Sufficient Grace

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It is finally Spring… minus some snow here and there. There are few things to report since February. (Please note, there was a problem with the hosting service recently so I am not able to include pictures this time).

One of the bigger personal updates is regarding Hannah. April is the start of a new year for the Japanese, educationally and business-wise. After praying and considering the option for some time, we decided to send Hannah to 幼稚園 (Yochien) – which is basically kindergarten. The Japanese are so focused on work and education that they start schooling within only a few months from birth. It was beginning to become slightly imperative for us to make a decision on schooling. One of the surprising things that helped us make the decision was that the school is actually run by a church. It is, in principle, a Christian school. That being said, there is a strange phenomenon here. Parents are increasingly interested in sending their children to a Christian kindergarten. Meanwhile, a couple of Christian colleges also exist in Japan though there are no Christian schools between those age demographics. It further makes me think that the current generational change is leading many to consider things beside their empty religion.

At either rate, Hannah has begun attending the kindergarten, though there have been some problems. For the first full three days that she began attending she has come home with some sort of injury – some very minor, but some more serious. On day three I received a phone-call from the school saying that Hannah was hurt, but they think she is okay. However it turns out that she wasn’t so fine. To summarize, she fell (uumped?) and hit a railing, but landed on her mouth. Hannah had been in a lot of pain for a while and there were many sleepless nights, so we saw an emergency dentist (long story). She had an infection in one of her front teeth and the nerves have died, so we have been taking her to a specialist and has to have treatment for an unknown amount of times. As many of you can relate, being the parent in the situation is very difficult, but I am reminded to “in everything give thanks”, and that we are called as Christians for the trials in life. Despite our initial impressions of her teacher, I have been able to interact with her a lot during this time, and it has provided for interesting spiritual connections, including being able to be a witness to her daughter (who speaks rather-good English). Please be in prayer about this situation, for both the decisions about Hannah’s health, as well as however God wants us to react to this for his glory.

On a different matter- as I mentioned in the last post, ministry has picked-up again, though work hadn’t slowed-down as slowly as it was supposed to, so it’s been a bit difficult, but we are finally pulling out of it now. Mia and I were even able to attend a marriage conference together, which was very good… and intensive. The couple who taught it are Malaysian, who normally give the conference in Chinese, but this time gave it for the first time in English, to a group of mostly Japanese via an interpreter…. it was interesting for sure. Unfortunately, because it was an exhaustive four day course it was just that: exhausting. Certainly worth it, though.

There are other things that have taken place recently, including both city and church Easter ministries. We ask for your prayers for two people in specific : Mr. Takai and Ms. Kay. We ran into Takai-san “by chance” one day, and he is currently looking-into Christianity, he explained. We were able to get connected with him and I hope to be able to follow-up with him shortly. I also met Kay-san per chance one morning. She has come to our Monday ministry and wanted to keep coming. When she came we spent the entire two hours talking about the gospel and reading the Bible. She has yet to meet Mia, but wants to. She also has expressed interest in coming to church when her and her husband are free. She said that it is very difficult, as, I believe, her husband is away for six days out of the week working, and so they only have the one day to do whatever they need, like shopping or being together (they also have a toddler). This is the typical situation for most here, so extracurricular activities outside of work must be extremely compelling for them to go. Please pray for them, as well as for one more person named Mr. Kimura. I substituted for an unexpected class of a Christian friend and was able to witness to him – he was quite open.

In closing, I am lately grateful that our Lord is the God of all comfort, and that he understands our loneliness and times of struggle. We look forward to seeing how, yet again, God will work through our times of weakness, and I thank you for your ever continuing support and prayers for the effort in Japan.

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

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.

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.

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!

 

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!

All Things (Done) Work Together For Good

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Jam 2:16

So far this has been an exceptionally busy summer for everyone. With residential updates, paperwork, taxes, paperwork, ministry, and more paperwork, we have a lot to report. First, I guess I’ll start with the things here in Japan.

With having passed the cusp of 1 year of residence, there has been a tremendous amount of things to do, change, and update. First of all was our visas themselves. Normally teachers have 3 year visas – though we were only granted 1 year ones with our school, so we had to get them renewed. Also, we are increasingly left to ourselves to handle local affairs (like this), without the help of a translator. The mandatory help that we were given was also not until one day before our visas expired – increasing the pressure significantly. After going back and forth to two towns about four times in a couple of days, we were thankfully barely able to get out visas extended on the very last day before we would have been staying illegally in the country. With the way that it was handled, we now see why Immigration apparently only gives us at our school a year at a time! – We were again only given a 1 year visa. Next time we hope to take the initiative ourselves to avoid so much of trouble. Phew.

