The Dayspring From on High

“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him”. -I Cor 8

December has once again sprung upon us. Whether in America or Japan, Christmas songs abound and lights can be seen all around. Despite not knowing about Christ, the songs they hear here, or the images they see, the Japanese do get into a festive-like spirit, and very much welcome Christmas. Experiencing different cultures, without a doubt, can be a great spiritual experience. It challenges many of your core beliefs and opinions, forces you to examine yourself and, if done in light of the Word of God, to your betterment. This is our third Christmas here, and we have seen how the holiday season is such an effective tool to reach the Japanese. New Years, or Oshogatsu (お正月), is one of the two biggest times of year for the Japanese – as it highly symbolizes a new chance – a chance to be “clean”, of which they esteem very very much. Again this year, we have been able to utilize this time to introduce true, eternal cleansing through Christ.


Mia designed this to represent three highlights of Jesus; based on the book: The Three Trees.

We recently took the time to examine some more of the history of Christmas tradition, the related scriptural references, and where we stood on it – because whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23), and if we are going to take-part in something, we need to make sure we completely believe in what we are doing. It was interesting to read about the apparent introduction that Martin Luther had with the Christmas tree, and the several conflicts that the puritans had over Christmas traditions, both good and bad. Many do not know about the pagan origins of Christmas, and we reached a point where we personally needed to determine if and how such were going to affect both our celebration and ministries here. Jeremiah warns of learning of the vain traditions of cutting down trees and decking them with ornaments as idol worship. Jesus also said that we can make even the Word of God vain in our lives with traditions. We compared that to the principal of God using things that had evil origins, and turned them around and utilized them for good in stead. We see this done throughout the Bible as well as history. If we decided not to use something on the basis that because unbelievers “got to it first”, there would scarcely be a thing that we could actually use in life. We need to do “all to the glory of God” (I Cor 10), and we have decided to utilize Christmas, though not perfect, for the glory of God. Whatever your understanding of the year-end holidays, we hope that you too may take some time to learn about how it began, and determine for yourself, the good and the bad.

Kids’ English Christmas Lesson

Hoping that I haven’t offended many, moving on to what has occurred during the holiday ministries. We had the final “Kids’ English” class for this year. We had several of the kids’ parents and friends come for the final class, and also had several church members join us to bring together a Christmas message (In case that you don’t know the details, this is an English ministry for non-christian children).

Teaching using Youversion Bible App and Anastasia’s Art

After the ministry, the church members prepared some food and drinks. One of the children came up to me to ask me if I was drinking beer. I asked why she thought so, and she said that “Because you’re a man, so that’s why you drink”; this little girl is only four years old. During the ministry time, this same girl, without ever spending time with me before, ran up to me just for me to hug and hold her and didn’t want me to let her go for quite a while.

A sad majority of Japanese children grow up in an environment with very little of their fathers in their lives, either because their dad works endless hours, or because the children themselves are expected to follow the example, and be at school for sometimes around 60 hours a week. Alcohol is not condemned at all in Japan, and on the contrary, most workers rely on it to make it through the week. On the inside, the Japanese are very much dead people, though a great harvest field for God’s Seeds. At the same time, the adversary has a very strong hold on this country, and we cannot help them without your prayers to breakthrough.

Anastasia’s Newest Drawings

Along with the church, there were a whole lot of Christmas “meets” for preaching the gospel, including at nursing homes, the church, and for children – so many that we couldn’t help at all of them. Mia and I shared the gospel story to more children at the church last week using “Kami-shibai” (紙芝居), like picture stories, at Kid’s English, and even during a private meeting. Our friend Anastasia Merritt continues to help a lot with using her gifts of art by supplying continual drawings to help minister. We were able to use her artwork several times to introduce what Jesus was/is really like, and why he actually came to earth.

Church Christmas Service

We also had the annual Christmas gathering for the school and gave a presentation with the gospel. Along with Easter, this time of year is also a time where I can easily share the gospel with my classes, and give lessons around Christ. Please pray for a lady named Yumi. She has had several interactions with Mia over the year and we were able to spend some time with her and her daughter this week. We got to share the Christmas message and the gospel some with them personally, and we are praying for her to know the Lord. Please also continue to pray for the Nishimoto family. On Christmas day I had a Christmas-themed lesson at their home and their son, Takumi, joined. Takumi is now actually attending a Christian mission college in Kyoto, about 3-4 hours from here, but his parents are not saved. They came to the school Christmas meet and are continually exposed to the gospel during our classes. Please pray for their salvation!

GRACE Academy Christmas With Hiroko, ourselves, some helpers, and the students.

There is more I could share but I think I will stop here for now. I want to say thank you so much for your support and prayers, and on behalf of the Spratt family, Merry Christmas.

Change of Season

“The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season”. -(Ps 145)

You are a great waiting person”…. or, rather I should say it’s been a little while since the last post. Lately, God has been engraving in me the idea of how important the mundane is. Waiting. Wanting. Working – Study. Pain.  Loss. What makes something special, special? There is a word I learned of many years ago in the Cebuano language called sawa-a, which refers to something that, if used, consumed, or enjoyed on a usual basis, looses its luster or appeal. There is so much truth in this word!

“It is not good to eat much honey….” and… “the full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” (Pro 25 & 27)

When I experience pain or simply undesired events, it has a long-term effect on my spirit. It makes the enjoyable things more enjoyable. The good things… gooder. I am being reminded more and more of, perhaps, one reason why we are to “in every thing give thanks”, as the seemingly bad, or even neutral, things in life temper us in godly ways if we respond with a godly mindset. This also reminds me of our purpose in Japan, or anywhere in the world. As Christians we are sent into the world as a “light that shineth in a dark place”. The further this world descends into evil, the brighter the Light of the World can appear – no matter what kind of “season” we are in at the moment, one of plenty or one of want.

