Thursday, December 17, 2009

Like Angel Voices

The sound of handbells at Christmas are like angel voices announcing the birth of Christ. What an inspirational joy it was to have them as part of our Christmas celebration as a church!

Our concert on Sunday featured handbells and gospel music, with a Christmas message from Kaori and I (bilingual), and Christmas carols sandwiched between. Rather than fussing with tickets and money, we simply made the concert a charity event with all giving going toward Wheelchairs of Hope.

Altogether nearly 100 people filled the tiny rental hall. This is quite a gathering for a church in Japan! We prayed and planned through the many details needed to see the event go smoothly. There were a few glitches, but God was honored and glorified. Many unbelievers heard the Gospel message explained as simply as I could, and given an invitation to respond.

Thank you, Lord Jesus! Your next birthday celebration at Denen Grace is coming up this Sunday, 20th.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving Mouse

Thanksgiving was a little different for the Laverman family this year. While our Stateside friends enjoyed Thanksgiving turkey, we enjoyed a mouse...Mickey Mouse, that is. Kaori's folks were down from Yamagata for a week and eager to experience Tokyo Disneyland with family here. So, Kaori's brother's family and ourselves took a day off to challenge the likes of Splash Mountain and Monsters, Inc. Yes, it turns out that it truly is a small world after all.

A couple of things that caught my attention from the day:

1) It seems that Anglo features still fit best with Japanese' perceptions of modern fairy tales. I found it interesting that so many western foreigners were part of the Disney Parade. I suppose it would have been usual to see a Japanese Prince Charming...or would it? And does Mickey have to speak only English. Didn't he get any language training?

2) Japanese are known for their service-orientedness. There were many things that Kaori's father, as a blind man, could not experience in the theme park. But the way that Disney workers fast-tracked us through rides, and bent over backward to accommodate his needs was truly impressive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Let the Children Come

Japanese celebrate a 1000-year-old festival in November called Shichigosan. “Shichigosan” literally means “seven, five, three.” These are the ages that are considered critical in a child’s development by Japanese. Parents will dress their children in traditional clothing, and take them to the local shrine where the priest will offer a prayer of blessing from the gods.

This affords a unique opportunity for the church in Japan. There is no stronger god than the true, living God; and no greater blessing than that which He gives. Why not ask parents to have the church pray for their children instead?

This past November Sunday, I again had the opportunity to pray for the salvation or spiritual growth of kids gathered at our church, as parents watched and listened. Jesus said, “Let the little children come!” and so we welcome them in His name!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Family Time

A few decades ago there were only a couple churches in greater Tokyo within our association. Today there are more than 20. All things considered, the rate of church planting has been fairly robust. There is still much work to do, and many setbacks in the work that has already been done.

Annually we have a "Family Festa" or joint meeting of all the greater Tokyo area churches as a way of cultivating community and fellowship, and helping us develop a bigger picture of what God is doing in our midst. 150 people might not sound like much with 24 churches involved, but this is quite a large group of Christians by Japanese standards!

This past week, five of us from our church plant, Denen Grace, woke up at the crack of dawn to travel across Tokyo to be a part of this Festa, held at a larger association church. Here's a photo of a few of our church people around the lunch table outdoors. Three are new believers! Pray for even more harvest to come from among our churches spread across the Kanto plain!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Finding Resting in 7-11 24/7 Japan

This past week I preached in our church on the importance of rest. I shared how the concept of rest flows thematically through Scripture, from God's modeling physical rest for us in Genesis 2 after creation through Christ offering spiritual rest to us in Matthew 11:28.

Sometimes the preacher needs to pay attention to his own message. We have been far too busy as a family in the last two months and scarcely have had a chance to rest. We justify the busyness (or at least I do) by reminding ourselves that it is for God's kingdom purposes. That's good busyness, right? But we need rest. Truth is, most people in Tokyo do. This culture is a 7-11 24/7 365days a year, non-stop culture. People are worn down and worn out. It's obvious just by doing a little people watching. And our church people are equally overstressed and overworked. The biggest obstacle to church planting in Japan (in my humble opinion, at least), is that the hectic lifestyle gives no room for one to consider spiritual things, much less be part of a church community in a consistent way.

