Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cherishing the Cross

Tomorrow I lead my last Bible study with the dear ladies from ICCS.  We will complete a walk through the Gospel of Mark. I have found this time with these particular ladies very encouraging to my own soul this year.  I haven't been using someone else's study, and I haven't done intensive inductive Bible Study (just ran across my training notebooks from the mid '90's  to become a Precept Leader). Probably we've been a little closer to Jill Briscoe's style of "looking around the corner" approach as we've taken the text and I've tried to put skin on the narrative as written so as to make it more than black and red words on a white page.

When we met last time, we looked at Mark 15, the passage on the death and burial of Jesus. As we went through those very familiar passages of Jesus being tortured by the soldiers, and then the crucifixion, I saw that the ladies were beginning to connect with the story on a more personal level. They were also interested in the ladies who were at the crucifixion, and the burial.

When we finished, I pulled out the hymnals (remember those books?)  We turned to the section of songs related to the cross.  One of the ladies asked me to sing through them, because she wasn't sure she had heard them before. If you'll remember, while our study is in English, it is not the ladies' first language...  Once they heard me sing through a verse, they would either recognize it, or not recognize it.

We came to the Old Rugged Cross.  I pulled out my iPhone and played my favorite version performed by Chris Rice  which they enjoyed, but it left them confused as to whether they knew the song or not. I rummaged around for a Japanese hymnal and as soon as I found it they recognized it.  Another woman, originally from Korea, heard the song and it brought her back to memories of her brother as this was his favorite song. She began singing it in Korean, while another woman moved to the piano to begin to play it. I think we were singing it in three languages at the same time, and there were tears flowing.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share. 
George Bennard, 1913 
Tomorrow we read about the Resurrection. I'm never quite sure how the study will unfold, but I'm expecting that we will be able to identify with the women who left the tomb trembling and bewildered, and we will also rejoice at the Good News, and find hope because He lives!

Friday, April 19, 2013

After the mess...

This past week has been a productive week for us -- both Stan and I worked hard taking a "first pass" through our stuff.  We are thankful that we were able to accomplish a fair amount over these days.  On Tuesday morning, Stan took a van-load to the garbage center. On Wednesday evening, we took a van-load to the Christian Academy in Japan "Thrift Shop" to be sold.  

While driving to the school, we stopped for some Gelato as a reward for these accomplishments.  I enjoyed a Belgian Chocolate and Espresso mix, Stan had a delicious strawberry milk cone.  After dropping everything off, we stopped at a local steak restaurant for dinner together.  

On Thursday the temperatures had risen to the mid '70's and we decided to walk over to the local park, Kokukoen, after picking up boxed lunches on the way. 

We sat under an arbor of wisteria to eat our lunch. It was delightful.  When we finished, we walked through more of the park. 

On our way back home we also enjoyed the dogwood near our train station.  

This next week we enter the next phase. We will be getting estimates for our international move from several companies.  We will appreciate prayers for discernment as we make these decisions. We have a guess as to how much it will cost and hope we don't get sticker shock.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First, we make a mess...

The semi-annual "thrift shop" at the Christian Academy in Japan will be held next Friday and Saturday. Twice a year we have the opportunity to add or subtract from our belongings...

These two weeks prior to thrift shop are major for us as we try downsizing our "stuff" in anticipation of an international move.  It provides us with reasons to open those closets and drawers that normally don't see the light of day. We are making progress, I think...

It's hard to tell because first, we make a mess. While not quite like the illustration, it affects my mind the same way this drawing does--I am much more comfortable in a clean, clear, orderly environment.  But it is hard to do a good job of sorting things to sell, ship or throw without scattering them across the room. Gratefully, I am able to close the door on the main room we're using as base camp on this project.  But a week from now, it better be "guest-room ready!"

The hardest things for both of us to dispose of are those "someday I can fix/make/use this" items. But I think there will be incredible freedom once they are gone!

As long as we don't discover after-the-fact that we need them in the next three months.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

No Greater Joy!

We had the privilege of spending Sunday, the 24th of March at the church where Stan served when he first came to Japan in 1979.

Stan came as an English teacher as part of the pilot Church OutReach Evangelism  (CORE) program with Language Institute for Evangelism. (We've been here long enough to have been through two name changes with the same mission organization!)

The Unoki Church is in the town of Unoki in southwestern Tokyo. While to get there one goes through very wealthy and trendy suburbs, Unoki was a poorer area.  The founding pastor, Pastor K. and his family literally built the church over his father's 1-story house. He was assisted by a young man who went on to plant several other churches.

Stan  lived on the third floor and was a part of the pastor's family  throughout his 10 months there. He was about the 4th in a series of short term missionaries that had worked at this church, and the Lord blessed him with seeing much spiritual fruit during his time at Unoki.

Pastor K. passed a way a few years ago, and the young man who helped build the church, has come back as pastor.  Mrs. K. continues to live in the church and has a wonderful ministry of prayer and encouragement.

It was very precious to spend some time with her again. Not only was she there, but all three of her daughters and some grandchildren were also at the service the Sunday we visited.

Here are a portion of those attending the church that Sunday.  The pastor is to the left of Stan as you look at this photo.

Monika, the oldest K. daughter, translated for Stan -- While he lived at Unoki she didn't speak much English, and he didn't speak much Japanese, yet they both understood one another.  Monika is now an excellent English speaker -- and has a home only about 1 1/2 hours away from Charlotte, NC!

One of the great joys for Stan was to have his former student, Hideo S. and his wife Yasuko, come to the service.  Stan tells the story of meeting Hideo as a young man and being stunned to realize that he actually worshiped rocks and trees.  Within a few months, he had come to know Christ and was baptized. Yasuko was the pianist at one of our mission's evangelistic English Centers. Hideo works for the Japanese Post Office as a branch manager.  He went to a part-time Bible college and completed work for a ministry degree.

After service we had lunch together, and then we had a sharing time around the table.  Left of Stan, as we look at this photo, is another former student--Yuko.

Later in the afternoon, the pastor took us over to see an 87-year-old woman who had been in Stan's housewives class.  She is now unable to come to church because of injury, but the Pastor has been meeting at her house monthly for a Bible Study.  She showed him her Bible--with a note that Stan had written to commemorate her baptism back in 1980.

We heard her explain how she was feeling very blue when the pamphlet advertising English classes was put in her mail box. Her then 10-year old daughter encouraged her to go.  She remembers being amazed that this person would come from another country, leaving his home and family, to teach English. Through the chapel times she came to know the Lord, who called Stan to Japan for this very purpose, and was baptized that year.

As we came to the end of the day, we sat around the table on the second floor, where Stan had many meals together with the K family, and enjoyed sushi and shrimp tempura.  It was delicious, and a nice way of wrapping up the visit.

a former member of Stan's
Children's English class,
 now in ministry herself

We think of the verse in 3 John 1:4, where the apostle reflects that I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  It is heart-warming to see people who were children and teenagers, as well as adults when Stan taught them, continuing to  follow Jesus.

This was a joy-filled visit!