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]

Ready?

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.

Central Reason & Theme

They must have felt the curious stares of a thousand kimono-clad Japanese as they stepped off the ships at Yokohama port (photo today at left) in conspicuous western dresses and suitcoats. I wonder if the first Protestant missionaries to Japan didn’t silently ask themselves the question...

"What am I doing here again?"

It wasn’t really the ships that brought them in 1859. Just like it wasn’t the jet that brought us in 1999. We’re here in Kawasaki / Yokohama for one simple reason: the love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14).

Christ is both the compelling call upon our lives, and the redemptive thread who weaves through and holds together every random activity we’re about as missionaries -- and there’s a lot. Every meeting I fumble to lead, every worship service we plan, every Bible study I prepare (dictionary in hand), every church event I fret about, every hand in the hospital I hold in prayer, every wedding or funeral I conduct (thankfully, more weddings than funerals lately), every church bazaar flooded with visitors, every note sung in our gospel music workshops, every kids outreach, English Bible Class, prayer times, or church association face times.

I often look back at what we’ve done in the last few months (usually when writing this newsletter), and ask, “What’s the theme? What connected all those dots of activity? WHAT AM I DOING HERE AGAIN? And is it all really moving our mission vision forward?”

Then in quiet reflection, I realize that the central reason and theme is bigger than our tiny mission vision, or even church planting work. The center of it all, when you get down to it, is Christ: “Everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him” Col 1:16b.

So, I repent of having an overly pragmatic eye. Sure, I want it all to move a larger mission vision forward. But more than that, I want it all to move people to the center of it all: Christ. He is the axle and spokes of the wheel of this work. He is the best vision for this country. And the reason we’re here at all.

Yes, all those conversations held in my poor Japanese. All those kanji-filled (Japanese) emails written that Kaori lovingly corrected. All those messages in broken Japanese that make my wife giggle or sigh when I practice. All those prayers I stumbled through in my language inadequacy. All those reports, thank you notes to wonderful supporters, and newsletters. And especially that caramel macchiato I just sipped together with a new Japanese brother in Christ at the edge of the Tama river in view of Mt. Fuji.

It’s all about Christ. I wouldn’t be here without Him. I wouldn’t do it for any less reason than love for Him. He’s the central theme of it all.

Through that lens, I see the last few months of activity more clearly. Not everything moved along our vision as I wanted, but hundreds of people -- many who have never met a Christian in Japan -- were moved along to the center of it all, and pointed to the cross of Christ.

A recent conference we attended here (photo below) brought together missionaries from many different countries. 158 years later, new missionaries are still arriving in Japan. Far less from the west, though. In the thick of language and cultural stress, a flurry of ministry activities and mistakes, they no doubt will sometimes wonder, “What am I doing here again?”

The answer: Christ, the original missionary, came incarnate to earth, sacrificing all, to bring people to God. His model is the one that motivates us still. I am here by Him and for Him alone. Christ is the central reason and theme of it all.

May this truth guide our thoughts toward Christmas 2017!


Powerless!

I felt ridiculous. A white foreigner in Japan, shirt stained with engine grease, standing next to my disabled vehicle, in the traffic lane, waving an emergency flare. Only a police car’s flashing lights could have drawn more attention to my predicament. Oh, wait...he stopped by, too. Sigh...

Last week, what was intended to be a family break along the Yokohama bay, turned into a frightening breakdown under our Kawasaki expressway viaduct. The ol’ “green machine” (our Honda) just up and died right there in the traffic lane. No power to crank the engine and pull out of the way. No power for even emergency blinkers. I WAS POWERLESS!

POWERLESS. Japanese feel this way watching their neighbor North Korea launching missiles into the Sea of Japan, even lobbing one right over their heads in Hokkaido in the early morning hours of 8/29. Throughout the north, Japan’s September earthquake evacuation drills have now been replaced with missile evac- uation drills. But where does one flee an incoming missile?

POWERLESS. That was Kaori after twisting her ankle a few weeks back. The pain made it hard for her to even stand. A missed stair caused all kinds of grief. (Remarkably, the plateware she was carrying survived the trip down.)

