Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 2011 Newsletter

In This Edition

  • Recap Of A Busy Fall
  • Full & Busy House
  • Health Issues
  • Prayer For Future Calling
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 2011 Newsletter

In This Edition
  • New Christian Planting Gospel Seeds
  • Answer to Prayers
  • Utilizing All the Gifts of the Body
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reflecting on my Travel in Western Japan

I returned a couple days ago from a week of traveling around western Japan, specifically Hiroshima and Kyoto, as well as a number of smaller, less known locations. As I walked around various memorials, shrines, etc., I wished that I could have blogged about it all at the moment. But the thought of doing so with my thumb on an iPhone didn't appeal to me. So even though this is a bit late, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on these experiences.

Why Kyoto and Hiroshima?
Although all my English students warned me that Kyoto and Hiroshima are just too hot to visit in the summer, I chose to visit these cities because I love history -- I was a history major in college. Both cities have rich, long histories;  perhaps Hiroshima's earlier history is now overshadowed by the atomic bomb, but this is arguably the most significant moment in their history.

As a lover of history, I've long wanted to visit Hiroshima. I often thought that I would experience feelings of American guilt, or awkwardness just for being an American in Hiroshima. However, I really felt like I assume everyone else did: somber at the thought of so many lives lost in an instant.

Genbaku Dome
Visiting the Genbaku A-Bomb Dome was a bit surreal. The decimated skeleton of the building was both haunting and oddly beautiful, especially after sunset. The sight demands quiet, solemn respect. My thoughts went to the horror of the moment when the atomic bomb exploded, vaporizing many victims near the hypocenter, and sending out a shockwave of heat, fire, and radiation that killed approximately 80,000 people on August 6, 1945 (an additional 60,000 died by the end of that year).

Eternal Sadness
The monuments, memorials and the peace park as a whole were created with respect and intended to help the world remember the victims and the horror of that terrible day. Monuments to the victims wish them peaceful repose. Many visitors can be observed praying to these victims, and even leaving bottles of water for them. Yet in this land where so few know the God of heaven and earth, a deep sadness filled me with the knowledge that very few of the bomb victims are truly resting in eternal peace. How very sad to know that not even death could bring an end to their suffering on that day. How very sad to know that the same is true for people all over the world when they do not trust in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

Nuclear Free World?
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum tells the story of Hiroshima in World War II and the atomic bomb. I was a bit surprised that it does tell (although not in depth) the story of Japan's aggression and atrocities against its enemies, particularly against the city of Nanking as well as the forced labor of Koreans and the attack on Pearl Harbor. It vividly reveals the effects of the atomic bomb on the city and on the people. Perhaps a quarter of the museum personalizes some of the victims, telling their names and their stories -- where they were when the bomb detonated, what they were doing, and the resulting physical effects which was often death, but sometimes survival. This section of the museum was particularly sad. The last quarter of the museum was dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. While I can certainly understand why the people of Hiroshima would advocate a nuclear free world, I believe it to be a very naive stance. Practically speaking, with the proliferation of nuclear weapons among radical, even terrorist nations, the USA must retain its nuclear weapons as a deterrence to these nations. Humanists hope that the citizens of earth will evolve into a peace-loving world. As a Christian, I know that until Christ returns at the end of this age, sin will remain, and wars will continue. A nuclear free world would be a wonderful thing, but it will not be something we see on this earth; we will see it in heaven where there will be no tears, no pain, and no weapons of any kind.

My Thoughts on the Use of the A-Bombs
Although it may not be a popular opinion, especially here in Japan, I believe that the use of atomic weapons was necessary and was ultimately beneficial for both the USA and for Japan. The battles in Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and many other Pacific islands had demonstrated that the Japanese soldiers would not surrender, but fight to the last man. In fact, when it became apparent to military leaders that defeat was imminent, they ordered all of their soldiers and their civilians to commit suicide. They were told that Americans would torture and cannibalize anyone they caught alive. Those who did not kill themselves were killed by their own countrymen. Had America not used the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war would have continued for many more months or possibly years. Fighting on the mainland of Japan would have been more fierce than on the remote islands, and would have claimed thousands, perhaps millions of lives -- far more than those who died from the atomic bombs. Additionally, following Germany's surrender, the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan. Had they actually entered into the battle in Japan, their influence would have split Japan like it did Germany, and millions more would have died in Soviet gulags. The atomic bombs were awful. The American motivation to use them specifically on Japan, and not on Germany, was racist. But I believe their use saved more lives than they took.

