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.

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!




The Forgotten Trawler

We're vision casting for more church planting out of Denen Grace Chapel. Here's a bulletin insert I wrote:

Imagine you’re aboard a cruise ship. Together with friends, you’re enjoying a time of refreshment and inspiration. You’ve settled into a comfortable cabin. The boat is full of life and activities. You’ve even been asked to help out with things. Food and laughter fill the air. You’ve been sailing the ocean for quite a while, but not sure just where you’re headed.

One morning as you stroll the deck, you notice a large, strange box alongside the railing. Curiosity gets the best of you. You peek inside. Under a layer of dust, you can see coiled ropes and folded nets. For the first time you notice other such boxes all around you. You can just make out the faded letters stenciled on the side: T-A-C-K-L-E. You ask a fellow passenger what this means. He only shrugs. The cabin steward shrugs. But a ship officer seems to remember a story. Before the cabins and carpeting. Before the pools and deck chairs. Once upon a time this ship had a different purpose.

On my desk I have a boat model to remind me of my task in Japan, which is also the task of the church. It’s a fishing trawler with nets on the side ready to drop into the water. You may not have realized it, but when you placed your faith in Christ and stepped aboard the church, you stepped aboard a boat designed to be a fishing trawler. When Jesus said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), that was also your calling to a specific mission of which you are a special part. True, the church could be converted into a cruise ship, but that isn’t the plan of its Builder. Our Builder, Christ, intended us to be about the task of fishing. He’s supplied us with gospel nets of forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, wholeness, and compassion. He’s given us people who know how to this tackle in creative and effective ways. He desires that we work together to go fishing, to draw all kinds of people toward himself.

It’s important that our church sometimes pause and ask the question, “What is it that we’re really doing here?” Very simply, we're casting nets into the ocean of this world and drawing in people toward Christ. We're growing them to be like Him in every way. Christ will steer the fish, but he needs us to let down the nets. As Jesus challenged Peter, he challenges us, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4

Church planting is building another fishing trawler. Let’s face it. The amount of fish in Kawasaki (99.5% of 5.2 million people) alone is far beyond what one boat of fishermen can handle. One boat may never catch some types of fish. And one boat alone could never hold them. If a spiritual awakening comes to Japan, what would we do? We need greater capacity! We need new people trained to fish along with us, using their own unique approach, and catching their own unique catch.

Wouldn’t it be great if the church in Japan faced this dilemma of the disciples: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” Luke 5:6-7

Let’s not forget the purpose we were built. Let’s trust God to bring about a miracle catch. As a missionary family, it is our vision to be sent out from Denen Grace Chapel, to work nearby building another fishing trawler, to be “partners in the other boat” fishing closely in this area together. Would you pray with us? Let’s go fishing!


Now is the Time

LET (JAPAN) RECEIVE HER KING!

"How are things going in Japan since 311?" Glad you asked. While the physical recovery is still a long way off, the spiritual harvest is here now. A missionary colleague put this video together of interviews from our church association pastors in the north. As you can see, the kingdom of God grows VERY slowly in Japan. In fact, the Christian population here actually shrank the last few years due to deaths and low conversion rate. But...

Now is the time for a great spiritual ingathering of Japanese. As Pastor Kishinami shares in the video, seven or eight out of ten people will respond positively to the gospel message when shared. Five out of every ten will trust Christ. This spiritual window will not remain open forever. And the Christian workers in the north are so few and overworked. Northern Japan's greatest need right now is more Christian workers. Please "ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2).


Shipwrecked

"I see the world as a shipwreck. God has given me a lifeboat and said, "Save all you can." D.L. Moody

There once was a dangerous seacoast where many sailing ships were wrecked and many lives were lost. Volunteers from a nearby fishing village again and again braved the storm and rescued many from drowning, and those who were saved often joined the rescue team.

One day a volunteer suggested that with practice they could do an even better job. So in summer the rescue crews practiced rowing and throwing life preservers and were later able to save more lives. Another volunteer thought they should build a boat house near the coast to keep the rescue boats. That way they would not waste time bringing their boats from the village. After a time, a third volunteer suggested that they build a shelter for the people they rescued, for they often died of the cold. And another recommended adding a kitchen to make soup to warm the storm victims. All these innovations added to the effectiveness of their work.

