Our God, Eager to Save

Posted January 10, 2010

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded... [Read More]

The Humbled Tsunami

Posted December 2, 2011

When the warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether... [Read More]

Japanese Get "Bach" Hope

Posted September 21, 2011

Who would have thought Bach would be involved in 21st century mission work in Japan? I have frequently read with interest of the strong connection between classical music (particularly J.S. Bach) and Japanese interest... [Read More]

Tsunami Ground Zero

Posted April 7, 2011

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes... [Read More]

"Nice Try, Kevin" File

Posted February 9, 2011

This one goes into the "Nice try, Kevin" file. I just thought it was a nice-looking bunch of flowers in the storefront and, on the spur of the moment, decided Kaori deserved to enjoy them. Chrysanthemums, however, are... [Read More]

The Gulliver Complex

Posted November 9, 2007

I'm a giant again. Well, not really. But it sure feels like it again since returning from the States. The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any... [Read More]

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

Posted January 31, 2010

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a... [Read More]

More Powerful than Bombs

Posted July 5, 2008

Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's... [Read More]


Posted September 14, 2010

I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is... [Read More]

150 Years Later

Posted March 17, 2009

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all... [Read More]

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I for Japan. Japan for the World. The World for Christ. And All for the Glory of God.

— Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Evangelist

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Rambling Notes from Japan

Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.

Bridging the Gospel Gap

It’s Sunday and our rented room is filled again with people coming to hear a gospel singer. The hymn “Amazing Grace” is sung widely outside church in Japan. So today I recount the testimony of John Newton in my message. “What has God used in your life to get your attention, and make you aware of your need for grace in Christ?” I ask. “Even things like a missionary from Chicago with fumbling Japanese?”

Over the years of our Kawasaki church plant, this fumbling missionary (and very competent wife) have been able to share the gospel with many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unbelievers in our outreach activities. Some are just looking. Some will return and connect with the church. Some will soon be interested in a a Christianity for Beginners study. Still others we will never see again. Yet, God ordained that now, in this place, their lives intersect with the gospel and ourselves. The gap of those 99% still needing Christ is bridged just a little bit more.

Still, I bemoan the missed opportunities because of the gaps. At Denen Grace Chapel, we have many more people open to spiritual things than time and manpower to respond to them. Gaps.

This situation is repeated across Japan. There are sprawling communities without a church witness. There are countless churches without pastors (nearly a third). There are hundreds of tiny churches struggling to make an impact in their neighborhoods. There are many elderly pastors (like 84-year-old Pastor N. at right) looking for a replacement before they can retire.

There is only a small number of Christian schools, counseling, media, camps, and social and compassion work (like Wheelchairs of Hope at left). Leadership gap. Ministry gap. Financial gap. Gap. Gap. Gap. At times I feel like Nehemiah inspecting the broken wall filled with gaps. Who will help fix it?

Coming from a country of abundant Christian resources (USA), this disparity of the gospel in Japan is troubling to me.

It compels me to share this appeal:

1) Japan remains a mission field where the disparity of the gospel, and the spiritual opportunity, is as great as ever.

2) Our great God has called upon us, his church, to bridge the gospel gap.

Might you also help bridge the gap in Japan? Thanks for your partnership!

Even with limited resources and difficult circumstances (including post- disaster areas like Fukushima & Kumamoto), our Japanese colleagues work tirelessly and passionately for the cause of Christ. Praise God for faithful workers in his harvest fields!

The 50th-Year Jubilee

Christian workers in Japan heave a sigh when it comes to the task of reaching the other 99%. Many challenges and few results test the faith of even the most patient missionaries. But then God makes it grow...

Fukushima is hardly a place to celebrate. It’s ground zero for the 311 nuclear disaster. Radiation fears sparked a mass evacuation. Ghost towns abound. But on September 14th, the city became a festive place once again. The body of Christ gathered here for a special reason: our association of Baptist churches turned 50 years old, now with over 3800 members in 54 churches from Tohoku to Tokyo. It’s our year of jubilee! [Photo: our group from Denen Grace]

As part of this 50th Anniversary Celebration, we broke the norms. Instead of the usual slate of speakers, we enjoyed a talent show from our member churches that included gospel music, karate, hula and handbells. All this was set in a Japanese quiz show format in which the audience was invited (with colored paper) to test their knowledge of our churches’ history [see photo at right]. Our own church plant was featured and one of our members even won top prize!

It was humbling to learn that many of our churches trace their roots back to American missionaries who came and planted seeds. Setbacks, language bloopers and cultural missteps? Yes! Plenty! “But God made it grow” (1 Cor 3:6). This group of 500 believers gathered in Fukushima are a testimony to God’s harvest work!