From Mortal Enemies to Closest Allies
Since I first visited Japan, I have been amazed how Japanese society loves all things American. This is even true in Hiroshima where I saw more US flag shirts than anywhere but a Fourth of July party in America. While I think it is a little sad that they idolize American culture, it is also telling of the respect that the Japanese quickly gained for America in the days following World War II. The horror stories they were told by their leaders of American savagery were quickly defused by the compassion of the American soldiers. Not all Japanese people love America, and there have been some ugly situations, especially between a few American soldiers and the Japanese civilians. But overall, Japan and America are very close allies and friends. That is amazing considering all that transpired just sixty-six years ago.

Final Comment on the A-Bomb
Perhaps adding to a sense of surrealism is the fact that I lived one year in the city of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Surrounded by incredible natural beauty, it is a city with a controversial history. Yet it played a crucial role in the Allied victory and ironically in the establishment of one of the greatest international alliances in modern history. Los Alamos and Hiroshima are worlds apart in so many ways. And yet they each played a role in bringing together our two great nations.

Hiroshima Outside the Bomb
More than 500 years old, and with a population of more than a million people, Hiroshima is a city worth knowing outside of its World War II role. It has great natural beauty in nearby mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and nearby islands. The city was modernized after the war with wider streets and beautiful parks. And the city has people who are friendly and helpful. It is a wonderful city!

Miyjima Island
A short twenty minute ferry ride from the port of Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima. It is best known for it's Torii gate (an orange-red wooden gate common at Shinto shrines) which is built out in the water. It was a beautiful scene. And yet it was built in honor of false gods. The island has a rope-way cable car to bring visitors near the top of Mount Misen. It offered incredible views of the island, Hiroshima, the Seto Inland Sea, and many other nearby islands. It was sobering to think that this entire island is considered holy in the Shinto religion. Only a very small handful of the island residents know the God who created the beauty surrounding them.

Kyoto - City of Temples
After a day trip to the island of Shikoku and the city of Matsuyama, where I toured one of Japan's oldest castles and experienced the oldest onsen in Japan, I arrived in the former capital of Japan, Kyoto. A beautiful, historic city, Kyoto was spared from American bombs during World War II because Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had honeymooned in Kyoto, prevailed upon FDR and Truman to spare the city from conventional bombs and to remove it as the first target of the atomic bomb. As a result, the city has far more historic buildings, temples, and shrines than any other Japanese city -- more than 2,000 temples and shrines, in fact. By the time I arrived in Kyoto, I was tired and "templed out," although I had only seen a couple of temples on this trip. However, I had to visit Kinkakuji Temple, the most famous temple in all of Japan as it is covered in gold leaf. It is a beautiful sight, and like so many other Japanese temples it is on the list of World Heritage sites. As a Christian missionary in Japan, I pray for the day that Japan will turn to Jesus Christ. As I took dozens of photos of this beautiful gold temple, I wondered whether, in the event that God answers these prayers and turns the hearts of Japan toward Himself, what should happen to this and other temples? They are beautiful and historic, and UNESCO has declared them to be world treasures. There's nothing wrong with their architecture; perhaps they could be repurposed to honor the God of heaven and earth? No, I don't believe so. God was very clear in the Old Testament regarding temples and alters built to false gods -- they were to be utterly destroyed. But these are so beautiful! I'm sure the Old Testament pagan temples were beautiful also. Yet before God, they were repugnant. They were built to honor false gods, and they cause people to worship objects of wood and stone. I now pray that God will bring about a great awakening in the hearts of the people, and that these repugnant alters will be utterly destroyed, and in their place Japan will build alters to the one and only God.

