Sunday, October 31, 2010

Transition Team, Placement Team, Partnership Team..

I(Faith) have become a "team player" with positions on several important decision making teams for Asian Access/Japan. W.e are presently in a season of leadership change in Japan, and as of October 1, I am now a member of a Transition Leadership Team. Please pray for God's wisdom as we make decisions during these weeks or months ahead. Pray also that God clearly directs our mission's senior leadership as they look for the VP for Japan.

We anticipate several new missionaries coming to Japan in the next six months and their placements are extremely important decisions. The Placement Team has people from Hokkaido, Okinawa, the Osaka area and the US in addition to me in the Tokyo area. Thanks to the technology available through a combination of Skype and Tokbox we have been able to both talk and see one another on our conference calls over the past couple of weeks. Pray that God will clearly direct us to the most strategic placements as well as that those who are coming will be able to raise their support in time to get here around the same time next spring.

Finally, our mission is in the process of pursuing a strategic partnership with another mission organization to advance the church multiplication movement within Japan. Our mission president, Joe Handley has written extensively about this in his blog on the Asian Access website. We are at the point where some of us will be going to visit with three potential partner missions next month to see which one is the best fit. I will be flying to the US for this trip from November 9 - 23. Please pray for the Partnership Team visits during those weeks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrating God's Faithfulness over 20 years

We had a great time on Sunday celebrating the 20th anniversary of our International Church.

We enjoyed having people come back from years gone by, current congregation members and friends from the area.

Stan's theme for the day was on the faithfulness of God and on our need to make a commitment to follow Him.

He spoke on Joshua 24, especially verse 15 where Joshua declares that "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Stan had made up a covenant that he invited people to sign, declaring that as much as it depended on them, they would serve the Lord in their families.

We were surprised at how many people actually came forward to sign. Even after the service, a young son of one couple where the mother is a believer but the father is open but not yet a believer wanted to sign.

We weren't expecting it, but the congregation members gave us a gift and flowers.

They decided that the ones to present us with flowers should be Ayako, the woman who was recently baptized, along with her husband. They also asked for all who had been baptized at the church to raise their hands. It was very encouraging.

And then afterward came the food. Lots of food.

The line wrapped around the room, providing lots of time to chat with friends.

Some were able to spend time at the photo time lines and many were surprised to see who had been here a long time.

Conversation continued around the table--some were tables of long-time friends.

Others were tables of people more recently a part of ICCS. The family on the right met Ayako and another woman at the park. The wife wanted to practice English because she and her husband are being transferred to Boston next year. I don't know how much they understand of the Gospel, but its fun to be a part of them coming to know. Reiko, on the left, was baptized a year and a half ago.

We had two alumni from the late 90's/early 2000's come--Naoko and Jamie (on the left), who enjoyed catching up with long time friends Inga and Roald.

We had a table of young men. The one on the left in the middle is ours. Harold is their Sunday school teacher.

The wife of the Brazilian pastor (across from Stan) who leads a service at our church came along with a few more Brazilians. So did a young Korean girl who is the girlfriend of another Brazilian. And Yuko (on the right) came searching for some relief from the stress of care giving for her father with a weak heart and her mother who has dementia.

Finally it was all cleaned up--a community event in itself--and it was time for us to say goodbye to Jamie and Naoko. Fumi and Janie joined Stan and I at the door for this photo.

Twenty years is a long time. We didn't really think that far ahead when we signed on for this...but we praise God for the blessings we've received as we've served through at least "20 congregations in the same place." I don't think we'll be here for the 40th anniversary, though if God wills, we hope to be around for at least the 25th when we'll open the envelope with the covenant that people signed.

For years we used to hear people say "I'm going to Stan's church." We tried to retrain them, but for some reason people weren't taking personal ownership. When we looked through Reiko's photos of the anniversary on Facebook, she had one with the subtitle "This is my home church." THAT made our day.

To God be the glory!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A look back over 20 years...

The past couple of days I've been working on a photo collage for the ICCS 20th Anniversary celebration on Sunday. I had great dreams and ideas of what it would look like, and this didn't quite match...

...but considering I've had little time, that many of the photos from the first 10 years are in boxes in my guest room, and many of the photos from the last 10 years are stored electronically on my external drives and I had to make prints of them... I'm satisfied. I have a couple of photos yet to print and post from this past year (the photo printer my dad bought when Circuit City was closing down and subsequently gave to me ran out of ink after about 70 photos yesterday).

I realize that there are very few people who understand the challenge of International Church turnover. I kept looking for photos from different "congregations" over the years--and was challenged to figure out when those groups overlapped. It was interesting to see how much the congregation changed from the early 90's, where we had many foreigners and few Japanese, to now, where we can sometimes have a 50-50 representation in the congregation (and in the summers its a majority Japanese). Some things stayed the same, like the location for Son-Rise service--near our train station in front of the water clock--from Easter '92 up until 2009.

