“Missionary’s Testimony”- Jonathan Lowrance [english ver.]

Music Video Clip

Missionary’s Testimony

“A Heart for the Mission”

Jonathan Lowrance

Photo:Jonathan & Melissa Lowrance

Our Calling

It was Spring of 2010 and I was sitting on the couch in our living room just outside Nashville, Tennessee. I had just slidden a disc into our DVD player and turned on the TV. My wife, Melissa, and I had been married for five years, and having felt a call to ministry, were serving faithfully at the church that we had endeavored to plant. In those days we were serving in multiple capacities in the church, which meant everything from cleaning toilets and vacuuming carpets to preaching and leading ministries. As fulfilling as ministry was, we still felt that we were awaiting some kind of significant next step from God. One of our many roles at Turning Point Church was as Missions Directors. We helped to oversee the church’s support of missionaries and local ministries around the world. Melissa had experienced the call to missions from a young age as she listened to the amazing stories of missionaries that would visit the church where she grew up in Pennsylvania. I, however, had yet to feel the pull to go overseas. I conjured up all kinds of images in my mind of living in a hut in the middle of the African bush with no toilet paper, surviving on nothing but bugs for dinner. Over the years and as my perspective has been greatly expanded, I’m acutely aware of how narrow my ideas about missionaries were.

In our early years of marriage, Melissa and I often found ourselves dreaming of traveling around the world and experiencing other cultures before we had children. For some strange but seemingly providential reason, we had fixated on Japan. We loved the culture and it’s rich history, not to mention the food. We started reading every book on Japan we could find and even began learning the language while we saved up for our dream “vacation.”

Back to the couch in my living room…. Some missionaries, whom you probably know, named Alex and Kathryn Humphreys had dropped off a DVD about their ministry at our church. As I sat on my couch and watched Alex and Kathryn share that less than 1% of Japan knew Christ, it was like the Holy Spirit gripped my heart and I started to weep. This wasn’t at all normal for me and I realized that I was in the presence of God speaking. In spite of our affinity for the Japanese culture, I’m ashamed to admit that the spiritual condition of Japan had never even crossed my mind. Suddenly, what was a surface level appreciation of the place became a deep love and burden for its people. It was as if God had given me a glimpse of how He longed and ached for the people of Japan.

Over the next few days God continued to speak to me about Japan. After five long years of praying, the many questions I had about our future finally seemed to be replaced by a single but profound answer: we were being called to the mission field. Amazingly, Melissa and I had both come to the same conclusion but separately. If you have ever been in a place of waiting that seemed unending, let me just tell you from personal experience that no one puts together a plan like God. The best part of His plans are that His timing isn’t accidental or haphazard. It’s not swayed or pushed around by cultural or economic conditions. His timing is simply perfect. No matter how long you have waited, take hold of His peace and know that the very second your answer arrives is a moment that God has lovingly and intentionally planned for your good.

We never did take that dream “vacation.” In 2014, we stepped off the plane in Tokyo for the first time with our daughter, London, who was two years old at the time and eighteen pieces of luggage. Melissa was pregnant with our second daughter, Finley, at the time. I’m certain that some people thought we were crazy and even wondered if we should have taken an exploratory trip to Japan first. We knew and recognized God’s call though. When God calls you, it doesn’t really matter what the place looks like or feels like. You just step out in faith and obedience, trusting that God will be there to help you take the next step. That’s exactly what He did.


Seasons of Ministry

The next few years were incredibly trying and yet rewarding. Culture shock is a constant presence in the early days of every missionary’s life. We had an overwhelming desire to make an impact and yet, we had to totally relearn how to live in a completely foreign land.

I was in full-time language school while Melissa was undergoing her own education in helping our daughter get acclimated to an all-Japanese pre-school. During our first missionary term, we accepted the invitation to become worship pastors at Tokyo City Church and were privileged to work for several years alongside the Humphreyses and Pastors Kazuo and Johanna Syrja-Sano. Before even arriving in Japan, we felt a deep burden to help provide media resources for Japanese churches. As our relationships with pastors and leaders in the Japan Assemblies of God grew we began to see incredible doors of opportunity opening, and by the end of our first three years in Japan our way forward seemed very clear. Then in 2019, after returning from a yearlong time of raising support in the U.S. we felt led to accept the role of pastors at ICA Tokyo, an international church in central Tokyo.

