Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in Osaka

Christmas has come and gone and I'm amazed at how much this "non-holiday" is celebrated in Japan. If you have followed this blog for a year or more, or if you see my (all too frequent) Facebook posts, you may recall that Christmas is observed in some unusual ways in Japan, ways that include KFC, Christmas cake, and a romantic date. I won't rehash these cultural traditions here this year. But I have been amazed at how Christmas seemed to permeate all of life over the last few weeks. From Christmas music in the stores, decorated trees in the stores (it's largely a commercial holiday, not unlike in America), to a huge Christ "Festival of Lights" illumination just a ten-minute walk from my apartment that drew hundreds of visitors every night for an entire month, Christmas seems to be growing in popularity in Japan. And yet in this nation where only about 0.2% of the people are Christians, very few people know that Christmas has anything to do with Jesus or Christianity.

Pastor Jay Greer sharing the gospel message at the
Mustard Seed Christmas worship event
This interest in Christmas is an opportunity to share with many unsaved people the true significance of Christmas. My church in Osaka, Mustard Seed Christian Church, took full advantage of the opportunity, renting a civic hall for Sunday worship on December 21 where 131 people (more than twice our usual number) clearly heard the bad news (we are sinners deserving of eternal punishment) and the good news (Jesus has taken our punishment and offers us eternal life with God if we just place our trust in Him). I had invited several people, including an art store employee who had been very helpful to me; he surprised me by attending and bringing a friend! With these two sitting on my right, and two college guys invited by my teammate on my left, Christmas worship was an emotional experience. Three people who attended the 2013 Christmas worship are now active members of Mustard Seed Church. Please pray that God will work in the hearts of many of those who attended our Christmas event this year as well.

Catching Up
I apologize that I haven't been posting regular updates since my return to Japan. Here is a brief catch up on what has been happening:

MTW Leadership Conference: In early September, I traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia where MTW team leaders from around the world were challenged and refreshed by speakers such as Michael Oh and the new MTW Coordinator, Lloyd Kim.

Genesis Leadership Team (L-R): Brent Kooi, Joseph
Kim, John Jung.
Korean Business Trip: In early October, I joined Genesis College president, Joseph Kim, for a several-day business trip to South Korea where we met with the other Genesis VP, John Jung. In addition to this being my first face to face meeting with John, we were able to accomplish some much needed planning for GIC, including some outreach events prior to the opening of the college, which is still some time in the future. I was also able to visit the Demilitarized Zone along the North Korean border (extremely interesting), and to worship at the church of Jae Yoo, former assistant pastor at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS.

John Piper at "Love Japan"
Love Japan: Christ Bible Institute (an MTW seminary ministry in Nagoya) hosted a three-day, three-city "Love Japan" conference in October. John Piper, D.A. Carson and Michael Oh rotated between Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. I was able to volunteer in Osaka and to hear these amazing men of God (as well as shake the hand of John Piper!).

Apartment: I moved into my apartment on October 14. One of the most difficult aspects of living in Japan is the process of renting and furnishing an apartment, getting utilities connected, etc. Everything is difficult when one doesn't understand the local language! Plus, Japan just seems to love complicated processes. After two years of "homelessness" in the States, it's good to have a comfortable retreat to call home, at least for a few years. Incidentally, there is a second bedroom that will be used by a GIC team member upon his arrival (likely this summer); until then, it is open for guests!

Health: Just a few days after moving into my apartment, I was hospitalized for several days with shingles. Because the outbreak was on my head, my doctor was concerned about possible palsy or ophthalmic nerve damage. Japanese doctors are much quicker to admit patients to the hospital, and because I'd heard horror stories of the intense pain, I was happy to be admitted. However, my pain was insignificant which I credit to the prayers of many of you and the grace of God. THANK YOU for your prayers!

Language School: I had planned to start full-time language school at the beginning of October. However, there were not enough students for a new class so the term was canceled. I now anticipate beginning my studies in January. Although the delay was disappointing, it was a providential gift from God as my hospitalization would have been a significant disruption just a week into my language studies.

Connecting with Local Pastors: About every other Sunday, I and my GIC teammates, Kevin and Nozomi West, worship at different area churches in order to build relationships with the pastors and their congregations and to ask for their prayers for Genesis College. In November, I also attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Japan. Please pray that god will foster good relationships with many churches for the building of His kingdom and the glory of His name.

