Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Those We've Lost in 2013

Every TV news show seems to have run a "those we've lost in 2013" tribute in the last few days. It's sad, and yet fun to remember these people. From Marcia Wallace (Bob Newhart Show and The Simpsons) to Maggie Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, Roger Ebert, Peter O'Toole, Tom Clancy, Paul Walker and James Gandolfino to Helen Thomas and Prince Friso (the Dutch royalty in the prime of his life), the world has lost many people who have impacted this world in many ways through politics, the way we see the world, or the way we enjoy the world. It strikes me once again that EVERYONE DIES, regardless of our place in life, regardless of our age, regardless of our wealth or lack thereof, and regardless of whether we may be "ready" for that death. ARE YOU READY? Do you have the peace of knowing that when you die you will find yourself in the arms of a loving heavenly Father? If you do, then have no fear. The best is yet to come -- BY FAR the best! If you do not have this peace, there's just one thing you can do: stop trying so hard to merit a good afterlife; you'll never succeed. Let go of that struggle and surrender to the loving mercy of your heavenly Father. BELIEVE that Jesus Christ took the punishment your sins deserve and TRUST that He offers you eternal life only because He loves you, not because of how good or bad you may be. To one of the criminals who was executed with Jesus and believed and trusted in Him while on the cross, Jesus said to him, "Today, you will be with Me in paradise." That's hope that does not disappoint!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Naughty or Nice? The Gospel According to Santa Claus

You better watch out,
You better not cry.
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice.
He's gonna find out
Who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees when you are sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been good or bad
So be good for goodness sake!

Have you ever stopped to think about those lyrics? We teach our children about some old man who is always watching them, even in their own beds. And while we say he's a jolly old man, he's watching their every move and judging them to be good or bad. If, after checking his list twice, he deems them worthy, he will bring them Christmas presents. Strikes me as more creepy and legalistic than jolly.

Maybe I'm too critical of Santa. It's a harmless story, right? But have you ever considered how much Santa sounds like God? He sees everything and everyone. Like God, he's apparently omniscient and omnipresent! Many people conceive of God as a kind, bearded grandfather -- just like Santa. Is it so bad that God and Santa are so similar? Well, considering our natural tendency to believe we must be a certain level of good to go to heaven, our Santa legend reinforces this fallacy in complete contradiction to the gospel.

Although only 0.2% of Japanese people are Christians and Christmas is not an official holiday, Japan loves all things American including Christmas. Stores are decked out and Christmas carols are playing (many of them Christian). And just like in America, Santa has a central role.

Santa Claus suits Japanese culture very well in this grace-less society where people really do keep a mental list of their friends', family members' and colleagues' offenses, and they don't forgive. The Japanese are plagued by broken relationships all around them -- all those people who have been naughty. But in Santa Claus, all they see is a jolly old man with a big smile and a legal ledger in his pocket with all their "naughties and nices." What do you see? In which gospel are you trusting? What message are you sharing?

Starting the Final Push
Raising support has been a slow process. Although my long-term missionary budget is higher than it was as a short-term missionary, I am ahead of my percentage compared to four years ago. Most missionaries find that the final one-third of their support comes in the most quickly. That was true for me four years ago as God brought about a significant number of gifts and pledges at the end of 2009 that brought me to the two-thirds mark and allowed by to depart for Japan in April 2010. I'm hoping and praying that He will do the same this year. You can help me reach that goal in one of several ways:

  • RECOMMEND ME:  Speak with your pastor or missions committee and recommend me and the ministry of Genesis International College for a speaking engagement or missions conference. Help me get the word out about the exciting vision God has given GIC to reach young adults in Japan with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Show them the five-minute video about GIC (available on the GIC website). Give them my phone number (601-317-9379) and email (brentkooi@gmail.com). Then tell me the name of the person I should contact so I can personally introduce myself and the ministry of GIC. By they way, your church doesn't have to be Presbyterian! I've spoken at all kinds of churches and have partners from many denominations.
  • END OF YEAR GIVING:  Please consider giving a one-time gift before December 31 that will help push me over the two-thirds mark. Some of you may only be able to give a small gift but you think your gift will be insignificant. But big or small, every gift helps.
  • BECOME A PARTNER:  One-time gifts get me to Japan, but monthly pledges sustain me in the ministry for the long haul. Pray about becoming a ministry partner.
  • PRAY:  I list this last, but it really is the most important. God is the one who moves hearts and provides all good things. Pray that God will move in the hearts of many people to partner with me through prayer and finances. Pray for me  as I labor and wait upon God for His provision. Pray whether God may be calling you to be a gospel partner through regular prayer and/or monthly giving.
How to Give:
Send your gifts to Mission to the World at the address below. Be sure to include "Brent Kooi - 14009" in the memo line so your contribution will be properly credited.
      Mission to the World Donations
      P.O. Box 116284
      Atlanta, GA  30368-6284

To arrange for monthly partnership, contact me for more information. Or, if you would like to remain anonymous, contact Jennifer Miller at 678-823-0004 or jennifer.miller@mtw.org.