Also because of staying here for over a year, we now are expected to pay Japanese-level residency taxes (in addition to the national insurances). What we have read is true – because of the now-severe age and work imbalance in Japan, both premiums are extremely high, making family life a financially difficult one. We are no longer exempt from this burden.

Our new bedroom. This apartment costs about the same as the old one, but with much more space

To help ease some of the expense, (again, because a year has passed) we have been able to get released from some of our contracts, though with some penalties. We changed cell phone carriers, got a credit card, and also moved to downtown Fukui from Eiheiji. In the long-term this will lower our expenses, but it has incurred a lot of upfront costs. Also, in Japan, changing residence cities is a big deal. You have to take countless steps to prove that you’re leaving in good standing with your current town, show proof of your payments/finances, etc. Then you have to cancel your insurance and registration in that town, shut-off your typical utilities, and terminate your rental agreement. After that you then have to re-register everything in your new town. The Japanese say it’s difficult – and that’s with being fluent in Japanese. This also nearly all had to be done without a translator, and we thank the Lord very much that it is all basically all done with! With that said, if you need it, please see our new address here, or you can find it on the blog menu.

2Chome13-5 3rd Floor
Bunkyo, Fukui City
Fukui Prefecture, Japan 910-0017

When I said earlier that “everyone” has been busy, I don’t just mean the three of us. We certainly need to acknowledge the very very hard work of the others who have been physically laboring greatly over our affairs in the States! There has been trouble both handling and keeping a reliable tenant in our trailer, and it has been both a financial stress as well as a constant burden for those involved. Though it wasn’t an easy decision, we agreed to sell our home. We want to praise the Lord that it was sold speedily and should no longer be the continual problem that it was on everyone. The sale is also very timely as it will help offset the problems mentioned above. Thank you to all of you who had a part to help with this. By helping us be free of financial and other burdens it frees us to focus much more on doing what we need to to spread the gospel to the lost in Japan. Thank you.

Four varied drawings of a Bible scene

In regards to ministry, we have a couple of updates. We received the first clothing shipment we ordered for outreach. Mia first created these for general evangelism, though we also plan to use them in conjunction with a new train ministry that we hope we can do
very shortly. They simply invite people to converse with us in English, while using the Bible to teach them. There is also a friend in the U.S. who is currently working on artwork for the Bible train evangelism. We are really looking forward to starting these first real evangelistic projects, and we ask for your prayers for the Holy Spirit to draw men unto the Lord through them! We are also in the process of figuring out the legalities required to do this, and we appreciate your prayers for wisdom and an open door. We are also very appreciative to the family who volunteered to pay for this project. We know the Lord will bless you just as much for doing your part for the Kingdom! Some in the Body of Christ are the feet, while others are the hands.

Mia’s long sleeve version of one of the shirts

Additionally, we are very excited to have one of the young men from our church join us for a little while for a missions trip to Fukui! He has a great heart for the Lord, and we are both praying for and looking forward to what God will do through him while he is here! Please pray for him and his journey!

Mia (and Hannah??) sanding and beginning prep for the guest room.

Also as a quick update from my last post: I did have several tests performed at the hospital. It was apparently true that the American doctor performed a surgery on something I never had, and that my symptoms are the result of my muscles not properly healing from a childhood operation. There may not be a way to repair the problem, and I may just have to adapt my life so not to further injure myself. Well, at least it’s an answer. In everything we thank the Lord!

Well, this was a rather long post, but thank you for reading it. As Autumn approaches there are many “spiritual” events coming up (including Obon (See HERE for a report from last year), and we ask for your prayers for the countless here that are deceived by the devil, that their eyes may be opened to the Lord.

LASTLY – below is a copy of the video update shown in church last week, for those who were interested who didn’t get to watch it.

Blessings,

-Brian

That ye might know our affairs

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” – Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

 

If you read the quotes before my posts, you’ll usually find a quote from Scripture. This time, however, I’d like to look at Japan from a different perspective than from our usual viewpoint. Other quotes I could use for this post could perhaps be, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes”, or “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”. Jesus teaches us not to judge according to the outward appearance, and I want to share a little bit about our shoes/beam/thoughts here that you might not yet understand, just as there are many things that you experience that we don’t understand.