(Check out the video below of the PCJ pastors singing "My Hope is Built."
The video is poor quality, but the a cappella singing is wonderful!)

Small Group: I am leading a weekly small group from Mustard Seed Church consisting of three Filipino-Japanese brothers. Each of them is in very different stages in their relationship with God, from committed Christian to a non-believer. Please pray that God will work in all of our hearts in drawing us to Himself.

End-of-Year Giving
Please keep Genesis International College in mind as you may be making any end-of-year charitable contributions. You can make a one-time contribution online by clicking here. You can also join the "Genesis 100 Fund." We are seeking 100 individuals who will contribute $167 each month for five years. This would provide $1 million in start-up and operation funds for the college to pay for such things as facility rent, utilities, basic furnishings, the salary for a Japanese executive assistant, and student scholarships. I and the other members of the Genesis Leadership Team have joined the Genesis 100 Fund, as have about fifty other individuals, bringing us a little over halfway to our goal. Click here for more information.

My personal ministry support is fully committed for the next four years, so any contributions you make toward Genesis College is very much appreciated.

THANK YOU for your prayers, encouragement,
and financial partnership in bringing the hope
of the gospel to the people of Japan! I could
not go if you did not send. Your partnership
means so much to me. Thank you!

Prayer Points
  • Praise God for restoring my health following a bout with shingles, and for negligible pain.
  • Praise God for bringing Kevin & Nozomi West to Osaka. For the first month and a half, I was the only member of the GIC team in Osaka.
  • Praise God for many guests at the Christmas worship event. Pray that God will draw their hearts to faith in His Son.
  • Pray that there will be sufficient students at the Osaka YMCA language school to have a new class. And pray that God will give me a great desire to work hard at learning this difficult language, that I may be a blessing to the Japanese people in my relationships with them and in sharing the grace of God in my life.
  • Pray for the men in my small group -- that God will strengthen the faith of those who already love Him, and that He will draw the other(s) to Himself.
  • Pray for our Genesis team who are scattered in various parts of America, and are in various stages of preparing to serve with GIC. Some are finishing degrees, others are raising support. And pray for those whom God has not yet brought across our path.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Boots on the Ground in Osaka!

"Konichiwa" from Osaka! I arrived here on Saturday, August 30 -- and it is so good to finally return to the land to which God has called me to serve after nearly two years in the States. My time in the States was refreshing, yet exhausting due to the frequent traveling and uncertainty of when God would allow me to return to Japan. But God is always good and had a plan for those two years. Now in Osaka, I am especially eager to see how God's plan will unfold here.

I am living at a "guest house," much like a hostel, but with a private room, shared kitchen, and shared bathrooms. Nearly half the residents are foreigners from all over the world. Although I am one of the oldest living here, it is a unique mission field and does provide me with immediate friends who can direct me to stores and resources in the city. I hope to find a more permanent apartment within a reasonable distance from the area where we hope to plant Genesis International College. But until then, this is an inexpensive place to live.

I ventured out on my second day to find Mustard Seed Church, a three year old bilingual
congregation. It was so good to worship in Japan, and to sing praises in Japanese, even if
it was just singing sounds that are mostly unintelligible to me right now! I will be involved
at Mustard Seed as much as possible until the GIC team is able to launch a church plant in a year or two.

There are so many things to do to settle into Osaka, including: applying to language school, getting a cell phone, finding an apartment, arranging for my things in Chiba to be shipped to Osaka. These may not sound like difficult tasks, but in Japan (especially as a foreigner) things always take much more time and effort.

Cambodia Travel
Although I have just arrived in Japan, I will be traveling to Cambodia for an MTW leadership conference the week of September 15-19. This is actually very good timing as the language school where I hope to study does not start a new session until October.

Thank You
Thank you to SO many people who have financially contributed to the ministry here in Osaka. I especially thank those of you who are regular partners -- monthly or annual -- as your generosity sustains me here in this work. I also thank everyone who is praying. Money is vital to get me here and keep me here, but prayer is what makes ministry effective. Thank you!

If you have committed to partner with me through financial support but have not yet begun to make contributions, I ask that you make arrangements to do so beginning this month. You can send checks monthly, or you can arrange for automatic monthly contributions. If you have any questions about how to do that, please let me know.

