Friday, August 24, 2018

Japanese Puzzler


Here’s a JAPANESE PUZZLE BOX for you:

(brought to you by the space constraints of urban Japan.)

We returned back in Kawasaki to a completely dead car. It turns out that power locks don’t open without marginal battery power. But without being able to unlock the car, there is no way to open the hood and recharge the battery. WHAT TO DO?

Use the hideaway key in the key fob to open a manual lock door, you say? Ah, but herein is the best part of the puzzle! We need to park in our carport all the way over against the driver’s side door (the only side with a key hole) to have enough space to get out on the passenger side. 

The way the car is parked, there isn’t even adequate room to get the shaft of the key into the lock. No access. No open hood. No battery recharge. No driving.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO NOW?

SOLUTION: I broke down and called JAF (Japan Auto Federation). Things looked pretty grim for the first 30 minutes or so as the tech walked around and puzzled over it. He smiled when I suggested getting some sumo buddies to lift and move the car over. 

Then he struck upon an idea. From below he accessed some part with an electrical connection, and gave it just enough of an electric boost to open the doors. The hood was next. Then the battery jump. JAF really earned my membership fee this year.

Before leaving, in true Japanese fashion, he complimented me a few times on how well I parked. I interpreted this Japanese politeness as intended: "Don't park so stinking close to the wall on the key hole side next time!" We'll see how that goes. I might have to skinny down with Weight Watchers to get out of my car after this.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

UNFINISHED

Musashi-Kosugi, Japan  (new church plant location)
I had no idea things would pile up so fast. Wasn’t it just Christmas?

In the thick of church outreach activities, message prep, meetings, people needs, and countless Bible studies, I ignored the growing stack of unfinished work on my desk. “I’ll get around to all that when things settle down after Christmas,” I figured. But the stack grew, until it occupied parts of my floor, too. My digital inboxes were filled with urgencies. And little emergencies kept cropping up.

Come mid-January, I was in deep clutter. “Where did all this work come from?” I muttered. I consider myself pretty neat, but messy stacks were piled precariously around me like a bad Dr. Seuss illustration. I like finished projects, so this was all very stressful!

Even as I still deal with my personal catch up (in time for Easter?), I realize there is a greater unfinished task to be done. I live in the middle of it.

It’s ironic -- or perhaps necessary for my discipleship -- that God would put someone that likes neat, finished things into the middle of the World’s Biggest Unfinished Task in mission history. Yes, I’m talking about Japan. Japan’s 99% without Christ is one BIG unfinished project in missions for the church -- that’s you and me both.

We may never finish the task of evangelizing the 99% of Japan. Even through a multiplication effort of the entire church in Japan, many will choose to live without Christ. But there’s a part of the task we CAN finish:

We CAN plant an evangelical church witness in Tokyo’s growing urban centers -- starting with Musashi Kosugi (photo above). This is finish-able! If the world can add all that infrastructure and all those people to that tiny area, surely God’s people can add a mission outpost and church planter. Or do we think -- like I did with my unfinished tasks -- that “we’ll get around to it when things settle down” ?

We invite you to consider investing in a new church work in Musashi Kosugi, as a church, family, or believer that loves Japan. May we ask that you first help underwrite the monthly financial support of a local church planter (that’s us) for Musashi Kosugi? You may use WorldVenture's online giving here.

You might prefer to give toward our “Musashi Kosugi Project.” In the days ahead, we’ll share more, but you may give any time through WorldVenture and mark it “MK church seed fund.”

By the way, at the end of the day, and in the middle of my unfinished work, I am so glad to rest in the FINISHED work of Christ at Calvary!

We envision a version of this with 1st floor “store-front” space for outreach ministries and new church to gather, and living space above for ourselves/staff. 

This vision is so beyond our power. Please pray God will open up a house that can be renovated or cheap land that can be built on, and provide needed financial resources.


Monday, January 1, 2018

A "Barky" New Year?

Wan Wan!    

Ah, 2018. The year has only begun and it's already going to the dogs!


Today, January 1st  (1/1), can be pronounced “wan-wan” in Japanese. “Wan-wan” happens to be the way that dogs bark in Japan. (And all this time you thought they said “woof-woof,” right?)

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the year begins with a couple barks. After all, 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese (& Japanese) zodiac. Japan knows how to market this idea. Dog-themed ads, products, foods, stamps and greeting cards are everywhere. And our local pet shop has a great discount on Shih Tzus (while supplies last) this first week of the year.

But wait! Is it really THE YEAR OF THE DOG? 
The Bible says that it’s actually “THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOR


v18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 

v19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."    Luke 4


Jesus, quoting from Isaiah 61, pointed to the fulfillment of the prophecy in himself. Because of Christmas. Because he came. This would now be a favorable year! Jesus was not referring to a calendar year of 365 days, but an era of time during which man can be redeemed by His work at Calvary’s cross. This year, 2018, and every year until the rapture of the church, is an era and year of God’s favor! It is a year of possible forgiveness in Christ, and hope for this life and eternal life to come!