Japanese Christmas Traditions
Japan always puts a unique twist on things borrowed from overseas. So how is Christmas celebrated in Japan?

Romance: Christmas is a major date night for young couples. Popular destinations include Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios (Osaka), or perhaps a nice sushi dinner and a movie.

Gifts: Parents buys gifts for their children, and dating couples buy gifts for each other.

Family Dinner: Some years ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken pulled off a brilliant marketing campaign in which it convinced all of Japan that Americans celebrate Christmas with KFC fried chicken. Imagine reserving your KFC family meal to-go weeks in advance; that's what many people do in Japan every Christmas! My students were shocked to learn that KFCs in America are closed on Christmas day.

Christmas Cake: Never heard of "Christmas cake"? Well, you can hardly enjoy your KFC Christmas dinner without a Christmas cake! Decorated with fresh strawberries, Christmas cakes are a staple in Japanese Christmas observations. My students were also very surprised to know that Americans do not celebrate with such cakes.

Praise & Prayer
Praise God for the opportunity I have to spend Christmas with my parents in south Texas. Please pray for good roads and safe travel and for a good time with them.

Pray that many churches will open their doors to me for mission conferences, Sunday School, etc. and that God will use these opportunities to provide the needed ministry partners.

Pray for Genesis College as we continue to recruit faculty and various team members. Also pray for us as we work toward opening our doors, which do not yet exist! We hope to begin English classes in the Fall of 2014, but that is not certain as only our GIC president and his family are currently living in Osaka. Pray that I will soon be able to join them.

Thank You!
I want to thank so many friends and family from all over the world who are partnering with me through prayer and giving. I could not do this without your support. You are vital to this ministry!

I hope and pray that you have a blessed Christmas in which you experience the hope and joy found only in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

GIC Retreat
Twenty-four people gathered in the high desert north of Los Angeles for the Genesis International College retreat on November 1-4.  Despite a lengthy delay caused by the LAX shooting, God blessed our time together.  Just over half the participants have already committed to ten years with the team while the others are considering whether God may be calling them to join us.  Additionally, Bruce & Susan Young, veteran missionaries to Japan and mentors to our new team, encouraged us with their stories of God’s grace in sharing the gospel in Japan. This was the first occasion for many of the team members to meet each other.

Global Missions Conference
Nearly 3,000 people attended Mission to the World’s triennial Global Missions Conference earlier this month in Greenville, South Carolina.  Missionaries from around the world shared the challenges and the grace of God in their various ministries.  The “Japan Partnership” had a prominent display in the exhibit hall where visitors learned about the work in Japan as well as opportunities to join in bringing the hope of the gospel to Japan as financial partners, prayer partners, or by personally going to Japan for short-term or long-term missionary service.  There were dozens of seminar options where attendees could learn more about specific types of ministry, or ministry in specific nations.  Joseph Kim, President of Genesis International College, presented on reaching the lost youth of Japan.  During the Sunday morning worship service, Genesis College was featured in a five minute video.  You can view it by clicking here: GIC Video 2013.

The Japan Partnership hosted a lunch at a Japanese steakhouse.  More than 120 people attended and heard from missionaries from six different teams in Japan.  They also learned how their churches can become members of the Japan Partnership, whose goal it is to promote the work of the gospel in Japan and to coordinate their efforts with likeminded churches around the world.  If you would like information about the Japan Partnership, please email or call me (contact info is below).

Six years ago, I attended the Global Missions Conference trying to discern whether God was really calling me to missionary service in Japan.  I left convinced that I needed to apply and see where God would lead me.  It has been an exciting road as God took me away from the student development work I loved, gave me experience in and a heart for Japan, and then brought me back to working with university students in Japan.  Please pray that many others will heed God’s call upon their lives to either “go” or to “send” gospel laborers into the field.  Jesus says in Luke 10:2 “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

BIG NEWS!  Belhaven University Partnership!
We are excited to announce our partnership with Belhaven University in Jackson, MS.  This partnership lends credibility to our new college, helping us recruit students and offer them a top-notch education.  GIC students will take 25% of their classes online from Belhaven faculty, enabling our graduates to receive an accredited Associate in Arts degree from Belhaven.  With this, they can transfer to Belhaven or any other accredited university in America.

Belhaven University is a Christian liberal arts university dedicated to excellence in Christian higher education.  Prior to my first term in Japan, I worked at Belhaven for nine years including four years as the Dean of Student Life.

Brothers Behind Bars
I was highly honored to worship with, share the gospel with, and share God’s vision for GIC with 128 Christian brothers at the Tehachapi State Prison in the Mohave Desert earlier this month.  These men are sincere Christians, many of whom committed to praying for me and GIC.  I was convicted when one of them asked me to remember them in my prayers.  Hebrews 13:3 tells us to “remember those in prison.”  I encourage you to pray for prisoners and even to visit them.  You will discover great mutual encouragement!

End-of-Year Gifts
Would you please consider an end-of-year contribution?  All GIC faculty and staff are 100% funded by faithful financial gospel partners.  God has provided 54% of the pledges needed for my return to Japan.  I’m praying for 38 individuals who will partner with me at $100/month -- some more, and some less.  Pledges of any size help, and every one-time gift edges GIC closer to sharing the hope of the gospel with young adults in Osaka.

