By Blake Tommey
When Tokyo pastor Kei Jokura announced his plans for the final Sunday of Advent, he prepared his congregation for a singular experience. Carson and Laura Foushee, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Tokyo, would be sharing the pulpit and reflecting on the persons of Mary and Joseph on the upcoming birth of their first child. Moreover, they would be preaching in Japanese, a language they’ve only just begun learning. Japanese churches don’t expect “professional” missionaries to co-preach, let alone in a language they’ve yet to master, Laura explained, but the Foushees want to embody a different mission—one of mutual support and calling.
“We want to challenge our community with the idea that we’re all missionaries,” she said. “There are people who are sent far away, which is often our image of a missionary, but the reality is that we’re all called.”
That was their message for the people of Tokiwadai Baptist Church in November, the first time they preached in Japanese. The Foushees’ second opportunity came when they met Jokura, pastor of Izumi Baptist Church in west Tokyo and fellow graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Though they didn’t know one another in seminary, Jokura and the Foushees formed a fast partnership through which Izumi Baptist Church hosted a Student.Go intern in 2018. Later, Jokura introduced them to yet another McAfee graduate living in Tokyo, LaTonya Whitaker, a minister and soul food chef. Together, they devised a worship service in which they could all participate.
The Foushees prepared their sermon well in advance and even submitted it to native Japanese speakers for revision. When December 23 arrived, Izumi’s usual congregation of 15 to 20 tripled, as young families piled into the kindergarten classroom where the church hosts worship. Jokura led prayer, Whitaker conducted a gospel choir and the Foushees co-preached, reflecting candidly on the Christmas story as expecting parents. The couple used simple language and could hardly veer off script, Carson said, but the sermon offered a chance to present a different kind of missionary, one who depends on native partners to share the work of ministry.
“Our title here is literally the term for ‘missionary,’ and that’s how people know us,” Carson said. “But Christianity has been in Japan since the 1500s, and that title has been known for generations and generations.”
“We’re trying to help create a new perspective on that, knowing we might not fit into the box that was created for us,” he added. “We want people to hear something different than they’ve heard before—especially in our preaching. As we continue to assimilate and fit into a culture that is very homogenous, we want to recognize where we can balance that with our ‘otherness’ and understand that we provide something that isn’t already a part of Japanese culture.”
While the Foushees began their ministry in Japan as English teachers, they started learning Japanese full-time in 2017 in preparation for long-term presence in the island country. Soon, native friends and partners were expecting them to communicate fluently in Japanese, a task that usually can take more than seven years to master. With constant help, mastery is coming, as the Foushees now attend a Japanese-only congregation and look toward their next opportunity to preach publicly in Japanese. But working independently will never be their goal, fluent or not, according to Laura. On the contrary, the Foushees want only to form more closely together with their network of faith communities in Japan.
“The typical missionary in Japan teaches English, and a lot of that is purely logistical. If you want to do ministry right away, English ministry is the only option as it takes so long to learn Japanese,” Laura explained.
“We’re always going to need our Japanese brothers and sisters to help us along. They’re always going to communicate and understand the culture better than we can. Most people, and it’s the same around the world, view missionaries as the ‘professionals,’ the ones who are supposed to go out and do. But we want to be encouragers and empower-ers so we can all do this together.”
Learn more about the ministry of Carson and Laura Foushee at www.cbf.net/foushee.
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