Well, I digress. What I really wanted to say is that we finally took 3 days off as a family and went down south to the Mt. Fuji area. The fall colors were wonderful, as was the time together as family. Enjoying our connection with God, with his creation, and with each other. The same components of rest that man experienced in Eden. It's good to take time aside to taste a bit of Eden again!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No (Solo) Fishing

"Come, follow Me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Mark 1:17

Most days I feel a bit like that helpless child fisherman from a few weeks back.

A few weeks back at our Kids English outreach in August each kid was handed a pole with a string attached. A magnet hung from the end of the string. Letter and object cards scattered about in a "pond" had to be snagged by their attached paperclips, then hauled in, brought and repeated to the teacher.

One small girl was clearly trying her best, but the string and magnet simply would not cooperate, twirling about aimlessly. She needed help. Placing my hand over hers I steadied the rod and we cast for fish together. What a haul our teamwork resulted in!

Most days I feel like that child. Small. Aimlessly casting about. Overwhelmed. And just a bit discouraged. The "fish" in Japan simply aren't biting the Gospel message. But have I forgotten that the Master's hand is on the rod with mine? He's steadying, guiding, and supporting each cast. He's smiles down as we work together. Why had I gone about solo fishing in frustration? Instead I surrender to the Master's guidance, instruction and care, and we haul in the catch He had in mind.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ode to Quiet Shopping

There's a place in Japan I dread going. It sucks the breath of me when I know I must. No, it's not the dentist or even the immigration office (that is an experience, though). It's the large chain electronic store.

Visitors to Japan will quickly notice that quiet shopping is hard to come by in Japan. The worst "offenders" by far are electronic stores. It seems that each store has its own unique theme song promoting it's outstanding prices, great service, thoughtful employees, and so forth. The one I visited yesterday pumped out this information at 2 minute intervals to the tune of "My Eyes Have Seen the Glory."

These infomercials are blasted quite loudly and so repeatedly that one wonders how the employees are able to endure their workday. I suppose like the person living next to the railroad tracks that never hears trains anymore, one eventually grows acclimated to even this environment. Still, I can't believe it can be very psychologically or physically healthy to be exposed to the decibels and repetition. As for myself, I make a beeline for what I need (an ink cartridge, some batteries, an audio cable) and get out as soon as I can.

Lately I've that is a much quieter (and often cheaper) option. Now if only I could make the gas pump stop giving me instructions and promoting items to the Japanese pop tunes. That is a topic for another day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Creamy Drink We Enjoy

I like this picture of Kaori, age 6. There she is sitting along the riverbank in Yamagata, sipping her Calpis (an uncarbonated dairy-based soft drink in Japan around long before Pepsi) with her brother, Ryuji. Never crossed her mind at the time that some 15 years later a foreigner would come along and -- for better or worse -- the adventure as a missionary wife would begin. Thankfully it turned out to be a foreigner who enjoys a cool Calpis with her now and then. We don't do much sitting along the riverbank these days, but at least the world is in color.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Life in Christ

I'm always moved beyond words when someone makes a decision for Christ. This past Sunday when a young woman and a small child placed their faith in Christ as their Savior, I again had the privilege of experiencing the Gospel anew. This is a big step for a Japanese seeker. It's said that the average Japanese takes seven years from their first encounter with Christianity, to their decision of faith. Our Heavenly Father waits patiently, planning the celebration party to welcome them home.

Lately the lyrics of a catchy song by a Christian Japanese musician have renewed me in the transforming depth of the Gospel. In her album "New Day" Asiah sings: "It's a new start, it's new life, it's a new heart, it's a new world, it's a new melody, it's a new day. I have been set free..."

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for beginning this change in the life of another Japanese.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Best Show in Town

No summer is complete without a good fireworks show. Japan has some of the best I've seen. And Kawasaki has outdone itself year after year. This past weekend our family went to see the show near the Tamagawa river, a mere half-mile from us. We weren't disappointed. The Chinese are said to have invented fireworks, but it might be argued that the Japanese have perfected them. Coordinating the fireworks display with the beat of music was impressive. Most impressive, however, is the sheer size of the fireworks, and their close proximity to ground level.