Powerlessness. It’s a place we hate to go, but really need to visit often. Powerlessness reminds us of our utter dependence on God for life and work. As missionaries, we can study the language, prepare our lessons and messages, organize outreach, and give a bold witness. We can explain, persuade, counsel and invite. But we are ultimately powerless to change a person’s heart. God must work his power and move them to embrace the gospel. We know we’re powerless. So when someone in our church receives Christ in Japan, we know it was all God. He gets all the glory. We get the joy. The He whispers again:

“My power works best in your powerlessness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

A tow truck resolved our road emergency (for now). And some Epsom salt, an ankle support (I thanked Kaori for getting a new supporter -- but it was the wrong kind!) and family TLC ended Kaori’s pain. But our lessons in our human powerlessness and His divine power through us continue daily in our mission here. ... And that’s just where we need to be to see His work.


Toward Clearer Vision

My physical vision has been nowhere near 20/20 recently. Increasingly blurry vision in my right eye sent me to the eye doctor frequently in Japan, and then to a specialist while in the States for a few weeks in February. Sitting in the office of the retina specialist, I prayed like Elijah: 'Oh Lord, open (my) eyes that (I) may see.' You've sent me to a land with many tiny complex letters. I need good vision to see them clearly and do my preparation. Clear up that little pocket of fluid on the back of my eyeball, please."

The good news is that my vision will return if I'm careful to take a little pill a couple times a day. If that fails, there's always a long needle or laser waiting (Think I'll try the pills first). How's your vision? Is it 2020?

We've laid out our 2020 Vision toward which we really need your partnership. We want to see God glorified in Japan through the establishment of new churches, and are working with all our might toward this vision in Kawasaki on your and Christ's behalf. Would you take a few minutes to look through the vision pamphlet below. Could you be a part of it with us? [CLICK TO READ]


The Land Without Christmas

What if there were no Christmas? 

No REAL Christmas, at least. No one around you really knew what the holiday was about. Oh, there were some pretty decorations, tinsel and trees, and colored lights around. Here and there you’d hear jingle bells or see a Santa hat. But that hardly lifts the gloom that hangs about people trudging through daily fears, struggles and regrets. The real Christmas, the one about a Savior born to rescue mankind, bringing hope and joy to this life. That Christmas is unknown. Not ignored, U-N-K-N-O-W-N.

If you can imagine a time when Christmas is wiped clean from your everyday experience, thoughts and memories, you're getting close to understanding…

...this is Japan as it is now.

I’m always dumbfounded when a Japanese asks the sincere question, “Does Christmas have something to do with Jesus Christ?” “Are you kidding?” I think to myself. “How could you not know this?”

But then I realize: how do I know the real Christmas? Wasn’t it from the testimony of my Christian environment, together with family, friends, and church? None of this exists in Japan. So, it’s a land without Christmas.

But we believe in a different future for Japan!
What if someone who knew the real Christmas story brought it to this people? What if they shared how this Baby brought forgiveness, healing and purpose to this life, and hope for life eternal? Get ready for a big change. A truly Merry Christmas for many! Would you send someone to carry this good news, someone whose heart breaks for the people of this land?

Help send us with the message. 
We need monthly partners to close our support gap (see amount at bottom). Would you partner with us in 2017 for the cause of Christ, and for the change of Japanese people? So that Japan can know and enjoy a real Christmas!


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 Blue Light has Come?

This Christmas, Japan is aglow with big news. Big BLUE news. Three brilliant Japanese physicists, Hiroshi Amano, Isamu Akasaki and Shuji Nakamura, have been awarded a Nobel prize for their creation of the blue light-emitting diode (LED), a key to energy-efficient white light. Twinkling blue light displays throughout Tokyo commemorate the occasion. The faces of the three are splashed across media outlets. Interviews and guest appearances abound. The emperor confers a national award in a special ceremony at the Imperial Palace. Everyone who is anyone attends the galas. The people of Japan are celebrating the gift of light! The Nobel Prize committee declared, "This LED holds great promise...to increase the quality of life for billions of people."

The blue light has come? Big deal. The TRUE LIGHT has already come! It's Christ that truly "holds great promise to increase the quality of life for billions of people." Yet the arrival of our Savior was met with so little fanfare. No national awards. No invitation to the palace. No photo opps. No fan letters. No glitzy festivities. The only special invited guests were a stable of animals and some outcast shepherds.

And so it is up to us today, the people of the cross, to CELEBRATE the gift of Light. Just think! The Light of the World has dawned...for you! The illumining work of his Spirit flooded your darkened mind. God rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and made you a citizen of the kingdom of light. Your gloomy tomorrows were swept away by brilliant hope. There's no more need for groping along the dark alleys of life; now divine guidance lights your way. And the ominous shadow of death has been driven off by glorious resurrection hope. The dawn of TRUE LIGHT in our world and your life is cause for great celebration. So enjoy your Christmas!