Prayer Points
  • Praise God for allowing me to return to Japan, and all the details involved in that including a three year visa that came through just before I had to depart for the airport in Chicago.
  • Praise God for safety in the air and on land.
  • Praise God for a good place to live -- temporarily -- that provides many ministry opportunities as well as a refuge from the busy city.
  • Praise God for a good church where I can worship regularly, and for the  pastor who was so willing to pick me up from the airport.
  • Pray that God will provide for a quality language school. I have applied at the YMCA school where many other Christians from the Mustard Seed Church are also studying. I will not know until October 7 whether I am accepted; classes start October 10.
  • Pray that I will be disciplined this month in reviewing my Japanese lessons from two years ago. I have forgotten so much, and need to prepare for full-time language school.
  • Pray that God will provide an appropriate apartment in His good timing and in the right location where I can host students and various guests in my home. Not only will be be difficult to find housing in a land where I cannot speak the language, but many companies are hesitant to rent to foreigners.
  • Pray that God will give me wisdom and discernment as I am the sole GIC member in Osaka, that He will provide Christian brothers to encourage and to keep me looking to God.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goal Accomplished!

It appears that God has provided 100% of my missionary budget to serve in Japan for four years! Final numbers are still being verified, but I have been granted permission to purchase an airline ticket for Osaka, which I did last night! THANK YOU to everyone who has or is contributing to the work of bringing the hope of the gospel to the people of Japan! If you have pledged toward my monthly support but have not yet begun making contributions, would you please start doing so in August? Thank you!

Northeast Travel Update

Three weeks on the road: sharing the vision for Genesis International College at three very different churches in three very different regions of the USA, meeting up with old friends, and enjoying the majesty of God's creation and the wonders of urban centers -- the diversity of humanity and the breadth of culture that God instilled by making His creatures creative beings.

It has been a joy to reconnect with many old friends, to meet many new ones, and to receive the gracious hospitality of Christian brothers and sisters as they have opened up their homes and their lives to me. It has also been encouraging to encounter a number of potential team members -- people open to God potentially turning their somewhat predictable world upside-down and exchanging their assumed order for His often topsy-turvy but perfectly ordered adventure.

Two more weeks of travel will bring me through New York City, Philadelphia, and down the Atlantic coast to Atlanta. Please pray that God will continue to bless me with safety on the roads, stamina to not just endure but enjoy the opportunities He provides, and encouragement in His word and through His people.

Prayer Points

  • Praise God for safety over many miles from Iowa to the Northeast, so far.
  • Praise God for allowing me to spread the word about Genesis College with many people, and for interest in our ministry among those who would pray, give, and perhaps even join our team.
  • Praise God for providing 100% of the funds/pledges needed to serve in Japan for four years!
  • Pray that there will be no problems or delays in getting my visa (for entry into Japan) processed at the Chicago consulate between August 25 and 28.
Upcoming Events
  • August 8
    Home meeting in Allentown, PA
  • August 10
    New York City, NY
    10:30 worship service
  • August 18
    Home meeting in Lexington, SC
  • August 20-22
    Meetings at MTW offices in Atlanta, GA
  • August 25-27
    Meetings in Chicago, IL with GIC President, Joseph Kim
  • August 28
    Departure for Osaka, Japan

Monday, July 28, 2014

Imminent Return to Japan

God is blessing me and providing the financial support required for my return to ministry in Japan! It is exciting to see how He is providing new ministry partners -- both individuals and churches.

With a monthly budget of $7,475, of which $7,334 has been given or pledged, I need just $141 more in monthly pledges! Some of you may be thinking that my salary is rather high for a missionary. I can assure you it is not, as most of this money is for expenses that never see my wallet. Japan is an expensive place to live; rent and utilities for a small apartment will take a large chunk out of this budget. Language school takes another bite. Train fares, insurance, and ministry expenses take the final large portions of this budget. Although I may have preferred for God to send me to a cheaper nation, God is sovereign over my call and has called His people to go into ALL the world with the gospel, not just to the economically feasible nations.

Upon my return to Japan, I will spend the first year in full-time language school. To do this, I need to depart by the end of August. For this to happen, I need another three people to partner with me in the gospel by pledging an average of $50 per month. WILL YOU STEP UP AND BE ONE OF THESE GOSPEL PARTNERS? To do so, just send me an email saying how much you would like to pledge per month. While monthly partners are the most helpful, you can also partner with me through a one-time contribution. These gifts are distributed over 48 months, bringing down the amount needed from monthly partners. You, too, can send me an email for more information regarding how to make a contribution.