Bible/language study with the Matsuuras.

Speaking of season, this time last year we were hit with that historical snowfall that killed many over here. This time this year is rather different from that of last year. We are now, more or less, in an annual rhythm of things. A couple of the ministries we do or participate in pause for the New Year. On the other hand, work picks-up around the same time for a little while, so it’s pretty well balanced now. We are in the planning process for the new year of these ministries and are trying to be more faithful in spending more time in prayer for these ministries; we hope you will continue to join us in doing so!

Hannah singing: “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in both English and Japanese – we were quite happy!

Recently I had been running a tiny Sunday School class during the church worship service. This was largely in part to alleviate the parents, as well teach the children. However, after this past week’s meeting with Pastor Emori, he and his wife want to try a different approach with some of the kids and have them stay in the main service for a while, so we are suspending the kids’ Sunday School class. The last two weeks have been a difficult start, but we will see how it progresses. Instead, Mia and I will begin teaching during part of the adult Sunday School session: that starts this coming week.

A recent S.S. craft to teach the creation.

We also recently had the opportunity to preach, sing, and give testimony at a gathering in Mikuni. This group of people mostly lives near Tojinbo, one of the top three suicide spots in Japan. This week we are also planning on resuming school gospel tract distribution. The Japanese often tread on foot or take bike to their destinations, and so passing out gospel tracts before school starts for the day has proven quite effective. We ask that you would remember the people of these places in prayer, too. Finally, we have begun having Mr. and Mrs. Matsuura over, the couple that has been giving Mia guitar lessons. The goal of starting these meetings is to help each other learn the respective languages better through reading and comparing the Scriptures.

This has also been a season of blessing. From receiving (and almost receiving!) packages, seeing pictures of those praying for us, and being blessed with generous gifts for both us and the ministry, has been very encouraging during these cold winter months. This has certainly been a season of blessing.

Blessings in Return,

-The Spratts

Dear unto us

“So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

 

Greetings from Nihon! A cold one, at that! It’s about time for us to take things out of our freezer and just leave them on the counter.

It has been a little while since we last gave an update. So I hope that I can fill everyone in on what you may want to know. Where to start!?

Kid’s English has started it’s second term. We are rather excited about this term, instead of it being two separate classes that only last for an hour each, both classes have been combined and it lasts for two hours. The first hour, all of the children are together. We have songs, games, Bible lesson (the important part that we couldn’t really do last term), and then snack time. The second half starts with everyone together to learn English from the Bible lesson and then we separate the older kids from the younger kids. I take the younger kids to a different room and we learn to write the A,B,Cs, and do our craft. Brian keeps the older kids with him and reviews the vocabulary, write the A,B,Cs, and then do the craft. Everyone does pretty well. The one thing I enjoy is that they seem to really enjoy the Bible lesson. We use the Youversion Kid’s Bible app. Please be in prayer for the children, that they would soak up the Bible stories. That their hearts would be drawn to God. Also, please pray for the few children that aren’t coming this term. I’m sorry as I can’t remember some of the names. But three of them, their dad is a monk for a temple so the grandparents were against them coming to Kid’s English knowing we have the intentions of using the Bible. Then about 3 other children (who are friends with the siblings) chose not to attend because the sibling’s mom was the one who brought them, plus, I think, they probably wanted their friends to be there.

 

There is a group of us ladies that have just started to meet. Most of them go to the friend church (Bunkyou). Oddly enough, two of the people’s names starts with an R and the other three of our names starts with M. So we have become R&M. But the group started with the intent of encouraging one another as we all have our own lives in a country that is so busy.
We are looking into going through “The Screwtape Letters” with the study guide that was made years later. I believe we are all rather excited. While we should certainly understand the heart of God but also learning quite a bit about how our Enemy works should help. Every one, no matter where in the world we are, are always fighting inside the spiritual world whether we know it or not.
Please pray as this group develops as we all develop a relationship with each other, that we can help strengthen each other in the Lord.

 

Hannah is doing well. Growing like a weed. Or I guess, in Japanese, what her name means, a flower. A very beautiful flower (I might be just a slight bit bias). She is speaking both English and Japanese now. She doesn’t really speak actual full sentences though. She can get out a string of words though. She loves to play guitar with me and she loves to take “shashin” (as she holds up her cute little thumb up for confirmation that she can do so). Shashin means “photo”.
After praying for sometime about it, we recently decided to enroll her in youchien, which is like kindergarten. Daddy and Mommy have mixed emotions but we are at least thankful that it is a Christian youchien. We are excited to see her language increase and make new friends. Before you know it, she’ll be teaching her parents the language. 😊 But God still continues to use her, as she continues to catch people’s attention with her blonde, curly hair.

We’ve had some opportunities this month to share the gospel whether through the church or through the city.

Truly, we are always amazed that the city keeps asking us to speak. It is a blessing!
We continue to go to the Tanpopoen Nursing Home. Brian gave a message about who we are, the story behind Thanksgiving and he tied in the gospel message to it all. He also played the accordion and we sang a fun song to get everyone moving. Then some of our church ladies did some hula dancing to a beautiful song about God’s grace. Hannah decided to join in on the dance half way through which brought a lot of smiles and laughter. It was all such a wonderful time.

 

The things that the city has asked us to do is another kominkan.  Which is a kind of activity that is held at a community center. Again, Brian gave in introduction of who we are, mentioned Halloween just a bit, then Thanksgiving, lastly, the gospel. We sang gospel songs and had everyone participate in doing the moves. It was also a good time.
The other thing that the city has been inviting Brian back to do is talk on the radio. This time was his third time. The first time, they were interested in what a Christian volunteer is and a bit of the gospel. The second time, they seemed to focus more on sports and everything else that we don’t really have interest in. This time they asked about Thanksgiving and more of what Christianity is. We are excited as they continue to ask him to go back. We really pray and hope that even “just one more soul” would come to Christ through this.