Volunteering Once More in Miyako

Looking out from atop the stairways of the pristine Jodogahama beach, you wouldn't think that anything tragic could possibly occur here. The surroundings are simply too idyllic. <View Photo Gallery>

Clear blue ocean water laps gently ashore. Sun glints off gorgeous white rock formations and cliffs that enclose the bay. Sightseers laugh aboard the many boats exploring caves and shoreline. This scenic sanctuary is panoramic eye candy. You can easily see why it is the pride of Miyako. In spite of its remote location, the beach attracts many people to an area that is otherwise just another set of fishing towns along the Iwate coastline.

Looking out from atop another stone formation -- a manmade seawall -- just a few kilometers away, you quickly realize that something went horribly wrong here. The double wall expected to protect the town of Taro was crushed to pieces by the tsunami of 311. The town was washed away, people and property lost for good. Tall grass and weeds now cover barren foundations where houses once stood. You feel the weight of  sadness and despair that survivors have needed to work through these past couple years.

Our volunteer team of 7 from Denen Grace Chapel once again had the joy of spending time among these survivors in the temporary housing areas around Miyako. More than two and a half years later, smiles come more easily and hearts are just a little more open. In two different locations, we first went door to door with a small gift (bookmark with Bible verse, rice cracker and candy) and invited residents to our cafe in the central meeting room. Here we offered a program of food (we made lots of sandwiches), coffee/tea, special music and karaoke, and bingo. I learned that the game of bingo is a serious matter among residents when prizes (daily consumables) are involved.

VBS kids from First Baptist Church of Little Falls, NY had sent candy and prepared many encouraging letters for us to distribute. We translated many of these cards and letters and passed them out with the candy to the residents. The American candy was a big hit. Residents commented that it tasted "refreshing" and were touched that so many strangers remembered them.

A time of singing with residents included familiar folk songs and hymns, and -- in an experiment -- Christian lyrics set to well-known Japanese tunes. Residents sang them eagerly. I think we may have created a new stream of contextualized Christian music. <View Photo Gallery>

Our local church partnership for this work was Miyako Community Church. This church, with the help of many volunteers, has ministered to most of the 60+ temporary housing areas on an ongoing basis. For the church's Sunday worship service, our team prepared the music and special numbers. I (Kevin) preached a message on "Our Burden-Bearing Good Shepherd" to give Pastor Iwatsuka a needed break. A few residents from temporary housing were also in attendance. We enjoyed a beef curry lunch together afterwards. <View Photo Gallery>

Our team also performed special music on stage for an outdoor community festival in Miyako under threatening skies. Pastor Iwatsuka said that up until a few years ago the church was not allowed to participate in the community festival. But now, after seeing the faithful work of volunteers since 311, the organizers urged the church to contribute to the outdoor program. What a turnaround!

I was proud of our worship team leader's bold and thorough explanation of what the gospel lyrics meant as she introduced each song. We distributed lyric sheets -- along with a lot of American candy -- and sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" together with the gathered crowd. This song was the final act of the festival. No sooner had the team finished than the rain began to pour down. It was as though heaven cried.

It was a long road trip to Miyako. Ironically, it takes less time to go to Chicago from Kawasaki than it does to go to the temporary housing areas of Iwate. But we'd go back in a heartbeat. God has not left these people alone. He is reaching out to them through the hands and feet of his church volunteering there. And we sensed His love and renewing work in the hearts of people all around us. <View Photo Gallery>

Our family leaves for the States in just a few weeks. But after our return from the States in 2014, we look forward to visiting again. I can't wait to see what things of beauty God will do next in this place of past tragedy! See you again soon, Miyako!

Give Me this Mountain

I’m taking another step upward, steep and obscure though the path may be.

If I knew how hard it would be back when we started out, I might never have tried at all! Whether church planting in Japan, or mountain climbing in her Southern Alps, you have to be just a little stubborn or crazy to attempt either. An overnight hike last week with Justen was sort of a condensed metaphor for 15 years of work here: hard, tiring, unsure at times, but glorious! What kept us moving up Mount Kita is what keeps us moving forward in missions: envisioning that glorious destination. 

Our father-son hike last year was Mount Fuji. This year we decided to conquer Japan’s number two, all 11,000 feet of her. Given my level of fitness and expertise, I use the term “conquer” very loosely. The truth is that Mt. Kita put us through some major pain. But what glorious suffering it turned out to be!