And while celebrating, remember it's also up to us to SHARE this gift of Light. Nations and peoples are still "walking in darkness" (Isa 9:2). In Japan it adds up to more than 99% of the population.

There's a tinge of irony in Japan becoming a Nobel laureate for illumination. One also wonders why, in this spiritually dark country, the people are increasingly enraptured by massive seasonal light displays. Can it be that the Japanese are searching and fumbling through the darkness for a TRUE LIGHT that the Spirit whispers to them about? Already in the dark corners of Kawasaki, Japan, that True Light has dawned. In 2014, darkness fell just a little bit more in our corner of the world as people responded by faith in Christ to God's call on their heart. Together with you, we push back the darkness inch by inch. We proclaim the "Light of the World" with all the strength and capacity God gives. We claim the promise of Isaiah 51:4 that "nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

Blue LEDs? They might change something somewhere perhaps. But the TRUE LIGHT of the world? He'll change everything for sure! Let's celebrate Him. Let's share him. Merry Christmas!




How Do You See the World?

"That's not how the world is supposed to look at all!"

That's what I nearly shouted when I first saw that image on TV many years ago. The popular Japanese cartoon's intro theme had panned out from a Tokyo house, to gradually show the surrounding city, area, country, and then the entire globe...with Japan squarely at the center! My home continent was nowhere in sight.

Doesn't every cartographer know that North America should be around the center? Maps just look balanced that way! Google "world map" images and you'll see that the USA is always center left, while Japan is at the far periphery. But wait! Google "world map" in Japanese (世界図) and a whole new set of "strange" images comes up. Japan is at the center. All continents are at the periphery.

East or West, it seems that wherever you call home, that becomes center of all things for you. The Chinese name for their country literally means "middle kingdom." This name emerged from Chinese philosophy that believed China to be in the center of the earth. Not to be outdone, the Japanese name for their country literally means "origin of the sun." In 607, Prince Shotoko of Japan began a letter to China with the less than politically-correct greeting: "From the sovereign of the land of the rising sun to the sovereign of the land of the setting sun." Diplomatic relations may have yet to recover.

Let's face it. This me-at-the-center-of-things thinking has permeated human history since Adam and Eve. And it's made a real mess the world over. Some call it ethnocentrism. Others call it national or ethnic pride. Still others call it geo-politics or socio-economics. But when this thinking takes over, the Bible calls it sin. Because such thinking takes glory away from the True Center.

"At the center, Christ rules the church." Eph 1:20 MSG

God sees the world differently. Man is not at the center. Nations and kingdoms are not at the center. Christ is at the center. And his kingdom is at the center. He is the absolute middle by which we are to look at our world. What results is this:

"Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ." Eph 3:11 MSG

God does not divide up the world along geographic, cultural, socio-economic, or racial lines. He sees people only in relation to himself and his Son, Jesus. His children are either found or still lost. They are a part of his Son's kingdom or still outside of it. It's that simple.

Looking at the world with God's eyes will drive mission work. When we humbly realize that none of us was or is at the true center, our task becomes clear. We must reach out to people on the spiritual periphery, wherever they are found, and point them toward the true center, Christ.

So how do you see the world?


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



Jesus Rocks in Aomori, Japan

Many people in northern Aomori, Japan have discovered that Jesus really is a rock (not the Rock, unfortunately).

It seems that a recently discovered rock formation in a hidden alcove along Lake Towada roughly resembles the silhouette of Jesus. Hundreds of tourists are boarding boats to take a closer look. A YouTube video describes the scene.

The name of the lake begins with a Japanese letter that looks like a cross (十和田湖). That coincidental spelling bolsters the idea in the mind of some tourists that this rock is indeed religiously significant. Some have even suggested that this may have been a site of worship for Japan's hidden Christians during the brutal 16th century persecution.

Frankly, I'm not impressed when people discover religious shapes in moldy bread, mildew stains, or the like. My faith is neither built upon, nor deepened by, such nonsense. This "Jesus Rock" discovery fits the same category in my mind. However, if such random encounters can lead a Japanese person to consider Christianity for the first time, I suppose I am glad for it. As Paul put it, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way...Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice" (Philippians 1:18). (I would hope that the message of the Gospel would be filled out for that individual by an encounter with a Christian as well.)

