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.

When it Comes to Christmas, Japan "Takes the Cake"

When Japanese in Tokyo dream of a “white” Christmas, it can only be made of cream frosting...over yellow sponge cake...with red strawberries on top. For Japanese, strawberry shortcake is the essence of Christmas. Here in Kawasaki, the Christmas cake order forms from local bakeries fill our mailbox from late October. For those who dislike the long December 24th pickup lines, home delivery is possible. Tiny brand name shortcakes can set you back $50 or more!

Blame it on Western influence. It’s said that the founder of Fujiya Food Service, Fujii Rinemon, first got the idea during a Christmas visit to the States in the 1920’s. Fujiya has sold the Christmas cakes ever since, although it’s only been the last 20 years when they fully took root in Japan’s Christmas psyche. Now, 75% of Japanese say they must eat Christmas cake!

Just think...if Fujii had visited a church instead of a cake shop, the Christmas story might be very different in Japan today. Missionaries like me often wonder why Japanese find the cake to be so compelling of a Christmas image, while the baby Jesus is so foreign (I challenge you to come and find Christ anywhere at Christmas in Kawasaki).

Japanese have long been eager adopters. They pick and choose from other cultures those elements they enjoy, and discard the rest. But who would discard the baby Jesus for cheap white frosting? If only Japanese knew the real value of each. But then again, do we? American Christmas values may not be so far behind the white frosting of secular Japan. Unless we decide differently.

My Christmas dream is that nativity sets will replace shortcake as Japan’s new Christmas craze. My prayer is that you and I, too, will treasure the baby Christ much more than just the “frosted” fun this Christmas.



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!




Christmas is all about KFC

Japan spells Christmas with three "finger-lickin' good" letters: K-F-C. Move over sushi and wasabi, fried chicken is the main course on Tokyo tables at Christmastime.

The roots of this craze go back four decades. On a Christmas day in the early 1970's, foreigners in Japan flooded the newly-opened KFCs, gobbling up the colonel's best recipe. It was a poor substitute for the visions of golden-brown turkeys that danced in their heads, but it was the only crispy bird to be had around. A shrewd KFC manager watching the foreigner stampede saw yen signs. In 1974, the company presented its first Christmas meal: chicken and wine for $10. It sold well in spite of being costly for its time.

Today, a family bucket will set you back $40. Still, the Christmas fried chicken fad has taken root in a big way in Japan. A quarter million buckets (or boxes) of chicken will be sold on Christmas day alone. A savvy marketing blitz helps. Weeks ahead of time, a flurry of coupons fill mailboxes of urban homes. TV ads feature Japanese children in Santa hats (and with KFC barrels in hand) dancing about to catchy jingles. Even the revered statue of the colonel in front of KFC stores gets dressed up in a Santa suit (somehow it fits his mystique). Stores take orders four weeks in advance. Long lines form early on Christmas eve to pick up the crispy parcels. KFC has become the go-to meal at Christmastime.

Colonel Sanders would roll over in his grave if he knew that KFC has become the focus of Christmas in Japan. You see, he became a born-again Christian late in life. He knew the focus of the celebration was Christ. We do, too. Right?

I've missed a few Christmases in America. Christmas 2013 is our first in 10 years. And I've come to a conclusion after spending Christmas in Japan for awhile and now being home on furlough. I don't know whether it's really true that "Nobody does chicken like KFC." But it's definitely true that "Nobody does Christmas like America." The music and concerts, the lights and decorations, the get-togethers and endless food, the TV specials and store sales...the celebration runs the gamut from dreamy and reflective, to bustling and hectic, to grand and breathtaking. We know how to do Christmas! But we also know how to lose our focus in the whole celebration.

It turns out that Christmas really is all about KFC. That is, Keeping the Focus on Christ. Time with family and friends, twinkling decorations, tasty food, thoughtful gifts are all wonderful trimmings. But we lose out on the main course if we miss worshipping the One whose birthday celebration it really is.

