I assume that some of you wonder why I chose the topic of "Rural Mission" or "Rural Evangelism" today.
I have not checked the titles of past preaches that were given at this church,
but at least for the last 23 years of my involvement in this church,
I have never heard "Rural mission" or "Rural Evangelism" in the titles of the preaches.
Not only at this church, but other churches in Japan may be the same.
It is the fact that many churches in Japan, including this church,
were started as a result of rural mission, but rural mission became a unfamiliar word for the Japanese Christians.
Some Japanese even think that there are no rural areas any more in Japan, so, "Rural Mission" may be a death word.
However, for the people who are related with ARI,
it is not the same. ARI was originated from the Theological School for Rural Mission in Tokyo and ARI is called
"Rural Leaders Training Center". For the ARI Participants who came from rural areas of the world, "
Rural Mission" is a very familiar and important word.
Another reason why I chose this topic today was that I was stimulated by an article in one Christian magazine,
titled "Is Rural Mission a Failure?" This article was written by Rev. Masaoki Hoshino,
Chair of ARI Board of Directors and Councilors two years ago.
The article is just 5 pages long, but talks concisely about the history of the word,
"Rural Mission" starting from its origin that was dated in 1921 in the US, and how it was transferred and developed in Japan.
Rev. Hoshino also reflected his own rural mission history for over 50 years in rural Japan.
He explained societal changes in Japan and his future vision toward Rural Mission in Japan as well.
What he stressed in the article was that Rural Mission is a term that contains aspects of social movement
that focuses on distress in the rural areas. In Japan, the word "Rural Mission" was introduced
when Rev. Toyohiko Kagawa proposed a motion titled "A proposal regarding Rural Mission"
in the second General Assembly of Japan Christian Federation in 1924. Even in that time,
the word of "Rural Mission" focused on churches' response toward social needs in rural areas,
rather than evangelism in rural areas.
Rev. Kagawa established the Farmers' Cooperatives in Japan as a work of Rural Mission and
we can see many other examples of rural mission in the areas of education and medical care in the poor villages in Japan in the past.
Reflecting on those historical facts, Rev. Hoshino declared that "Rural Mission meant Social Activities of Christian Churches".
But, this indication of "Rural Mission meant Social Activities of Christian Churches" is not new at all,
but very common and usual for a person like me,
who was exposed to the activities of ARI much before knowing the history of rural mission in Japan.
It is needless to say that ARI Participants and graduates are engaged in social activities to improve the life of rural people.
Among them, those who are related to Christian churches, work for all kinds of issues that exist in rural society as a mission of their churches.
From this point of view and ARI's point of view, rural mission is none other than Social Activities of Churches.
As some ARI participants say, "farmers wouldn't come to a church with hungry stomach."
or "How can they prepare offering when they cannot even feed their kids?",
it is necessary and natural that church cares people in difficulties and try to meet the basic physical needs of those people.
The mission of rural churches and the highest priority of rural churches are developing and improving the living environment
of the people so that they are fed enough to think about going to church.
This is a poster of an organization that I visited in Kenya in January.
The organization is Anglican Development Service Mt. Kenya East and they have sent four staff members to ARI as Participants so far.
And it said "Food Security" at a center. It is their central theme that they have been working on since 1980s.
Under the theme, it says,
"Established in 1980, it aims at alleviating hunger and malnutrition by facilitating incubation of appropriate technologies,
promoting use of local available foods and enhancing access to crop and animal production.
Dry land farming is practiced through promotion of indigenous vegetables,
planting of drought resistant crops, early maturing crops and adoption of water efficient technologies."
Here, Food Security for survival and healthy life of the people is put up as the highest priority at a center of church's social activities.
But, Food Security is not the only focus of this organization.
Together with Food Security, they also work in the other 7 social areas, namely, natural resource management,
sustainable livelihoods, capacity building and community empowerment,
social development (that includes addressing vices, negative behavior and peace and justice),
integrated health and station enterprises. They work widely and very systematically.
Some of you may be surprised to know that a church is engaged in such wide areas of social activities;
but this is not rare at all. This Kenyan church-based organization would be a typical rural development organization.
It has five stations in a country and several big hospitals,
holding nearly 200 staff members including very specialized staff. It works with government agencies, too.
The church social activities are very important and necessary for the life of the people.
So, development section in the church structure is a very active part in those countries.
In Japan, there are of course sections or teams that deal with social issues in church organization.
However, very few churches create an independent specialized section and holds specialized staff who work professionally.
In Japan, pastors and few church members are assigned to social activities, keeping many other responsibilities.
That makes churches' social activities inactive and less important. For example, recently in Japan,
poverty among children and child abuse are big social issues;
but very few churches/districts work on the issues. Establishing a specialized section/team with experts is a dream of a far distance.
Now, Rev. Hoshino said as follows in the article that I mentioned earlier, reflecting his own services in rural mission for over 50 years;
"I wrote in another paper which is related with rural mission,
"My rural mission was a failure". My basic view on this has not changed.
I had tried evangelism to rural folks or farmers who live there for a long time, but none of them came to my church.
I grew rice with them and worked with them on the farm.
My acquaintance increased in rural areas. I was involved in rural politics as well.
But nobody came to my church and no farmers got baptized. Reflecting the facts, I said "It failed." "
"If, Rural Mission is about increasing the number of baptized members and attendees in the church,
rural mission in Japan is a significantly difficult task.
Some churches that used to be called rural churches,
are no longer standing in rural villages because of changes of time.