THANK YOU to everyone who is currently giving, has given, or has pledged to give. You are a vital part of the spreading of the gospel around the world.

Five-Week USA Trip

Following two weeks in Iowa with family, I left for a five-week trip on July 16. My travels
have taken me through Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Currently in New York City, I will continue through Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Virginia, and the Carolinas. I am sharing the vision for Genesis International College at churches each Sunday, as well as with many old friends during the weekdays. At the conclusion of the trip, on August 20-22, I will be attending meetings at the MTW offices in Atlanta. I will then return my borrowed car to very gracious friends in South Carolina, and then fly to Chicago for several days of meetings with GIC president Joseph Kim. If the needed support has been pledged by then, I hope to fly out of Chicago for Osaka, Japan on August 28.

Time with Family in Iowa

Leaving Mississippi on June 30, I spent two weeks with family in Iowa. In addition to my parents and one brother's family who live in Iowa, my brother from Washington state and my sister and her family from Alberta, Canada were able to join us for a great small-town Iowa Fourth of July as well as just reconnecting as a family. This was the first time in nine years that "the original six" family members were all together.

Praise & Prayer
  • Praise God for a wonderful time with my family in Iowa this last two weeks.
  • Praise God for the opportunity to share the vision of GIC with several audiences the last few weeks, including:
    • Iowa Presbytery
    • West Friesland PCA & Faith PCA; Ackley, IA
    • Inwood Christian Reformed Church; Inwood, IA
    • South Grandville Christian Reformed Church; Grandville, MI
    • Church of the Redeemer (PCA); Cortland, NY
  • Praise God for additional ministry partners, both church and individuals, including:
    • Faith PCA of Ackley, IA
    • Grace PCA of Sioux Falls, SD
    • Bay Street PCA of Hattiesburg, MS
  • Pray for the remainder of my five-week northeast USA trip, for safety and a great time with many old friends.
  • Pray that the remaining 2% of my support will come in soon so that I can purchase a ticket to Osaka. Pray whether God might be leading you to partner with me in the gospel in this way.
  • August 3:
    Columbia Presbyterian Church (OPC)
    Baltimore, MD
    10 a.m. worship service
  • August 10:
    Uptown Community Church (PCA)
    New York City, NY
    10:30 a.m. worship service
  • August 17:
    Lexington Presbyterian Church (PCA)
    Lexington, SC
    Worship at Lexington PCA but no presentation; home meeting and GIC presentation on Monday evening.
  • August 20-22:
    Meetings at MTW headquarters in Atlanta.
  • August 25-27:
    Meetings in Chicago, IL and processing of visa at Japanese consulate.
  • August 28:
    Departure goal, flying out from Chicago.
Culture Corner

A hallmark of Japanese summers is the "matsuri" festivals. Nearly any weekend, one can find a nearby matsuri. Although originally associated with the Shinto religion, these festivals are largely secular and an excuse for people to dress in traditional summer "yukata," eat traditional Japanese "fair food," drink beer, and most importantly, to enjoy "hanabi," or watching fireworks.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Financial Update
God continues to provide new ministry partners, bringing me to 87% of my monthly budget! This brings the remaining need to $970 per month, which could be met by 19 partners pledging $50 per month. As progress has picked up momentum, I feel confident that God will allow me to depart for Japan at the end of August. Specifically, I am targeting August 25 to fly to Osaka!

Will YOU consider partnering with me in bringing the hope of the gospel to the people of Japan? Monthly pledges both big and small are all important in sustaining me in ministry over the next four years. One-time gifts also help as they are placed into a fund to be dispersed over 48 months. For more information, you can email me at brentkooi@gmail.com or if you prefer to remain anonymous, you can contact Jennifer Miller at MTW at 678-823-0004.

THANK YOU to all who have or are contributing as well as all those who pray for this ministry. I could not do any of this without you! Please continue to pray for God's provision and my timely departure in August.

Final Days Stateside:
Great Lakes, East Coast, & Departure
As my departure grows imminent, there is much to do including applying for my missionary visa into Japan, and final travel including Texas, Iowa, the Great Lakes area, the northeast, and down to Atlanta. I look forward to seeing many old friends and sharing the vision of Genesis International College in various churches. If you live along my route, I would love to see you!