While I'm underwhelmed at the "discovery," what does impress me is that Japanese people would think to make a connection with Jesus. Remember that Japan has the least number of Christians (0.5% of population) of any developed nation in the world. So, I could understand if looking at this rock they were to see the shape of a goblin from Japanese folklore (it is approaching Halloween in Japan, too). I could also understand if they were to see a demon-like gargoyle, like the dozens you spot at any shrine or temple in Japan. But Jesus?

Many examples of Japanese making such connections (don't forget about my post on the people in Shingo) with Christianity lead me to an optimistic outlook for missions in this country. Yes, it is regrettable that superstitions and syncretistic beliefs muddy the Gospel water so badly, but I am encouraged that:

1) Regardless of the odd context, at least the conversation on Christ has begun.
2) Regardless of the poor response to Christianity, at least someone has left a witness that led to this connection with Christ.
3) Regardless of the wrong place they are looking, at least they are looking for Christ, and continuing to look.

Naturally, I would hope that such oddball sightings would lead a Japanese to seek out solid truth presented to them by a Christian, in a church, or through a Bible. And perhaps they will. Who am I to say that God can't work that way? Perhaps these odd "discoveries" are small ways that God can find room to crack open the hardened Japanese heart just enough to, as the tourists looks at the rock, gently whisper, "You will look for me and find me when you look for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

May God lead many Japanese to the Rock of our Salvation.


Superstition & Mission (Part 1)

Put a broiled fishhead in your entryway. Pile salt just outside your front door. Avoid cutting your fingernails after dark. Paint your house neon yellow. Do not whistle at night. What do all these odd actions/non-actions have in common? They are ways to ward off bad luck in Japan.

Japan is filled with such superstitions. While some are modern urban legends, many come from the animistic roots of Japan's religious beliefs. The many (millions of) gods and evil spirits in nature are capricious and mischievous. They must be appeased or driven away lest they bring death or misfortune to oneself.

Many superstitions surround the fear of death and suffering. The numbers four and nine are unlucky because they are pronounced in the same way as death (shi) and suffering (ku). Hospitals avoid the use of these numbers for rooms and floors. You'll also never find a set of four dishes in Japan. Plateware comes in sets of three or five.



Japanese are careful to hide their thumbs when they see a funeral hearse. Not doing so will mean an early death for your parents. In Japanese, a thumb is called your parent finger (oyayubi). Protect your parents by protecting your parent finger.

Other actions that invite death include bringing potted flowers on a hospital visit (a play on the word for "root" in Japanese suggests the patient may not recover). Sticking chopsticks in your rice (this is only for funerals). Using a single chopstick in both hands (only done to pick up bones after cremation). Sleeping with your head toward the north (dead bodies are laid out in this direction). Being in the middle of a group of three when your picture is taken (you are in the best focus and the pull of the camera upon your spirit is the strongest).

I know you're asking by this point, "Do Japanese REALLY believe that?" Unfortunately the answer is yes. The culture is saturated with it. The selling of fortunes (uranai) in Japan is a major business. Horoscopes and numerology play a big part in the psyche of the Japanese people. The availability of such with the explosion of smart phones has greatly exacerbated the problem.

And so one of the challenges in our mission work in Japan is speaking to a culture that is filled with superstitious beliefs. How do we respond from the Bible?

The spiritual scene in Japan is not unlike the superstitious city of Ephesus. The people of Ephesus lived in the shadow of the great temple of Artemis (Diana). Priests and "miracle workers" abounded. Occult worship was everywhere. The city was preoccupied with the black arts. The worship of Artemis included prostitution and mutilation rituals. Into this city of magic and witchcraft comes Paul with a message of the true and living God. It is helpful to read the way that Paul speaks to the Ephesian church in this culture of superstition in his letter to them. Recently I read Ephesians afresh with this "addressing-a-culture-of-superstition" lens. Stop and take a few minutes to do the same. I'll share a few insights in a future post.

(TO BE CONTINUED)


50-50 Day

Only a mathematician could determine the exact day, but it's pretty close. It's 50-50 day. Having turned 41 last month, my life can probably be divided in half. The first half...God's preparation in my life for ministry in Japan. The second half...well, mostly made up of ministry in Japan.