When it comes to Christmas, it might be too much to ask that America would simply scale it back, tone it down, or turn some of it off. Simpler celebration doesn't seem to fit our bigger and better sensibilities. But at the very least we can individually take time to simply worship him. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts sanctify him as Lord." In the middle of it all, choose things that will draw you into worship of Him. And choose to see the rest in a new worshipful way. Choose to let the light displays remind you of the Light of the World who came and "gives light to every man" (Jn 1:9). Choose to let the table spread with food remind you of the Bread of Life who came and "gives life to the world" (Jn 6:33). And, of course, choose to let the presents (however quirky they may be) remind you of the "indescribable gift" (2 Co 9:15) who came to give forgiveness and cleansing, adoption into God's family, a place in eternity, and he himself to us.

Let the things of Christmas amplify and not distract your worship of Him. KFC. Keep the Focus on Christ. And that's what will really make Christmas "so good!" (KFC pun intended)

P.S. — Anyone want some Japanese KFC coupons?


Why I Was Born


I was born naked, Jesus says,
So that you would know how to be stripped of yourself.
I was born poor,
so that you would consider me your only treasure.
I was born in a stable
So that you would learn how to sanctify every environment.

I was born weak, Jesus says
So that you would have no fear of me.
I was born for love
So that you would never doubt my love.
I was born in the night
So that you may believe that I am able to enlighten every reality.

I was born a human, Jesus says,
So that you would never be embarrassed to be yourself.
I was born human
So that you would be able to be divine.
I was born persecuted
So that you would be able to accept difficulties.

I was born in simplicity
so that you would stop being complicated.
I was born in your life, Jesus says,
In order to bring all into my Father’s house!

- written by Lambert Noben


神は言われる。
わたしは裸で生まれた
あなたが自我を脱ぎ捨てるために。
わたしは貧者に生まれた
あなたがわたしを唯一の富と見なすために
わたしは馬小屋で生まれた
あなたがどんな場所をも聖とするために

神は言われる。
わたしは弱者に生まれた
あなたがわたしを怖がらないように
わたしは愛のために生まれた
あなたがわたしの愛を疑わないように
わたしは夜中に生まれた
わたしがどんな現実でも照らせることを
あなたに知ってもらうために

神は言われる。
わたしは人間として生まれた
あなたが神の子となるために
わたしは被害者に生まれた
あなたが困難を受け入れるために
わたしは質素な者に生まれた
あなたが装飾を捨てるために

神は言われる。わたしはあなたの中に生まれた
あなたをとおしあなたと共に
すべての人を父の家に連れていくために。



And Heaven and Nature Sing!

The gospel music boom in Japan just keeps on growing and growing. We've tried to redeem this cultural phenomenon for outreach. This past week, 300 hundred filled the stage of Aoyama University near us for a Christmas Gospel Concert. Twelve of our choir members are in this massive group, 98% of whom are not Christian.

Many interested in singing gospel music come to understand Christianity through our gospel workshops at church on Sunday afternoons. These always include a Bible time, in addition to the rehearsal and singing techniques taught. This outreach definitely hits the cognitive and affective dimensions of man: while they learn with their head about the true Gospel message, their heart is being powerfully stirred as they sing.

But you have to listen to understand. So listen to the group in this video above sing, "He has done marvelous things! Praise the Lord!"




Joy to the World


It was right there on our mall store window. For most Japanese passers by, it was meaningless decorative lettering. But in a world where the sacred and secular rarely meet, the presence of these words spun me in my steps. What's more, this is Japan! You won't find talk or sight of the Lord Jesus ANYWHERE at Christmas time. My unofficial poll numbers show a 99% ignorance level concerning Christmas day. If pressed, Japanese kids will adamantly insist that December 25th is the day that Santa was born (or died).

But then I spotted it. On another sign immediately below "the Lord is come" on a rack of winter clothing styles was posted "New Arrival" (see yellow arrow above; click to enlarge). The juxtaposition of these signs made me grin. "This storefront could start another cult," I laughed. But after reflecting a moment, I decided to take the words as a bit of prophetic hope for Japan. Some 2000 years this side of the first arrival of Christ, the Spirit of Christ does come again and again to Japan, convicting this nation of sin, righteousness and judgement. And every heart that opens to him from stylish Tokyo to 311-struck Tohoku experiences a brand "new arrival" from the Ancient of Days. We missionaries dream of the day Jesus will be the new style in Japan.

