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.