 

What I mean to say is, it’s sometimes impossible to quite understand someone else’s situation without actually going through them. That’s one good reason why a bishop has to be married and to have raised children well- he could no way understand someone who he needs to counsel, if he himself didn’t have experience! It is certainly true – you have no idea what it’s like to be married unless you are actually married, or what it’s like to raise children unless you actually have some (some of you might say amen to that one)! But likewise, the same is true about being on a mission field. Getting to the point, that is what I want to share with you this time – a little of our real struggles and obstacles.

 

One of the main reasons that we are here is also one of our bigger difficulties: there not being many Christians. Within the greater Fukui area there are only three-or-so churches that we are aware of – ours, a Catholic church, and one that has women “preachers and elders”. One of America’s christians’ weaknesses is good doctrine. Paul said to earnestly contend for the faith, and to take heed to sound doctrine. Here there is barely any doctrine to contend for in the first place. There are hardly enough people to carry a/the church, and there is rarely someone that we can go to when we need help. Going to church service here is rarely strengthening, and often times the opposite. We often find ourselves alone in our problems, which at times, is extremely difficult. Most of those that we trust, can communicate easily with, and understand us, are oceans away. This is perhaps Mia’s greatest battle here: not having someone else to console in. There is rarely a reprieve for her from this.  As we think and pray for others facing this on the mission field, this problem is certainly a realer struggle than many might realize.

 

Something else (that we’ve slightly mentioned before) is a problem specific to Japan – an extreme workaholic system. We recently shared an article on Facebook (http://www.businessinsider.com/japan-fertility-crisis-2017-4) that does a decent job at describing a little of its effect. Japan’s outlook on work not only creates several other problems, but also fuels itself. Because the majority consensus expects employees to work often without days off or sometimes even allowing time to return home for the night, people have less time (as well as interest) for getting married – much less having children.

Takashima Shrine we visited on our Kyoto trip

Japan’s work nature is also perhaps the leading reason why Japan has nearly one of the highest suicide rates in the world. These two things jointly have started putting the country in an increasing population shortage – which also means that there are less employees available, forcing current ones to work even more. This is not a problem that we ourselves have been exempt from. At the times that I am needed most for family or to be available for ministry is when I am sometimes required away for work doing extra hours. Especially in light of the previous paragraph, not having much time is one of the bigger problems that I face. Just this past weekend we got our first (and only) vacation day for the contract year, so we got to spend three days in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Practically the entire city is devoted to the gods (or to the aspiration of becoming one), and I expect that we’ll share more about it in the next post.

 

And, of course, to be expected is the language. For my age I have a lot of (often humorous) amount of health issues – some of which are minor and some of which are more significant. However, what things are trivial in the States is very different here, and trying to get medical treatment is not so easy (did I mention not being able to get time for things?). One thing that is nice, however, is being in a country with advanced technology, education, and standards. I have had some sort of problem in my abdomen for a couple of years now, but it has been getting worse over time. I had several examinations and an hernia surgery performed in the U.S., however it turned out that the doctor did the surgery in a completely different area than where my problem was, and did not actually operate on the correct thing. Since having moved to another country, my problem has only gotten worse and we still receive more bills to pay for the malpractice. I made one visit to a general practitioner here in Japan, had the same kind of test on the same area, and he found an abnormality that none of the doctors found in the U.S. Though we’re doing our best to communicate, it certainly is nice that the medical system is superb. I have an appointment with the surgical department of a local hospital at the end of June, and appreciate your prayers for these things as I don’t know how difficult it will be to communicate and understand.

 

Lastly, I want to mention one other burden that we face, but not actually here – the affairs in the U.S. It perhaps goes-without-saying, but I’m going to say it anyway – it would be impossible to do what we are doing if it weren’t for the many who are doing what they can back in the States! From handling our finances, property matters, and other decisions, there is a lot that goes on behind-the-scenes to help make everything happen. Just like how Mia takes the “supportive” role in the family, she is irreplaceable, and without the countless things that she does, our family would not endure. In regards to ministry, your support, without a doubt, functions the same way for us in Japan. For us, it sometimes feels like a large, looming burden that things need dealt with, not just in front of us, but also all the way in the U.S. There are current challenges that are on-going, some financial, some family related, and some managerial. Thank you so much to those of you who are physically doing what you are, and to all we ask for your continued prayers, for us, and for them as well.

