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.

Things I Didn't Know to be Thankful for

"Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 5:20

Living in a different country and missing something for awhile makes one thankful for little things. Things I didn't know to be thankful for until leaving for Japan. Here's a few things -- in no particular rank or order -- that come to mind since we've returned to the States. These are just trivial sacrifices we gladly (usually) do without to serve God in Japan. They pale in comparison to what other missionaries gave up for the kingdom of God in history past.

But here they are. You won't find these in Japan. So, I'm thankful for:

* Room to get out of either side of the car.
* The cereal aisle in any grocery store.
* Christian radio. Christian Literature.
* Abundant parking.
* Church steeples all around.
* A western breakfast with pancakes and eggs.
* Corporate worship in English.
* Coupons. Sales. Easy Returns.
* Cheap electricity. Cheap gas.
* Instruction manuals in English.
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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.
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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. 
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A Trip to the "Tree of Hope"

I’m a little disappointed with hope. The tree, that is.

I’ve written before about the “Tree of Hope” in tsunami-struck Rikuzentaka, Japan. It’s official name is “The Miraculous Solitary Pine Tree.” Out of a glorious forest of some 70,000 Edo-era trees, this one alone survived the waves of 311. It was heralded as a miracle, a source of hope for a devastated country.

But 16 months later, despite the best preservation efforts, its roots finally succumbed to saltwater poisoning. So it was sawed down in sections. The wood was treated, the leaves coated with a synthetic resin, and a metal spine inserted down its trunk. The $1.5 million price tag for all this preservation work garnered a lot of criticism. Many felt the little city’s relief money might be better spent.

A ceremony for the restoration of the tree was held on March 10, 2013, a day before the 2nd anniversary of the 311 triple tragedy. Here, Yoshihisa Suzuki, president of the association for its preservation, said, “It’s returned at last. I’m convinced that the tree will cheer us up.”

A recent trip up in Tohoku took me close enough to Rikuzentakata to visit the memorial. Though I wasn’t quite sure of the location, it turned out to be hard to miss. The glint of the afternoon sun off the metallic skeleton led me to the spot from a distance. I pulled into a stone parking lot on the beach front and walked the kilometer or so to the base of the tree. A half dozen other onlookers stood nearby.

To be honest, I felt it difficult to be “cheered up” by the sight of the tree. The dead, lonely pine posed so artificially. The scaffolding holding it up as though it were a crippled patient in traction. The desolate, brown “moonlike” beach front. It all had the feeling of melancholy to me.
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When Garbage Refuses to Die

Sometimes garbage just refuses to die. And you know the situation is bad when even the recycle shop and trash collectors refuse to give it a final resting place.

The problem is a matter of simple physics. An unlimited amount of matter cannot occupy a limited amount of space at the same point in time. And our tiny Japanese home is, well, pretty limited! Like most Japanese houses, we have no basement, no attic, no garage, not even a large hall closet. Sending an unused item to storage limbo is simply not an option. But eventually things get used beyond usefulness. So we need to aggressively (and continually) sell, recycle, and throw away. And herein lies the greater problem. Sometimes things just refuse to leave you.

After my "generous" offers of such gently used items are rejected by friends, I turn to the local recycle shop for hope. Now, my castoffs are generally of such a pathetic nature that the recycle shop only takes on my case pro bono...out of pity...and perhaps a little amusement. I must say, though, that they are very gracious. And I've appreciated their mission of mercy. But I may have exceeded my limit. These days they want original packaging, instruction manuals, dent-free and scratch-free quality, and (of all the nerve) they want for the item to actually work as it was intended! My humble offerings are rarely up to that kind of scrutiny. And the clerks, in the gentlest Japanese way possible, have apologetically asked me to take the item back when I leave.
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Her Season Changer

"I am not a Christian. I do not plan on becoming a Christian. I just want to hear [the] words of God, pray and sing a hymn."

Those were her exact words to me...in English. God, however, had a different, better plan for Mrs. E, a changing of the seasons of her heart.

The first time she ever set foot in a church was her visit with us in the fall of 2011. If she was nervous about things, you wouldn't have known it. During the announcements when I invited her to simply give her name, she held the microphone and boldly stated that she felt pushed by God the right way to attend church. Sure enough, she came back the next Sunday. It happened to be a Sunday when a guest speaker gave a clear evangelistic message. It was too much for her to process all at once. We weren’t pushy, but somehow she felt pushed again, in the wrong way. That’s when she shared with me her honest thoughts above. Then she stopped attending services.
[Read More of this Post]



The Cross in the Tragedy

I've finished collating a 64-page book of 14 chapters themed around Japan's March 11, 2011 triple tragedy. The book has stories, small group study discussion questions, culture notes and more. You can see the details on our website page here. You may find it useful for personal study and devotions, small group Bible study, or missions education. A leader's guide PDF is also available for small groups here.

Take two weeks for Japan, spending just 10 minutes a day to read each chapter and pray! This is my best effort to share with you our experiences from the March 11, 2011 triple tragedy in Japan, and to look at them through a spiritual lens to see what God what want us to know.
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Singing a Sojourner's Song

There's that feeling again. Being a missionary brings it around just a little more frequently. It's the sense of discomfort, the awareness of incongruities in my fit with my surroundings. It's a feeling of not belonging. Not being completely home. It comes every time I travel back to the States or back to Japan. Returning just recently from 5 weeks in Chicagoland, the realization that I am indeed a foreigner in either culture is once again fresh.

Buddy Greene said it best in song: "I don't belong. I'm a foreigner here just singing a sojourner's song. I've always known. This place ain't home. And I don't belong."

It didn't used to be that way. Up until we left for Japan in 1999, I was decidedly American in my outlook, cultural identity and sensibilities. But things change when you remove yourself from that cultural milieu for any long stretch of time. Things no longer look the same when you return to them. You're different. People are different. The environment and culture are different. And you sense a lack of fit with a people and places you really were eager to call home again. That's disappointing, surprising and frustrating all at once.
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We serve with WorldVenture, an evangelical faith mission. Our sending/home church is First Baptist Church of Lansing, Illinois.
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