Urbana 15 was a time of recommitment for me. It was a time when I rededicated myself and gave my all to God.
I first learned about Urbana Mission Conference in November of 2014 at an IVCF camp where I became a follower of Christ. A staff announced, “There will be Urbana next year,” and the crowd cheered, but I thought it had nothing to do with me, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. However, God’s plan is full of surprises. Three months later in January of 2015, I decided to take a year off. I was supposed to graduate in May. My plan was to continue my study of education at a graduate school in California, but while I was on my leave of absence, through study and prayer time, God led me to dedicate my life to the Lord. When I shared this with an IV staff who led a weekly Bible study by Skype for me, he encouraged me to attend Urbana, and that is how I decided to go. With my salvation testimony and my letter describing my desire to attend Urbana, he raised funds for me in the US, and God provided all of my financial needs through churches and individuals. I give all praise and thanksgiving to God who provides no matter what.
So, here I was at Urbana. Now that I look back on it, I don’t think I was very prepared, because I was so busy getting ready to go back to school and return to the US. During these busy times, all I could do was look to God day to day and nothing more. In the midst of busyness, I said goodbye to my family and returned to Wisconsin. I spent Christmas moving into my new place, and the next day, I was off to St. Louis. I joined the group from Japan that evening for a pizza dinner. It was great to see some familiar faces and catch up as well as to with new people, sharing testimonies. I felt I was finally ready for Urbana with such a good start and expectations.
However, once Urbana begun, for the first three days I was so discouraged. Even as I was enjoying messages and fellowship as usual, I was reminded of sins from the past which I didn’t remember in my daily life. “I thought I came with empty hands. Why did I bring so much baggage?” I began to feel uneasy.
On our first day, we learned about the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus. After that we shared about “We, too, see the star and it is Jesus. These wise men chose the best gift and left to worship the baby Jesus right away joyfully. However, we are still inside our house, trying to figure out which gifts would be easy enough to let go of.” I felt like I had a veil in front of me and couldn’t see God clearly. I began to see wounds that were yet to be healed. My sins were heavy in my heart. I knew in my head that Jesus’ cross is far greater than my sin, yet my heart was hardened. I started to feel physically weak, had a very bad headache and on top of that, for the first time in my life, I had a sty in my left eye and couldn’t wear my contact lens. I didn’t feel like praying and didn’t have enough strength to ask someone to pray for me. As I was looking at my left eye in the mirror, I realized, “In this moment, God can take this eye, or even my life.” Then, I realized that everything was in the hands of the Lord. The entire city of St. Louis in the rain, all 16,000 Urbana participants, my life, and everything else were in His hands. I was deeply moved by that fact. I was filled with awe and fear of the Lord who rules and reigns over everything.
I wanted to go to Bible study and have fellowship with others, but I decided to pour my heart out to the Lord, and stayed in my room. I skipped Bible study and seminars and slept. I got what my body was craving and ate well and healthy. As I was sitting alone in my hotel room, I opened my notebook, and began writing down the cry of my heart. I wrote down everything to God without holding anything back, tears streaming down my face. As I continued to write, the wounds that were hidden deep in my heart became clear. I threw away my shame, and confessed to God, “This is who I truly am.” It seemed like a childish selfish prayer, but that was all I could pray. Then I remembered the gentle voice of God, telling me to come to Him just the way I was. I was comforted. I wanted to go to prayer ministry before dinner, but I gave up because I didn’t have enough time. However, God prepared different people, and we were able to pray together. It was a great encouragement for me.
During the evening session, we prayed for persecuted churches. My heart was deeply touched by the stories of brothers and sisters who serve in the Middle East. I was moved to tears by realizing that Jesus is with them even in the midst of unimaginable difficulties. He is living with them, persevering with them, and working through them. At the same time, my eyes were opened to realize that the issues that were bothering me were so small. Right before I went to bed that night, I opened my Bible, and read the scripture of that day, which was Psalm 51. I had read this passage many times and knew about it, but as soon as I began reading, “Have mercy on me, God”, I couldn’t stop crying. God’s words were soaking up into my dried heart. I read as thought it was my own cry. Since then, I read Psalm 51 both in the morning and in the evening. Now after Urbana, I still am reading Psalm 51 on top of my regular reading. I have copied it and read it out loud, meditating and reflecting on it.
The next morning, I got up feeling great. My left eye was almost back to normal and my headache was completely gone. I gave thanks to God. He listens to every single prayer no matter how selfish, small or soft it might be. He is indeed our good good Father! Even when I doubt His limitless power, He still accepts me just the way I am. He loves, heals, and transforms me. I truly desire to believe in this Great Father God with childlike faith.
That morning’s speaker was my favorite speaker, David Platt. I really wanted to listen to him up close, so I waited for the doors to open 90 minutes ahead of time, and sat in the front row to listen to him speak. He spoke from Matthew 26. We learned from the life of a woman who poured fragrant oil on Jesus. She knew that no matter what others might think of her, the only purpose in her life was to give her all to Jesus. When I was asked, “Is THIS your life?” I hesitated. “How am I actually following Jesus?” “What have I been surrendering to God since I committed myself to surrender all a year ago when I was saved?”
