A few weeks ago, we interviewed the four Summitview members who were headed to Japan on a missional scouting trip. Torgun Lovely, Mark and Tiffany Schreiber and Lee Vary spent a week in Japan serving with David Cervenka and exploring the possibilities of long-term mission trips. The Cervenkas are supported financially through Summitview's "No Small Thing" missions campaign, and the potential that could come from a trip like this is incredibly exciting. So, after the jetlag subsided, Torgun, Mark, Tiffany and Lee were kind enough to share their thoughts on the trip and their hopes for the future.
How were you able to connect with David Cervenka, and how are his family and ministry doing there?
TORGUN: We were primarily working with David and his ministry, which is a bit diverse at this point, so what we did was pretty varied, as well.
A lot of time was spent investigating possible opportunities to relocate to Japan on a longer-term basis. Mark and I visited international high schools, and Lee scheduled a college visit.
We served with a local church that is sponsoring David’s visa, and some of this time was with Hiroto Sawane, as well. We attended two church services, a leadership training event where we equipped people to share the Gospel with the C2C method, a Thanksgiving dinner and a tract-distribution event.
We did a prayer walked with David around his neighborhood, asking God to open “Heaven, hearts, homes, highways and hands,” and meeting with some of the people he is focusing on reaching with the Gospel.
And we also spent a lot of time with an English professor on two different college campuses (one with Hiroto), assisting him by helping students with their English. Those efforts culminated in a “Bible Talk” meeting on a Friday night that was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
David and his family are doing fine, but I definitely got the sense that being in the mission field full time is and will continue to be a strain on their family. They are doing well, as they are both committed to the Lord, each other and the mission, but it does not seem easy at all.
MARK: David and Danielle are doing great, as is their ministry. Currently, they are helping out with a Japanese church in an area called Funibashi about 40 minutes from Tokyo. They are also helping a former Great Commission church member who lives in Tokyo, Richard Wilson, with his university student outreach. Both of these ministries are doing great and hopefully will “bear much fruit.” While we were there, we helped in outreach to the local Funibashi neighborhoods and on two different college campuses.
TIFFANY: Mark and I stayed with the Cervenkas, and that was great. We had four days in close quarters with kids who don't sleep through the night yet, all while using Japanese bathrooms and figuring out singing showers. It was fun! Seriously though, it was great to see them. I have a deep respect for both David and Danielle. They are committed to the mission God has them on and to each other. David is a good leader of people and of his family. He seemed to have a good balance of being out in the world and at home to serve and love his wife. I would imagine that the stress of living in a city where you don't know the language would be isolating, and Danielle is hanging in there, but I could see the day-to-day stress needing to be constantly addressed.
The ministry is taking off. I participated in one life group with local non-believers while I was there and it was something I will never forget. David's focus on the T4T method seems to be a good strategy for Japan. Finding and discipling the interested people and helping them to come to Jesus so they can reach their friends and family is so important since non-Japanese speakers aren't as effective long-term.
What’s the condition of the spiritual soil in Japan right now? Were most people open to hearing about Jesus? Did anyone take a step closer to salvation through your times sharing?
TORGUN: The spiritual soil seems ripe for planting seeds and watering seedlings, but the work to take someone who hardly has a concept of God to true belief is significant. The analogy that came to mind is that the harvest is plentiful, for sure, but it is high up in the trees, requiring building ladders to reach the fruit. There isn’t a lot of low-hanging, easy-to-pluck fruit. We did not get a lot of opportunities to do cold-turkey evangelism, as the English professor had to be careful about our interactions with the students. We had a Bible study with eight unbelieving students on Friday night where they got to hear a testimony, a clear Gospel presentation, and then go through a Scripture passage in smaller groups with a few believers in each group. I definitely got the sense that it advanced the Gospel in the hearts of some of the students. I was working with two students, Takeshi (male) and Kayo (female), both of whom I am continuing to pray for. If I were still in Japan, I would definitely try to set up regular meetings with Takeshi to discuss the Bible and the Gospel.
