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.
Living Water for Thirsty Souls
Speaking of living water, it is interesting to note that the "bottled water" fad is no bigger than right here in Japan. More research has been done on drinking water in Japan than anywhere else. One company produces a bottled water called "Kangen." It's name means "return to the origin." The idea is that this water is a return to the origins of true water as found on the earth in nature before it was polluted by man. The claim is that it will also help your body to return to its original condition when you were young.
That's a pretty big claim. And I seriously doubt it is possible for it to live up to that. Good thing we've a source living water that works better. The supplier is none other than Christ himself who makes a really big claim as well for those who drink it: "The water I give will become a spring of water welling up in him to eternal life." That's the kind of water the thirsty Japanese soul needs! Help me, Lord, to lead Japanese people to its source.
"Where the river flows everything will live." (Ez 47:9)
1) The jetlag (14 hrs. difference from Chicago time) is one of the first and largest obstacles. For the first several days no matter how hard we tried, we were wide awake at 3 and 4am. And dead tired by dinnertime. They say it takes one day to adjust your body for every hour of difference. That would mean it will take another week yet. I'll have to say, though, I've never gotten so much done before breakfast before in my life.
2) The climate here is another adjustment. It is insufferably hot and humid right now in Japan. It saps your energy and makes you wish for a midday nap, which would no doubt only complicate number 1 above. Today, a mild earthquake hit the area. We thought at first that it was the heavy equipment at the construction site adjacent to our house. A large steel structure is going up (skeleton for new 4-story apartment). The noise would stop us from napping anyhow.
3) Then, of course, there are the many language and cultural adjustments. It seems the new and trendy words I've learned while in the States have displaced in my head an equal number of important and common words in Japanese (I might need a RAM upgrade soon).
On top of this is the work of reconnecting with things in a myriad of small ways that are necessary for everyday life (important stuff like restocking the fridge with my favorite ice cream, for example). And unpacking, cleaning the house, etc. etc. All that needs to be done in the middle of an already busy schedule for us. We've hit the ground running in several ways that make 1, 2 & 3 above a bit more challenging. Tomorrow we leave with some teens for a 3-day camp near Mt. Fuji. It will, at least, be cooler in that area.
Keep up your prayers for the Lavermans as we work through these adjustments over the next few weeks!
Bath or Baptism? (Part 2)
Baptisms in Japan, let alone decisions for Christ, are still too few and far between. The challenge of reaching even a small percentage of this country for Christ has been one that deeply discourages many a missionary. Recently I read that 99% of the missionary force serves in countries where at a majority of the population are believers. With Japan's 0.5%, I'm not sure whether that would make us the bottom (or top?) 1%, but it is a challenging field and a challenging work. So, today was a great day of victory.
During the baptism celebration lunch, our "international division" at church sang choruses of a song in Hindi, English, Indonesian, French and Japanese as a reminder that we are different people (and nations) in one body under Christ. It was a taste of heaven, where peoples of all nations will surround the throne of our God and Savior with collective praise. Keeping that image alive in our minds is an inspiration in the challenging field. Click the image (above) to see the whole baptism celebration group.
Bath or Baptism?
Then the thought occurred..."What if we were able to use the local public bathhouse?" Public bathhouses in Japan are still quite common, as many small urban apartments do not have space for a bath tub or shower. Typically a male or female only bathhouse can handle 20 - 30 bathers at a time with individual faucets for each, and a collective tub for everyone (okay, you'll have to see one to understand the idea).
It would be extremely unlikely the owner would agree to something like that. They've no understanding of Christianity, let alone what a baptism is. It would come across as an odd religious thing. With the many radical new religious groups in Japan, Japanese have a heightened adversion to getting involved with religious things period.
Well, God goes ahead and opens impossible doors for us when we knock on them in faith. Amazingly, the owner of our local bathhouse agreed to let us use the facility exclusively on a Sunday morning for a baptism. Of course, he expects to collect 400 yen a head.
