Recently I have been studying the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet. I often preorder English Bible study materials according to the mood of the day. I like the author of the material. Or… this looks like an interesting topic. Months later, when I actually begin the study, I find that God, in his mercy and compassion, has provided exactly the encouragement I need at that time.
One of my biggest challenges this year has been… waiting. Lots of waiting. Of course, the pandemic and all the anti-infection measures have been a huge part of that. There have been other things too, though. Plans that have moved ahead more slowly than anticipated. Or plans that couldn’t even be made—due to weather, ever-changing COVID restrictions, or circumstances beyond our control. Last year, between coronavirus and Dean’s stroke, we had to stop almost all the outreach activities we have been doing for years. Instead of concerts, cooking classes, gatherings, and eating together, we have concentrated on prayer and personal evangelism. Those are both very good things! Why do I feel so unsettled?
As I mull over Elijah’s life in 1 Kings, I consider all the time he spent sidelined, depending on ravens and a widow for sustenance during a very long famine. Yet as Elijah waited, God was strengthening his faith and preparing him for what was ahead. It’s been helpful for me to see this. I’m confident that God has also been using our time “on hold” for his good purposes. One thing is sure. We no longer have any delusions about how much we can accomplish on our own! We continually remind ourselves that House of Hope has been God’s ministry from the beginning. He has provided for all our needs since we started, and those provisions have rarely coincided with our original preferred timetables. In spite of that, however, we know God is never too early or too late. He has proven that many times over.
Recently I read, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord…” (Psalm 27:13, NASB 1995). Yes, yes, yes. Me too. This is my verse.
During year two of the pandemic, we made a vegetable garden in the House of Hope parking lot and built a playground next door. (The playground project was funded by the CLB Women’s Ministries.) Both projects helped us stay outside more and remain better connected with the neighborhood at a time when many people resigned themselves to just staying home.
We have also been able to continue visiting our neighbors the whole time, talking with them at the front door or outside in the yard. And… this year, except for January, we have been able to continue the monthly Bible time with Pastor Zeniya from our sister church in Sendai. From April through October, we were able to meet outdoors on our backyard deck every month. Several times it rained until an hour before, but the clouds always cleared out in time. April and October can be chilly in our part of Japan, but this year there was enough sun to make it work. In June only one other person was able to come, but in October eight neighbors attended! We’ve had some first-time attenders this year, and several regulars have invited friends.
We go house to house inviting people to the Bible time, and this has developed into a regular monthly connection. We listen a lot and learn all kinds of interesting and sometimes distressing things about our neighbors’ lives. It’s sometimes overwhelming to know so much, but we try to encourage them and bring those situations to God in prayer. Often, foreigners are “safe” to talk to, as we aren’t part of the same social hierarchy. This year we have also started giving out a Christian publication each month with our Bible time invitation. It’s an attractive four-page paper intended for non-believers, that includes a Christian’s testimony, a short Bible passage, and neutral topics like cooking or art. Sometimes we bring tea and cookie packs with the paper. “Here is something delicious for your stomach AND your soul.” There are many ways to share God’s Word!
As we close out this year, we are still doing some waiting, but we have a lot of hope—hope in God and his plans for the future. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in this place (Psalm 27:13).
I believe this with all my heart.
Linda Bengtson and her husband Dean serve the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as missionaries in Ishinomaki, Japan.