MARK: I felt like the Japanese people that we met were very open to hearing the Gospel message, yet at the same time they come from a totally different worldview. That, coupled with the language barrier, can make sharing the gospel a bit challenging, to say the least. I think there were definitely some seeds planted and some great, deep questions from students in the Bible study groups. I think that given time these seeds will grow and people will come to a saving faith in Christ.
TIFFANY: The handful of people I talked to seemed interested and wanted to know more, so that was encouraging. I wondered about their cultural politeness, however, in terms of their perceived interest. Were they just being polite, or did they really want to know more? The students, however, didn't just listen but asked a lot of great questions. And at the life group there was a realization by one woman of the Spirit’s presence and she was really moved. I think at least four women came closer to salvation from my talking and sharing with them directly.
What one story from the trip showed you God's well-designed sovereignty?
TORGUN: In one of my meetings at an international high school, I was shaken by God’s plan to have me grow professionally. I did not go with that intention, but it was an unexpected blessing!
MARK: I could probably tell stories for hours of how I saw and continue to see God at work in Japan. But if I had to pick one it would be about my wife Tiffany. She wasn’t planning on going on this trip at all. She was going to hold down the fort at home while I was gone. Through a series of circumstances that would take too long to share, she got to come along. She was a bit nervous, leaving the kids for almost two weeks, traveling across the Pacific to a foreign land, and then potentially sharing the gospel with people she didn’t even know. I assured her that she probably would mostly be helping David and Danielle, maybe watching the Cervenka kids while David and Danielle took the lead on ministry. I figured I’d be doing most of the sharing and being the point-man for our family.
Well, to make a long story short, Tiffany shared the most of anyone on the whole team, and I didn’t get to share much at all! God really used Tiffany because she was great at sharing the Gospel. Partly because she is so used to sharing deep gospel truths to our girls in simple, bit-sized chunks and with simple language – exactly what a non-native English speaker needs. So, I would highly recommend Summitview sending a bunch of moms over to Japan next time!
TIFFANY: We took a sight-seeing trip to the huge temple in Tokyo. While we there, I felt like I should talk to someone and I followed the Spirit’s leading to the area where people were directing the smoke from the huge incense pot over their bodies. I looked around for who I was supposed to talk to and a girl walked right up to me. She wanted to practice her English so we talked a bit. I asked her some questions about the temple and then was able to share about God, Jesus, and invite her to our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a powerful morning and I felt God's love for the Japanese people and His deep sorrow for a country full of people trying to find meaning in a religion of emptiness. The girl got in a traffic accident the morning of the dinner, but we connected through email and she and the Cervenkas got together after I left. David said it's common for people who are interested to suddenly have something happen to them so they can't come to events.
What do you see as future possibilities in Japan for our church and/or yourself personally? How can we continue to pray for the church there?
TORGUN: I think it would be great to plan more short term trips there, but even better if we could find a way to send over a more long-term contingent to support David, start a student ministry and plant a GCC church. I would like to personally have the opportunity to get a teaching job there and be part of that effort. It is a bit unlikely, though, as the jobs are prestigious among the international teaching community and it is a very competitive application/hiring process, but nothing is outside the reach of God.
Luke 10:2 is painfully true. The harvest is indeed plentiful – but not easily harvested – and the workers are alarmingly few. Pray for workers to reap the harvest. Pray for David’s influence in his community. Pray for the local church through which David is working. Pray for the access that Richard Wilson has with his students, that God would leverage it for the Gospel.
MARK: I think it would be great to have a “Summitview Tokyo” at some point but that is probably a ways off. I think a student ministry to university students could be very fruitful. Maybe a summer Infusion project could be set up since the universities are actually still in session in the summer! As for our family, I would still have a lot of thinking and praying to do before packing up and moving to Japan. Tokyo is definitely a livable city and I think it would be a great place to raise a family.
TIFFANY: Prayers for the Japan group to find those people interested in hearing about Jesus. Protection for interested people in a country full of evil. A better understanding of their culture but also capitalizing on the Japanese people's love of western culture. There is a unique "in" as an American, and I don't know how long that will last.