Now, I’ll bare my heart on what desires we have had.
I’ve been learning guitar from a couple at Bunkyou Church. The husband is the one teaching but it has been so much fun to be able to get to know them better. Also, the wife wants to learn English but considering that the husband mostly speaks in Japanese, it’s been great to try and converse. It’s funny though because she wants to use English, but I want to use Japanese.
But the main reason to wanting to play guitar is for ministry. Whether at church and they need a guitar player, some other Christian gathering needs a guitar player, or just for someone who needs personal comfort through music. One of the biggest has to be for the Pocket Ministry. To be able to play live music in Japanese and English and hopefully, draw people to our table. Actually, one of our Pastor’s sons joined us for the last ministry and he intents to come to the next. He is very eager to join. Thankfully, he also plays guitar so I’m sure this can only help.

Makito (facing the camera) helping with Pocket Ministry.

Another desire that we have is to start a Sunday School for our church. We only have three children (that’s including Hannah). But for most of church time, the other two are just running around wherever they want. So I’ve started to look into some type of curriculum, personally. So far, I think I like it. Still going through it though. But for now, Brian takes them upstairs and does a small type of lesson with them. But Pastor and Mrs. Emori are really praying for a Sunday School. It was through reaching out to children that the church started out. All of those children are now the grown-up members that attend on Sunday. The one reason that I’m not teaching yet is because my language is still too weak.

Thankfully, because of Brian switching to part time, I have more time to study but I’m still having some difficulty. So please continue to pray as we continue to learn the language. Of course, please continue to pray for the hearts of the Japanese. Truly, they are blind to their own personal needs, for the most part, others’ needs, but most importantly, the needs for their souls. They are “dear unto us” and it’s so hard to watch them be oblivious whether we just told them or not that they need Christ.

But we want to thank you all for your prayers. We are given strength because of them.

To Know Our Affairs

“…I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts.” -Eph 6

Upon review, it seems that the post intended for June never quite made it to publishing – I apologize. Please let me take this time to get caught back up that ye might know our affairs.

 

First of all, it was our pleasure to host Lance Beachy here for about a month. He did a very good job during his stay here and we hope and pray that his time in Japan will be the springboard to a great and life-long walk with the Lord! Please pray with us as we weigh the future of hosting others (both in general and specifically). There are a few people/options that are already in consideration and we want to seek the Lord about them.

 

“My ways are not your ways, your thoughts are not my thoughts”, and the Lord has certainly shown that a few different ways lately. As you may know, Hannah and I were hit by a car a couple of months ago, though very thankfully not at high speeds. I have a problem with my left hip (though not sure if it was a problem from before, or because of, the accident) and Hannah hit her head, but we are otherwise fine. We are so thankful to Him for sparing us of what could have been. When I reflect on what happened I cannot comprehend how God could sacrifice his precious child for people like us – what a Saviour! Even in light of that, I suppose there may be many things, even on a daily basis, that the Lord spares us from each day that we truly ought to give thanks for. We are blessed beyond measure! Additionally, because of our accident, we were able to witness to the driver who hit us, and her husband. Please pray for their salvation! Our last contact was a letter by mail a couple of weeks ago.

 

The Pocket ministry table at the new area

We were able to get the “Pocket” downtown outreach Ministry moved to a different area. We started it downtown, but in an area near some shops but it was somewhat secluded. It is now in one of the busiest parts of the city called “Happiring“, and is under the new officially recognized name of ヘイベン教学 (Haven Kyougaku), meaning Haven Religious Learning. The new area is completely open and we have seen a decent increase in the number of people we have been able to reach. The Pocket involves utilizing the Bible to teaching English and the gospel. Just this past week a lady and her husband came by and we had a prolonged conversation with them. To all of our surprise, the lady was a very old acquaintance of Pastor Emori and Hiroko! She called the meeting “the leading of God”, and we prayed with them. Her husband has some sort of mental disease (though specifically what I could not understand) and wasn’t coherent, but when I laid hands on him and began praying, he suddenly began speaking and, perhaps, understanding. We don’t fully understand what all took place, but there were many details exchanged and it was truly possibly “the leading of God”. Please pray for God’s continued leading for Mr. and Mrs. Shirasaki!

 

It was Pastor Emori’s birthday this past month.

Speaking of Pastor Emori, we are still having our usual meetings at his home. We have considered me/us meeting with him to be a necessary ministry, and have made a purpose to see him on a usual basis. He can no longer drive and often is isolated. Today we had a very good conversation, along with his wife Chizuko, and I think it was encouraging for all. Some of the topics this time included the problems associated with having so few Christians in Fukui/Japan, the possibility of working together with a couple of other churches, and having a church Tea Ceremony in October to invite the lost to hear the gospel. Please pray for these things as well, as the church’s future weighs heavily on Pastor Emori’s heart, as well as ours.

 

In a direct answer to prayer, the Lord has given another lady who loves the Lord to mutually “sharpen iron” with Mia – a much needed blessing! Another lady from America named Rachael had prayed similarly, and she and Mia have recently been able to spend a good amount of time specifically to encourage each other. It is so nice for Mia to now have another person to counsel with and seek support from when needed, and we pray for Rachael as she continually seeks the Lord’s clear direction for her future.

 

Something else that was quite surprising recently was an invitation to speak on the radio for the local city station. It was an opportunity to explain what a “Christian volunteer” means, as the radio host said that they have never heard of such a term before! We were able to clearly present Jesus Christ, and yet the radio host eagerly continued asking more – so much so that we went over our allotted time by quite a bit! She expressed interest in having me come again, though with the Japanese you never quite know if that is the truth or not. It was an amazing opportunity, and we pray for more open doors like it.