Our prayer this Christmas is that many Japanese will experience the "new arrival" of Christ into their hearts and lives! Please pray along with us and for us. 


Merry Halloween?

It doesn't take long in Japan to discover that many holidays have crossed the ocean. One also soon discovers that the way these holidays are celebrated is very different than one's own experience. Japanese tend to be very eclectic, adopting a variety of styles, tastes and customs from many cultures, but always adapting them to suit their unique tastes. Borrowed holidays are a pretty "mixed up" affair here. 

This American foreigner was intrigued to discover that Japanese turned Valentine's day into two separate events in February and March, one for boys and another for girls. Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. And the Christmas cake, not ham or turkey, is the main eating attraction.

Several years ago Halloween began to become more popular in Japan. While I have mixed feelings about this holiday coming to Japan, it brings a flavor of home to see pumpkins and fall decor in stores. But I have to draw the line at the new greeting this year printed on Halloween goods and decorations everywhere: "Merry Halloween." I hope it is a one-year anomaly coming from some confused supplier somewhere in Asia, but I have the feeling it's going to become a fixed part of the local vocab.

I can see where this mixed up holiday trend is going in Japan. So someday when a Japanese wishes you a "Happy Christmas" in a card with a picture of a Mickey Mouse cake on it, you will know where it started.



Christmas rescue

Overheard this past week in the Laverman house:

Kevin: "Kaori, look at this great labelmaker I picked up for free."

Kaori: "Where'd you get it?"

Kevin: "It was just laying out on the garbage pile."

Kaori: "Garbage pile?!"

Kevin: "Someone just threw it away. I cleaned it up, put in fresh batteries, and it works fine! It even has a label cartridge in it. I wanted one like this."

Kaori: "You picked it up? In Japan, that's called STEALING."

Kevin: "From the garbage pile? To me that's called RESCUING!"

It's amazing the things that one finds disposed of in Japan. Japan's ultra-consumerism generates a lot of recyclable "garbage." Is something a little dirty, a little broken? Out to the garbage it goes! Japanese by in large don't have a repair-and-reuse mentality. A little cleaning, a little fix here or there, and a lot of money can be saved by the handy finder (it turns out I may have been "stealing").

I was broken and dirtied by sin. God had every right to throw me out onto the garbage pile. I am so glad that He chose to send his Son into this world to search, find, cleanup and re-use me. That was the ultimate RESCUE! (And I suppose in a way it was stealing...from Satan).

At Christmastime, thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming down into the garbage pile of this world to reclaim me for your own!


Like Angel Voices

The sound of handbells at Christmas are like angel voices announcing the birth of Christ. What an inspirational joy it was to have them as part of our Christmas celebration as a church!

Our concert on Sunday featured handbells and gospel music, with a Christmas message from Kaori and I (bilingual), and Christmas carols sandwiched between. Rather than fussing with tickets and money, we simply made the concert a charity event with all giving going toward Wheelchairs of Hope.

Altogether nearly 100 people filled the tiny rental hall. This is quite a gathering for a church in Japan! We prayed and planned through the many details needed to see the event go smoothly. There were a few glitches, but God was honored and glorified. Many unbelievers heard the Gospel message explained as simply as I could, and given an invitation to respond.

Thank you, Lord Jesus! Your next birthday celebration at Denen Grace is coming up this Sunday, 20th.


Could Bach bring Revival to Japan?

Christian History & Biography reports that tens of thousands of Japanese are coming to Christ through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This is primarily thanks to organist and conductor Masaaki Suzuki. When he performs the St. Matthew Passion during Holy Week, the concerts are sold out, and afterwards the stage is crowded with people asking about the messages in Bach’s music. The messages are thoroughly biblical, so much so that Bach’s work was once called “the fifth Gospel.” In the words of one Japanese musician who converted to Christianity: “When I play a fugue, I can feel Bach talking to God.” Bach, a devout believer, would no doubt rejoice to know that centuries later his music is still spreading the good news of the gospel.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, an angel appeared to shepherds. Why shepherds? Perhaps they fit with the humble circumstances of His birth; perhaps God wanted to point back to King David, who began as a shepherd; or perhaps He wanted to point forward, to the arrival of the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. In any case, the shepherds responded to the angel as others had, with both awe and terror. “Do not be afraid,” the angel told them, then he proclaimed “good news of great joy”—the gospel—“that will be for all the people”—universal in scope. “Today in the town of David”—prophecy fulfillment alert!— “a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”—the Messiah, the Anointed One (vv. 10—12).

