Nan’s Note: This is a long post from Peter & Wendi, but if you receive the Mission + Serve ENews and prayed at all for their request regarding renting a building in Sanda, Japan, OR if you are a person who likes reading about the extraordinary things God does when people pray, this one is worth your time. Praise and glory to God! (If you don’t receive the Mission + Serve ENews, join the prayer warriors who do by clicking on the button to the right. >>>)
by Peter Thomson
Upon moving to Sanda in 2004, we recognized that reaching the city was a Kingdom-sized task that would require many. We also knew it would require a new model for evangelism and discipleship. A traditional model of erecting a building and inviting people in would not work. First, we could never afford it. Second, the city zoning laws wouldn’t allow it. Third – and most significantly – Japanese people feel no need to ‘go to church’. They just don’t come, even with impressive programs in place.
Our plan was to rent a house in the center of the community, develop relationships, and live as salt and light. We’ve done this, and we are seeing Jesus save people and the community gradually transform. But not fast enough! We have a ‘holy discontent’ with the speed at which progress is made. Our house serves as a church building, English school, youth clubhouse, counseling center, and hostel for teams: which we love! We love it all, but… we need more!
In 2015, we believe Jesus made clear to us that future growth would require greater faith and greater risk now. We need more workers, both Japanese and international, both from the harvest and mature believers, to come to Sanda. We have the faith that they will come, but are we willing to risk the complexity of human relationships that come with a growing team? (We already have one missionary commissioned to join us in the fall and two more in the application process.) Jesus is meeting our family’s financial needs, but are we willing to believe he can meet the needs of an expanding ministry? We have a house that serves as both our residence and ministry base, but would Jesus provide another in our community for team members? Jesus has said, “I see your faith, now walk forward in risk.” So we are.
It Started with Prayer
We have always bathed the start, middle, and end of everything we do in prayer. There is no other way. So, on February 6, 2016, we included the following prayer request in our monthly newsletter.
“One of the challenges of having teams come and serve with us is trying to find housing. We would love to have more people work with us, especially those exploring God’s calling in their lives. One of the best ways to do this is to come and work alongside us for 1-3 months. While we can host for a few weeks, longer durations are a bit difficult. And potential missionaries need to experience life on their own. We are currently exploring two housing options.
Option 1 is to rent a second house. This would provide a residence for missionaries, both long and short term, and a place for fellowship and community. The downside is that it could be costly, especially if there are extended periods of no missionaries helping with the rent.
Option 2 is to rent rooms at a small Japanese pension near us. Peter teaches English to two boys whose family owns the pension and live in it with their mother and sister. The rental rooms are currently unused. Renting rooms from this family could be a win/win situation: income for a single-parent family and flexible housing for missionaries. We are trying to set up a meeting to talk directly with the owner this month.
We are not sure which option is best, so please join with us in prayer.”
Honestly, our hopes were on option 2. It seemed the most ‘doable’ and the most ‘safe’. But six days later, we had our answer: it was NO.
The next day, we were walking together to the local supermarket, which is just a few minutes from our house. Across the street from our route is a store/residence that has sat vacant for eight years. We have been praying for eight years, “Jesus, that place would be awesome. If it is your will, can we have it for ministry?” We had researched renting it on the internet, but there was never a listing. We inquired with the owner of the store next door and he said, “Impossible. It’s owned by the president of a clothing company and he’ll never rent.” While we did give up on searching, we also never stopped praying.
So, on a Saturday, one week after we asked people to pray and the day after we received a ‘no’ on the pension rooms, on a random trip to buy some tofu, there in front of the vacant store was a nicely-dressed man pulling some weeds. “That’s odd.” Peter said to Wendi, “Maybe that’s the owner. Should we see?”
Wendi said, “Sure.”
Peter immediately chickened-out. “No, probably not. Let’s not be a bother.”
Wendi said, “Let’s go see.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“I’m going,” and Wendi started to cross the street. Faith in action!
So we went and approached the man, who was with a woman (his wife), and a summary of the conversation is…
Yes, they are the owners. They feel bad about it being empty. Yes, they are looking for a renter. They asked how much we could pay. Come back on Tuesday and we will show the place.
After eight years of praying, a week after asking our supporters to pray, on a seemingly random trip to the store, at the exact moment that the owner was standing in front of the property, we made a divine contact.
We may have even forgotten to buy the tofu.
Who we Are
Three days later, we were meeting with the president of a clothing company with factories in China and retail shops across Japan, his business manager, and some family members. Out of our league!
They took us through the entire building. 800 square feet of retail space on the first floor, and a combined 2,000 square feet of living space on all three floors. Recently remodeled bath and toilets with new fixtures. Three bedrooms. Restroom and kitchenette in the retail space. Light, airy with a lot of natural wood.
“Umm. Jesus, this is so out of our league. What were we thinking?”
