Monday, December 12, 2016

Finding Purpose in Life

I recently volunteered as a judge for the Kobe University English club's annual speech contest. While I very much enjoyed interacting with the students, I left the event somewhat depressed.

Over the course of the day, I listened to speeches from first and second year university students who had previously submitted their scripts, and then were to recite the speeches from memory.

One young man entitled his speech "You Should Have More." He went on to try to convince us that we must laugh more every day as this will affect not just our overall happiness, but our physical and emotional health as well.

Top contestants at Kobe University English Club Speech Contest

Another young man spoke on "Circumstances May Justify a Lie." He advocated for telling lies with skill, as they are necessary to avoid negative consequences, and also to prevent others from having any feelings of guilt.  For example, if you are meeting a friend, but arrive early, and your friend arrives late, you should tell him that you also just arrived. Helping others to save face in this way is very common in Japan.
My co-judge and I gave first place to a young woman who spoke on suicide. Entitled "Treasure Yourself," she offered advice on how to help friends who may be suicidal. For example, you should point out their strengths, such as athletic, academic, or musical abilities. After each speech, one judge was to ask two questions of the student. I asked her what she would say to a friend who wasn't particularly talented in any area. She pondered this for a few moments, and then said, "I would say, 'You are my friend.'" I liked her answer. But I wished there had been even more depth. I wished that this young woman and all the contestants would realize that each person has innate value as someone created in the image of God.

Other students advocated for such things as keeping your home or room orderly, valuing Japan, identifying your strengths, eating azuki beans (they are healthier than western snacks), or using a motorcycle. All of the speeches had something in common: they promoted one thing that you can do to give purpose to your life. Without this one thing, one must suppose that life will spin hopelessly out of control.

It saddened me that these students all think there is one thing they can do to give their lives meaning and direction -- that they don't see their innate value as image-bearers of God. Can this all be attributed to the significant cultural differences between eastern and western thinking? As I read through the scripts in preparing for this newsletter, I realized it's actually a cultural difference between Christians and those who do not know the hope of the gospel. Our neighbors in the States are also looking for that one thing that will make them happy, successful, and able to live with purpose.

Romans 15:13 tells us, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." And in John 16:33, we read "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

Whether in Iowa, Mississippi, New York or Osaka, as Christians, we are called to always be prepared to answer those who ask us "for the reason for the hope that is in [us]" (1 Peter 3:15). This challenges me as I am not always joyful in the assurance of my salvation, but often look for inferior things to give me purpose. But these things never satisfy.

Please pray not only for the lost and searching people of Japan, but for those in your own neighborhood, and even in your family, who do not have the purpose that only a relationship with Jesus Christ can give us. And then look for ways to share the joy you have in knowing that God has a plan for your life here and now, as well as eternally.

End-of-Year Contributions
If you are interested in making an end-of-year contribution, please consider giving toward the work of the gospel in Osaka, either directly to my missionary account for to Genesis International College. Having been pushed into the role of team leader and interim president after the departure of our team founder, my expenses have been greater than originally budgeted. God has provided well, but it is likely that I will need to return to the States somewhat sooner than originally planned due to the additional strain on my budget. You can make a one-time contribution by clicking here, or you can email me if you'd like to pledge monthly or annual support.

If you would like to contribute directly to the expenses of Genesis International College by clicking here. If you'd like to be a regular donor, please email us here.

Thank you for your consideration!

Recruiting Update
I traveled to the States in October to attend the annual "Fall for Japan" conference in the Baltimore area. I also made a stopover in Minneapolis to visit with a prospective GIC president, and was able to spend a couple of days there with my Aunt Lyla and my mom, who flew up from Iowa. Please pray that God will continue to draw the right person to the position of president, as well as college faculty and church planters.
 Enjoying the fall colors of
Minnesota with my mom

Genesis Cafe Finished?
Since July 2015, we have hosted a monthly "Genesis Cafe" event at a local coffee shop. We've been able to serve over 100 people in their English abilities, and to build relationships with them toward sharing the hope of the gospel, all while building a reputation for Genesis that will serve us in our future recruiting efforts.

In October, we were informed that the coffee house would close at the end of the year. On December 7, we hosted our last Genesis Cafe event at Gloria Jean's Coffees. God provided a wonderful location and a staff that was always eager to help us -- not an easy thing to find in Japan!

After much consideration, we have found a new venue at the Swissotel. How does an upstart ministry get into an international hotel? Through a "chance" meeting some months ago at a local Mexican restaurant where I met the Swissotel food and beverage manager! We are so thankful for another example of God's providential care for us, long before we even knew a need existed! The hotel has even expressed interest in having their employees participate in our events.
Final night at Gloria Jean's
(Click for larger image)

Prayer Points
Pray for our new event at Swissotel, for all the details before our first event on February 1, and that many students will attend and hear the hope of the gospel.

Pray for the many Christmas events hosted this month by churches and missionaries around Japan. Japanese people enjoy Christmas as a date night, or with their families having KFC takeout and a Christmas cake. But they do not know the real significance of Christmas. I was in a Christmas musical again this year at Mustard Seed Christian Church. Some 320 people attended the first show last Sunday, and another 390 attended this Sunday! Pray that the gospel message will penetrate each of their hearts for the glory of God and the salvation of His people.

Pray for GIC missionary Tim Bentson who is at 95% of his support and hoping to arrive in Japan by the end of the year, in time to join all MTW Japan missionaries at a retreat in the mountains of Nagano. (Click here to learn more about him, or to partner with him either monthly or one-time.)