It was at the "tender" age of 20 1/2 in the summer of 1990 that I first stepped foot in Japan as a short-term missionary. Getting off the plane to Tokyo, I had little idea as to the crossroads in life I stood at. God was about to change the focus of everything for me. His love for the Japanese people was about to become my own (His love for one in particular--Kaori Fukase--was about to become my own, too).

At 41, my life has been more about Japan, than about anything else short of Him and my family. At 41, my heart aches twice as much as it did at 20 1/2 to see the Japanese return to their Creator. My passion for the revival and harvest in this country is twice as strong. 20 1/2 years...20 1/2 more years from now I will be nearing retirement. "Lord, help me to use the time you have given me to reach many, many Japanese with your Gospel of good news. Use me up for Your glory and name's sake. May I make You famous in this country."


150 Years Later

This is cause for celebration! 150 years after isolationist Japan opens the port of Yokohama to the world and Protestant missionaries begin evangelism activities for the first time in Japan, Yokohama throws a massive celebration...for the opening of the port. Meanwhile in a footnote event known only to the Christians, the church celebrates 150 years of Protestant missions in Japan at a portside hall. This latter event is the one myself and several members of our church (photo above) chose to attend and be encouraged by.

Altogether around 14,000 believers attended the Protestant Missions 150th events and memorial over the two-day celebration in Yokohama. I wish the first missionaries could have seen the fruit of their work many years later! B&W photos of the 50th anniversary event show mostly foreigners and some Japanese believers gathered at a YMCA. Photos of the 100th anniversary event show a massive group of new post-war Japanese believers gathered in local stadium. And now the 150th events show even more growth.

Still, the fruit is hard to come by in Japan. Japanese pastors speaking at the event unanimously expressed disappointment that 150 years later, still less than 1% of Japanese are believers. They had hoped Japan would have been more responsive given so much time. One pastor mounted the platform and jokingly said "I think perhaps God must prefer kimchi to Japanese food." God has indeed poured out his Holy Spirit on Japan's neighbor of Korea and grown the church there in numbers and ways that Japanese believers could only dream of. "When will this kind of revival come to Japan? We have been waiting these 150 years. Lord, we are ready for it." cried another pastor in prayer.

In explaining the disparity of the way the church has grown in Korea and Japan, one pastor explained the difference to me this way: "Japanese care too much about what other people think. Koreans don't." I've seen this truth borne out in our church planting work. Time and again what others think makes a powerful difference in whether a curious Japanese will enter a church, or make a decision for Christ. And if they are able to overcome this and make a decision, what others think plays a role in whether they choose to be baptized. And after baptism, what others think affects how they grow in their faith. But I digress...

I was encouraged that the Japanese pastors and speakers at the event also unanimously expressed faith that God was and is carefully preparing a powerful foundation upon which he will build a great revival. "He has not discarded us!" singer and songwriter Chu Kosaka said. "He is SURELY at work in our hearts." The church in Japan received a great call and challenge for the next 50 years ahead. Let's expect that revival!


Teamwork

We're not in this alone. Although it may seem like it at times. The Conservative Baptist Association of churches in Japan has 60 years of history, 55 churches, a camp, a seminary, a mission agency, and a good group of very dedicated national pastors desiring to work together for the evangelization of Japan.

I've just returned from our three-day "Teamwork Meeting" about 7 hours northwest of Kawasaki. The campground it is held at is pictured at right. About 60 pastors, missionaries, and church staff gathered for the meetings.

In spite of the difficulty of the task of reaching their own people for Christ, among the many things that encourage me is the desire of Japanese believers to go outside their country borders, and reach those in other Asian countries with the gospel. Currently we have Japanese missionaries in Turkey, Peru, Congo, and Korea. Short term teams are being sent to Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Mongolia. When a mission field begins to explore what its mission fields are, maturity in Christ is demonstrated in a big way!


Missionary Christmas

“Don’t forget it’s Missionary Christmas today!” my mother reminded our church. “We want our missionaries to know that First Baptist remembers them.” My mother has always loved missionaries. For as long as I could remember she was involved with the missions committee. For much of that time, she served as chairman, working tirelessly to build awareness of God’s global cause.

I remember the many times we had missionary guests for Sunday dinner! (They had a foreign aftertaste). And of course, I remember needing to sleep on the sofa many Saturday nights because the Sunday missionary guest needed my bedroom. In some ways, I think I sacrificed for missions long before I ever became a missionary. Looking back, I realize now through my mother’s work, that God was really planting seeds in my heart for a future in Japan.