So how can we get the essence without posting all the photos? I decided to put a few themed pages up as well. Here we have retreats, Christmas, Alpha and Baptisms.

And this has Bible Studies, Easter, Prayer Quilts, Sunday School and Father's Day.

And then I ran out of steam for Mother's Day and Covered Dish Lunches... SO MANY photos are taken of people around the table at one of our monthly lunches. As several mentioned in a video we put together of alumni, those lunches were the family time, the community time, the friend-making time that provided a very special connection with other church people. And then the testimony of the one who was a young single guy at the time--who loved the abundant home-cooked food!

Its been a good exercise, and a reminder of God's faithfulness to us and through us over the past 20 years.

"Forever God is Faithful."

Saturday, October 09, 2010

ICCS' History -- Baptisms

We don't have complete records of the number of baptisms held at ICCS, but I estimate that there have been more than 40 over the past 20 years.

In Japanese churches, baptism is frequently the mark of becoming a believer -- that is you ask someone how long they've followed Christ, and they'll tell you when they were baptized. As we think back on those who have made that step, it is interesting that a majority of those who have been baptized in our International Church have been Japanese. I have a few photos here --

1994 -- Hattori-san gives her pre-baptism testimony.

Also 1994, two single adults, Tsutomu and Chinatsu, are baptized before our first home assignment. They announced their engagement a few months later.

In 2002, Mr. Toh, who had attended our fellowship since the beginning, decided to be baptized. This was a real spiritual breakthrough for him and for us.

2006 saw the baptism of a number of young men in the congregation. The three closest to Stan had been baptized that morning. The two in the background had been their mentors/disciplers.

I wrote about our most recent baptism last month of Ayako. We have a few more people sitting in our congregation that we hope to see make that step of obedience to God soon. It is a privilege to be a part of these individuals growing in their faith.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Covered Dish Sunday--what a difference a year makes!

By 1992 I (Faith) stopped feeling like we were "playing church" on Sundays, as more and more people began attending. We had expatriates from the Tentmakers Network of Tokyo attending, as well as staff from the Christian Academy in Japan. There were some American families from the Yokota air force base and one young man from the Yokosuka naval base--a two hour trek away by train. (He was motivated to come that far to be with a young lady who later became his wife.)

We had Japanese returnees (those who have spent time in another country) and Filipino trainees at the local Pioneer plant. There was a Nigerian or two.

One family was in Japan because the husband worked for a Golf Magazine. They invited their Japanese landlady to church with them. She has been with us since then and is the key contact with our neighborhood.

We had missionary musicians, and Japanese who had been introduced to us by other missionaries and international friends.

In ways these were the most exciting days for the church--probably because we had started so small, and the expansion was significant. We were experiencing a little touch of heaven with the multinational congregation. We love international church ministry!

Little did we as leaders know that the joy of this congregation would lead to the first round of disappointment and sadness as people moved from Japan and we began saying "goodbye."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

ICCS' First Covered Dish Lunch -- February 1991

When we decided on the name of our church, the International Community Chapel of Saitama, we thought about how we would function as a community of English-speaking believers, primarily from overseas.

The first people to attend, aside from the missionaries on our team, were Japanese, most of whom didn't even speak English that well. Many were from outside the geographical area of the church, and to even have social interaction was a challenge. This prompted us to come up with "Covered Dish Sundays" where we would meet together for lunch following the service.

Our first one had us around one large table.

We've have gone from one table to anywhere between six and nine tables. We've gone from corelle dishes to paper plates. There have been weeks where there was lots of food, and weeks where we asked people to sparingly serve themselves.

Even more than food, though, what happens around those tables is important. We've had friendships made, assistance given with English or work projects, counseling, evangelism, and more than one couple who met there. Some weeks it feels like we have had Sunday dinner with the extended family.

So if you're in the area on the third Sunday of any month, you are welcome to join us for service at 10:30 and lunch afterwards.

And if you didn't have time to cook, don't worry. About eight years ago a grocery store was built next to our you can run over and get something to add to the meal.

Twenty years...

In two weeks we will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS). As co-founders of the chapel, we are going through lots of photos, written pieces and personal memories trying to cull the best materials for a timeline that we want to create.

So, what did we look like 20 years ago?

I think this is actually more like 20.5 years ago, based on the younger daughter's age, but this is who we were when the idea for ICCS was being formed. I'd love to say we haven't changed a bit, but that clearly isn't the case. Obviously we have different hair color now than we did then, and a few pounds on us, and both daughters are young adult women living on the other side of the ocean. More importantly, we have seen God do some amazing work in people's lives, and we've grow in our skills in pastoring, teaching and encouraging those God has given us to serve.

We'll start posting some of the photos that take us through the church's history over the next couple of weeks.