It was not about what emotions this woman who loved Jesus had in her heart. It was about what she actually did for Jesus. She, as well as a person who found treasure in Matthew 14, knew that Jesus Christ is the only one who is worthy to surrender all to. Both of them actually gave all that they had with joy. When these facts were laid right before my eyes, I immediately understood something so clearly. This one phrase was echoing in my heart. With trembling, I wrote these words down in my notebook. The phrase so captured my heart that I couldn’t even hear David Platt’s voice.
“I only want YOU. That is all. Your whole entire being. Your life.”
What God desires of me is nothing else but myself. I realized that instant that He wants all of me, even if I am a worthless person who is filled with sin, naked, small, weak, and has nothing to boast about. Jesus went through unimaginable pain, sorrow, suffering, and even death to redeem such a person as me. I could not stop crying.
What God wanted from me was not about how trustworthy person I can be. It wasn’t how well I understood the Scripture. It wasn’t how I would strategically share the Gospel to many people. The only thing God desires is me, my whole being. He just wants me to surrender my all to Him so that I can love and enjoy Him with everything He has given to me throughout my life. He told me, “Let me be in the center of your life – in every minute of your life.” That’s all He desired. I can’t think of a word to describe the feeling I had the moment I realized this fact. What I had in me then was not unwavering conviction or strong will. What overflowed out of me was limitless love, filled with compassion, overflowing from the ever so gentle eyes of Jesus. I was filled with that love, and my tears of joy didn’t stop. “I was already Yours. I was already made to love You. It is because You first loved me and bought me back. I remember it all now.” I felt like I was released from the bondage called “me,” and filled with peace that God is mine and I am His. I prayed from bottom of my heart, “Lord, who gave all to me, I give all to You.”
On the last day, I learned from my friend's Facebook page that there would be “Japanese Interest Group.” I joined the group late. An American man came to me asking, “Are you from Okinawa?” He used to be in Okinawa and had been doing a church plant for several years as a pastor. He knew Pastor S who had told me about the Good News for the first time. His daughters were born at the hospital where I was born. I told him that I was volunteering at a hospice care at that hospital. I continued to share with him how these hospice patients came to know the Lord. Then his eyes were filled with tears and he said joyfully, “I came here to hear these stories! God is indeed at work in that land.” I couldn’t believe that such fellowship was prepared for me.
At the end of that meeting, we began praying for Japan as a table. One by one we prayed, until was my turn. I began by praying “Heavenly Father…” Then I began crying so much that I couldn’t continue my prayer. I was reminded of the sorrow that I felt this past year while I was in Japan. There are so many people who have never heard of the Gospel. The fact is that people are trying so hard to fill their desperate hearts with something because they don’t know God’s love. I prayed, “God, I know you won’t forsake Japan. You are a saving Lord. Have mercy on Your people. Use me.” I knew ever so clearly that God was giving me a calling and a heart for Japan missions. When we were praying together with rest of the people, my heart began to be filled with blessings rather than sorrow. Each one of these people from different backgrounds has a heart to serve the Lord and has a heart for Japan. It was because God loves them so much that He gave His heart to them. I felt like I saw a glimpse of God’s love for Japan and His great plan.
“On that day, the entire world will lift up the name of the Lord.”
We sang this worship song every night at the Japanese fellowship. As I was singing, these words became unshakable truth in my heart. For me, attending this Japanese fellowship was like an oasis during Urbana. As I was saved in America, to join 100 or so others in unity to sing praise songs in Japanese was an incredible joy. The fellowship time was too short, but there are stories in each person’s life, and it was a great joy to be able to share, rejoice, and pray together in God’s great plan of love. It was as though these many different colored strings came together in St. Louis, received many blessings, and now were sent out to different parts of the world. When would I see them next? What story will we be living then? God is the only one who knows when and where these strings will come together again. Each encounter was a precious work of God, and all of them will be woven together in the day when the entire world worships the name of the Lord. I get so excited just thinking about the beauty of God’s plan.
When I reflect on my days at Urbana, there was so much more that I experienced. Not every day was good or beautiful. I feel like now I have important homework, including my wounds that need to be healed, questions that need to be answered, social issues that I can’t see as my own, and others. If I were to put the entire experience in one phrase, it would be “deliverance from myself.” I had been thinking where “I” would go to share the Gospel. I thought about what would be the most beneficial choice for “me”. I thought about how “my” wound be healed. However, this “me” was broken in front of the pure, honest testimonies of brothers and sisters. Even in the midst of unimaginable pains and sorrows, they were seeking not “themselves” but the Lord. It was not their strength but God’s that was at work. My life was not my own but His. This sinful “me” was already filled with love and was made holy, good, and whole by the Almighty God. My eyes were opened to this truth. God was already calling me to the place where He wants to bring the Good News. God will help me to choose the way that is most beneficial to Him. I believe that God will heal my wounds. My story can begin because God’s love exists. The Lord who is Alpha and Omega is at the very center of my story every moment of my life. I learned this truth. I now know that it is beautiful. I prayed once again that I would walk and live God’s story. May I surrender all of every moment of my life until the end.