But how many Japanese will know that 2018 is anything but the year of the dog? Frankly, very few. In fact, 99.5% percent have no idea. We have to tell them the year can very different!

While it is still the year of the Lord’s favor, and before this era of time comes to an end, we are all entrusted with good news to share with our world. Kaori and I believe God would have us to preach this good news and “proclaim the year of God’s favor” in Japan. It is this conviction that moves us forward here in the year ahead of challenges and blessings.

So, thank you for sending and supporting us in this work! Your confidence in God to work through us in Japan is encouraging and humbling!

If you would like to become a support partner with us in 2018, it’s really easy to do, and it’s a really critical time for us in our start of Vision 2020. In 2018, we’d like to be fully supported again for this work. We’re making progress, but still need monthly commitments. Click here to begin, or here for more details. Pass this along.

God bless you in 2018, this year of His favor for the world. Happy New Year!


Kevin & Kaori Laverman


P.S. Cats really rule as pets in Japan. (And wait until you hear what they say in Japanese. Hint: ニャーニャー)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Central Reason & Theme

They must have felt the curious stares of a thousand kimono-clad Japanese as they stepped off the ships at Yokohama port (photo today at left) in conspicuous western dresses and suitcoats. I wonder if the first Protestant missionaries to Japan didn’t silently ask themselves the question...

"What am I doing here again?"

It wasn’t really the ships that brought them in 1859. Just like it wasn’t the jet that brought us in 1999. We’re here in Kawasaki / Yokohama for one simple reason: the love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14).

Christ is both the compelling call upon our lives, and the redemptive thread who weaves through and holds together every random activity we’re about as missionaries -- and there’s a lot. Every meeting I fumble to lead, every worship service we plan, every Bible study I prepare (dictionary in hand), every church event I fret about, every hand in the hospital I hold in prayer, every wedding or funeral I conduct (thankfully, more weddings than funerals lately), every church bazaar flooded with visitors, every note sung in our gospel music workshops, every kids outreach, English Bible Class, prayer times, or church association face times.

I often look back at what we’ve done in the last few months (usually when writing this newsletter), and ask, “What’s the theme? What connected all those dots of activity? WHAT AM I DOING HERE AGAIN? And is it all really moving our mission vision forward?”

Then in quiet reflection, I realize that the central reason and theme is bigger than our tiny mission vision, or even church planting work. The center of it all, when you get down to it, is Christ: “Everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him” Col 1:16b.

So, I repent of having an overly pragmatic eye. Sure, I want it all to move a larger mission vision forward. But more than that, I want it all to move people to the center of it all: Christ. He is the axle and spokes of the wheel of this work. He is the best vision for this country. And the reason we’re here at all.

Yes, all those conversations held in my poor Japanese. All those kanji-filled (Japanese) emails written that Kaori lovingly corrected. All those messages in broken Japanese that make my wife giggle or sigh when I practice. All those prayers I stumbled through in my language inadequacy. All those reports, thank you notes to wonderful supporters, and newsletters. And especially that caramel macchiato I just sipped together with a new Japanese brother in Christ at the edge of the Tama river in view of Mt. Fuji.

It’s all about Christ. I wouldn’t be here without Him. I wouldn’t do it for any less reason than love for Him. He’s the central theme of it all.

Through that lens, I see the last few months of activity more clearly. Not everything moved along our vision as I wanted, but hundreds of people -- many who have never met a Christian in Japan -- were moved along to the center of it all, and pointed to the cross of Christ.

A recent conference we attended here (photo below) brought together missionaries from many different countries. 158 years later, new missionaries are still arriving in Japan. Far less from the west, though. In the thick of language and cultural stress, a flurry of ministry activities and mistakes, they no doubt will sometimes wonder, “What am I doing here again?”

The answer: Christ, the original missionary, came incarnate to earth, sacrificing all, to bring people to God. His model is the one that motivates us still. I am here by Him and for Him alone. Christ is the central reason and theme of it all.

May this truth guide our thoughts toward Christmas 2017!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Powerless!

I felt ridiculous. A white foreigner in Japan, shirt stained with engine grease, standing next to my disabled vehicle, in the traffic lane, waving an emergency flare. Only a police car’s flashing lights could have drawn more attention to my predicament. Oh, wait...he stopped by, too. Sigh...

Last week, what was intended to be a family break along the Yokohama bay, turned into a frightening breakdown under our Kawasaki expressway viaduct. The ol’ “green machine” (our Honda) just up and died right there in the traffic lane. No power to crank the engine and pull out of the way. No power for even emergency blinkers. I WAS POWERLESS!