Clearly there was some initial confusion about what a baptism was on his part. He wanted to know, "So, will all the people from your church being getting into the bath together?" "No," we assured him. "Just one. And even he will be wearing clothes." "Oh." he replied, "but if you're paying you should take a bath together anyway." Well, that would be a level of Christian fellowship we're not really ready for.
Thanks from Navotas to Denen
It was great to share with them the simple story of Christmas. It is also encouraging to see our church continuing to come together in ministry, particularly outside of its comfort zone. Our group of young Christians still has much to understand about its role as light in the darkness of Japan, but at least we are blinking very brightly these days.
In November, our church hosted an outreach made for Japan. One of our ladies in church is a gifted calligrapher. She taught a class on how to prepare the traditional yearend POSTCARDS using Japanese brush design! This type of Japanese calligraphy is very hard to emulate, much less read, when it is done correctly. But it is a respected and beautiful part of Japanese culture and tradition.
Kaori spoke on the Biblical roots of some of these letters, giving a good gospel message that was well-received by the group. We had a good turnout: 22 people, including 14 unbelievers.
Many of the Japanese letters contain Christian ideas. For example, the Japanese character for "righteousness" pictures the symbol for lamb covering the symbol for myself. The character for "forgiveness" includes the symbol of beating and the symbol for red (blood). The character for "tree" includes a person and a cross. There's a story to be told that dovetails with the gospel message.
Why are these ideas in the language? It is thought that the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel into Asia, including parts of China. Japanese borrows heavily upon the Chinese writing system.
We were surrounded by other families enjoying the day outdoors, but our focus was on our own family today...we enjoying being together as a church. After a time of singing, message, and worship, we enjoyed a few simple games together, then a meal, then sports and more games. It was fun to interact with people in different ways (hitting some balls, kicking a soccer ball around, and games like the one shown above) and in a different setting (in the middle of God's great creation). We even had a first-time visitor, a mom with her three kids came and joined us from the worship time!
Everything is Possible with God!
Mrs. Nakamura examined Christianity with us seriously, but seemed to be troubled by things. Then one day a breakthrough: “Kevin, I've been trying to understand Christ with just my head, but I know now that I need to accept Him with my heart...by faith.” From the house I assumed was lost to the clutches of Buddhism, God had been calling His child, Mrs. Nakamura for a long time. In our living room September 2007, He welcomed her to himself as she placed her faith in Jesus!
“Humanly speaking, it [missions in Japan] is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God!” Mark 10:27 NLT
Guess Who Came to Church on Sunday?
As part of the 60th anniversary celebration, Hans Finzel, president of of our mission, WorldVenture, came to Japan and spoke at several gatherings, including our humble church plant, Denen Grace Chapel. We were privileged to have Hans and his son, Jeremy, spend the day with us. Hans shared a message with us from Luke 5:1-11 and spoke on the "long chain of partnership" (the many missionaries to Japan from our mission since 1947) that has served as a foundation for the harvest work we are part of here. As a living example of this chain of partnership, Betty Duncan (seated next to Hans in photo), who served for many years as a WorldVenture missionary in the Fukushima area, also joined our service along with her son. Our people were thrilled to interact with both Hans and Betty. We really do have a great heritage as a mission here. Kaori and I are honored to be a part of this chain of partnership.
Hey Youth! Let's Go Camping!
We arrived safely, made something to eat, had our meeting, and retired to bed to listen to the rain pound on the walls of our cabins all night. It was quite a weather experience. But the next two days were the complete opposite. After the typhoon did its worst, God showed his best. The sun and clear blue skies along with cool fall-like weather were the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities, like cycling in this picture (Mt. Fuji in the background).
