Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Reunion


This morning I hosted a gathering of the ladies who had been part of my neighborhood Bible Study for the last four years we lived in our old house. As we went around the room “catching up” with one another, I realized we hadn’t been together as a group for two years. It was so good to hear about their lives. Some have had their children get married, or become grandmothers. One woman with a disabled son who had gone to preschool with our boys, told of his progress and then said she often “thanked the God” at night for the good things in her day. And if she forgot, this son would remind her that she hadn’t been thankful yet. At least two of the women had lost parents or parents-in-law. One woman, whose name wasn’t on my original invitation list—but who the Lord brought to mind on Monday morning—is leaving tomorrow to go be with her mother who is in the last few months of her fight with cancer.

While our study was originally in English, I wanted to be sure the ladies felt free to speak either English or Japanese. When one of the Christian ladies, Mrs.I told about a visit to Korea last year around Easter, she quickly switched into Japanese. She told of visiting the Prayer Mountain going through the Stations of the Cross—and a Korean woman that was following them who was crying very loudly. When they came to the final stop, the woman spoke to them. She had been fasting for an extended period of time because she (the Korean woman) couldn’t completely forgive the Japanese people for the pain and persecution they had caused during the Japanese occupation. Mrs.I and her group had been horrified to learn of the torture and murder of Christian Koreans at the hands of Japanese during their visit, things they had never heard before. So the Lord brought this Korean woman and their group together for a time of forgiveness and weeping.

One of the ladies in the group today said something to the effect that it “was luck” that brought them together—to which Mrs.I strongly replied that they believed it was what God wanted—because they encountered no one else on this walk.

The individual updates continued around the room and then we got to a woman who was brought along to the party because it was supposed to be her first day at an English class, but her teacher (the mother of the disabled boy) wanted to come to the party. She did an introduction of herself in English, and then broke into Japanese. The first thing she did was look at Mrs.I and say that her grandmother was a believer and she had heard a lot about God, and about the need to be saved. She had attended a Christian preschool and heard about Easter (even received an Easter egg) and so she was so glad she could be with us today to hear this.

One of the next to share was the woman who had been partner with me in the study those four years. She continued to lead the study until December of this past year. She surprised me by being considerably open about being overly busy, being out of fellowship (we’ve missed seeing her at church), of not having time to build her relationship with her husband and shared a story of an incident that took place recently that has caused her to ask every night “am I prepared to die?” She said she didn’t feel she was prepared.

The last woman to talk was the woman who joined our study six years ago with NO previous exposure to Christianity. I have learned a lot about Japanese thought from her comments and reflections as I’ve taught her. In response to the request to ask any questions about Jesus or Christianity, her answer was “I don’t know God and I don’t even know what the questions are.”

This was the perfect segue to introducing an Alpha class that we plan on offering in the fall for women. Stan had cued up one of the Alpha videos to show a few minutes of a talk on “Why Did Jesus Die?” (Nicky Gumbel, the speaker, puts a model gallows around his neck to make the point of the irony that we wear a symbol of capital punishment when we wear fashionable crosses.) I played it with the Japanese language track for them. Afterward I explained the way the class would be formatted, and told them I would send invitations as we got closer, but to hold Wednesday mornings open for September – November. They seemed to be very interested.

In Japanese the Alpha Course is called an “Easy to Understand Christianity Entrance Course.” One of the ladies in my group today said she is “at the gate of belief.” I feel like I need to get together with her before September. Please pray that God will give wisdom to know how to connect Mrs.S with one of several Christian ladies who can guide her through the gate. (If you’re looking at the photo—Mrs.S is sitting next to me on the couch.)

Please pray with us that God will continue to guide me to the next steps to encourage each of these ladies to know and love Him.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gleaning


Twice a year the school our children attend here in Tokyo holds a "thrift shop" -- a huge rummage sale. It always amazes us how much junk missionaries have to dispose of each year. We just had the spring sale last weekend. We took down bags of things to get rid of--and neither Stan nor I bought anything!

The first day of the sale is only open to those in the missionary community who have children at the school. The second day is open to the public--and it is a free for all! I have volunteered on the last day only once and was amazed at how much people purchased. When it is all over, and the doors are closed, any remaining materials are picked up by some missionaries who have a relief work in other Asian countries.

A few years ago, Stan was invited to bring in a group after the sale was over to "glean" for the outreach to the homeless that he has been involved in. He had 30 minutes to fill plastic bags full of clothing, shoes, blankets and anything else that appeared to be useful. He recruited some high school kids and got enough to fill our van. Once again this past Saturday, he was given the opportunity to collect clothing. This time his helpers were adults from the church. Once again, enough was collected to fill our van.(I even had to take the train home--no room in the van for me! The photos are all of things gleaned.)