POWERLESS. Japanese feel this way watching their neighbor North Korea launching missiles into the Sea of Japan, even lobbing one right over their heads in Hokkaido in the early morning hours of 8/29. Throughout the north, Japan’s September earthquake evacuation drills have now been replaced with missile evac- uation drills. But where does one flee an incoming missile?

POWERLESS. That was Kaori after twisting her ankle a few weeks back. The pain made it hard for her to even stand. A missed stair caused all kinds of grief. (Remarkably, the plateware she was carrying survived the trip down.)

Powerlessness. It’s a place we hate to go, but really need to visit often. Powerlessness reminds us of our utter dependence on God for life and work. As missionaries, we can study the language, prepare our lessons and messages, organize outreach, and give a bold witness. We can explain, persuade, counsel and invite. But we are ultimately powerless to change a person’s heart. God must work his power and move them to embrace the gospel. We know we’re powerless. So when someone in our church receives Christ in Japan, we know it was all God. He gets all the glory. We get the joy. The He whispers again:

“My power works best in your powerlessness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

A tow truck resolved our road emergency (for now). And some Epsom salt, an ankle support (I thanked Kaori for getting a new supporter -- but it was the wrong kind!) and family TLC ended Kaori’s pain. But our lessons in our human powerlessness and His divine power through us continue daily in our mission here. ... And that’s just where we need to be to see His work.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

New Things

New career missionaries have joined us in church planting. New schools and schedules have begun for our family. God’s new beginnings are more frequent and more beautiful than Japan’s spring cherry blossoms...

From the beginning of our work in Kawasaki in 2001, our vision has been to start a small cluster of new churches outwardly focused and networked together for greater impact in this area. We believe a team is the best approach for the future. And we’re working to create one. We’ve laid out our rationale for all this in our vision booklet viewable online here: lavermansinjapan.org/vision

New Teammates

Justin & Lindsay Mitchell arrived in February, settling just “up the street” from us about 20 minutes away. Yes, there’s been some learning curves in food, shopping, hospital (Lindsay will have a baby in August), transport and financial services, also the tiny space in Tokyo, mail, garbage sorting (an ongoing mystery even for me - see lavermansinjapan.org/gomi) and so on. And the Japanese language will be a humbling adventure for years. But they’re adapting great.

Then during April, we hosted Gary & Jennifer Chang and kids here in Kawasaki for a two-week “vision trip.” They’re raising support and coming to Japan through WorldVenture in 2018 to join hands with us on this new team.

Bit by bit the team is forming, but we need others, too. Specifically, a full-time Japanese worker, an English speaker for TESL outreach (see lavermansinjapan.org/tesl), and more missionaries with expertise in music, media, youth, or kids ministry.

Protestant Christianity in Japan began just south of us in Yokohama bay in the 1860’s. But the number of churches has never kept up with the density of people and need. New churches are needed for the 5.2+ million in Kawasaki-Yokohama, 99% without Christ. Would you pray with us for the formation of this “mission possible” team for Japan?

New Stages of Life

No fooling. April 1st was a big day in the Laverman home. Justen started his new adventure: college entrance in Japan (the school year starts from April here). We moved to Japan when he was two and now he’s twenty. Those years got him fluid in the language (no thanks to his dad’s messy Japanese examples) and prepared to build a life in this country He started at “Hamabi”: YokoHama Bijustu Daigaku (College of Design), commuting daily by train from our house about 30 minutes away.

Justen wants to serve God through his talent in design. Those of you who have seen his artwork know that he shows great potential. We look forward to seeing how the Lord will blend all these third-culture kid experiences, design skills and languages together for His glory through Justen in the future.

New Line-ups of Need

The size of the spiritual need in Japan never stops to amaze me. A few recent episodes with lines may illustrate:

The first line was April 27 at Musashi- Kosugi station. I was wrestling to get the Chang family (see front) and their suitcases to the spot on the platform for the airport express, but the morning commuters were as thick as it gets. We were only able to move down the platform a few yards at a time after each train pulled out of the station, and before the next arrived. The video link above might help you understand.

A few days earlier I had viewed this station and Musashi-Kosugi area (our location for next church plant as God provides), with a visiting supporter from the 62nd floor of one of the many hi-rise apartments. Now I know where all those residents go in the morning. There needs to be an evangelical church witness for them!

The second line was May 4 at a shrine in Kamakura. Hundreds had rented a basket from the shrine to insert coins or bills to dip into the magic spring that multiplies prosperity. I took a video (above link) to give you an idea. Japan doesn’t need more prosperity. They need Christ! Superstitions can’t give what He offers freely.

Pray for Musashi-Kosugi. Pray that God will lead us to a person of peace through which to start a church in this neighborhood soon. Pray for them to put their affections not on the superstitions of this world, but on the work of Jesus Christ.