I always come away with a better sense of the music that has shaped this culture. The "Sukiyaki" song was part of the show, but many more Japanese favorites had the audience of around 600,000 singing and clapping. Yes, I said 600,000. Believe me, it felt like more. I also always come away with a very sore neck trying to take in both fireworks shows. I've written here before about seeing only half the show. This year was the same. But what a great treat to end the summer with!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rock 'n Roll with the Beetles

Three days, two earthquakes, and one typhoon and tsunami. We've been watching as Tokyo has gotten drenched the last couple days under a barrage of rain and heavy wind pushed ahead of typhoon #6. It's been impressive weather! The usual resulting mudslides have left a lot of people with some major cleanup south of Tokyo. Imagine your house with a foot deep of mud in it!

As if that weren't enough to contend with, this morning a 6.6 magnitude quake struck the Tokyo region. It shook us out of bed, quite literally, around 5am. As is my usual custom, I ran to the TV to see where it was centered and how strong it was in that area. A 2 foot tsunami was also reported to be headed toward the Shizuoka area south of us. Although a hundred people were hurt, no one lost their life. The typhoon was much more deadly, with several dozen killed from the mudslides or swept away in the flash flooding.

Meanwhile the beetles continue to sing, the Japanese beetles (cicadas), that is. The hot steamy weather this time of year seems to be a source of nonstop celebration for them. They provide the background music everywhere you go, every hour of the day (and night). In a week or two they will begin dying, but for now the literally millions of them in our neighborhood make quite a sound! Walking outdoors at night, I've had many fly into me. This is always startles me a bit as they are large bugs and make a pretty big impact. Take a look at the video here to get an idea of what they sound like together.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baptisms in the Kiddy Pool

Without a church building of our own, we continue to look for creative solutions for baptizing new believers. Praise the Lord that this is even an issue for us! This Sunday we baptized two new believers in the kiddy pool of a nearby kindergarten.

D-san has a mother with a business as a Buddhist guide. His father abandoned them. His grandfather that lives with them has a severe drug habit. Not surprisingly, D-san himself has battled depression. But since coming to church for the first time last fall, he has been steadily growing, changing, and healing. He accepted Christ last December, and is looking forward to be baptized this Sunday at 31 years of age.

H-san took a bit longer to come to faith in Christ. She is a middle-aged housewife who visited our home 7 years ago when we first began church planting work in Kawasaki. A pet lover, she was very interested in meeting our "joyful princess" Keekee. But she was some time away from a decision for Christ. During those seven years she maintained a close relationship with a core church member as God led her through some difficult times. This spring she was back in church again, and this time she was very open to the Gospel. She is growing in Christ and already a tremendous asset and encouragement our the church family.

Praise God for these baptism candidates! Would you pray for their continued spiritual growth and witness to their families? And thank God for good rare sunny weather on Sunday. An issue for us as the rainy season continues here and the pool is outdoors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flyer or Fryer?

We appreciated the effort of several young people who braved the summer heat to pass out flyers for our Kids English Outreach next week. The group came from various church backgrounds in Japan, but the leader, Satoshi, shared common CB roots with us.

The group put some 3000 flyers into mailboxes in our community. Along the way, we stopped to pray at some key locations for Japan, the outreach activity of the church, and the spiritual battle we are engaged in here.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the day was bearing the oppressive heat and humidity of Japan this time of year. This was a FRYER of a flyer distribution! After 3 hours of walking about outdoors, we were ALL very well done! We ended the time together with a victory prayer meeting and time of worship.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I've mentioned before that I was thrilled to get the blessing of the local chounaikai (community group) to place our church flyers on their numerous bulletin boards around the neighborhood. This gives us more exposure, and perhaps a little more credibility, in the neighborhood.

There are some twenty bulletin boards in a 3 or 4 kilometer radius around our house. I make the rounds and tack up our letter-sized flyer relating to a specific event: English, Gospel, concert, Kids, etc. The church address and telephone number is always listed at the bottom.

I've been saddened, however, to find on numerous occasions that my flyers have been either obviously torn off the board, cut to shreds, or mangled in some other way. In spite of this, I continue to replace the destroyed flyers and go on.

With our Kids English outreach (7/28-8/2) just around the corner, I once again put up flyers this past week. This time at each and every location someone deliberately moved another item tacked on the board to cover mine. Here's a photo (above). I moved my flyer to a new spot, only to have it recovered. Someone is obviously not happy with my flyers.