Here is my tentative schedule:

  • June 16-20: Houston, Texas; PCA General Assembly
  • July 1-12: Family time in Iowa
  • July 13: Speaking at joint PCA churches of Ackley, Iowa
  • July 14-17: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois
  • July 18: Huntington University gathering in Indiana
  • July 19-21: Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • July 20: South Grandville Christian Reformed Church; Grandville, Michigan
  • July 22-24: Indiana, Ohio
  • July 25-26: Western Pennsylvania
  • July 27: Church of the Redeemer; Cortland, New York
  • July 28-Aug. 10: New York, New England, Eastern Pennsylvania
  • August 10: Uptown Community Church; New York City
  • August 11-16: Central Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia
  • August 17-19: North Carolina, South Carolina
  • August 20-22: Meetings at MTW offices in Atlanta
  • August 23-24: With friends in South Carolina
  • August 25: Departure (goal) from Charlotte, North Carolina
Please pray for this trip and all the logistics that still need advance planning including:
  • additional church visits
  • weekday personal visits
  • overnight accommodations for 5-1/2 weeks
If God provides for the remainder of my support by mid-August, I will be able to purchase tickets to Osaka, wrap up business in the MTW offices in Atlanta, return my car to the friends in South Carolina who have graciously given it to me for my time in the States, and then fly out of Charlotte, NC on August 25. If the needed support is not pledged by that time, I will still return my car in SC before flying back to Iowa until such time as I can depart.

Culture Corner
Open House English Class - Kaihinmakuhari Church
Eastern and western cultures often seem to be diametrically opposed in every facet of life. My favorite example of this comes from one of my English classes in Chiba. At the conclusion of each class, the teacher was to clean up and wash the coffee cups. However, the students would never allow their teachers -- especially the male teachers -- to wash the cups. Rather, each student would stay until everything was done. In one particular class, all eight women would stay each week. In the narrow, cramped spaces that are Japan, only one woman could fit in front of the sink. A second woman would reach in to retrieve each cup and dry it and the pass it down a line of the other six women until it was placed back in the cabinet.

To me, this was the epitome of inefficiency and ridiculousness. In America, we might create a schedule, designating one or two students to weekly clean up duties. But not in Japan. Eventually this weekly oddity became routine and I learned to appreciate it. In Japanese society, the group is central to culture. Nobody would think of leaving the group until all the work was finished -- well, except for the men; they leave the work for the women because some things really are universal. But for the women, cleaning up as a group was an important part of social time with their classmates. I also came to realize that this emphasis on the group is more compatible with Christianity than the individualism of western culture. The early church in Acts 2 spent time with each other and "had all things in common," and "the Lord added to their number day by day." Our Christian unity and love for one another are crucial in living out the gospel each day.

It's easy to be critical of unknown cultures. Yet regardless of how Christian or un-Christian the society, we all reflect our Creator in various ways and can learn from the most disparate of cultures.

Prayer Points
  • Final 13% of needed support to come in by mid-August.
  • Travel safety to Texas, to Iowa, and through the Great Lakes and northeast down to Atlanta.
  • Missionary visa to be timely processed.
  • Church appointments each week to share the vision of Genesis College.
  • Good personal visits with old friends and potential ministry partners.
  • Accommodations for 5-1/2 weeks on the road.
  • For an August 25 departure.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Mark of the Christian

Breaking News: 37 Year-Old Housewife Joins AKB-48! I'm sure this is old news to all my readers, right? No? Well it was huge news a couple weeks ago in Japan. But you may be wondering, "What is 'AKB-48'?" It is perhaps the most popular singing group in Japan and much of Asia. Originally consisting of 48 female singers, all of them in their teens or early twenties, the group recently added Mariko Tsukamoto, a housewife and mother of two, in an effort to expand their fan base.

What drew my attention was the choice of jewelry that Mrs. Tsukamoto wore to the big announcement: a cross necklace. Necklaces featuring the Christian cross are common in the States, and are not necessarily worn only by Christians. Ironically, the cross necklace is even more common in Japan where only 0.2% of the population is Christian. To be honest, I sometimes feel a little offended that the cross is used for adornment but without any of the meaning behind its significance. It's possible that Mrs. Tsukamoto is a Christian -- wouldn't that be wonderful, to have a Japanese Christian in such a bright spotlight? -- but it is unlikely.