 

A picture Mia took through a small hole in a rock we found under the water.

On the contrary to the above, the summer has been literally record-breaking hot, but thanks to both the literal and spiritual support from you and everyone at our church, my work schedule is no longer unconscionable. We have been able to do more ministry, but we have also been able to catch up on lost family time, which is extremely appreciated. We took Hannah out to the beach last week and I got to swim with her for the first time! Classes will pick-up some more in the next couple of weeks, but the downtime sure is a blessing. One of my recent students just left for college in Kansas and I was able to leave him with the gospel and he said that he wanted to look into visiting a church. Please pray for his salvation as well – his name is Hidenobu.

 

Finally, for those of you who have given, or are giving, financially towards the ministry here, we are now providing itemized financial reports. If you would like access to them, please either contact Pastor Nate or ourselves. As always, thank you for your constant support, and please pray continually for the lost in Japan.

My visit to Japan

Japan is quite a unique place.  Especially as an American coming for a visit, I enjoyed learning about cultural differences and the various things that make Japan what it is.  For me, a basic idea this trip helped reinforce is that everyone is a person with a soul.  The temptation can be there to not care about people because you can’t speak their language or they do things in a weird way sometimes.  But that is not the picture I get when I think of Jesus’ words, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19).  Granted, difficulties that otherwise would not be a problem do arise in foreign countries; however, we are still called to love the people around us.  Below are a few observations about both the people in Japan and my time here. 

Conveyor belt sushi restaurant

Three big differences in Japanese culture (as opposed to America) would the convenience of most things (food especially), the politeness or indirectness or borderline dishonesty people tend to have, and the religion.  Convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere; and even the items sold tend to be better packaged or more easily accessible than the standard American I’m-going-to-rip-this-bag-apart-and-hope-nothing-goes-wrong.  This is quite handy as a foreigner; I am not used to walking into a 7-11 and buying raw fish on rice or a roll of sushi.  A bonus is that those types of foods are actually safe; so one does not have to worry about dying (or being in extreme discomfort) from some random disease caused by rotten fish and the suchlike.  The unfortunate reason behind all this is that Japanese people work too long; they can’t afford not to be convenient.  Even the children have long hours;  they will be walking home in their uniforms at 5:30 in the evening, or making their way to school at 8:00 on a Saturday morning for extra-curricular activities.

Culture Day Spread

Another main difference I have seen is the politeness factor; I think it is spoiling me a bit.  People always say thank you when you buy something, and they often repeat it a couple times throughout the process of buying something.  I felt rude the other day when I walked out of a cafe after having a drink (honey milk latte, for the curious ones) and neither I nor the cashier thanked each other.  This politeness, however, has a downside.  People tend to not say what they actually think.  I was trying to think of American desserts (ended up making banana bread) to make for a culture day for one of Brian’s classes, and he told me that one idea would be too sweet for them.  “They will lie in your face and tell you they love it, but they won’t like it at all.”  That is the downside of the politeness people have.

Christianity is not a popular choice for religion (less than 1% of the population).  The two biggest religions are Shinto and Buddhism.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they think about what they believe on a regular basis.  Japan places heavy priority on respect for elders, and I think that people tend to believe what their parents tell them without actually thinking about it.   The result is that few people have hope.  The suicide rate is higher than it should be because of that lack of hope and the workload being too much.  Overpasses over railroads will have chainlink fences on the sides so people can’t jump over the side.  It would be too convenient to do it there.  It’s quite sad. 

While the differences can be glaring at times, there are definitely some similarities between America and Japan.  Both are first-world countries with a large amount of modern technology.  Both are educated, with an emphasis on going to university.  English is somewhat cool over here, so there are definitely English signs and names sprinkled about (for better or for worse; some English is laughably awful).  Food seems to be about the same or cheaper here, but the overall cost of living is higher than in most places in America.  

A pool at Eiheiji Temple

I would say this trip was a vacation, work trip, and educational experience all at the same time.  I did my share of touristy things, and I saw some fascinating things as a result.  For example, I just recently went to Tojinbo.  Tojinbo is a gorgeous set of cliffs by the ocean; unfortunately, it is known partially for the number of people who commit suicide there.  So beautiful, but so sad at the same time.  It seemed to be that way with many of the places I went.  Eiheiji is a beautiful Buddhist temple complex; while it is a great spot to take pictures, it is also a place where many people are in spiritual bondage.  Those are just two of a plethora of places around Japan that are great to visit but sad to think about.  

The English class I joined for a few weeks

The work I did wasn’t exactly what I was used to, but I mainly did various small things that helped out Brian and Mia.  Water the garden, label tracts, do dishes occasionally, make powerpoints, hand out tracts, etc.  I did do some pretty unique things at times; I recorded conversations with Brian for an English class, I played ocarina at a nursing home, and I helped a native Japanese gentleman teach an English class for elderly folks (youngest one was approximately 66 years old).  The trip didn’t lack in variety, at least in the work department.

Brian and Mia’s church

I felt like I learned a good amount about some different things this trip.  I learned a bit of the Japanese language and culture, which I found to be quite an enjoyable experience.  The fact that everyone is a person with a soul was another concept that I felt like I learned a bit more about.  Something I feel Brian and Mia exemplified and welcomed was honesty.  I learned rather quickly that they would prefer my actual opinion instead of a polite but mildly dishonest answer.  Having been given the opportunity to share my testimony multiple times, I thought quite a bit about my own experience as a Christian.  What things has God taught me?  What is He trying teach me now?  How can I encourage these people who live on the other side of the world and have never been in contact with a community like the Mennonite culture?  I don’t think about these things as often as I should; therefore, I appreciated the opportunity this trip gave me to leave what was normal and go off “into the wild.”  It made me think outside of my standard thought patterns, and it gave experiences I didn’t ever think I would get.  An introverted homebody like me gets to go off for five weeks and live in another country with people I have never met in a place I have never been?  Not what I thought would happen a year or two ago.  Then again, had I seen what God had laid out for my future a couple years ago, I probably would have laughed and said, “That’s never happening.”  But God has a plan; thankfully, it’s better than my own.   