Then Jesus said, “Just tell them who you are.” So we did. We told of our vision to serve the community. We explained our work with local families, the book we are writing on marriage, the volunteer work in schools, and the up-coming launch of the after-school program. We told about cooking events, craft classes, and outdoor programs. We shared how we respected what the government is doing to help families, but that we didn’t believe the answer is only financial assistance. We shared that our vision is for a company that equally values financial profit and social purpose, and that true success and impact is not limited to spreadsheets and bank accounts.
We inquired as to their asking price and they simply said to “call the business manager later and talk about it.”
“But Jesus, this is so, so, so out of our league.”
As we left, the company president said, “It was an amazing coincidence that we met on Saturday.”
“You know, about that… We are followers of Jesus Christ, and to be honest, one week ago we wrote to our friends in America and asked them to pray that we could find another building to expand our work. And it was just days later that we met.”
“No, you didn’t. Really, you wrote and asked people to pray?”
“Yes, and then we met you. After eight years of searching. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but we think that it might just be God at work.”
After which we thanked them for their time and headed home excited about the possibility, with one glaring reality… we have no money budgeted for this.
Take the Risk
We went back to praying and consulted with trusted friends and co-workers. We all heard the same message from Jesus: take the risk and make an offer based on what we think we can afford (Which would be ‘free’!). We researched store rental rates for in Sanda and quickly realized that the price of the retail space alone would be way over our budget idea.
“Take the risk.”
“Okay, I’m calling today,” Peter told Wendi. Faithless fingers dialed, as he recalled the Jr High nervousness of dialing a girl to ask her to the Spring Dance.
“We would like to make an offer on the property. Would you accept ¥130,000 per month?” (At the time, the exchange rate was $1=¥110.)
“Well, the property is worth a lot more than that. However, our president said that he would like to try and help you. We were hoping you could pay ¥200,000. But I will take your offer to our owner and see what he says.”
After one week, “Our owner is in China on business, please wait a little longer.”
A few weeks later, we received a call that Peter summarized as follows. “I have no idea what they were saying because they used complicated real estate language. They want us to meet with a realtor. I have no idea of the price’ BUT THEY DIDN’T SAY NO!”
They didn’t say no! As foreigners in Japan, we have been denied numerous rentals simply because we are not Japanese. That they didn’t say no, despite our not knowing anything else, gave us all the reason to hope and pray.
We set up a meeting with the company and their realtor, and they graciously allowed Peter to bring an experienced Japanese co-worker with him. They were probably relieved to not have to muddle through his imperfect language skills.
In preparation for the meeting, Peter prepared various financial scenarios. In order to rent in Japan, everyone is required to pay ‘key money’. These are extra fees required to receive the keys. They usually include paying four to six months rent as a ‘security deposit’, and four to six months rent as a ‘gift’ to the owner. Providing the place is not damaged when the contract is up, some of the security deposit may come back. The gift money, of course, does not. Peter’s figures were based on a combined eight months of key money.
Our Japanese co-worker believed that at ¥200,000, it would be a bargain to rent the place. Yes, but that is also about ¥200,000 more than our budget, not to mention the cost of utilities. Oh, and furniture and appliances! It’s just an empty building, after all.
So off we went to meet. Remember, this building is just about a three-minute walk from our home. The business manager and relator were there, and after the traditional bows and exchanging of business cards, they launched right into it.
Talking to our co-worker, “As you know, Thomson-san has made a proposal to rent this building for ¥130,000 per month. We would like to rent to him, but we would like to ask for more money.”
Here it comes… the wrecking ball is already in motion…
“We are asking for ¥140,000.”
(Don’t smile, keep a poker face.) “Yes, I believe that would be doable.”
“Also, our president said he would like to help Thomson-san, so there is no need to pay gift money. As for the deposit, if he can pay three months, that would be adequate. Our president wants to help you.”
(Resist all urge to dance. Wait until you get home.)
We eventually finished our meeting and said that we would call soon with a decision. If it were America, we would have said, “Give me the papers, we signing now, we’re all signing now.” But Japan doesn’t work this way, and there is a designated process for everything.
After we returned home, in the papers we received was the official advertised figure. The rent alone was listed at ¥400,000!
The next day we called and agreed to rent starting from August. The paperwork is in process, and will be completed soon.
Favor from the Lord
Throughout this entire series of events, we have continually asked, “Did Jesus just do that?” Not that we are doubting Him, but it has just been so amazing.
We have tried to understand why it is working out, and it really comes down to favor from the Lord. Not based on us, though we believe Jesus is acknowledging our ‘risky faith’. Why would a company president look so kindly on a couple of foreigners? We can’t explain it other than being Christ at work. Even if the owner likes us, why would he rent at such a deep discount? We can’t explain it.
Truth be told, we don’t really need an explanation. Jesus is not wanting us to understand everything; He is simply inviting us to walk in faith and obedience.
Two months and a day after asking people to pray, we now have an additional ministry location in our neighborhood. We have a multi-purpose space that will allow us to launch further into our community. We have a residence with a ‘great room’ large enough for meetings and three bedrooms for co-workers.
“Did Jesus just do that?” YES HE DID!!!!