This started me thinking about the mark of a Christian. How can we know whether someone really is a Christian? We obviously can't depend on jewelry or tattoos. Nor can we depend on church membership or leadership. A friend recently resigned his role as a church elder and left the church stating he no longer believes in the existence of God. Matthew 7:16 says, "You will recognize them by their fruits." My friend certainly seemed to produce good fruit in himself and others. John 13:35 says, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." My friend was and is a loving man. How can we know someone is a legitimate Christian? Is there any real litmus test? Ultimately, only God knows. I Samuel 16:7 says, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." And yet, discerning not just other's hearts, but more importantly my own heart is a challenge for me. Is my heart sincere in its pursuit of God? I have doubts some days; but so did the Psalmist. In Mark 9, a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus for healing. He states, in verse 24, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Is my faith real? Or is it no more significant than the crosses worn by so many unsaved people around the world? Is your faith real? Or is it something you wear for cultural comfort? Let us persist in our faith, and to ask God to help our unbelief. And let us not grow impatient with the work of the Holy Spirit in calling saints and sinners to Himself. "In John 10:27-28, Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no  one will snatch them out of My hand."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Financial Update

I'm very excited to report that since my last post, God has brought great progress to my total monthly pledged support, causing it to jump from 59% to 73%! How did such a significant jump come about? Some of it was from new pledges. However, the majority of this is due to two adjustments with the MTW office. First, my budget was reworked to correct an error that was recently discovered. Additionally, there was a reallocation of funds that came from two sources: one-time gifts that have been given over and above my one-time budget needs, and funds from monthly partners which have been greater than my current need while in the States. All of these funds are being pro-rated for monthly support over the course of the next five years. THANK YOU to everyone who is partnering with me in bringing the hope of the gospel to the people of Japan!

At 73%, I am officially into the "two-thirds" supported level. Most missionaries find that the final one-third comes in the most quickly -- but not always. I'm very hopeful that God will allow me to depart for Osaka, Japan this summer. Please praise God for how He works through partners of all kinds!

Uncle Bob's Storage Lawsuit

Some of you are aware of the lawsuit that I had to file against Uncle Bob's Storage. Because this blog is visible to anyone on the net, I will not go into any detail about this situation except to say this: my lawyer and I are scheduled to meet with the storage defendants on Monday, April 7. We will have a neutral mediator who will help us reach a mutually agreeable outcome. If we cannot reach a solution, we will need to proceed to civil court before a judge. Please pray that this will not be necessary. Pray that God will work out justice and that the settlement will cover my loss.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gospel Resistance in Japan?

One of the most common questions I'm asked is "Why are the Japanese people so resistant to the gospel?" It's a good question. We hear of the explosive growth of the church in China, India, Africa, and even in the Arab world. Why not Japan? There are many complex issues all interwoven through each other, but here are a few of the key issues.

Conformity: There is a strong expectation to always look, act, and be like everyone else. This can be seen in the uniforms worn by most school children and the amazing order in which they sit in nice, neat rows. It's also seen in the sea of monochrome colors among working adults with their typically nondescript ties. Conformity is deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture, where each person is responsible for the actions of their family, friends, and colleagues. In 1597, following the expulsion of Portuguese missionaries and the crucifixions of 26 Japanese Christians, the authorities instituted a system in which five families were grouped together for public accountability. If a member of this group turned in a Christian, the Christian was killed.  If someone outside the group reported a Christian, everyone in the five families was killed. Although Japanese people are now free to worship as they like, this sense of group responsibility remains today. To be Japanese means one is Buddhist and Shintoist; it's an inseparable part of the culture. One Japanese man, upon converting to Christianity, was asked, "You are no longer Japanese?" In a nation where only 0.2% of the people are Christians, sharing the gospel with a Japanese friend is seen as asking them to no longer be Japanese.