I will be a little sad to leave Japan.  I greatly enjoyed my time here, both in the country and with the Spratts.  I had some awesome experiences here, but I know it will be good to be back home again.  I will see things a bit differently, and I know I will be thankful to be able to read things in my own language again.  But part of being away from your own culture is realizing what you do have.  It can be hard to know what you have until it’s gone.  Anyway, before I ramble on too much longer, huge thanks to Brian and Mia for hosting some kid they had never met before.  Thank you to those who supported this trip, whether through monetary means or messages of support or prayers.  All were very much appreciated.  Thanks be to God as well, for He made everything work out.  Arigatou gozaimasu, Japan, arigotou gozaimasu (imagine me bowing slightly awkwardly and leaving).

Do All in the Name of the Lord Jesus

Tit 2:14  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

 

This has been a rather full month- full of insights, changes, and challenges. I have been reminded a lot lately of how real eternity is, and just how fleeting the “reality” around us is.

Sakura Tree starting to bloom

A few weeks ago was the extremely short time of year that Sakura trees bloom and show forth their beauty. Their flowers only last for a few days and then fade away. There is a lot of symbology in the Sakura tree to the Japanese – mostly for how long the flowers last. Though despite that even “the heavens declare his righteousness”, the Japanese can’t see the plain evidences of God. The Japanese are a people that “go through the motions” to the extreme, and don’t stop to question or consider “why”. After nearly two years, we have not found a single person who has told me why they do what they do as a Buddhist. They simply do what they’ve been told, and everyone is expected to act, talk, and work, identically; they don’t know how to become peculiar people for God. The Japanese people are quite different from people of other mission fields, and we are continually praying over new ways to reach the lost here.

 

 

First, I want to thank all those who have been praying for me and my family in my grandmother’s passing. Most of my family is not saved, and I am very grieved for them. Sinful practices grip most of our family, and we pray that each pain and loss in life may be used to bring them to the Lord. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart”. (Ecc 7)

 

Learning numbers with Jesus’ disciples (New Kid’s English Ministry)

Along with the difficulty of losing my grandmother, this past week(end) has been a full one. We had the normal weekly “Pocket” ministry nearby the downtown train station on Friday, and have been building a good connection with a couple of people there lately. One person is named Mitsui. He actually has a form of Autism. We first met during the ministry and have since been meeting privately; I got to witness to him and a friend of his. Mitsui calls himself a believer though he doesn’t go to church, and what we know of his spiritual background seems uncertain. Please pray for him as we continue to interact. He shows unusually strong interest in meeting and talking about the Bible. Another man that we have been building a relationship with is named Tanabe. He is the manager of a café next to where we do the outreach. Lately, he has been making a purpose to stop working to come and talk to us. He appears quite curious, and we have been able to give him the gospel more directly than most Japanese are willing to receive. Please pray for his salvation.

 

Also regarding the Pocket ministry, there is a large uncertainty regarding the permit for that location. Up until now, Fukui City has been the one we have been working with in order to get the permit. We are the first people to ever request a permit of this style before, according to them, and have received an extraordinary amount of grace, however, management has changed, along with who we need to work with. and they can no longer guarantee much of the details for us starting next week. The change in responsibility, however, is actually going to an organization nearby that we know pretty well. They are also the ones who control the space immediately outside of the station that we have wanted access to for some time. We don’t know what the ultimate conditions of the change will bring, but it might have a big impact on the ministry. Please pray about this this week. The city officer promised to call me soon with more information.

 

Giving the gospel to visitors at the Lighthouse Cafe in Mikuni

I want to thank the Lord, as last weekend was the first time I had to preach my first full Japanese gospel messages. They weren’t more than 20 minutes, and they certainly weren’t perfect, but it seemed that they were well understood, and a lot of people were subject to the gospel. Please pray for the many who listened, for our continued learning of Japanese, and for more open doors to preach. Additionally, regarding preaching, I had a meeting with Pastor Emori a few days ago. As you may know already from our previous posts, he has been ministering for some forty years and is need of help. The details are a little sensitive, but his sons are not in a position to take over. Extremely few men in the church are experienced, and it is, regrettably, mostly women who step up to lead, which ought not to be. On top of that, the other church that we work with has been leaderless for several months, with no one to guide it. The need for experienced Christians is huge, and we think it might only be a matter of time when I might need to do something to “fill in the gap”. Please continue to pray for wisdom and understanding, both in language learning and to handle the matter after God’s will.

 

This week is Japan’s longest holiday stretch (three national holidays back to back), and, at the time of writing this post, Mia is at the end of attending a Christian retreat in Kobe (about 3 hours south of here). I am sure she will share next month about it, but it sounds like she is getting blessed for her three days there. The retreat is associated with Japan Christian teachers (the same one we went to last Autumn). This time I think Mia mostly went just to get recharged and not to serve as much, for which rest I’m thankful. Consequently, it’s just been Hannah and I for a couple of days.

 

A little downtime with the family between ministries.

 

I am extremely thankful for those of you who are being an active support to us and the ministry here. Last winter was rather tolling on us, but because of your prayer and financial support we are now able to transition out of a constantly draining situation and be able to focus more on our marriage and family, and ministry. Thank you. My work has already been reducing and will stabilize completely once we can get a secondary teacher to work with us at GRACE. Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive not only of ministry, but also for us to get more time as a family, which we need very much. Again, thank you so much, and please continue to pray for these needs. May the Lord bless you for all you do for the lost in Japan!

 

Spring is here… finally!