And so the spiritual battle for the hearts of Japanese continues. It is frustrating at times to lose little fights like this along the way, but we know God will bring the ultimate victory in the war.

Monday, July 13, 2009

150 Years Later

This is cause for celebration! 150 years after isolationist Japan opens the port of Yokohama to the world and Protestant missionaries begin evangelism activities for the first time in Japan, Yokohama throws a massive celebration...for the opening of the port. Meanwhile in a footnote event known only to the Christians, the church celebrates 150 years of Protestant missions in Japan at a portside hall. This latter event is the one myself and several members of our church (photo above) chose to attend and be encouraged by.

Altogether around 14,000 believers attended the Protestant Missions 150th events and memorial over the two-day celebration in Yokohama. I wish the first missionaries could have seen the fruit of their work many years later! B&W photos of the 50th anniversary event show mostly foreigners and some Japanese believers gathered at a YMCA. Photos of the 100th anniversary event show a massive group of new post-war Japanese believers gathered in local stadium. And now the 150th events show even more growth.

Still, the fruit is hard to come by in Japan. Japanese pastors speaking at the event unanimously expressed disappointment that 150 years later, still less than 1% of Japanese are believers. They had hoped Japan would have been more responsive given so much time. One pastor mounted the platform and jokingly said "I think perhaps God must prefer kimchi to Japanese food." God has indeed poured out his Holy Spirit on Japan's neighbor of Korea and grown the church there in numbers and ways that Japanese believers could only dream of. "When will this kind of revival come to Japan? We have been waiting these 150 years. Lord, we are ready for it." cried another pastor in prayer.

In explaining the disparity of the way the church has grown in Korea and Japan, one pastor explained the difference to me this way: "Japanese care too much about what other people think. Koreans don't." I've seen this truth borne out in our church planting work. Time and again what others think makes a powerful difference in whether a curious Japanese will enter a church, or make a decision for Christ. And if they are able to overcome this and make a decision, what others think plays a role in whether they choose to be baptized. And after baptism, what others think affects how they grow in their faith. But I digress...

I was encouraged that the Japanese pastors and speakers at the event also unanimously expressed faith that God was and is carefully preparing a powerful foundation upon which he will build a great revival. "He has not discarded us!" singer and songwriter Chu Kosaka said. "He is SURELY at work in our hearts." The church in Japan received a great call and challenge for the next 50 years ahead. Let's expect that revival!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Joyful Princess 1994~2009

We knew the day was coming, but that didn't make the decision any easier. After 15 years of being a part of our family history, always being around for all the happenings, our beloved cat, Keekee, now remains only in our photographs and memories.

Keekee grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, moved to the outskirts of Tokyo, and was buried in far northern Japan. All without a passport, I might add. It was quite a life for a cat. It's hard not to be sentimental and reflective about these things. After all, this was more than just a cat. Keekee connected us all the way back to our newlywed lives in Lansing, IL prior to Japan. She was a steady source of comfort and friendship when our family needed it in our adjustments to living in Japan. She was a constant in the many changes we experienced, and a treasure to our family.

But the seizures she began experiencing in her last week were too painful to watch. Her behavior changed and we would find her sleeping in odd places out of view. I suppose pets don't want their owners to see them suffering, any more than they themselves want to suffer. The vet gave us little hope for her recovery, so we let her go to sleep.

"Keekee" means "joyful princess" in Japanese. She certainly brought our family a lot of joy. I suppose the photo in front of the asian fan above proves that she already had Japan at heart 15 years ago. Thank you, Keekee, for making the journey with us together. We will miss you!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Black Gospel and What?

Black gospel and traditional Japanese drums, that's what! This past Saturday I attended the joint choir Gospel Concert that included many of our church workshop members. It takes a bit of creativity to pull off a mix of gospel music and Japanese drums, but it turned out very well. Typically drums will perform at Japanese festivals, which include religious aspects that are not altogether sanctified. But here we have redeemed them for the gospel. Literally. Take a look at this video link to get an idea.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Future Partners in Ministry

A missionary can only do so much. Eventually a missionary needs to bring a national partner into the work begun, and begin to turn over leadership if it is to grow in a culturally healthy way.

This is true in our ministry. The church plant has grown over the past several years by God's grace and your prayer, but the time is now right for national leadership for the Denen Grace Chapel. But it is critical that the individual share a common vision with those in our church ministry!