New farmers are not interested in church activities. Now, probably less than ten rural churches exist in Japan."
"Seeing this situation, now I do not want to say "My rural mission was a failure" as I said before.
Then what should I say? Truly, "Rural Mission," if it is evangelism in rural area, I must say it may have failed.
But, Christian movement in rural areas in Japan should not be regarded as failure.
Main goal of Rural Mission should not be just an increase in number of baptized members, but implementing Christian social activities. "
Then, Rev. Hoshino examined where Rural Mission goes from now on. He said, if "Rural Mission" recovers its original figure,
that is social activities, all Japanese churches, as a whole, must support this. For example,
"Rural Centers" that have taken a role of implementing social activities in rural Japan,
should be rescued from their financial difficulties by the support of the whole churches in Japan.
Then he further commented on ARI, saying that activities of ARI should be regarded as "Rural Mission"
and the whole Japanese church must support ARI. (I was very glad to see that!)
And finally, as a conclusion, Rev. Hoshino said, in order that Rural Mission is promoted,
stereotype of "Evangelism" and "Church" may need to be renewed. He said,
"to handle peculiar issues in rural areas, new methodology needs to be developed for the future."
But unfortunately, he ended the article saying that "because of lack of space,
I stop the discussion on future development of methodology for rural mission here and hand it over to the next generation."
was very surprised to see the last words. I thought "Is that it?"
and felt unsatisfied. But at the same time, I felt I was given an huge homework.
Then, I remembered words of Mr. Rikiya Azumi. Mr. Azumi had been in engaged in education in rural areas in Japan
for a long time until he retired principal of Christian Independent High School in Yamagata five years ago.
I remembered that he often used the word "Henkyo" or "Margin" in English, in his writings and speaches.
Then I found the following messages in his preach that he made at ICU church several years ago.
"Henkyo" means "a border of a country where is far from the center". "Margin" can be an English translation of this word.
The original meaning of "margin" is "waterfront", edge or limb. In short, "Henkyo" is a place where is farthest from a center, implying "
not so important", "not influential"; therefore, it has a negative meaning as "a worthless place."
Whether you live in a center of a society or not, for a person who is obsessed by center oriented mind, "henkyo" means almost nothing.
However, there is another meaning for "Henkyo". That is "frontier" in English. As you know,
it means "boarder area between developed and undeveloped lands." In this meaning, "Henkyo"
implies the furthest place where central power can reach. In other words,
it means "a place where limitations of the power of this world, or power of human begins are disclosed clearly,
whether you like it or not."
When I was reading it, I thought I found an answer for the homework given by Rev. Hoshino.
I also thought over what ARI Participants do in their mother countries and connected it with the meaning of "Henkyo" or margin.
Then I thought that "Rural Mission" can be replaced with "Mission in Frontier". Don't you feel excited when it is called "Mission in Frontier"?
There are 17 key concepts for the ARI Training Program and one of them is Serving Marginalized.
"Marginalize" is a verb of "margin" and it means, not regarding something/someone as important,
dealing something/someone useless and underestimating something. So, "marginalized people"
means people who are regarded unimportant, useless, underestimated and oppressed.
And "one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine" in the today's Bible passage are surely "marginalized one".
If I borrow Mr. Azumi's words, "Rural Mission" or "Mission in Frontier" are equal to Serving Marginalized,
and for those who serve, it means serving God in the most unfavorable place.
It may be a bad place, but at the same time it is the place where you have the highest possibility to break the limit of your own might.
In that sense, whether you work in a city or a rural area does not matter.
A place where is far from a center or power, regarded as unimportant, useless,
underestimated and marginalized also exists in a city.
Or you may find more marginalized people and places in a city
because strong human relationship and mutual help are not much valued there.
Then, this is no time to say Rural Mission in Japan is failure or ended.
There is unlimited possibility and tasks in Rural Mission or Mission in Frontier.
You have to go out now and start right away.
We should reflect once again the place where we stand,
ask ourselves where the margin and who the marginalized people are for us, whether we see them,
whether we serve them or whether we have a will to serve them,
whether we are trying to serve God in the place where you have the highest possibility to break the limit of your own might.
Asking all these questions and taking an action accordingly,
that is Rural Mission or Mission in Frontier, I believe.
Today, many of the 2019 batch of ARI participants are attending the worship service.
You, the church members always welcome them warmly and I think all the ARI participants are also looking forward
to having a fellowship with you. You understand the situation of ARI participants who came from far countries,
being apart from the family members and struggle in a foreign land where culture and language are totally different.
But if I can request you one more thing, I would like you to see ARI participants as experts of Rural Mission or Mission in Frontier,
If ARI participants are given a chance to share their success, failures and challenges in their rural mission,
I believe our fellowship will be much deeper.
thank God for the blessing of gathering of all these people from the frontiers of the world
in this small church in Japan to break the limitation of our possibilities of our own mission.
Let us pray,
Our heavenly Father, I would like to thank you for making today's service happen on the last Sunday of the 2018 Fiscal Year.
God please guide each one of us so that we can start a new Fiscal Year with new hope,
reflecting this year and thanking for all the blessings that we have received.
We are in the time when a work of Rural Mission is disappearing.
God please give us courage to face ourselves to serve to one of the least of brothers and sisters of us at a harsh frontier of our land.
We are grateful to you for bringing all the 2019 batch of Participants of ARI to Japan.
God please bless fellowship of each one of us in this church during the new year.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, Amen.