“As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.: Pro. 25:13

 

It’s been so nice we needed to go visit the dinosaurs.

Well, now spring is finally coming to comfort us from a winter that seemed drawn out. It was amazing to see so much snow but it makes it not only difficult on your everyday life but even for the important things like emergency responders, hospitals, and many other things that are a necessity. The only way we have to heat our living room is with kerosene, and at some point, the gas station was out and so we had to wait. Thankfully, only had to wait for it the next day but you certainly have to watch how you use what you have left just to make it till that next time.

Also, I’ve never seen a store so bare of food and such. Veggies, dairy, bread… gone. Sadly though, people will only look at their physical needs and not much wonder about their spiritual need. It really is not much of a thought at all. There had been a good amount of people who lost their lives. People stranded on Route 8. They either froze to death or died from carbon monoxide.

When someone had finally contacted to have our road cleared by a “shovel car”, they started on the opposite end of us but then only finished half way. We really couldn’t understand why they only did that much but then we learned that he had a heart attack from lack of sleep and too much work from clearing roads.

Just typing all of that, I just want to cry because they did not die with the Hope.

For the positive, a LOT of people would get stuck on the roads in the rural areas so you’d see neighbors, people coming home or businesses going out and helping get a car out. It was pretty awesome to watch considering the Japanese people always seem so engrained in what they are doing but not really paying attention to others and their needs. Just the past few days, we have noticed people so engrossed with their phones that they are not even aware of what is right in front of them, like a 2 year old trying to hand them a piece of paper. Today, on my bike, I rode past a girl who was on her phone and didn’t take her eyes off it and crossed the road without even looking. Truly, we are amazed (and not in a good way).

Pumpkin bread

Sorry, back to the positive. One of the things that we were able to get before the storm started was a bread maker. Thank you to those who gave towards getting it. We greatly appreciate that along with Hannah’s car seat. Praise the Lord! It is just a simple act to give someone a warm piece with a drink while in such cold conditions. People were surprised to receive it. One little fruit that showed up to us was from a lady that Brian helped. She brought us a note, her business card (business cards are a big deal in Japan), a flyer to the business she works at on our block, and a gift for Hannah. It was girl’s day on March 3rd so she got Hannah a gift for that. It was all very sweet. Now, our responsibility is to keep in contact with her and have a genuine relationship with her. Then may she show some kind of curiosity to our faith, to our hope. It may take years but as long as we are faithful to God and to the people, it will happen.

 

But one of the things that I’d like to state is that there are very few people to reach the Japanese. Very few. I’m sure we’ve said this before but we’ll say it again. Japan needs more missionaries. We need missionaries that really have a heart first for God, then that have a heart for the lost at whatever cost that may be. But we certainly (the Christian community) feel so small. There is a need.

 

Another great need from a missionary standpoint is that we need people who will either be pastor or some type of leadership in the church. When I’m having Japanese lessons with our Pastor’s wife, Brian is keeping Pastor company and just being support to him which has been wonderful. But one of the recent things that was said was at a meeting (I think of some churches in the area) is that our church and a friend church has no one next to take care of the church. The friend church has a leadership group but has no pastor. Our church has Pastor Emori but he is very old and when he dies, we have no one to take responsibility. Right now, Brian does not feel like he is being called to be a pastor but he is ready and willing to take whatever responsibility that is required of him. I think one of the hardest things that is on our mind is that churches and ministries our dying because there aren’t enough “labourers”. Most of those labourers that started the churches over here are gone and the very last of them is actually going back home to Norway. People either aren’t being properly trained to understand to think for themselves (whether just personally or spiritually) or they aren’t being trained to be in leadership roles. Oh, please God, help us.

 

One more need that is looking to be fulfilled is that our boss, Hiroko is looking for a part-time, Christian, single lady teacher.

So if you know of anyone or you yourself are interested first reach out to God and seek His wisdom and if He gives you the green light, reach out to us and we’ll get you connected with Hiroko.

 

I believe one more thing I’d like to update everyone on is the ministries that are either starting up again or just started.

Hannah’s favorite thing to do during Pocket Ministry is pass the flyers out.

We just started the Pocket Ministry this past Friday (3/23). It felt a bit slow as no one came and participated. But it also wasn’t the nicest weather. It was just kind of a dreary day. But Hannah had so much fun passing out the flyers to people. If you would pray for God’s presence in that ministry. God’s presence may look different than we think but please pray for that. Pocket Ministry is every Friday at 5pm to 7pm. Also, please pray that a girl named Asuka will come. She is a girl that was at the orphanage that we visit once a month. She has become the age that they don’t keep them at the orphanage anymore. We don’t know details of where she is or anything but the staff told us that she really enjoys the Pocket Ministry. We so very much want to see her and help her in whatever way we can.

Another ministry that is starting is a little English school that we will teach at every other Saturday. The off Saturdays will still be Mama Mia (child and mommy ministry). So for the English school, it of course consists of teaching English but the main reason for it is to use the Bible. To teach about God and Jesus. So we and our friend (who is starting this) are very excited in this school coming together. So far, God is helping us see what the gifts He gives us can be used for. It is truly a blessing!

 

 

We want to thank everyone who has been a part of this life that we live. It’s by your support through prayers and other means of help makes this happen. We are very grateful for all those things. Also, thank you to those who have given your time when we were home. I know that while I felt like I was going everywhere (being busy) but I didn’t feel like it was busy-ness. It was extremely relaxing and helped energize me. There were a lot of things that we could accomplish and then there were some things that didn’t get done and of course, there were many more people that we wanted to spend time with and just couldn’t but that’s ok. I’m sure we’ll get another chance.

But until then, keep up serving God in the way that He calls you. If you feel like you are missing something, seek Him and He will provide. Oooo, that word “will” sounds so invigorating! Praise the Lord for His goodness, mercies, grace and many more. We are so undeserving. But because He gives us those things, may we take that advantage and love on Him and fellowship with Him.