Enter Pastor Kondo. He has a vision to work together with a missionary to reach more Japanese for Christ, and plant more churches. He’s spent 18 years overseas, and 13 years in church planting work (a Japanese church in Connecticut). He’s in his 50’s, but has the heart of a teenager in his energy for Christ. Last month, Denen Grace Chapel called him to begin as senior pastor from January 2010.

We had not anticipated God to work this way even a year ago, but Pastor Kondo’s passion for Japanese saved abroad who return to Japan, dovetailed with the vision for Denen Grace Chapel. We look forward to what God has ahead for us together.

Would you hold us in prayer as we discuss how our teamwork can more effectively reach more Japanese for Christ, and lay the groundwork for future church planting together with Denen?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kaori!

Happy Birthday, Kaori! My wonderful wife (apologies for the last post) has added another year of wisdom to beauty to her resume. Our youth came and presented her with a special cake, layered with all kinds of fruit and jello as only the Japanese can do to a birthday cake. Since they start counting from age 0 in Japan, we're not quite sure of Kaori's exact age. And she wants to keep it that way! I've known her for 18 years now, so I am sure that she is at least a teenager. Again, happy birthday, Kaori!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Wife's a Blockhead!

It's true. She's a blockhead. But let me hurry to explain. Kaori recently accepted the responsibility of head of our block, or "chounaikaichou." Japan is broken down into ever smaller circles of government. The prefectural office -> the city office -> the ward office...and so it goes. At the end of the food chain is the neighborhood group. Within the neighborhood groups are individual blocks of, say, a dozen houses or a couple small apartment buildings. This becomes the "chounaikai" or block group.

The block group is responsibility for caring for the many somewhat smaller matters that concern these households. For example, policing the garbage pile, cleaning up the street trash, requesting the replacement of burned out street lamps, posting neighborhood announcements, collecting various donations and dues, and so forth. The head of the block group, the blockhead, is rotated amongst the households from year to year. This year it became Kaori's turn.

She's taken to the new responsibility eagerly. The awesome power certainly has not gone to her head. Quite honestly, she the nicest blockhead I've ever met.

Seriously though, it is a nice way to get around to meet the neighbors and get to build relationships. And that is always step one in personal evangelism. So...we are grateful to God for the opportunity. She might just want to stay Mrs. Blockhead for awhile! She quick to remind me, though, that this makes me Mr. Blockhead.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Who is That Masked Person?

Swine flu is here. Here in Kawasaki, Takatsu. A stone's throw from our house. We've lived through the other Asian flu scares, and I expect this one is survivable as well. It is interesting, however, that the first case of swine flu in Tokyo strikes so close to home. A student who attends a local girls school around the corner from us seems to have come down with it. The school, quite well known in the area, remains closed down.

That brings me to something our friends in back in the States often ask: "Why is that person in your Japan video wearing a mask?" No, they are not likely to have some highly contagious disease. And they are not fixing to rob a bank! They are simply acting out a cultural norm. It's true: Japanese are perhaps among the heaviest face mask users in the world. The recent flu outbreak has resulted in an actual scarcity (a local drug store is rationing them out!) as commuters and students have donned the mask like never before. Even before the flu, however, Japanese can frequently be seen wearing face masks. Some suffer from hayfever, others are being polite about not spreading their colds, many simply find it a sanitary way of living in an compressed space with multitudes of people.

That is probably the point that is best drawn out here. Americans live, for the most part, with great amounts of personal space. Urban Japanese, however, have no such privilege. Tight. Cramped. Layered. Packed. This is urban life Asian style like you have never seen it. The social dynamics that result from such a close-quartered lifestyle shape Japanese character, and are important to know when involved in mission work. It seems that masks are more than just masks...they're social dividing mechanisms. I feel like launching into a great sermon illustration related to masks, but will leave it there for now. Gotta go get in the line at the drug store for a face mask.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


We're not in this alone. Although it may seem like it at times. The Conservative Baptist Association of churches in Japan has 60 years of history, 55 churches, a camp, a seminary, a mission agency, and a good group of very dedicated national pastors desiring to work together for the evangelization of Japan.