Then the skies exploded in praise! The watching hosts of heaven could hold back no longer, appearing suddenly in a blaze of light and belting out, “Gloria in excelsis deo” (Latin), or “Glory to God in the highest”

--from Today in the Word (Moody Bible Institute)


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?!


Jesus Buried in Japan?!

Shingo, a remote northern town in Aomori, Japan, has a strange and unlikely tale to tell! Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but lived there among the mountains and rice fields. His previously unknown younger brother was crucified in his stead.

After escaping the Romans, so the legend goes, He fled across Siberia to Japan. He settled near the northern end of Honshu, married a local woman and fathered three daughters before dying peacefully at the age of 106!

“I don’t exactly think it’s true,” Mr. Sawaguchi, a farmer in the area said. “But I don’t exactly think it’s false either.” His old house has a symbol resembling the Star of David carved into its wooden rain shutters!

A peculiar local belief is that making a sign of the cross on a baby’s forehead will prevent illness.
Source: Yomiuri Newspaper, 1999-07-05

We know that there are many counterfeit Christs in the world! How fantastic it is to be liberated to know the real Christ.

For we did not follow
cunningly devised fables
when we made known to you the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
(2 Peter 1:16).


Christmas @ Denen 2007

We've been enjoying the opportunities the Christmas holiday provides in Japan for sharing the Gospel with Japanese. Japanese are spiritually open, but very unaware of the meaning of Christmas. It truly is remarkable to me that millions of Japanese haven't any idea that Christmas has anything to do with the birth of Christ! It is a secular holiday in Japan, completely devoid of any religious significance.

This past Sunday was our Christmas Service outreach at Denen for which we have spent some time planning. We rented a hall that holds 140 in the faith that God would fill it. Then the invitations, flyers, and emails went out to encourage our friends, acquaintances, and the surrounding neighborhood to come and be part of the day's events. It quite a contrast for a Christmas service; handbells and gospel! We also mixed in some special music by a guest soloist, and several carols. Kevin gave an evangelistic message on the meaning of Christmas according to the Bible.

Merry Christmas 2007! Meanwhile downstairs we ran a separate Kids Christmas Party with Christmas songs, games, a Max Lucado kids video, popcorn, hot chocolate and more. We really stretched our staffing resources as a tiny church.

My faith wavers between two fears when we do an event of this scale. 1) What if no one shows up? What if we've done all the planning, opened the doors, and no one walks in? (We have some of these days). I could personally get over the discouragement quickly enough, but I would feel badly for many others who have done so much to preparing and praying for the day. 2) Or, what if everyone shows up? What if among those who received the one of the 1500 flyers, many invited family, or classmates, or neighbors. After all, it is advertised as a free concert. What if 2500 or more people show up and we have no possible way to accommodate them, turn them away upset, and the reputation of our church plant in the community suffers as a result?

As it turns out, God worked things out for us just right. We had 110 adults, and 19 kids. This is about 4 times the amount of number of people that attend our Sunday Services. They all went away having heard the Gospel message, and given Christian literature to read with the church information on it. We also fed them all cake, and coffee or tea.

We appreciate many of you who were praying us through this day as a church. Now, please remain in prayer as we followup on some of these individuals in the coming days. Merry Christmas!


Christmas Banner

Today at church we were thrilled to have a member bring two Christmas banners that she had handmade for us. They are gorgeous, represent many hours of work, and really liven up the front of our otherwise somewhat drab basement rental hall that we use as a sanctuary. What a great addition for the start of the Advent season! It's great to see church people stepping up and using their spiritual gifts for the church in creative ways like this.


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