Return to a White Harvest

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing… -Ecc 3: 3 & 5

First, I want to apologize for such a long wait for this post; the blog host had some technical difficulties and it took some time to regain access… it seems that our time of both pre and post trip, has been a “time to refrain from embracing”… the blog, at least. Anyway, we had such an amazing return for Christmas and New Years (with a little unexpected extension)! We had a planned nine day trip back to the States, with a lot of objectives within that short time period. Thankfully, we were able to accomplish a majority of the major things. We were able to see Mia’s family, our church family, sort through a lot of our old things, handle our dog’s affairs, and talk about the missions work in Japan. We even got to just relax! The one major disappointment was not being able to see my mother. With several factors being involved, she was not able to fly out to meet us, and we couldn’t do the opposite in short notice. I appreciate your prayers for my mother, as I hope to have the chance to see her at least one more time.

 

Hannah opening a new sticker book with Mammi for Christmas!

I kind of felt that we were back for Thanksgiving, not over New Year’s, just because of the kind of time it ended-up being. One thing I am very appreciative for is the time we got to spend with our pastor and his wife. Lonnie and Delilah were incredible hosts. From meals we’ve missed, (unknowingly) looking into meeting some of our most minor “needs”, and supporting us as a family and during our struggles getting on our return flights. They made the trip a very special one. I am glad to have gotten to grow closer with them – and especially for Hannah! It was certainly “a time to build up” for us. And speaking of thanksgiving; on behalf of all of us, we want to say thank you!!!!!!! for all that everyone has done to be a support and blessing. From the too many gifts to pack (sorry Lonnie and Deliliah!), the financial gifts for Hannah, our family, and the ministry, as well as precious time we got to spend with many of you, we were truly blessed so much. I’ve been told that I’ve “thanked everyone sufficiently”, but just one more time, thank you.

 

So being affectionately desirous of you, 「you」 were willing to have imparted unto 「us」, not the gospel of God only, but also [your」 own souls, because ye were dear unto us.  (I Thes 2:9)

Having fun with her new barn animals!

Some of the children and staff we were able to teach.

It was also a good time for us to be able to personally share some of the needs here in Japan. We are extremely excited in looking forward to having more time available for family and ministry. We know that many of you have expressed interest in helping to make that a reality, and we are in the process setting-up financial accounts to keep everything contributed as accountable as possible. As we make preparations on our end, we are open to any feedback, concerns, or other input, to do everything “decently and in order”. One of the Japanese party’s in Mikuni has invited us to meeting on the 7th to discuss a new ministry that we are to work with them with. We will plan to give details after the meeting. We are back to the usual here, and in addition to the normal ministries, we had a new opportunity to give the gospel at a nearby school! While the details are in the works, it is wonderful to now be able to say “yes”, instead of “no” to some of ministry opportunities before us. I am also really looking forward to being able to say “yes” to more husband/father responsibilities. It is an area that I have been falling behind in, and I am eager to get to work in this very necessary ministry to my family.

 

“Better is an handful with quietness, than two handfuls with labor and vexation of spirit”. -Ecc 4:6

 

Some of you know some of the story regarding what became of our flight situation. It seemed like a large valley of a challenge right at the end of the mountain top. The details would literally consume all of this blog post, but here is the summary. We flew on ANA and United Airlines, both there and back. However, United made several large mistakes with both our itinerary and our dog, Pippy’s. We had to rebook our flights several different times, fly on different days, and send our dog off for a few days without us to an airport that we wouldn’t even go to. Our pastor Nate and his family took very hard and good care of Pippy for a year and a half from a sudden need, of which we are extremely grateful for their sacrifice. That work also entailed them needing to take care of

 

Pippy’s preparations to go to Japan: a nine month process. Paperwork work, vet visits, and other things, all to make sure there is no problem getting Pippy into Japan. And after all of that, the airline lost the paperwork, and said that they would “kill the dog” if they couldn’t find it! Japan ended-up impounding our dog. Thankfully, the USDA was able to work with us to get Pippy released, and after three attempts to fly back down to Tokyo to get her, Mia was finally able to get Pippy home with us! The journey felt so so long, but we are very thankful to have her with us; her and Hannah apparently have a lot to catch up on!

 

Tug of war!

 

So many of you (sorry to say “so” so many times!) have been, and are a part to help make everything work in order to spread the gospel here. I’m learning that there is a lot more involved in missions work than just preaching and praying. It’s giving. It’s reaching out. It’s supporting my family. It’s loving. And it’s ministering in ways I never thought of before. Thank you for being your part, and we look forward to pressing on for the Lord this year with renewed vision and strength.

Sayonara Japan

2 Corinthians 13:11 – Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Hello to all of you as I prepare to say goodbye to Japan and the wonderful hosts I’ve had here. I am leaving early tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, so this will be my final blog post. I’m still trying to figure out how this time went by so fast. I’m certainly going to miss being here!

The past three weeks have remained busy with the weekly Pocket Ministry as well as several other ministry opportunities. I would like to request prayer for one specific individual who we got a chance to witness to this past Friday during the Pocket Ministry. His name is Carlos, a Brazilian who has been living in Japan for 10 years. We had a conversation with him for over half an hour. Please pray that he would accept Jesus’ wonderful gift of salvation.

The children during their lesson at Mamma Mia

A ministry we helped with last Saturday was Mamma Mia. This is a place where mothers can bring their children for several hours. We sang a few English children’s songs with them, we taught them some animal names in English, one of the Japanese ladies taught them a lesson about Jesus, and lastly everyone had lunch together. This is a great opportunity to teach the children about Jesus while they’re still young!