On Sunday after service, they pulled out several tables, and had a group from the congregation help snip the price tags off, screen and sort what had been gathered, and rebag it. We were encouraged to see people from the congregation getting involved in this. One woman brought courtesy hand towels and soap that she has gathered over the year from various hotels she's visited. That reminds me of the bags of samples we've collected but never used! I should get it out and add it to the bundle. This coming Saturday morning, everything will once again go into our van and be taken to a central park in Shinjuku for distribution.

We are once again reminded that we can teach about compassion ministries, but we really teach when we are DOING compassion ministries. Sometimes it tests our comfort zones--which isn't bad. One member of our congregation sent us this in an e-mail recently: "One thing among many that I really appreciate about ICCS is its distinct interest in the social gospel. It is a great need that very few churches are willing to get their hands dirty with. I love being a part of a church that
has made it a priority to minister to the least of these. Thanks for
your leadership."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Living, Dying and Hope for the Resurrection

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25, 26

These past few weeks we have been faced with the reality of these verses. It started when a fellow missionary from our language school days had a major stroke. He is facing an uphill journey but we see God using His Word to encourage this dear man.

Shortly after that, a sweet little girl was born to a family in our church. Ultrasound had shown that her abdominal cavity hadn't closed and the family was introduced to an reknown teaching hospital here in Tokyo that has taken very excellent care of little Lucy. She still has some challenges ahead of her, but God has His gentle hand on her and her parents. (photo used by permission)

The uncle of one of our church's alumni, Hidemasa, had a stroke a few days later, and is showing some improvement. Hidemasa, who came to faith and was baptized in our church, is the only member of his family that is a believer. He was able to visit with his uncle and his family this weekend. His family is living in darkness right now--not only spiritually, but they have drawn the curtains, and no one is eating. Hidemasa has been reading the Psalms and finding them very rich. His prayer is that his uncle will have a dream of Jesus while in this coma. We pray that this will be something God uses to bring hope of eternal life to his extended family.

A friend of Stan's from college passed away on Easter morning. Another friend has been told that chemotherapy is no longer going to be helpful and is preparing herself for the final weeks.

Over and over we are reminded that life is short...and Jesus brings hope for eternal life, even when our physical life is over.

These things all have come as we entered the Easter season. One of our church families sponsored an Easter party for 24 children in their neighborhood on Saturday. Stan went over and helped Weng Kong hide Easter eggs in the park across from their house! The family, missionaries from Singapore, have developed their relationships from their daughters' preschool and were able to share the gospel with these children using the "resurrection eggs". Janie mentioned in church on Sunday that for some of the children this was the first time to hear of Jesus or the concept of dying on a cross...and seeds were sown.

We started Easter with a sunrise service at the small plaza of a train station near to us. Stan loves sunrise services--and each year the number of those who attend fluctuates all over the place! This year we had 11 come out. Stan and Ken read the Scriptures and we sang Easter songs acapella.

At 10:30 we had the morning worship service back at ICCS, and were delighted to have some former members with us who were "passing through Japan" on the way back to the States from a trip to Far East Russia. We had a time of people sharing testimonies, and one of our members from Uganda shared how both her grandfathers had passed away in the past month--one was over 100, the other was in his 90s. Both men loved the Lord--the one that was over 100 was the one that made the first move to follow Christ. She was rejoicing for God's faithfulness to them and through them to her family. When the service was over, we had our covered dish lunch. (Its always the third Sunday of every month--keep it in mind if you decide to visit!) This seemed fitting--because for many of us the church has become our family here in Japan. We celebrated Easter together--He is risen, indeed!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sakura--Cherry Blossoms



This year we have had an extended season of cherry trees in bloom. Cherry blossoms follow the plum trees that usually bloom in March and from here on out everything begins to turn green. The cherries started blooming two weeks ago, and then we had clear but cool weather which slowed down the falling of the blossoms.

The cherry blossom season fills parks with people who sit under the gently falling blossoms, picnicking, reveling and drinking heavily. We were watching a news show the other day where they were talking about good manners for such partiers. In addition to being a culturally enjoyable activity, there are some spiritual meanings associated with the falling blossoms.


The following is a quote from Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design by M. Baird.

"Cherry blossoms are the flowers most beloved by the Japanese. Because cherry blossoms have short blooming times and are fragile, they have been used to symbolize the transience of life; this symbolism meshed well with the teachings of Buddhism. Also, since cherry trees blossom en mass, they have also been used as metaphors for clouds. Fallen blossoms, not to be ignored, are likened to snow and later, as a metaphor for a warrior killed early in life."

It is significant to me that the season that follows the cherry blossoms is Easter, where we celebrate the resurrection of the one who defeated death by dying that we may have eternal life.