Notes from Hokkaido

I studied cello at university; one motivation for attending seminary was to find my place as a Christian and a performing musician.

During my second year of seminary, my brother invited my husband, Keith, and I, to attend a mission conference. At this point, we had no intention of being overseas missionaries; although we were looking for God’s leading to serve him, we assumed it would be closer to home.

When I met OMF missionaries Tony and Pat Schmidt at that missions conference, they said, ‘Oh, you play cello! We have a cellist in OMF Japan; she plays at outreach concerts at churches.’ That conversation helped to reconcile my calling as a musician with my calling to follow Jesus; I discovered that these two callings were not mutually exclusive.

Fast forward a year and a half; we were serving under Tony and Pat as short-term workers in Sapporo, Japan. Invitations to play Christmas concerts started to come in. I wanted to accept, but I hadn’t met any pianists willing to play the pieces I hoped to perform. One colleague suggested playing with a recorded piano track, but for me, the fellowship and cooperation of playing music with a friend was an end in itself. I continued to practise by myself while praying for a collaborator.

Finally, in November, some missionary colleagues introduced me to pianist Shino Inoue, a member of their church. I was impressed by Shino’s work ethic and her commitment to serving God through music. After a month of feverish practice, we managed to pull together three difficult cello and piano sonatas. The final concert that season was possibly my best concert ever, with about 100 people in the audience.

After our nine months in Japan ended, Keith and I returned to the US. Shino and I exchanged letters; we both hoped to continue playing together. More than anything, Keith and I wanted to return to Japan as long-term missionaries and the letters from Shino were a great encouragement during the waiting time.

A little over a year later, Keith and I returned to Sapporo. I immediately reconnected with Shino. In my absence, Shino had been listening to recordings of cello and piano music; whereas before I had chosen all the music, this time, Shino had several sonatas she wanted to play. Before we received a single concert invitation, we had already started weekly rehearsals.

Even with a busy schedule at language school, I looked forward to rehearsals. We often spent just as much time drinking tea and talking as practising. At first we mostly talked about music, but gradually we started sharing about our joys and struggles and praying for one another. Shino became more than just a colleague; she was a friend.

We started working on the Schubert ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata, a difficult piece that Shino chose. I had wanted to learn it for a long time, but gave up because of the difficulty. Shino’s encouragement gave me the motivation to keep working on the piece even when I felt as if my practising was going nowhere.

We now find that, even if a Japanese person isn’t interested in Christianity, he or she may be interested in attending a concert. Our concerts give members of various churches the chance to bring friends who will then have a first contact with the church. Usually we play several cello and piano pieces and I give my testimony or a short message. Churches can make requests for certain pieces of music; sometimes we add seasonally appropriate songs.

One highlight was an Easter concert. Shino and I told the Easter story interspersed with music we chose to fit each part of the story. The pieces of music served as pauses in the narrative, allowing the guests to reflect on what they had heard.

Although we sometimes play concerts at our own churches, we often have opportunities to visit and support other churches. Most Japanese Christians spend their whole life at the same church, rarely visiting other churches; we have been blessed with the opportunity to share fellowship with Christians all over the island of Hokkaido. We plant lots of seeds, but we rarely hear about the fruit of our work. We pray for the concert guests and entrust the follow-up work to the host churches and the Holy Spirit.

It was almost five years ago that Shino and I first played together. I thank God for giving me a wonderful colleague in bringing the Gospel to the Japanese people, and a means of serving using the gifts God has given us.

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