Hannah with her new friend Airi from the orphanage

This past Sunday, we had another opportunity to go to the orphanage that I mentioned in my last blog post. The kids helped carve out pumpkins, and they also made little bags for candy that we later passed out. Something that blessed me was the fact that I had 2 little boys come sit on my lap for a while, and I couldn’t talk to either of them in their language. That reminded me that these children just want to be loved. They might not have even known that I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but that didn’t stop them from smiling and having fun!

Eiheiji Temple

Several weeks ago, we got to visit the Eiheiji Temple, a Buddhist temple here in Fukui Prefecture. It was quite fascinating to see the monks there going about their duties. Another interesting thing to watch was the people giving their offerings, burning incense, and praying either to the gods or their deceased family members. It is important that we keep these Japanese people in our prayers. We can pray that their eyes would be opened and that they would see and know the One True God.

Earlier this month, we were invited to represent the United States at what’s called a “Global Festival”, which was held outside the Fukui train station. This was an event put on by the city of Fukui. It featured people from many different countries showcasing the different cultures from throughout the world. At our table, we set up an English Bible verse that we use for the Pocket Ministry, and many people were able to read it and ask any questions they had. This opened up opportunities to talk to many people about the Bible. Brian and Mia have been invited to join them at another event in a few months.  We are praising God for this open door with the city! Please pray for continued opportunities with the city in the future.

I want to give a special thanks to Brian and Mia (and Hannah, too, of course!) for their incredible hospitality during my time here. I have grown spiritually and have been encouraged tremendously! I pray that God has worked through me to make an impact in the lives of the people here and, most importantly, that all the glory has been given to Him.

Thanks for all of your support! May God bless you all!

A Glimpse Into My First Month In Japan

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Romans 12:4-5

Hello, everybody! Donovan here. It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a little over 3 weeks since I got here! Thank you to all of you who have been praying for my time here. I believe that there are many ways that God can do work through me while I’m here, and your prayers are certainly a big part of that!

Brian and Mia have made me feel so welcome, and I can’t thank them enough for that. It didn’t take long for me to feel like part of the family. For about the first week I was here, Hannah wasn’t so sure about me; but she has definitely gotten used to having me around. I have acquired the title “niichan”, which means big brother. I am loving my time of having a little sister, even if it is only for 2 months!

This is Natsuki. She is from the city hall, where we acquired the permit for this ministry. She has come to the “Pocket” all 3 weeks we have been there. She is very interested in returning for more English practice! Please pray that her eyes and heart are opened to the Lord through this ministry.

My first 2 weeks here I stayed busy with preparation for the Pocket Ministry (formerly known as the Train Ministry) that we recently started. That involved things like helping with printing out questions and answers, laminating all the questions and answers, and also organizing the different categories and levels. The Pocket Ministry is held every Friday evening from 5PM to 7PM in a passageway leading from the main street to a covered outdoor shopping plaza of sorts. The place we have a permit for to do the Pocket Ministry is called Galleria Pocket, hence the new name for the ministry. We pass out flyers to people walking by and invite them to come practice their English with us. When someone is up for the challenge, they pick a category (vocabulary, general, prepositions, etc.) and a level of difficulty, ranging from 1 to 5. They then read the question in English and try to figure out the correct answer (each question is taken from a Bible verse and has up to 4 choices for the answer). Once they are finished, we give them a gospel tract and a chocolate as a little gift. We have done the Pocket Ministry for 3 weeks now and have had a fair amount of people showing interest in taking a little bit of time to practice their English. The goal for this ministry is to get people like Natsuki (pictured on right) to come back every week so we can spend more time talking to them about Christ. Please pray that those who read the verses and gospel tracts will be able to understand them and, as a result, give their lives to Christ.

Organizing questions for the Pocket Ministry

We were able to join a group of volunteers in helping out at a local orphanage for several hours this past Sunday afternoon. We sang with the children, helped them with a craft, and also played a game with them. Going to the orphanage is a once-a-month occurrence, and this was the first time we were able to go. We hope to continue this ministry of spending time with the children and showing them that they are loved. We had such a good time with the children, even though it did get rather noisy at times. It was so heartbreaking to see their sad faces when it was time for all of us volunteers to leave. Please pray that these children can feel the presence of their Heavenly Father.

Singing at the oprhanage

One of the most difficult things for me so far has been the language barrier. It can get discouraging at times, like at the Pocket Ministry or at the orphanage when I want to be able to talk to people, but I can’t. Romans 12:4-5 has been a good reminder for me though. If you didn’t catch it at the beginning of the post, it says, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” While I’m here in Japan, I can’t necessarily be the mouth since I have a very limited Japanese vocabulary, and I can only learn a fairly small amount of Japanese in two months. On the bright side, I can still serve as the hands or maybe the feet of the body of Christ. Whether that’s behind the scenes work for the Pocket Ministry or playing games with the children at the orphanage even though I can’t really talk to them, I can still have an impact on the ministries we are involved in as long as I do my part. If each part of the body of Christ works together, much can be accomplished. I may not be able to speak Japanese fluently, but that isn’t going to stop me from letting God work through me to have an impact while I’m here.

Suwa Yakata-ato Garden at the Asakura Family Ruins

I have been able to experience some of the Japanese culture and also some of the beautiful scenery! For example, last Saturday, we spent the day out and about. First we went a Shinto shrine that was having a matsuri festival, celebrating the Autumn Equinox. Then for the rest of the day, we visited the Asakura Family Ruins, a castle town that that was thriving way back in the 1500s. It was very fascinating to see a real-life imitation of how they lived when the town was thriving. I look forward to taking in more of the beauty God created in Japan!

Overall, I have been thoroughly enjoying my time here. I can’t wait to see, learn, and eat many more things while I’m here. I look forward to seeing what else God will do in me and also through me during the second half of my trip! Thank you all so much for praying!