Perfection: While visiting with students at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham recently, after I described the level of perfectionism expected in Japan, two different students asked me, "Is Japan a nation of OCD people?" Well, no it is not. But there is incredible pressure to do everything to the absolute highest of standards. It's no accident that Japan is known for high quality cars and electronics. And where else could someone pay $150 for a perfect melon? The pressure to be perfect in every way is crippling. More than a million young people have isolated themselves in their parents' homes, and nearly 30,000 people commit suicide every year. In a culture that offers no grace for the imperfect, the concept of "sin" is as foreign as shrimp and grits. In this context, sharing the gospel means telling a Japanese friend that he is not perfect -- that he needs help from Someone better than him. Even if your friend is able to admit to being a sinner, he is not accustomed to receiving grace from others, so receiving grace from Jesus is often a lifelong struggle.

Japanese Superiority: Most nations have been on the losing side of war. A culture as old as Japan has typically been humbled by defeat many times over the millennia. Japan has done more than its share of humiliating its neighbors, but has only ever lost one war. And although World War II was certainly humiliating, the conqueror helped Japan to quickly rebuild itself and salvage its honor. Japan does see itself as superior to other peoples. As such, it does not take quickly to ideas from these other cultures, including Christianity.

Ultimately, however, we know that God is not limited by these cultural issues. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). God's sovereign election of His people is always effective. As the will of God dictates, Japanese people will respond to the gospel. Isaiah 55:11 says, "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." As the bearers of God's word, we can rest in the comfort that God is ultimately sovereign over the response of all men to the call of the gospel. Japan, too, will one day kneel at the name of Jesus. Please pray that God will soon draw the hearts of Japan to Himself. And please back up those prayers with action, by either going to proclaim the good news of the gospel or by partnering with me or others who have committed to bring the hope of the gospel to this people with so little hope.

Monday, January 27, 2014

10 Ways to Support Missionaries that DON'T Involve Money

I am so thankful for the many Christians who have faithfully supported me in various personal ways. There are unique challenges in living overseas, as well as in returning home from an extended period in a foreign culture. Here are some ways I have been supported and encouraged. I hope you will likewise encourage other missionaries.

  1. Pray: I firmly believe that money may send a missionary to the field, but prayer is what makes us effective. But don’t stop there; tell us  that you are praying for us. When you receive a prayer request from us via email or on Facebook, etc., send a quick reply. Keep it short, as we are busy; but we are so encouraged to know that someone actually is reading our requests — and praying!

  2. Keep us Connected: Communicate with us while we are overseas. Help us stay up on you, your family, and your church.

  3. Combat Homesickness: Send a care package. Ask us what we miss and cannot get in our particular nation. I loved the homemade fudge I received in Japan! I also received a photo of a pre-school Sunday School class with a foam frame that said, “We’re praying for you!” It stayed on my fridge until the day I left Japan.

  4. Send us Off/Welcome us Home: Have a commissioning during worship to acknowledge our service and your partnership in our ministry. Meet us at the airport. Throw a party for our departure and return.

  5. Stateside Housing: When we return from overseas, help us find appropriate housing, whether permanent or until we return to the field. A “missions house” is ideal - it might be owned or rented by a church for the use of missionaries. It is comfortably furnished. Perhaps you have a guest house, an “in-law suite,” or an extra room. Missionaries cannot buy housewares for our regular and temporary stays in America. And we need some normality and a place to call our own.

  6. Cars/Mini-vans: Finding appropriate temporary transportation can be difficult. Keep your eye out for an affordable car or mini-van for returning missionaries. Upon my return to the States, a very good friend signed over an extra car he is saving for his daughter. It’s legally mine so I can insure it and even take it across the border into Canada. Upon my return to Japan, I will sign it back over to him. (He gets to be the first I saw upon my return and the last I’ll see when I leave!) What a blessing!

  7. Ask Thoughtful Questions: Ask us about our ministries, family life, the culture. Don’t just ask about weird foods! We need to share the significant experiences we’ve just had. It helps us adjust to life here and to reconnect with our friends and family. Honestly, very few people asked me anything of significance upon my return to the States, and it was very difficult to deal with that.

  8. Offer Your Services: Are you a CPA? Offer to help with taxes. A doctor? Offer a free office visit  Counselor? Help us process our experiences. Mechanic or “car guy”? Offer help with our old cars! What do you do, or can you do? Your help is appreciated so much!

  9. Introduce Us: We often need to expand our network of financial supporters. Introduce us to your interested friends.

  10. Include Us from Overseas: Does your church do an annual missions conference? Do you ever have guest missionaries speak at Sunday School or during worship? Depending on the technology available to the missionary, it may be easy to include missionaries overseas via Skype.