Nagoya Sabbath
I finished my one week journey with a Sunday in the city of Nagoya. There is an MTW team of missionaries in Nagoya, so I was eager to see a bit of their ministry. I had lunch with Michael and Cathalain Carter (with whom I had gone through a week-long retreat back in 2009), then went to an afternoon English worship service at All Nations Fellowship. I ran into a Japanese Belhaven alumnus whom I hadn't seen in several years. During his first year at Belhaven, God brought about significant spiritual growth in his life; it was good to see that this had continued and he is walking with the Lord and is active in the life of the Nishin Church. After church, I enjoyed fellowship and dinner at the home of Wayne and Amy Newsome, team leaders in Nagoya.

I'm thankful that God allowed me this time of refreshment and reflection. Although it was some of the most exhausting refreshment I've experienced! But He is good, and his grace is evident even here in Japan. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prayer Request for Funerals & the Gospel

Dear Friends, Family, and Supporters,

I request your prayers today for an incredible ministry opportunity. The mother of a church elder died on Sunday night and the funeral will be this afternoon. Mrs. Yonemoto was an elderly lady who trusted in Christ and was baptized just a few weeks ago. As Elder Yonemoto holds a high position with the Japanese public television company, we are expecting perhaps 130-200 unsaved guests today at Honda Chapel for her funeral. Many of these people have never been to a church or heard any part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dan Iverson, our team leader, will be conducting the service and will share the joy that is our's for eternal life in Christ. The choir will sing, and God's family will be there to worship and sing praises to Him.

I have had several of my English students share with me previously that they have attended Christian funerals and found them to be so different from their own Buddhist ceremonies -- so joyous, in comparison. One of my students who is a Christian also spoke of her experience attending Buddhist ceremonies for unsaved family members and how she was able to share her own sure hope at that time.

Please pray that the funeral guests will see the love that the church members have for one another, that they will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ with not just their ears but with their hearts, and that they will respond in faith -- or that the seeds of faith will be planted. God's Word tells us:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Please pray that God will purpose for His Word to bring new life to many who hear His Word today! And please pray for the Yonemoto family as they mourn the loss of their mother and grandmother, but rejoice that she trusted in Jesus Christ during her final days!

The funeral will be held at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, which is 2:30 am on Wednesday for those of you in the Central time zone. There will be a second service at the crematorium at 12:30 pm on Thursday, 10:30 pm on Wednesday Central time. Your prayers are not limited by time zones. You do not need to pray at these specific times. God is not limited by time zones or "after the fact" prayers!

On Friday morning, there will be another funeral for another church member's father. He was not a Christian, but Dan Iverson has been asked to lead the second service at the crematorium. The church member has not been attending for some time. Please pray that God will work in and through this funeral service as well.

Thank you for your prayers!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 2011 Newsletter

In This Edition

  • Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Relief
  • New English Ministry Opportunities
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Report on Visit to Iwaki City

I was able to travel north yesterday to Iwaki City, which sustained significant damage in its coastal regions from the March 11 tsunami. It also is near the Fukushima nuclear reactors, but just outside the 20 kilometer evacuation zone. Here are a few thoughts on this experience:

Karen Darda, a friend and teammate, asked me to accompany her as a second driver. Our task was to bring three MTW relief work assessors to Iwaki City so they could determine whether there is a need for medical help from American doctors, health professionals, and counselors. We visited two churches, with whom they could potentially partner, as well as three shelters for people who lost their homes to the tsunami. We left at 3:00 a.m., spending the entire day in Iwaki City.