Two kids (half of our group) were not believers. It was a great time for them to take some steps toward God. We had a great set of meetings and wonderful outdoor activities. Thank you, Lord, for taking care of our group! Today was Sunday and I was pretty wiped out already, but sanctuary setup, Sunday School, Worship Service, lunch, and Gospel Music Workshop people needed our full engagement. It is a good fatigue that I am feeling.
"I Choose Jesus"
You Give me a Bat; I Give you a Drink
On the way back home, I decided that the "missionary thing to do" (the Christlike thing, more like), would be to show him a little grace. It was a hot day, so I bought a nice cold drink from the vending machine and, being careful to park a distance away, walked it up to his office. He froze when he saw me come in. I think he actually wondered if I came back with my own bat. It felt great to graciously apologize for using his parking lot, and place the drink on the counter in front of him. Christ's words in Romans 12:20 are always good advice.
Park Stuff Here
It doesn't take long to accumulate stuff in life, but getting rid of it in Japan is not easy. You can't throw it away without paying extra fees, or breaking it down into its component pieces: plastic, glass, metal, etc. And you can rarely sell it. Having a place to park unwanted stuff would be nice.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a place like this to park the stuff of life, the baggage that weighs us down. But wait! That's what Christ came to do! No need to pay extra! "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. In other words, Jesus says to us, "Park your stuff here! On me! Your hurts and pains and sorrow. I'll take them all without cost. Then give you blessed freedom and peace in their place."
Seeing only Half the Show
I found a restaurant in our neighborhood that actually serves what they call "American" hotdogs. It does indeed look like an American hotdog. The bun is a plain white one. And the dog is short, thick and juicy (not the long, skinny Japanese kind.). It even comes with packs of Heinz ketchup and mustard, unlike the Japanese mustard that is some hot Chinese dristan type that clears your sinuses.
The crowd along the river was estimated to be in the hundred thousands, so we distanced ourselves by watching from a park a half kilometer away. Lawnchairs, hotdogs and chips in tow, we watched the show. Felt just like the Fourth of July, but this was August in Japan to be sure.
This year both Kawasaki and Setagaya had their fireworks shows simultaneously along the river as part of a combined coordinated show. Unfortunately it was impossible from our viewing angle to see both parts of the show at the same time. One was immediately in front of us, the other directly behind and to our right. The couple of hundred of others in the park had the same difficulty. Some and oohhed and aaahhhed at the fantastic display in front of them, only to miss the fireworks going off behind them. Some tried flipping their attention both ways and probably went home with a very sore neck. There was no way to see the whole show at once.
This reminded me of how limited our perspective can be as humans when it comes to God's Firework Show: his fantastic work in multiple places all at once. In fact, he is at work in billions of lives at the same time around the globe, yet our focus so often is only on the one life here, or there, that we seem His hand at work, and even that is a limited perspective. How limitlessly more fantastic the show would be for us if we had a broader perspective. If, for even one moment, God were to give us a birdseye view of all He is doing, I know we would certainly join the angels in saying "Holy holy holy!" He is powerfully at work in so many places. Being a missionary has opened my eyes to just a bit of this reality.
Gospel Boom Keeps Booming
Dog Days of Summer
Japanese people love their small dogs. Pets are pampered quite well in Japan. Occassionally I will pass a young couple on the street pushing a stroller. One might expect to see a cute baby inside, but many times it is a pup that's getting the pushing! Yes, even dogs get their own transportation in Japan.
Love Sonata from Korea
As I attended I realized I was witnessing the future of missions. The Western church and its missionaries, while still having a critical role here, are no longer the only players in the mission movement. Actually, long-term Western missionaries are in the decline in the East. The Asian church is beginning to mature and reach itself. There was no Billy Graham in this crusade. In fact, noticeably absent were any white faces on the center platform of the packed arena. Interpretation was done from Korean into Japanese!
I was both inspired and humbled, renewed and challenged in my own role as a messenger of the Gospel here in this country. It is great to see God at work in raising up new leaders in the mission movement.