do we best serve and equip the people and the church, to bless and strengthen it and not usurp any place that ought to belong to the Japanese members of the church.

So, the Christmas party was one way that I could put some principles into practice. I am a natural admin kinda person (though you might not believe it right now with my prego brain)… and while we’d love to sponsor the party ourselves, we felt that it would be good for people to invest in it themselves (though we did everything to keep it on the cheaper side) and of course, the invites came from the people involved.

It was very tempting for me to take over the planning.  But I had a partner in it (having a partner- not always possible at the beginning- is a good way to help things be “indigenous”), and so I tried to always defer to her.  At times, people would come to me for decisions but I tried to always point them to the leader.  OF COURSE I had my own opinions.  When I had ideas or suggestions, I tried to always submit them to the leader in the form of a question, to avoid pressure.  When decisions or suggestions were decided on that weren’t what I expected or thought, I deferred to them.  And then I always asked, would you like me to do such and such or what can I help you with? Many times I had a good idea of what needed to be done, but my goal was not to take the initiative but to give leadership to the native leader. In fact, many times, my partner was willing to defer to me to lead a discussion or meeting but I always pushed it back on her.

We also looked at delegating responsibilities and asking for volunteers in areas and everyone really came together at the end.  We had WAY more guests than we expected (though I kept saying, this is a good problem!!) but they were able to share with people and connect with new moms and we have another low-key event next month that we’ve already invited all the other ladies to. There were moments of chaos, especially during the sharing of the Gospel, but we all noticed how, despite the kids, the moms were hanging on the words of my partner giving a wonderful Gospel explanation.  Decisions aren’t typically made in a moment in Japan, but we already have relationships with the people who came, so it’s a seed that can be continuously watered.

One of the sweetest moments (for me) was at the end when all the guests had gone.  We inadvertently ended up around one of the tables and we were saying wow, that was great and thanking everyone for their hard work– and all the ladies clapped in the cute Japanese way and smiled a victorious smile together.

Later, my partner sent me a message at night, “I am amazed at how God brought so many people to the party today!  I never thought it would be this much people. I had little faith. The Lord is teaching me in so many ways, and I am learning to trust in Him more. Thank you for all your help and support!  I am learning a lot from you!”

While me being in the forefront, doing everything and organizing and exhausting myself to pieces makes for better newsletter pictures and stories and perhaps adds to my self-importance, this is far more effective long-term.  It’s far more healthy for their growth and I look forward to seeing what God does through this.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I suppose the same could be said in church planting and serving overseas.  Plan it all for the people and do all the work for them and great– you’ve had an event.  But teach them to do it for themselves, work alongside them and prompt them when you can while encouraging them to depend on the Lord, and you’ve taught them something that will surely lead to more.



One thought on “Indigenize

  1. That’s beautiful, Janine! So glad the event went well, for the growth and opportunities on many fronts.


    Vonda Briles Receptionist World Indigenous Missions


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