Worshippers, most of them Brazilian immigrants of Japanese descent, sing a popular praise chorus, accompanied by an amplified acoustic guitar.
"I want to know You. I want to hear Your voice. I want to know You more," they sing in Portuguese, clapping enthusiastically to the beat.
Near the back of the room, 21-year-old Filipe Koji Kakumu sits with his eyes closed, a frown wrinkling his brow. As the music grows louder, he plugs his ears with his index fingers.
Filipe's parents, Japanese-Brazilian Luís Carlos Kakumu and Margarete Kakumu, are Brazilian Baptist missionaries in Japan. Luís Carlos pastors the congregation; Margarete leads the praise team.
During the song Luís Carlos strolls to the back of the worship center and stands behind his son Filipe, gently placing a hand on his shoulder.
Filipe keeps his ears plugged, looking like he's in pain. But when the music softens, Filipe suddenly stands and begins to jump. After the singing ends, Margarete slips into the seat next to Filipe. Luís Carlos moves to the front of the church. Filipe begins clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth. He appears to be trying to speak, but no words come.
Luís Carlos and Margarete remember when Filipe, their only child, wasn't like this. A family video shows Filipe as a rambunctious 2-year-old, strumming a toy guitar, talking and giggling. But not long after the video was filmed, Filipe stopped speaking. He lost interest in creative playtime and withdrew into a world of his own.
"The change was drastic," Margarete recalls. "We couldn't understand what was wrong with him."
Doctors in Japan diagnosed him with autism, a developmental brain disorder causing problems in communication, behavior and social interaction.
"It was a shock to us," Margarete says.
She and Luís Carlos share their story with missionaries during a trip to Japan's Mount Fuji, about an hour's drive from their home. Filipe sits in the back seat of the family's van, listening to a music CD and making non-verbal, vocal sounds. He appears to be in a world all his own.
When the Kakumus stop at a visitors' center, Filipe interacts with his parents, walking hand-in-hand with his father, touching his mother's face, allowing both parents to put their arms around him.
Standing at an observation deck at Mount Fuji, the group tries to get a good view of Japan's highest peak. But the weather is too foggy to see the peak. Gazing toward the horizon, Filipe touches his father's face with his left index finger, seemingly wanting to express himself.
"I long for him to be able to talk with me, to share what he's thinking and feeling," Luís Carlos said later, his wife sharing the same desire.
"But Filipe has been a great lesson in prayer for me," Luís Carlos said. "I've realized how important it is, as a son of God, to talk with my Heavenly Father."
Luís Carlos prays two hours daily, an hour in the morning and another hour at night.
"Everything begins with prayer," he said.
At night when Filipe is sleeping, sometimes Luís Carlos and Margarete slip into his bedroom and pray over him. Often, they've asked God to heal him. So far, that hasn't happened. But Filipe, unable to say "I love you," teaches his parents valuable lessons about love.
Because of Filipe's level of disability, Margarete says, "Filipe depends on us for just about everything. He's with us all the time. Being his parents has taught us a lot about unconditional love, God's love."
Their interaction with Filipe has also shown others -- whether believers the missionaries are discipling or lost people they're trying to reach -- a tangible picture of God's love in action.
That "picture" can even be seen on the Kakumus' Facebook pages, where they often post expressions of their deep love for Filipe and behind-the-scenes photos of their close-knit family of three.
In a post called "Unconditional Love," a series of photos shows Luís Carlos and Filipe walking side-by-side down a tree-lined path. "I will always be beside you, my son," Luís Carlos says in the message. "Let's walk together through life. I will love you and care for you for all my days."
On a Facebook page Margarete created to give Filipe a "voice," photos show him hugging church members, kissing his mother's cheek and cuddling with his father. Many autistic people don't like to show affection, but Filipe is unique.
A photo of Filipe with his arm around his mother is accompanied by the post, "My world is without borders, lies or deception. As it should be for everyone. Autistic or not. -- Filipe."
When Filipe was diagnosed with autism, his family's world changed forever. But God used the crisis for good. Although the Kakumus were Christians, they weren't serving in Japan as missionaries when the diagnosis came. They had emigrated from Brazil to Japan four years earlier to work in a Japanese automobile plant. When they learned Filipe had autism, they returned to Brazil to be near family and to get help for him from Portuguese-speaking professionals.
During those seven years back in Brazil, God called the Kakumus to global missions.
"God really used Filipe's autism to direct our lives and ministry. It's because of Filipe that we're here as missionaries in Japan," said Luís Carlos, who serves in a country where only about 1 percent of the people are evangelical Christians.
"My great dream is that God will do here in Japan what He did in Korea," said Luís Carlos, referencing the rapid church growth, fueled by prayer, that began there several decades ago. "Our prayer is that many, many people in Japan come to know the Lord as Savior and that there will be many strong churches all over Japan."
"We know God can do this," Luís Carlos said. "Nothing is impossible for Him."
Maria Elena Baseler is an IMB writer and editor living in the Americas.
The Kakumus now serve at Life International Church in Oyama, Japan, where Luís Carlos is assistant pastor. The church is affiliated with Convenção das Igrejas Batistas Independentes (Convention of Independent Baptist Churches) in Brazil and the Japan Evangelical Church of Christ. To learn more about the Kakumus' work in Japan, go to http://www.commissionstories.com/americas/stories/view/japanese-brazilian-serves-the-lord-in-land-of-his-ancestors.
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