Missionaries of Prayer
“And you are helping us by praying for us….” — 2 Corinthians 1:11, NLT
When Kimiko was seven or eight years old, her parents introduced her to a Japanese woman who was going to the Philippines as a Bible translator with Wycliffe.
“My dad suggested that all the family had to start praying for the lady,” says Kimiko. It became part of a new tradition for her family. “Every morning we got together and studied the Bible and prayed for missionaries.”
So, in 2005 when Kimiko decided to join Wycliffe herself, she could do it with confidence knowing that she would be supported through prayer.
“The work here [in Japan] was done by foreign missionaries,” says her mother. “We have seen their work and the hardships. They were the ones who helped us grow, so we know the importance of mission work. …we know how much it takes to do missionary work in another country, so we needed lots of prayer.”
The Kesennuma Inoriniwa gathers together once a month to pray for Wycliffe Japan workers serving in countries all over the world.
The circle of prayer
Kimiko’s parents met with the director of Wycliffe Japan who equipped them with information about how they could start an official prayer group. After meeting with the leaders of their church, Kesennuma First Bible Baptist Church, they formed an inorinowa, a prayer circle, to regularly pray for Kimiko.
A small group began meeting at Kimiko’s parents’ house once a month. Using the Wycliffe Japan prayer guide, the prayer circle not only prayed for Kimiko, but also for the requests of other Wycliffe Japan workers serving in countries all over of the world.
Their commitment to praying for missions solidified after a Japanese missionary working in a country in southeast Asia visited their church.
“He challenged us by asking, ‘Would you become a missionary of prayer?’” says Kimiko’s mother. “It really struck me and shocked me to think about how important prayer was.”
The Kesennuma Inoriniwa soon grew. Kikuo Hatakeyama was one of the people who joined the prayer circle. Through her experience with the circle, she has come to understand how prayer can help sustain missionaries through hard times.
“If you go to a different place it can be very, very difficult,” she says. “We really need to pray for those people.”
As missionaries came and shared with the Kesennuma Inoriniwa about their experiences, the prayer circle was able to focus on some very specific needs. Kimiko’s father shared that the visits gave their prayer circle an opening to pray in a very different way.
“When missionaries come back from the field and tell us what’s happening—the real situation and what the obstacles are—then we know,” shares Kimiko’s father. “We know what to pray for and our prayer becomes more realistic.”
Hiroshi Minegishi, the pastor of Kesennuma First Bible Baptist Church also stresses the importance of prayer for missions.
“Missionaries cannot stand alone and do the work,” he shares. “It’s because there are people supporting them, through prayer and financially, that their needs are met. Missions is not only about sharing God’s word; …there are many things involved and everything is organically connected. [Prayer] is very important.”
An expanding prayer movement
Manabu Ishikawa, the Wycliffe Japan director at that time, and his wife Eiko, who was the first Wycliffe Japan prayer coordinator, started the first inorinowa in 1990 at their home. The focus was on prayer for Wycliffe Japan staff serving in their home country and abroad.
The name inorinowa was selected because in Japanese it communicates both the idea of a circle of prayer and that the prayers are continual and unending – just like the unceasing prayer that the apostle Paul explains in the fifth chapter of 1 Thessalonians.
Keiko Doi, the current member care director and prayer coordinator for Wycliffe Japan, compiles prayer requests into a booklet which is distributed three times a year to prayer circles as well as other requesting churches and individuals. In all more than 800 Wycliffe Inorinowa booklets are distributed to nearly 180 churches and 300 individuals in Japan.
“We collect prayer items from each [Wycliffe Japan staff] member: member’s health, children’s education, projects, translation, literacy, people they are working with, the [local communities], members’ parents back in Japan, and their home churches,” explains Akira Doi, the current director of Wycliffe Japan.
The Asakadai Inorinowa meets at the Wycliffe Japan office. Each group uses the Wycliffe Inorinowa booklets to facilitate their times of prayer.
The booklets have daily prayer requests so that individuals can pray everyday. Then, prayer circles can pray for several items when they meet once a month. Each booklet also includes a prayer request for more prayer circles to begin.
From the beginning Wycliffe Japan leaders have desired to see prayer circles spread throughout Japan. Today, there are seven inorinowas in six different prefectures.
- Higashi-kurume Inorinowa in Tokyo prefecture
- Setagaya Inorinowa in Tokyo prefecture
- Kesennuma Inorinowa in Miyagi prefecture
- Daisen Inorinowa in Akita prefecture
- Asakadai Inorinowa in Saitama prefecture
- Ikeda-cho Inorinowa in Nagano prefecture
- Kishiwada Inorinowa in Osaka prefecture.
Most prayer groups meet in people’s homes.
“We have hoped there would be a home prayer [circle] in every prefecture in Japan,” shares Manabu.
Wycliffe Japan’s emphasis on prayer is intentional, and it is an important component of their ministry.
“Bible translation is God’s work,” says Akira, “And we would like to commit this work into His hands in prayer. We need His strength to do it.”
Akira shares that their prayer emphasis fits well with the value that the Japanese church already has for prayer. He says, “Just like humans breathe, Christians [in Japan] pray.”
“Satan doesn’t want people to have the Bible, so he tries to stop the translation work,” says Nozomi Kume, a Wycliffe Japan staff member. “But, the power of prayer is stronger than Satan’s work.”
Nozomi helped to translate the Bible into the Ata language of Papua New Guinea. The project was recently completed. She says that prayer was an important element that helped to bring the project to completion.
“It was God’s miracle through these prayer circles that we now have a Bible in another language,” she says. “If they had stopped praying I know we wouldn’t have this Bible.”
Kimiko will soon return to her work in a country in South Asia. In her experience, prayer circles, like the one from her home in Kesennuma, have offered an important form of support to her.
“Sometimes I feel very tired,” she confesses. “I don’t even have the energy to pray. In this case it’s very important for me, instead of me praying by myself, that others keep praying for me. It is encouraging, and it sustains my faith and work in the field.”
The seven inorinowa in Japan continue in their commitment to unceasing prayer for the work of Bible translation and the staff of Wycliffe Japan.
“We pray because we know that God listens,” explains Pastor Minegishi. “[Missionaries] needs are met because we are praying and God hears our prayers. That is how it works.”
By committing to pray these believers, while never leaving Japan, have become missionaries of prayer.
Photos by Marc E
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This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.