Checks can made out to "Mission to the World" and should include "Brent Kooi - 14009" in the memo line so that all contributions are properly credited.  Then send to:
    Mission to the World
    P.O. Box 116284
    Atlanta, GA  30368-6284

Thank You!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Extending Grace in a Culture of Perfection

Imagine a boss who expects nothing by complete and absolute perfection in your every task.  Or perhaps a husband or wife -- or parent -- who doesn't just expect your best, but a standard of perfection that is really unattainable.  Could you live up to those expectations?  Just one mistake or flawed effort and they don't forgive or forget.  No one can live up to this standard, yet that is life in Japan.  We may appreciate their attention to detail in their cars and electronics, but imagine that same expectation placed upon people.  The standard of perfectionism we know here in America pales in comparison.

The pressure of living in such an unforgiving culture has a detrimental effect on the person and the soul.  I've previously discussed "the zero defect effect" in Japan, resulting in the highest rates of depression and suicide in the industrial world.  But perfectionism also is a hindrance to the gospel.  To receive the gospel, one must own up to falling short of perfection.  This is very difficult when one's culture demands living the lie of absolute perfection.  But even once a Japanese person admits to their fallibility, receiving grace from Christ is difficult as they so rarely experience grace from other people.

The Japanese people are not alone;  we also struggle with the gospel.  How often don't we feel morally superior and more deserving of God's grace than other "more sinful" people?  After falling to particular sins, don't we feel momentarily unable to face our Savior?  Will we really be more worthy in a day or two, once this sin has worn off just a bit?  Ephesians 2:5 says that we were dead in our sins -- totally corrupted, unable to do anything good.  We may admit our total depravity with our mouths, and yet our hearts refuse to accept the depth of our sinful condition.  Our human nature believes we can deserve -- or at least contribute to -- our salvation.

Do we demonstrate God's grace in our lives through our forgiveness of others?  We naturally want to see justice upon those who offend us.  Justice is not a bad thing;  God is a just God.  But, unlike God, our desire to see justice is often motivated by a desire for revenge.  Romans 12:17 says, "Repay no one evil for evil."  Then in verses 19-21, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'  To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him;  if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;  for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  When we truly forgive others, we demonstrate our own understanding of God's forgiveness of our sins and we model the gospel to the world.

Please pray for the gospel of grace to penetrate deep into the hearts and culture of the Japanese people.

Financial Update:
God has provided 50% of the funds needed for my return to ministry in Japan.  As my budget is approximately $8,000/month, I am looking for 20 individuals who will partner with me at $100/month and for 10 churches supporting me at $200/month.  Of course contributions of all sizes are very much appreciated, whether $5/month or thousands.  God uses each gift for His kingdom.  Would you prayerfully consider whether God has called you to join His kingdom work through Genesis International College?  Please email (brentkooi@gmail.com) or call me (601-317-9379) if you would like to partner in this work.

Temporary Housing Needed:
I will be returning to Jackson, MS in November and need housing.  If you know of a church with a missionary house, please let me know.  I'm also interested in perhaps renting a room from another single man.  An empty house or apartment would be difficult as I have no furniture or household goods.  I hope to return to Japan in January, but can not know God's timing.

Upcoming Engagements:
  • October 6
    Immanuel Christian Reformed Church;  Orange City, IA
    9:30 a.m. Worship -- 10 minute presentation
  • October 13
    Living Hope Presbyterian Church;  Tea, SD
    9:00 a.m Sunday School -- full presentation
    10:00 a.m. Worship -- 10 minute presentation
  • October 20
    Hope Christian Reformed Church;  Hull, IA
    9:30 a.m. Worship -- 10 minute presentation
  • October 23 (Wednesday)
    Grace Presbyterian Church;  Sioux Falls, SD
    6:15 p.m. fellowship dinner
    7:00 p.m. -- full presentation
  • October 27
    Germantown Presbyterian Church;  Chancellor, SD
    9:30 a.m. Sunday School -- full presentation
    10:30 a.m. Worship -- 10 minute presentation
  • October 27
    Ebenezer Presbyterian Church;  Lennox, SD
    6:00 p.m. Worship -- full presentation
  • November 1-4
    Genesis International College Team Retreat
    Los Angeles, CA
  • November 8-10
    MTW Global Missions Conference
    Greenville, SC
Praises & Prayer:
  • My father is finished with his chemotherapy treatments.  the side effects have been quite moderate.  He has a PET scan on October 4 to determine whether any cancer is present and whether radiation treatment will be needed.
  • Praise God for many opportunities to share with Midwest churches about the vision God has given us to reach young people in Japan through the ministry of Genesis International College.  Pray that God will provide financial partners from these churches and individuals.
  • Pray that I will be able to return to Japan in January in order to have time for some full-time language study before the busyness of GIC requires all my time later in 2014.
  • Pray that God will provide housing for me upon my return to Jackson, MS in November.