The two churches we visited were both very happy to partner with MTW, to allow their facilities to be used for clinic work and volunteer housing. One church in particular was very encouraging. "Global Mission Outreach" (?) lost their church last year to a fire. About the same time, one of the young men from the church lost his father to a heart attack. The father owned a pachinko parlor (gambling), and the son inherited it. Instead of continuing the family business, he sold the large three-story building to the church for a low price. With this large facility, the church is now a beehive of activity helping victims around the city. The main floor (worship area) is filled with donated food, clothing, diapers, etc. During our time at the church, several trucks and vans arrived from churches in various parts of Japan, all of them loaded with donated supplies. As these were taken into the "warehouse," other supplies were being taken to shelters in all parts of the city. The second floor office area was also a flurry of activity for church and relief workers.

(Pastor) Mori-sensei spent several hours with the MTW assessors answering many questions, bringing us to three shelters, and even meeting with the mayor of the city (population 350,000) to confirm that foreign medical workers would be welcomed -- something Japan has never allowed in the past. It was wonderful to see the church respond to the many needs of the earthquake/tsunami victims. And yet the need is so great in Iwaki City and for hundreds of miles up the coast.

The first evacuation shelter we visited was an elementary school gymnasium. Approximately 350 people had been housed here immediately after the tsunami. Ten days later, 255 people remained. It was a cold, drizzly day as people of all ages sat or layed on futon mattresses in the cold gym. They looked so hopeless; I can only imagine what they were thinking about: the terrifying experience of the tsunami; the homes, photos, and many things they had lost; the people they had lost or had not yet heard from; what they would do next, and when they would be able to start trying to piece their lives back together.

I spoke with one woman about my age, Hiromi. I asked if her home had been destroyed. She said it had not been, but that it was all wet as the tsunami wave had reached her home. She was there at the time and said it was terrifying, tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke. All I could say is "I'm so sorry."

As we left the gymasium, one of the community leaders made an announcement about who we were. (All eyes had been fixed on us, as we were the only diversion at the time, and foreigners nonetheless.) At the conclusion of the announcement, everyone applauded for us and bowed with gratitude that they had not been forgotten. Outside the gym, about twenty people were busy cooking the first hot meal that these people would have in ten days.

We then visited a beautiful municipal performing arts center where about 100 people were sleeping in the lobby and hallways. It was warmer here, and there were several televisions -- all playing news of the earthquake and tsunami, something that can only further depress these weary people.

The final shelter was a community sports complex, also with about 100 people. The gym was very cold, but the children here had room to run around and play. About five young children quickly ran over to us and said "hello!" That was the extent of their English, but I enjoyed watching Karen speak enthusiastically with them. She reported that they did not talk about their recent experiences, but asked her "Did the earthquake come to your house? Did it make everything a mess?" Although they asked serious questions, it was wonderful to see these kids behaving as normal kids. Yet I know that they will have many bad dreams and other trauma from their experiences and the fear that they have seen in their parents.

We arrived home at 10:45 p.m. It was a long day, but certainly helps me appreciate the magnitude of the disaster, the generosity of Japanese Christians, and the incredible opportunity that we all, as Christians, have to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of Japan. For this is truly the only thing that can heal the lives of the people and bring eternal peace to their souls and significance to their lives.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Relief Work - Report from Dan Iverson

Dan Iverson, my missionary team leader, went to Fukushima with several others on Monday in a rented truck to deliver water, gas, blankets, clothing, and various supplies to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. These supplies were gathered from our team, the Oyumino Church, families from the Christian school, and even non-Christian neighbors. A second trip was made on Tuesday with two trucks. Dan's report on his trip is below:

Dear Family and friends,

Three of us went north into the devastated areas Sunday midnight with a packed 2-ton rental truck with 1,000 liters of water, gasoline, blankets, food, warm clothes, etc, that our church members and lots of non-Christian friends donated. People were most desperate for water. We distributed supplies to a small church we had contacted, to an elementary school housing displaced people, and drove around the town (Ueda town, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture) giving water to people. People were so grateful.