Later a rescuer suggested that they wait in the boat house during the storms so that they would be ready when a ship was wrecked. Another proposed adding a game room so that they would not be bored, and a third that they expand the kitchen so that they would have hot drinks and food while they waited in the boat house. The members took great pleasure in their building projects and added a lounge and a fine restaurant. The rescue station grew in prestige, and many more joined it on that account.

As time passed, one member observed that rescuing was a highly specialized task and that only those highly trained for it should be allowed to do the job. So they hired young men to go out in the storm while the rest cheered them on from the rescue complex. Finally the members had a meeting and decided to discontinue the lifesaving feature of the club?altogether. It was too costly, and they all were too busy with related committee meetings and other activities.

A number protested that this abandoned their primary propose, so they resigned and started a real lifesaving station down the coast. Once again they went out into the storm and waves to rescue those who were drowning.

One day a volunteer suggested that with some practice they could do an even better job. So in the summer the rescue crews practiced rowing and throwing life preservers, and they rescued more people. Soon the crews from the club up the coast challenged them to a contest, for although the group had given up actual lifesaving, it retained rescuing?as a summer sport. And when a rescue station won, its members were given a trophy to take home.

Later someone in the newer group suggested that they build a boat house near the coast to keep their boats, and another added that they needed a kitchen and shelter for those who were rescued. After a time, they added a game room and restaurant for those waiting on the coast during the storms.

Eventually, rescuing became a highly trained skill and specialists were hired to do the job. And one day the members decided to discontinue the lifesaving because it was costly and they were all busy. A number protested and moved down the coast to start a true rescue station.

We know the rest of the story. It is said that if we visit that seacost today, we will find a whole series of clubs, up and down the coast. None of them is much interested in lifesaving anymore, although there are stil many shipwrecks in those waters, and many people are drowning.


Signs of the Times?

A drive through Japan's rural towns throughout the north might lead the casual observer to assume these places are staunchly Christian. Why else would signs everywhere proclaim such things as "The blood of Christ purifies sin," "God is watching your heart," and "The wages of sin is death"? But the truth is quite the opposite. In many of these rural areas one would be hard-pressed to find more than a solitary Christian, much less any church presence.

The signs are lettered in white and yellow calligraphy against a black background. Once they are up, they can remain for decades on end until the structure they are attached to literally begins to crumble. These signs, called "Kirisuto Kanban" (Christ signs), are the work of Christian group called the Bible Distribution Society, founded by a missionary in the 50's and now active only as a loose network of a few people.


The group approaches a particular property owner for approval to post the sign. No money changes hands. In fact, the owner is unlikely to be a Christian. So why would these "unintended evangelists" agree to the cause at all? For some, the presence of the sign on their property functions as a helpful theft deterrent. Others feel they are raising the level of morality in their community. Superstitions abound in rural Japan and so still others may feel that to reject the sign would invite some form of divine retribution. These reasons, along with the group-oriented nature of Japanese in small towns, result in the small signs being posted heavily throughout northern Miyagi, Iwate and Akita prefectures.

If you want a healthy debate on evangelistic methodology, ask a Japanese Christian about the "Kirisuto Kanban." I'm not sure that one can say the signs are unhelpful to the cause of Christ. Certainly they move people to consider spiritual things. One might say, however, that the image these signs convey of Christianity to the average Japanese tends to be somewhat negative. Japanese pastors I've asked agree that the signs create an unhealthy fear and suspicion of the work of the local church. Particularly in the wake of 311, a balanced message is needed. The grieving Japanese needs a sign that reminds him that "Christ brings hope to life!" not simply that "After death comes judgement!"

Regardless of one's opinion of the approach to evangelism, the placement of these signs on rusted out, cracked and dilapidated structures is, I think, unfortunate. It lends to the perception that the message of the signs is from a bygone era, and leaves one with a rather depressed feeling. It seems at times that the signs are almost protesting the somber conditions in which they find themselves displayed.We need to be humble in our convictions about through what means God works. God certainly honors the convictions and dedication of those with which we may differ. We also need to continually reflect on culture and Scripture and prayerfully consider what evangelistic means are most effective in reaching the heart of man. May God guide our hearts, heads, and hands!


Returnees in Kanagawa (RIK)

Strange, but true, most Japanese become believers while outside their own country. Thousands of Japanese live abroad. Away from their home culture and its obligations and expectations, they are free to consider the faith of their host culture. They reflect on what is missing in their lives. They find meaning and purpose in attending a church. And Christ draws them to himself.

