When you arrive at the Karuizawa Retreat Center, it’s hard to believe you were in the largest city in the world just an hour ago. Trading the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a gorgeous and quiet resort town feels odd at first, but as you take a deep breath of mountain pine and stare at the beautiful mountains, it’s easy to feel at home, even if it’s your first time visiting.
Karuizawa is a small resort town known around Asia as a top destination for rest and refreshment. While it’s now known for hosting vacation homes of influential people around the world (like Bill Gates and, for a time, John Lennon and Yoko Ono), in the late 1800s missionaries were actually some of the first to settle the area and build summer cabins there.
It was then that TEAM missionaries purchased plots of land that became the Karuizawa Retreat Center.
Many of the cabins were built from the storage units originally used to ship their belongings from North America to Japan. Using just what they could find, missionaries built these small cabins with their own hands.
Summer after summer, these cabins were host to refreshment and renewal for TEAM missionary families. Because many missionaries moved often or went back and forth between Japan and North America, Karuizawa became the place that felt most like home to many families.
Nic Selander, whose grandparents and parents are missionaries in Japan, says this about the importance of the Retreat Center to his family:
“It’s where my grandfather went with his six kids, and we lived in the same cabin they were in. So not only were my growth heights marked on the walls, so were my aunt’s and uncle’s. It’s where I got my first summer job, where I got into trouble as a teen, where we could actually see stars at night. It’s where I learned about nature and God’s incredible creativity. It’s a part of what formed me, and a part of Karuizawa will always be with me.”
As time went on, missionaries who left for retirement left their cabins to TEAM Japan, and a vision began to form for a place of rest not just for TEAM missionaries, but for all Christians, ministry leaders, churches and missionaries from other organizations and of other nationalities.
Joel and Sally Kaufman, whose own family spent many summers enjoying their cabin, have led the way in growing the ministry of KRC in Asia.
“Activities have expanded at KRC in the past few years so much that the center is now being used by many missions, Japanese church groups and individuals for refreshment, encouragement, evangelism and training,” Sally says.
“For example, just this week, KRC hosted an evangelistic meeting, a mission group prayer meeting, a Korean church’s small group three-day retreat and a missionary in need of prayer and healing. Also this week, we have Bible students as guests, as well as three different Christian families on break, from three different nationalities!”
As Karuizawa Retreat Center ushers in this next stage of ministry, the staff has already begun to update the historic tiny homes with things such as heating and air conditioning. This makes each space not only more modern and livable, but also a place where even more guests can experience the refreshment and presence of God that TEAM missionaries have felt for so many years.
In another phase of development, the goal is to build a common area that could host larger groups for worship and teaching sessions.
As Sally shares about KRC’s past and future and describes the vision for sharing this space with a wider audience, the excitement is contagious. “We are excited to see how God can use this lovely place for his kingdom’s glory.”
This fall, you are invited to come experience the Karuizawa Retreat Center for yourself on the Celebrating Japan tour. To find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, click here now.