I've just returned from our three-day "Teamwork Meeting" about 7 hours northwest of Kawasaki. The campground it is held at is pictured at right. About 60 pastors, missionaries, and church staff gathered for the meetings.

In spite of the difficulty of the task of reaching their own people for Christ, among the many things that encourage me is the desire of Japanese believers to go outside their country borders, and reach those in other Asian countries with the gospel. Currently we have Japanese missionaries in Turkey, Peru, Congo, and Korea. Short term teams are being sent to Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Mongolia. When a mission field begins to explore what its mission fields are, maturity in Christ is demonstrated in a big way!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Prayer for Denen's Future

UPDATE 5/17/09 - Denen voted unanimously today to call Rev & Mrs. Kondo as pastor from 1/1/2010. Thank you for your prayer! More in an update later.

We'd like to ask you prayer for this Sunday as we make a very important decision as a church. In 2007 we charted a 5-year course for Denen Grace Chapel's future with four dimensions:

VISION 2012: As God blesses and leads us, by faith we will pray for the following become a reality in the next 5 years.

1. Emerge from the basement and establish a semi-permanent location or permanent location as a witness in the community.
2. Call a Japanese part-time or full-time salaried pastor-leader to work in partnership with the current missionaries.
3. Grow weekly Sunday attendance to 50, membership to 35, and weekday small group involvement to 40.
4. Establish dynamic partnerships with other like-minded churches to lay the foundation for a daughter church plant.

This Sunday, May 17, we will be voting on #2, the calling of a national pastor. We have been working with a candidate for the last half year and feel he is the right man for Denen's future. However, as you can imagine, supporting a pastor for the tiny membership of a new church is a tremendous challenge on a number of levels. Would you pray that people would allow their faith to be expressed as they vote concerning him?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Golden Week Chess

This is a five-day weekend in Japan called "Golden Week." A string of three national holidays on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday give Japanese workaholics a "golden" opportunity for a break from the pace of life in urban Tokyo. Many return to their family homes or head to vacation spots. We definitely felt the exodus this Sunday in church, with many gone, and many eager to leave immediately after the service. The usual room cleanup crew was pretty thin this week.

Meanwhile, Kaori, Justen and I were invited to the home of new believers, a church young couple here in our neighborhood for the holiday break. Justen got a chance to hone his "shogi" talent with the young husband. "Shogi" or Japanese chess is fairly easy to learn, but incredibly hard to master. For me as an American, watching my son play "shogi" reminds my of how blended his cultural experience is from a young age. And it definitely fits into the category of "where did he pick this up?" Kaori and I just watched in amazement as he beat his teammate twice.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Missionary Break

BBQ & Bible. Messages & Mushrooms. Onsen & Octopus. Shrimp & Seaside. These and others are the makings of a missionary retreat. This past weekend we enjoyed a rare break from the craziness of the craziness of missionaries. Our annual Japan Baptist Fellowship 3-day retreat was at a seaside hotel in Ibaraki prefecture.

Every once in a while we need to get apart from the work, and reflect on God's goodness and greatness in our life that empowers us in the work. Not having to be in charge, and getting a chance to hear a few messages in English is a great blessing. Take a look of the photos of "our gang" by clicking here. Go ahead and look! You need a break, too!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sushi Movie

A friend recently forwarded this link to me which gives you an inside look at a sushi restaurant. Many popular "kaiten sushi" shops have a circular conveyor belt where plates are placed that revolve around in front of the seated customers. Customers choose the plates with sushi items that look appealing to them.

This short video was taken by a foreign customer who placed a running video camera on the conveyor belt. The clip makes for an interesting few minutes of people watching, and an inside peek at the kitchen at the heart of the sushi shop. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter in Japan

Thank you for praying for our Easter outreach as a church this past month.

We had many first time visitors on Easter Sunday. And we had a great time of fun together during our Kids Easter Party on April 5. Kids in Japan have no idea that Easter has anything to do with Jesus. But at least a dozen more do now!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Way Back When in Japan

Justen and I took the last day of his school spring break to do a little cultural study. A local museum/park/cultural center near our home has an open-air historical Japanese village. You are free to wander about, touch, look and explore Japan as it existed a century ago. What an incredible change this country has gone through in a relatively short period of time in its history as a nation! For Japanese citizens the lifestyle was perhaps quite normal. But I kept on thinking of the rugged change of life that Protestant missionaries from the west were met with. Once in country, there was no turning back like there might be in today's jet age. Missionaries a century ago certainly were met with their share of challenges even before attempting to evangelize in this country.

