"I will sing to the LORD" (Psalm 13:6)
Thank you for coming to the Outreach Concert in this busy time of the year - the end of the month and right before the new semester. To me, the concert at Yokohama Union Church is the first solo recital in Japan. Therefore I have been very much looking forward to it. What a wonderful thing is it that the first recital in my home country is going to be dedicated to God. I really thank everybody who came to this special day.
In life, there are many encounters. It is not too much to say that encounters decide your life. You became a school-teacher because you had adored the teacher in your childhood, you decided to be a nurse because you had been impressed by the kind nurse who took a good care of you, you could become what you are now because of a friend who helped you in the hardships, etc, -- we often hear all these stories. It is very true that we would not exist if our parents did not meet. We cannot argue how encounters are important to our life.
I also have had a lot of important encounters; my first piano teacher, best friends who used to go to school together, a professor who introduced me the interest of Sociology, a fantastic pianist who inspired me to pick up piano which I had given up once a long time ago, a great piano teacher who totally changed my approach to music, a friend who invited me to the church, a pastor who baptized me etc. In addition, there are anonymous people who helped me when I was traveling and audiences who came to my concerts. I owe what I am today to these people. Whenever I think of them, my heart is filled with gratitude. However, the most important and influential encounter in my life is the one with Jesus.
Right after I moved to New York, my life was very miserable. I did not have friends nor a job. I did not have much money because I spent it on moving and paying tuition for graduate school. In order to make some money, I started working as a waitress, baby sitter, and housekeeper. I had never done such jobs and I struggled a lot. These jobs were physically tough and I did not have enough time and energy to practice piano after work. I felt I was dropping out of the competitive musicians world in New York and I almost despaired. I did not have any hope for my piano carrier and I wondered to myself, “Have I come to New York only to watch my dream pass me by?” Counting the little money I had, I was crying almost everyday.
Around that time, I started going to the Japanese American United Church in Manhattan because I wanted to have Japanese friends and also had nothing constructive to do. I came to know this church by a flyer of their Thanksgiving dinner when I was still a student intern before I actually moved to New York. When I was in Michigan, I used to play piano for a Catholic Church service three times a week. Therefore, I did not have any objection nor did I have any special feeling for going to church. However, this time, things were different. Gospel was delivered to my heart because I attended the church with the congregation, not as a part-time pianist. One day, I was reading a devotion guide in my room. Then, one sentence, “God knows your concerns and needs”, caught my eyes. At the moment, I felt my whole body become warm and tears gushed out of my eyes. Then I felt somebody stood a little behind me and caressed my back gently. I knew that was Jesus.
I realized I had come very far away from God as a result of going my own way and trying to be happy. I wanted to go back to God like an innocent child. Several months after, January 2003, thanks to support and prayer by church members, I was led to be baptized by Rev. Nathan Brownell who sometimes shared from this Bible verse which deeply moved me, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)
I would not say that my life was improved dramatically, but since the baptism, my heart has been always filled with trust and peace in God. I could overcome hardships and difficult situations because I believed God would never give me less than what was really best for me. I could be humble and accept hardships and unpreferable situations because I understood that was His plan. Indeed, all these hardships are indispensable to me toward becoming a better person. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21) I had many good encounters as well as sad farewells. In New York, people are constantly coming in and going because most of them come as a student or short-term business worker. I had to say goodbye to many good friends. Especially, I was very shocked to know that the Brownell family was leaving for Japan for youth mission. I dismayed why God would move these precious friends away from me. However, now I know God had great plans. God gave me a day of parting, but he also gave me a day of reunion. In addition to this, God also gave me encounters with new friends such as local Christians who came to support this concert and concert goers who might come to the church for the first time.
There is no “coincidence” in the life of Christians. God’s hands work behind each occurrence and encounter. Since I accepted Jesus as a savior, I have become able to walk the life of hope that trusted in God’s best plan for me, not a life of alternation of joy and sorrow which was dominated by my ego and unstable situation. The Bible promises us, "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." (Proverbs 16:3)
In the end, I would like to thank Yokohama Union Church and two pastors, Rev. Linda Schmidt and Rev. Ken Saito, as well as, Rev. Nathan Brownell, who worked hard to put everything together. May God’s blessings and mercy be on everybody who came today.