 

We often lose some of the meaning of Scripture because of the time and culture that we live in. Jesus said that “the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few”, and that is a truth here. The strain and obstacles are the reason we need to serve here, and the more reason that we can’t do it without your support and prayers. The Japanese people are blinded by their ideals, religion, and even their goals. We plead for your prayers for the 128 million people here without Christ, and for us to be able to reach them, in Jesus name. Below is a song Mia and I have enjoyed over the years and we highly recommend you to listen to it. “A lifetime of labour is still worth it all if it rescues just one more soul“!

 

Just One More Soul

Then the master said to the servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind”. (Luke 14)

 

Blossoming Trees at Green Park

Winter is finally starting to wane here, and with it, the bitter cold nights (and days). The temperatures only go as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit or so, but there are a couple of factors that make cold’s effects more pervious. We are literally surrounded by water, live about 25 minutes from the ocean, and with the lack of westernized heating, it can be a task just to use the toilet in the next room! A majority of the space in living and work areas are usually not conditioned in the winter or summer, leaving sometimes a huge temperature difference between rooms. Even after a certain time of the evening, if workers aren’t done working yet, bosses will completely turn off the conditioning, forcing employees to work faster in sometimes difficult conditions. Actually, that’s one thing I wanted to mention in this month’s post.

 

The Japanese have an incredible work ethic – certainly the greatest I know of in the world. They rarely allow idleatry into their lives; laziness and selfishness as extremely frowned upon. Mia and Hannah have both been sick recently, so I needed to postpone an evening class this past week. This was such a big deal, that Hiroko personally contacted the company’s manager to make an apology, and I also made a formal one in person. Hiroko fell in a convenience store a little while ago and also recently slipped a disk in her back, but has refused to stop working even though she can hardly sit down. Moriai, my Japanese counterpart, has spent a few nights this past month almost entirely without sleep because of work. While the ethic is very admirable, it is also extremely hazardous. Many employees are expected to work six days a week, and over 12 hours a day.

 

Fencing to help prohibit suicide jumping.

Moreover, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Recently, a man who worked for a well-known company committed suicide. The authorities declared it “death from overwork” – and this is not an unusual occurrence. There is a forest named あおきがはら (aokigahara) at the base of the famous Mt. Fuji, and is nicknamed the “Suicide Forest”, where hundreds of people a year go to end their lives. Japan as a whole, has almost 10 people commit suicide every day. The country has been taking measures to lower the “workaholic” situation, but it isn’t working. They even started a new initiative recently called “Premium Friday”, where workers are expected to go home early on the last Friday of each month. This past Friday I was in a supermarket and they were advertising this over the loud speakers. I asked one of the clerks how they liked it – she responded, “oh, unfortunately, we don’t do that”. I have gotten that response from every person I’ve spoken to in Japan about it.

 

Perhaps somewhat correlated, many young people in Japan don’t want to get married, and the country has acknowledged that is now in a population crisis as a result. Marriage is practically treated as a handicap (even in our situation), and the family relationship that we know is almost unheard-of in Japan. I have a class of older ladies that I teach, and when discussing the topic of “Premium Friday” as an English lesson, we discussed the pros and cons of being a workaholic. One of their answers was that the husband is never home; he has to spend a majority of his time away from his family and can’t even eat together with them. I was surprised by this answer, but not because it was a con, but because it was a pro. On top of it, they unanimously agreed and further elaborated. They all explained how the family is more like a pragmatic relationship than an affectionate one, and how the marriage relationship is more of a negative burden than anything – it gets in their way. Despite their general acknowledgment of this problem, they are still stuck in a cycle of life with no purpose or goal that they cannot get freedom from. This is a big obstacle for us to break through, but “if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed”. Please continue to pray for their hearts to be opened.

 

Many past missionaries have stated throughout time that Japan is different from other mission fields. The Japanese are persistent, isolated, and driven in their work-related goals. This is extremely true. It is so true, in fact, that it is not rare to be “cut-off” by a Japanese person, both in person (like at a store) or in a vehicle, and they not even notice (this is something that still perplexes us both)! Therefore, missionaries have proposed that you cannot publically reach-out with out-reach ministries, but must take a different approach, to show them Christ. We’ve been told that preaching and traditional, Bible-based methods “just don’t work”.