The difficulty comes after their stay abroad has ended and they return home to Japan. Often, Japanese "returnees" find it difficult to blend back into church life in Japan. Their experiences are not completely understood. The renewed pressures of reverse culture shock, family and work expectations, overwhelm their new faith. Many will fade away from church involvement. What a great loss to God's Kingdom in Japan! The church in Japan could be many times its 0.3% size if it were to hold the harvest that returns each year. 

RIK (Returnees in Kanagawa) is a group of Christian returnees whose desire it is to change the above tragedy. We want to welcome back and strengthen returnees of all ages, and help them connect with a local church. Denen Grace Chapel is closely involved with RIK, with several of its members composing the core or helping in its meetings. We share the burden to care for returnees, as our own church has returnee members at its core.

RIK just had its second gathering event for returnees. Singing and small groups were a great blessing to the 40 returnees in attendance. We plan more such gatherings, in addition to casual recreational activities like BBQs and hiking together. We're not completely sure where God will take this newly-formed group of people, but we expect Him to work among us as we come together all across Kawasaki and Yokohama.

AND, we expect the need for RIK will grow. With the sharp, sustained increase in yen will come come increasing globalization of Japan's workforce. The Japanese diaspora will surely grow in the years to come, and so will the opportunity and need for returnee ministry.

Would you pray that God will use RIK to encourage returnees, regardless of whether they have yet made a decision yet for Christ, so that a great harvest of souls result, and the church in Japan would grow strong?



Can Japanese get their hope Bach?

Unintended missionary to Japan?
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 in Christianity. Japanese have great respect for beauty and culture, so this is no surprise. It seems God uses a variety of unusual evangelists and music genre to guide Japanese to himself. Gospel music, of course, is another boom. Read the following excerpt of a longer article available here:

No other country in the developed world keeps as many palm readers busy. None produces as much pornography; nearly half the worlds smut is made in Japan—and openly consumed in trains and subways. Suicide rates have risen from 23,000 in 1996 to 25,000 in 1997 and 32,000 in 1998. In that year, seventy–four children killed themselves in Tokyo alone, twice as many as in 1997. According to opinion polls, 60 percent of the population admit to being afraid every day. Most fear bringing shame on their families, teachers, or superiors by failing at work or in school.


What people need in this situation is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here,
 says the renowned organist Masaaki Suzuki, founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan. He is the driving force behind the Bach boom sweeping Japan during its current period of spiritual impoverishment. Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope, Suzuki says. We either use ibo, meaning desire, or nozomi, which describes something unattainable. After every one of the Bach Collegium’s performances Suzuki is crowded on the podium by non–Christian members of the audience who wish to talk to him about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society—death, for example. And then they inevitably ask me to explain to them what ‘hope’ means to Christians.”

Like Georg Christoph Biller, Leipzig’s current Thomaskantor and Bach’s sixteenth successor in that position, Suzuki sees himself as a missionary. 
I am spreading Bach’s message, which is a biblical one, he said, echoing the Swedish theologian and Lutheran archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866–1931), who called Bach’s music the fifth Gospel. A member of the Reformed Church, Suzuki makes sure his musicians, mostly non–Christians, get that point. During rehearsals he teaches them Scripture. It is impossible to say how many of my performers and listeners will ultimately become Christians, ” Suzuki said. He believes, however, that Bach has already converted tens of thousands of Japanese to the Christian faith.


No (Solo) Fishing

"Come, follow Me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Mark 1:17

Most days I feel a bit like that helpless child fisherman from a few weeks back.

A few weeks back at our Kids English outreach in August each kid was handed a pole with a string attached. A magnet hung from the end of the string. Letter and object cards scattered about in a "pond" had to be snagged by their attached paperclips, then hauled in, brought and repeated to the teacher.

One small girl was clearly trying her best, but the string and magnet simply would not cooperate, twirling about aimlessly. She needed help. Placing my hand over hers I steadied the rod and we cast for fish together. What a haul our teamwork resulted in!

Most days I feel like that child. Small. Aimlessly casting about. Overwhelmed. And just a bit discouraged. The "fish" in Japan simply aren't biting the Gospel message. But have I forgotten that the Master's hand is on the rod with mine? He's steadying, guiding, and supporting each cast. He's smiles down as we work together. Why had I gone about solo fishing in frustration? Instead I surrender to the Master's guidance, instruction and care, and we haul in the catch He had in mind.


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