At times it seemed that everything around was encouraging our upward steps. Tree roots and stones arranged themselves into natural staircases. Branches reached down to form handrails. Stumps offered places to rest. A cool stream with waterfalls acted as an air conditioner. And breathtaking vistas around every bend coaxed the “wow” right out of us. 

At other times (okay, the majority of the time), we wondered if we’d make it. We doubted we might. We had missed our bus to the trailhead and gotten a late start. Our equipment was amateur grade at best. Our physical fitness was questionable (okay, just mine). Wet rocks sent us skidding and slipping. Light drizzle sent us scrambling for raingear. And then a cloudburst sent the temperatures down. We still had hours to go and less and less daylight to fit it all in. Would we get lost, frozen, dehydrated, attacked by animals? Why were there no more fellow hikers around? Was this still the right path to follow? One begins to wonder.

What was particularly discouraging, however, was that a view of our destination was shrouded by mist and fog. Somewhere up in those clouds was the top. And on the top was a mountain hut with our name in their reservation book. But where? How much higher? We hadn’t seen a signpost in ages, and the relentlessly steep path offered no clue as to how much further it might go on. We trudge along, bone weary, wet and sore. 

The final straw is a fork in the path not on our map. Now which way? And where’s a sign when you need one?! Justen looks at me. I look at him. We both look around and shrug helplessly. I can see the headlines in the papers back home: “Missionary to Japan Dies Atop Mt. Kita. Son Carries Body Back Down.”

Then I remember my cell phone. There’s no service in such remote places, but I hopefully dial the number anyway. My jaw drops when it rings and a cheery woman answers, “Hello, this is mountain hut Katanogoya.” I blurt out our situation. We’re late. We’re confused. We’re wet. We’re hungry.

The woman tells us to follow the path to the right. “Just a little bit further up, when you hit the ridge line, you’ll be able to see clearly. You’ll understand then.” Rejoicing a bit, we set off again.

I envision our destination. It’s a place with glorious views of the multiple mountain ranges all around. A dry place to rest with a warm meal waiting. The night sky from 3000m will be a sheet of stars. Tonight we’ll see the milky way. Tomorrow we’ll watch the sun rise over a sea of clouds. Mount Fuji will be visible in the distance. And we’ll take some gorgeous snapshots of a great memory.

And so, we keep moving through our fatigue toward that destination. I can’t see it yet, but my mind has gotten a glimpse. We make it to the ridge line. And just like the woman said, the clouds fall away and we see clearly the mountain hut near the summit. There is still a treacherous ridge to navigate, but we are well on our way toward getting there. And I know we will.

I suppose just about any mountain climbing experience is a metaphor for ministry (and many aspects of life, for that matter). I pray like Caleb, “Give me this mountain (Joshua 14:12). I want to see your kingdom established in this difficult land. I want to see your name glorified in a new gathering of your people. Build your church for your name’s sake right here in Kawasaki.”

And God does. But he never lets me see too much of what’s going on all around me. Parts of his plan, part of our church plant’s future, seem shrouded in clouds of mystery. I’m waiting for a sign. I’m tired. I’m discouraged. I make the call to him. He guides me to a summit experience where I see clearly the way the path goes, and, more importantly, from where it came. I understand. And I trust him anew for the treacherous journey to the next summit.

I’m not at my destination yet. Nor is our church plant at its destination. Our tiny church has grown several times over. But there are people yet to believe, yet to be baptized, yet to grow up in their faith. There are ministries I like to start. People I’d like to point to Christ. Places I’d like to begin a Bible study group. I’m not there yet. But I can envision the glorious things that are waiting ahead for me to see and enjoy. I can envision the people that might be, will be, changed forever. My mind is developing the snapshots already.

So I’m treading on. I’m taking another step upward.

“The Sovereign LORD is my strength...he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19

Bowling Japan Style

Once in a while it's important to come together as church family for something fun. Seeing each other outside of the church context can be a healthy change. Today ten of us got together for a bowling and dinner party. Our home is a stone's throw from one of the largest bowling alley's in Kanagawa, so the place was a easy choice.

We discovered that none of us has much of a latent talent in this sport. Breaking 100 was a big deal. But it is refreshing when Japanese get together like this and clap and cheer each other on even when the person has thrown a dozen straight gutters. There is something that Japanese do better in the area of togetherness and community that I have learned much from. The competitiveness is still a part of things, but the emphasis on teamwork is so much greater in just about any Japanese sport.

When asked what fun sport we can do as a church next, someone in our group suggested a marathon run. Hmmm. Not quite sure on that, but I am sure it would be done in a group-oriented Japanese way.

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