 

We’ve prayed about and considered this thought for some time. Against my feelings, I couldn’t help but agree. Even the apostle Paul became like who he ministered to (I Cor 9:19-22). So we’ve conceded to the thought that we cannot reach many for Christ in traditional ways, but must slowly, reach the few through personal relationships. However, with somewhat better Japanese and the coming of Spring, the Lord has given a couple of opportunities to witness to children. It was enlivening. It was refreshing. It was also terribly burdening. Several times thoughts have come to me in prayer about the many that we “cannot reach”. It’s been said that if we try to reach those that we don’t first have a strong relationship with, that it will be a waste of time, and probably not work. This has never stopped bothering me, until a recent conversation Mia and I had.

 

It may be fact that 98% of the country is on their way to hell without Christ. It may be fact that a majority of our efforts will return unfruitful. It may also be fact that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt 19), but does that mean we ignore the rich? Absolutely not. It is also true that, “if you shoot for nothing you will get it every time”. If we focus on only our influence on our inner-circle of people, the otter-circle will never hear. But if we obey God’s command to “preach the gospel to every creature”, the Word of God will not return unto him void. If we spend a lifetime in “our father’s business”, and only one or two people ever accept Christ as their Lord, is that a “waste of time”? Men look “on the outward appearance”, and “mega churches” fill the globe. But God is not concerned about numbers. As in the tale of Gideon, or Saul, or when David numbered the people, and it was treated as sin against the Lord; we cannot concern ourselves with the outward probability of “success”. Many a missionary have left Japan discouraged because of the lack of visible fruit, but if God’s Spirit is working on a person’s heart, does it matter what culture or statistics say? Is not God able to break through any barrier, no matter how strong? As we receive courage, we hope that you too will be encouraged to do what you can to actively tell others about Christ, no matter what you see or don’t see. God is pleased to see his children love and serve him. We must leave the results to God.

 

I have been so grieved lately about seeing people in the park, or elsewhere, conversing with them, and them leaving without sharing the hope of the gospel at all, afraid of what nearly everyone says will be the expected result. I remember walking away from a particular group of young people thinking, “I didn’t witness to them, and now probably no one else in the world will, either”. In Japan it’s really true – if you don’t do it, no one else will – because there is no one else. From this point on we’ve decided to disagree with what statistics say, and do what we can to reach them, even if “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life”. Though, without denying that Japan needs a difference approach, I’ve been asking God for just the right thing. Though the Japanese people may be closed for the most part, they have a large interest in English. Children are especially excited to try their hand at what they know when they see us. It’s not uncommon to hear an enthusiastic “HAlow!!!”, when passing a group of boys or girls.  Young adults and families, too, are intrigued to interact with a foreign speaker. A gospel tract from my youth came to my mind. It was a very simple and tiny booklet entitled, “Smile! God loves you!”, with nothing but a yellow smiley on the front. Each page contained either a spiritual thought or Bible verse. So I prayed and asked God to clearly show me the way if it was his will as I began to search for this long-lost tract. It turns out that it’s been out-of-print for five years, but during my search I came across something different – “Motion Tracts”.

Motion Tract: Is Sin Separating You From God?

Motion Tracts use what’s called lenticular printing. You’ve probably seen something like it on advertising materials or different things, but it is a great idea for portraying a short gospel message while teaching a couple of English words like Sin, Separate, Death, and Life. We contacted the company that makes these, and it looks like it was the perfect timing, for a few reasons. We are currently waiting for the company to receive a shipment of several brand new types of these tracts in the next week or so for us to review, and it looks like we have a green light to order them in a couple of weeks. We are extremely excited to start using these, and we ask for your prayers for wisdom, and for the Holy Spirit to work on the hearts of people to receive them.

 

This has already been a long post, but we thank you so much for your support and your time to read it. I would also like to solicit your prayers for Hannah. Mia and Hannah have both gotten sick recently, but Hannah has something more. She has, what we’ve believe to be whooping cough, for the last two+ months, but it isn’t getting better as expected.  We took her to a doctor and got medicine, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. At brief times she actually has difficulty breathing after sometimes a long bout of coughing, and it doesn’t seem to be the traditional things that most have considered. We’ve been recommended to take her to a specialist if it doesn’t get better once the medicine is used-up in a couple more days. Thank you for your prayers for her, as well!

 

Again, blessings to you as you serve the Lord where you are, and if you need prayer for anything as well, please let us know here, on Facebook, by phone, e-mail, or however!

 

“If just one more soul were to walk down the aisle, it’ll be worth every struggle, it’ll be worth every mile. A life time of labor is still worth it all if it rescues just one more soul!”