My mother continued “Don’t forget to sign the Christmas cards, everyone. We’ll be sending those with a small gift to all our missionaries.” Missionary Christmas...as a child in the pew, I often wondered why we did this in September. I knew that missionaries were an odd sort, and I supposed that perhaps they didn’t even know the world celebrates on December 25. Some time later I learned that the postal system in those countries could take a few months. “Missionary Christmas” slowly made sense.

These days, I am the recipient of those cards and gifts from supporting churches. But “Missionary Christmas” has taken on a very different meaning. There’s no greater job than being involved in a spiritual work in human lives. As a missionary, I’ve come to see God in new and more meaningful ways through the eyes of Japanese people. “Missionary Christmas” is the feeling that overwhelms me when I see one make a spiritual decision: to place their faith in Christ, to be baptized, to worship Him fervently, to serve Him joyfully.

I feel like a parent watching a child opening an incredible present as I see a Japanese understanding God’s love, worshipping him, or taking communion for the first time. Although I wasn’t the one receiving, I am a part of the joy of the person who has. And it’s Christmas all over again, any time of year.

Missionary service is hard work. Church planting is harder. But among the challenges, I know that God has great things He is waiting to surprise me with. I can’t wait to unwrap these gifts and find out what they might be. Serving the people I love, this is my wonderful gift from God, my “Missionary Christmas.” My next Christmas may be tomorrow. How about yours?!


WANTED: God's Light in the Dark Places

The change with Daylight Savings Time is probably a good time to be reminded of the many countries that remain in darkness. I am speaking, of course, of spiritual darkness. Japan would certainly rank among them. Its tiny, struggling church (less than 0.5%) faces the overwhelming task of being a light to the remaining 99.5%, or 126.5 million people in the country. Missiologists will tell you that believers in Japan, while struggling with a minority complex, have had a much greater witness than their small numbers would lead you to assume is possible.

There is great darkness in this country! There is a great need for people "turn on the light," providing hope and direction that points people to the Light of the World. There are no doubt easier countries to serve as a missionary, but each decision for Christ in Japan is that much sweeter. And the light of each witness for Christ is that much brighter against the darkness that surrounds him or her.

As for me: I like a challenge. I am determined to be that light the burns brightly here. And my light is needed much more here than back "home" in the States where believers are blessed with tremendous Christian opportunity, resources and input. I am challenged by the words of Hudson Taylor who said:

"I have but one candle of life to burn and would rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a land that is flooded with light."

By God's grace, I will be that person as well. How about you?


Thanks from Navotas to Denen

Although the church in Japan is a fraction of the size of those in neighboring Asian countries, Japanese Christians are blessed with economic resources. We been trying to encourage our church to look at the needs of their fellow brothers and sisters in Asia. This Christmas we were able to send eight large boxes of clothing, toys, and gifts to a church in the Philippines that ministers to a squatter community in Navotas, many of whom live among the dumps. The church and people were very grateful for Denen Grace Chapel's generosity. Kaori and I were proud to see our baby church begin to develop its own missional muscles. Here are some more pictures. Take a look!


"Mission Impossible" Meeting

Tonight was a great church planting meeting with fellow national pastors. Seven churches in our area have a vision for starting another church. As it is never too early to think about our next church planting work, I also participated. I was encouraged to hear honest fears overwhelmed by strong faith that "God can do this thing through us if we trust Him." There are many who are overwhelmed by the challenge of church planting in Japan. It is a hard country to work in as the harvest is slow to come. But God can do exceedingly more than we ever anticipate if we will but give those challenges to him. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." Mark 10:27


Guess Who Came to Church on Sunday?

We celebrated our 60th anniversary as a mission this past weekend! The first church planted by our mission (then CBFMS) was in Jumonji, Japan in 1947, shortly after WWII. Since then 85 churches have been started across northern Japan, the Tokyo area, and Kyushu totaling about 3500 believers.

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.


Love Sonata from Korea

Quick! What do you get when you mix a sports arena, 20,000 Japanese and Koreans, gospel and cultural music, and God's good news? Asians reaching Japanese for Christ! That's a powerful key to this country's revival. Several Korean churches in cooperation with the Japanese church are working together to conduct major evangelistic crusades in 5 large cities in Japan called "Love Sonata 2007." Last week was the crusade in Tokyo. Altogether with friends, 19 people attended from our church including 7 unbelievers who heard a powerful Gospel message.

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.


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