By Laura Foushee
The last time I preached for our church in Tokyo (Tokiwadai Baptist Church) was in November. It was by video, allowing as many takes as I needed. The last time I had walked into a church building for worship was in March of last year. The last time I had used public transportation was sometime in 2019.
Needless to say, my first Sunday back in the pulpit on March 7, 2021 was filled with both anxiety and excitement. I took two trains to church, which thankfully were not full early on Sunday morning. My tote bag was heavy with extra masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, a water bottle, and cough drops.
I walked into the building, almost as if a year-and-a-half had not somehow passed, to see several familiar faces there to help support the service’s livestream. The digital thermometer station and cardboard box for accepting tithes were new additions to the lobby.
Since graduating from language school in March 2019, preaching has been the central way for us to both serve the church and improve our theological language and communication in Japanese.
Before the pandemic, our church held three services each Sunday. So, there was a day’s worth of practice in offering a sermon. The first service was usually rough due to nerves; the second one brought with it some added confidence and the energy of a full sanctuary; in the third service our exhaustion would become apparent.
On this particular Sunday, however, I had one opportunity to offer the sermon in a sanctuary that holds several hundred people with only 25 people scattered in the back half of the room. Everyone else was watching from their homes on YouTube.
After preaching a sermon by video last year on sabbath-keeping, our pastor suggested that I continue to preach on topics related to spiritual formation, as it is something he feels the congregation will focus on in the coming year. I found and adapted a sermon that I had preached years ago for one of our encourager churches, Community Baptist Church in Milledgeville, GA, on why we study the Bible together in Christian community, particularly in the Sunday school format.
For our church, the sermon called our congregation to remember an aspect of church life in which they have not engaged since the pandemic began – in-person church school on Sunday mornings. Although they have begun to hold their Wednesday evening prayer meetings with a Bible study via Zoom, time to study scripture together and remember God’s work throughout the history of our faith has been very limited.
It was a bittersweet day. I wished I could have seen more people whom we’ve missed; I wished we could have gone to church as a family and re-introduced the congregation to Ada who now has a head full of hair and is running everywhere; I wished we could have sung hymns rather than hummed them.
But it was also a day where I picked up where I had left off, re-engaging ministry at Tokiwadai and putting into practice what we have been working to be able to do for so long. As I reminded the congregation that day, we study scripture together to recall God’s faithfulness to Israel and then to the world, so that we can better see God’s faithfulness to us in the present and have hope in the future. Things are different and will be for a while still. But God is still faithful and working in it all. Thanks be to God.
Laura Foushee and her husband, Carson, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel serving in partnership with the Japan Baptist Convention (JBC) in Tokyo. Learn more about their ministry at www.cbf.net/foushee.
The CBF Offering for Global Missions makes possible the long-term presence of CBF field personnel like Laura and Carson. Support for the Offering extends lasting hope and loving hospitality to people living in poverty around the world. Give online today at www.cbf.net/OGM.