I realize that sometimes the role of the international church has felt unclear in Japan. I can’t speak for all of the international churches in our organization, but we feel our role at ICA Tokyo is simply to reach the English-speaking community of Tokyo. This includes every nationality or ethnicity, including Japanese. We’re not trying to be a Japanese church anymore than we are trying to be an American church. We are united, first, by a common language, and second, by our love for Jesus. ICA is unlike any church we have ever been a part of, in that it’s easily the most diverse church we have ever attended. With as many as fifteen different nationalities coming on any given weekend, it is amazing to see so many different cultures worshiping and serving together in one place. It feels like a perfect depiction of how the Kingdom of God is supposed to look and a reminder that one day believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be united together in worship to the one true King.

ICA Tokyo Guest Experience Team welcoming people on Sunday
ICA Tokyo Translation Team

Church with a Mission

As we have lived and served over the years in Japan, God has increasingly given us a heart for the next generation and for reaching people that have little to no experience with church. We love to see people connect with Jesus for the first time and discover that they can enjoy that relationship any time and any place. One of the keys for us to move people forward in their faith is our small groups,which we call Life Groups. Why? Because the Church is not a building. The Church is the body of Christ and we don’t just do worship services together, we live life together.

To reach people that have never been reached, we realized that we needed to make joining the community of ICA as easy as possible. That involved removing as many obstacles as we could that might make it difficult for non-christians to engage with the body of Christ. We call these obstacles barriers to entry. For instance, if someone new walks into our church and wants to connect more by joining a Life Group, it should be really easy for them to know where and how to do that. If it isn’t easy then it’s a barrier to them progressing in their path to Christ. Another way we remove barriers at ICA is by doing everything we can to make sure our sermons are extremely practical and easy to understand for mature Christians and non-Christians alike. By making sure that any Sunday is a good day to invite non-Christian friends, we are also removing barriers for our congregation so that it’s easy to bring people. Every ministry has blind spots and it’s easy for these spots to grow over time and for us to lose perspective about our methods. It is a continual and intentional effort to maintain our objectivity about what is really helping us to accomplish our mission or what might be hurting our efforts.

As soon as we arrived at ICA we saw remarkable potential to reach young people as our church is located directly across from Tokyo University. At the time there were only four or five young adults attending and the task of reaching more seemed overwhelming. Sometimes God calls us to do things that feel beyond our abilities and we wonder where to begin. Most often, the best place to start is, of course, with lots of prayer and to simply begin with what you have. We began to meet with the young adults in our home and that early group became so precious to us. This was the first Life Group that many of them had ever been a part of, so things were a little awkward at first as everyone got to know each other. Eventually, our conversations got deeper, church became more meaningful for them and we started to grow.

It was common practice for many in our church to eat lunch together after the worship service on Sunday. Melissa and I would eat lunch faithfully with those young people every week. It was like starting a fire. In the beginning you are constantly stoking the fire, helping it to grow bigger and stronger.  What we learned is that most people weren’t interested in how much of the Bible we knew. They just wanted to be cared for, listened to, and accepted. Then, one Sunday we bought our bento and brought it back to the church only to find that there weren’t any available seats for us. Some people might feel disappointed by not having a place to sit, but we were thrilled. It meant that God was really moving. We noticed two encouraging things about what was happening. The first was that we no longer had to stoke the fire so much. The young adults were doing it for us. The ones that we had spent so much time discipling were genuinely passionate about inviting others and sharing their faith. The second thing we noticed was a significant percentage of the ones coming were completely inexperienced when it comes to church or the Christian faith. This is exactly what we wanted to see.

Staying Focused

We must never forget that our first priority as the Church is not to reach the already reached, but to continue the mission that Jesus entrusted to us: to seek and save the lost. What we can glean from the ministry model of Jesus is that he never lost sight of His mission. His message was unchanging, but His methods challenged everything that was culturally acceptable at the time. He fellowshipped with the outcasts and marginalized of society. He wasn’t concerned about his reputation or His image. If he had been, the last thing He would have done is to eat with sinners. No, He was bold and unabashed. The mission took priority over what other people thought. Our greatest hope for our ministry in Japan is that we never lose sight of the mission. That we keep our focus on the lost and maintain a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach them. Even if it means sacrificing our preferences or stepping outside of what is culturally the norm for the Church.

As we look towards the future, God has given us an amazing vision that will demand more prayer and faith than ever before. We hope that as God enables us to expand our reach for His glory in Japan, that we may continue to strengthen our partnership with Japanese churches so that all can hear the good news of Jesus.

JAG and AP Media partner together to host media workshops for Japanese churches


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