I noticed a Japanese "manji" on the doorposts of most of the historical houses in this village. I photographed it at right. Most people would associate this with Nazi Germany. Few know that the symbol actually existed centuries before this in Indian and Chinese culture, particularly in Buddhism and other eastern religions. Japan, which imported Buddhism hundreds of years ago, also began displaying the manji as a symbol of peace.

I was reminded that some Japanese homes now display a very different symbol for peace: the cross. My heart is filled with joy for these Japanese families for whom Christ made "peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Yet 99% of Japanese are unaware of this peace. Pray that this new peace symbol will be hung on the heart doors of all Japanese in a nationwide awakening.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yakisoba Party

Yakisoba ranks up there as one of my favorite Japanese meals. This past Thursday we had a Yakisoba party to celebrate the college graduation of three of our church members. Here they are gathered around the table in our tiny dining room (Kaori and Justen in background).

For those of you who don't know, yakisoba consists of soba (wheat) noodles that have been fried on a hot grill. Usually the noodles are mixed in with cabbage, bean sprouts, meat, and seasonings. Various garnishes such as onions, cilantro, seaweed, and peppers might also be added. Yummmm!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Question: What do all these people in the photo at right have in common? Answer: They've all lived somewhere in the midwest US during their lifetime.

You might have guessed that about the guy at the far left in the photo (yours truly). But the rest of this bunch? Yes, this is a group of midwest "Returnees." Every year thousands of Japanese travel overseas to live as students, businessmen, and educators. Separated from the entanglements of their home culture, many Japanese become Christians while overseas. And every year, after 1 year or many years abroad, thousands of Japanese return back to their homeland as changed people.

The fact is that MANY MORE Japanese become believers while outside their country, than those who remain in Japan! Nearly 80% of all Japanese who become Christians, became Christians while they were overseas. The difficulty becomes connecting these new believers to a church where they can continue to grow when they eventually return home. Often, Japanese "Returnees" find that they cannot really relate well to a traditional Japanese church. They are not understood, and not accepted. Often shortly after returning they uproot their faith from a local church altogether and blend back into society.

This is a great spiritual tragedy in the evangelization of Japan! If all these new believers were to remain in the church and grow strong in their faith, the Japanese church would be many times it's paltry 1% of the population size.

This past week I attended a conference here in Saitama, Japan that focused on the Returnee challenge. Naturally it was attended by returnees of all ages, including many young returnees, new believers and just back in their homeland. "All Nations Returnee Conference" had some 500 returnees in attendance for three days of sharing, worship, message, and strategy. I was blessed and encouraged, and renewed in my effort and desire to reach out to this unique demographic in Japan.

We want to be a receiving church for Returnees. Our church has at its core Returnees: probably 70% of the church has the experience of living from one to ten years overseas. Would you pray that we would continue to bring in and care for returnees, regardless of whether they have yet made a decision yet for Christ, so that a great harvest of souls result, and the church in Japan would grow strong?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Protestant Christianity turns 150

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all kinds of odds. In fact, Christianity was still a proscribed religion in Japan when the first missionaries arrived.

The evangelistic work in Japan during this time often needed to be done discreetly at the initiation of the Japanese seeker. One English missionary wrote in 1869 of the difficulty of accomplishing this. “I read those words (prohibition of Christian preaching), and I realized at once the excessive difficulty of our task. What were we to do? The only opportunity I had was simply to receive the visits of any inquirers who chose to come to me to my own house; and would Japan venture thus? They did venture. Before a month had passed, day by day, hours by hour, my house would be thronged with Japanese visitors….”

In spite of this prohibition, missionary work in Yokohama resulted in a series of revivals, with many converts coming from samurai families belonging to the Shogunate. The most success, however, was realized only after Christianity was granted freedom in the country. This occurred on February 21, 1873 in part as a utilitarian response to encourage trade with the West. The government removed the prohibition of Christianity notices on public bulletin boards for the first time in over 200 years. Now, Christian missionaries were free to evangelize openly. The scope of the missionary work was greatly expanded with the help of national evangelists and pastors including such men as Shinozaki and Honda, who advanced the church in country areas.

