A WALL of glass windows so that locals can look into a new building in their neighbourhood. An artsy event that encourages people to try out something new. A new type of Salvation Army ministry in a purpose-built community building. All signs of new hope in a new place.
The Salvation Army in Japan has launched a new community ministry in its recently-constructed New Hope building in the Azabu district of Tokyo. Azabu is a busy and diverse part of the Japanese capital, known for its cosmopolitan, international vibe and popularity with families. Opened on Christmas Eve 2020, the building was intentionally designed with floor-to-ceiling glass windows along the front so that members of the community could see what is happening inside, sparking curiosity and conversations around ‘what’s this all about?’
And that’s exactly what happened on 13 February, when New Hope Azabu held its first Paint Night. The Salvation Army in Japan has a goal of incorporating creative arts ministry into events and programmes here. ‘We hope to reach new people for Christ through innovative programmes of creative expression. Something the community might not expect when they think about “church”,’ enthuses Envoy Daniel LaBossiere who, with his wife Leann, is responsible for the initiative. ‘Let’s use the same message of the gospel and try something new with it.’
Although very much a trial run for the dedicated team of young adult staff members working at the building, the inaugural Paint Night was an enormous success. ‘God showed up in abundance!’ exclaims the envoy. ‘We were shocked to see the numbers of people who stopped by during the event to come in and say hello! There were people walking past the glass windows discussing what was happening. Many stopped to talk with our staff and ask questions, several even asked to come inside to take photos.’
Paint Night saw participants being given a large, stretched canvas, a palette of paint, brushes and other materials needed to paint their own masterpiece. Each person followed verbal and visual painting instruction step by step – no prior experience was needed. Everyone painted the same image but added their own styles to the canvases. Concluding the evening, a short devotional thought on John 3:16 – linked to the painted image – was shared with the group. Associating the scriptural thought with the artwork means that participants can recall the Bible message as they admire their painting in the future.
‘This is the first place [of its kind in the area] to work, learn, create and interact with people using art and music,’ says local Salvationist Shogo Takabatake, who has joined the team at New Hope Azabu. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to live our daily lives in a whole new way. What used to be commonplace is no longer the norm. We cannot live without person-to-person connection, but as we live this new life, some people feel lonely or somehow constricted as they lose their connection with others. Through the work of New Hope Azabu, I trust that it will be a source of comfort and connection for those who feel this way, and a place for people seeking new encounters and inspiration.’
Despite its newness, the strategy is already working. ‘It was truly beautiful to see just how much God showed up for the evening! He presented so many opportunities for me and the staff to connect with members of the community,’ says Envoy Leann LaBossiere.
New Hope Azabu is also offering a children’s art club to local residents as well as junior English classes and parent-and-child activities. The enthusiastic team is keenly exploring other ‘opportunities of connection’. Envoy Leann adds: ‘Our sanctuary does not have pews and a pulpit, but we believe that the Lord will bless us through paint and brushes as we continue to follow his leading in this way.’
‘Isn’t that the goal, right?’ affirms her husband. ‘Whether we are preaching on a Sunday, meeting with people at our corps (church) buildings or painting in a classroom, our focus should be on sharing the love of Jesus with others. Making connections and building relationships is what we were created to do. Paint Night has sparked an interest, it has started a conversation, and it has opened the door in Azabu for us to share the love of Christ.’