[Before we drove north] Many were saying we should not go in, for various reasons. As we prayed, discussed, gathered supplies, and loaded them into the late hours of the night Sunday, we felt led to go. People are fleeing south as we go north. Some people really fear what may happen with a nuclear meltdown or another Tsunami (as some pretty big tremors keep coming, the radio keeps on saying that if you are on the coast, where we were, to always be aware of roads inland to flee to higher ground, which we did). And the radio is often saying the government does not want volunteers in there getting in the way of the professionals and possibly becoming victims themselves who need to be evacuated.

We were so glad we went. We saw almost no official relief supplies coming in where we were. We saw no self-defence force troops bringing relief until we were heading home south as 15 self defense force supply trucks passed us coming north. The exhausted city hall official lady in her late twenties in charge at the elementary school with 100 displaced people living there was so thankful we did not listen to those warnings not to come (which I understand the need for), and was so grateful, and [she will be] a good future contact for several spheres. She was surprised that we were from a church, and wanted us to thank everyone who sent things. She wanted us to bring more, and to bring people to help her with so many people, especially the many older people who were there because they did not have the strength or means to flee.

People were so desperate for water that when we ran out, they wanted the not-so-clean spill-over can water. It was very sad to run-out with people still coming with plastic bags and trash cans and anything they could bring to get water.

I could not help but think:
  • May the Japanese people come to thirst like this spiritually, and be this desperate seeking Living Water (Isa. 55:1-2; John 4).
  • May they flee to higher ground . . . to The High Rock (Ps. 61:2).
  • May a tsunami of grace, wave after wave, flood Japan (Ezek. 47; John 1:16)
[We] just had a fairly large tremor and not one person around me even made a comment about it. They have become so common place. May God so shake Japan spiritually, and may the Japanese people be humbled to desperately seek the Living Water God offers in Christ.

Please pray also as we begin working today on a long-term plan. Our thousand liters Monday and 2,000 liters today praying with and talking with a few was like a drop in the Pacific -- so little for such great great need. And, of course, we are praying and dreaming and talking about how God might use this disaster, and us, for a new WAVE of effective evangelism and church planting in the affected area, and throughout all of Japan?

Thanks for praying for places to go serve. We now have two Japanese churches in the affected area to possibly partner with long-term in their area to help them in their witness as we help people in their communities. The city hall lady above, Ms. Yamamoto, has access to lots of information and officials. And she likes us.

Please give and pass the word on how to give to the relief effort. I have already spent $2,000-$3,000* of my money renting trucks, buying gas cans, truck fuel, water tanks, needed supplies, etc, and it is a drop in the bucket to what we will spend, and what will be needed to do what needs to be done in the weeks and months ahead. (*I have not had a minute to see exactly how much I have spent, nor do we even know yet officially where all the money will come from. But we do know we need to act now and worry about all that later.)

More later, but wanted to get this out to you.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan Earthquake Relief

If you would like to help bring comfort and the gospel to the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Mission to the World is accepting donations and arranging for their "Minuteman" first response team to go to Japan. You can contribute online or by sending a check. Here is how you can help:

Online Giving:
Mission to the World
P.O. Box 116284
Atlanta, GA 30368-6284
* Please be sure to write "Project #93993 on the memo line.

For more information about MTW's Minuteman Response, click here:
Dan Iverson, my team leader, and two Japanese men left at midnight in a rented truck loaded with water, gas, and various supplies for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. They arrived at 5:30 a.m. in Iwaki, about 30 miles south of the Fukushima nuclear reactor that exploded. They are partnering with a church there to distribute supplies to evacuees who are staying in an elementary school. Our hope is to continue partnering with this church in the next year so that together we may be the gospel through our compassion and through our words.

Reports continue to worsen, with estimates of 10,000 killed in the tsunami. Prime Minister Kan has stated that this is the most serious crisis to hit Japan since World War II.

Please continue to pray that God will work in the hearts of thousands, and even millions of Japanese people, that they might become a new generation of Christians and that Japan might become a missionary-sending nation!

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 2011 Newsletter

In This Edition:
  • Japan Earthquake
  • Open House English Ministry Growth
  • Crossway College Ministry