Take a look at this photo of one of the earliest Protestant Churches. Can you find missionary Guido Fridolin Verbeck in the middle of the group of new Japanese believers? We missionaries today owe a great debt of gratitude for the stubborn will and faith in God that established the foundations of Christianity in this country! Thank you, Lord, for advancing your church in Japan!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Japan in a Panic

Makoto first noticed signs of panic attacks when he was in the middle of an exam. The tension forced him to repeatedly make trips to the toilet. He couldn't concentrate at all. For the next exam, he made a point of arriving two hours early to make sure he got a seat near the door. That failed to calm him and he found himself in the same situation all five exams he took.

After graduating from university, the company he worked for was changing over to a new system. Makoto threw himself into the extra work involved. He worked well into the night, missing the last train home. He would nap at a nearby sauna and be back in the office first thing in the morning. This went on for months.

One day on a train, when his exhaustion was at its peak, an ‘unpleasant feeling' came over him. His breathing quickened, his palms began to sweat, and he felt the urge to use the bathroom. Soon Makoto couldn't ride the subway to work anymore. Today, fearing a panic attack, he will not even go to a barber shop. Instead he has a stylist come to his home - for an additional fee. “My wife says it’s a waste of money,” he says. “A healthy person can't possibly understand. Imagine a person, who seems perfectly normal, and yet can't get on a train, or go to a barber shop.”

Makoto and many others in Japan suffer from a condition known as panic disorder (PD). Panic engulfs them. How many people are affected? Current estimates suggest up to 4 percent of the Japanese population. What is the solution for panicked Japanese people? The power of the Gospel. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Japanese Trash Can Wisdom

I could write reams of blog entries on the humorous and often incongruous ways English is used in Japan. It is delightful to find these nuggets tucked away here and there in our neighborhood. It may just be my dry sense of humor, but they make me smile. Often just when I need a smile. Like the day last week when I sat down at a restaurant table upon which a sign had been placed: "NO SMORKING." It's a good thing I don't smork. The sign was all the more amusing to me because it was not hastily handwritten. It was an engraved plastic professional-looking sign. Glancing at the other tables around me, I noticed smorking was not allowed there either.

This afternoon while buying lunch at the boxed lunch shop, I went to throw away an item and found that the garbage can was full...of philosophical advice (Photo above). I don't typically think of reviewing my life before pitching something. Was the garbage can suggesting that some people are throwing away more important things...their own lives? For the Japanese eye, this type of thing is just ornamental design. No one actually reads it. For this English-speaking foreigner, however, it is makes one do a double-take to see the way that English is used.

Another example that made me do a double-take this past week was this restroom sign. No English was used in this case, but it might have been helpful. I have gotten fairly adept at the various and sundry ways that a public restroom is referred to in Japanese. I've also seen many interesting English versions in Japan: "Resting Room", "Hand Washing Room." Sometimes I confess that I am a bit bewildered altogether and simply stand back to observe which gender enters which room.

This sign was also a new one to me. It appears that this might be a restroom for pregnant men only? Perhaps I am easily confused. But what made it more confounding to me was that the women's restroom had a picture of what looked to me to be more of a man than a woman. Again, I step back in these cases and observe before proceeding. This action has spared me embarrassment in numerous cultural situations. More examples in the spirit of fun to come.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Living Water for Thirsty Souls

We had a great Sunday at Denen Grace. I get excited anytime I see Japanese people worshipping God. It's the purpose of missions! We want to transform Japanese into worshippers of God, not the idols in their hearts, homes, shrines and temples. A music group called "Living Waters" came in the afternoon and led us in a time of praise and worship.

Speaking of living water, it is interesting to note that the "bottled water" fad is no bigger than right here in Japan. More research has been done on drinking water in Japan than anywhere else. One company produces a bottled water called "Kangen." It's name means "return to the origin." The idea is that this water is a return to the origins of true water as found on the earth in nature before it was polluted by man. The claim is that it will also help your body to return to its original condition when you were young.

That's a pretty big claim. And I seriously doubt it is possible for it to live up to that. Good thing we've a source living water that works better. The supplier is none other than Christ himself who makes a really big claim as well for those who drink it: "The water I give will become a spring of water welling up in him to eternal life." That's the kind of water the thirsty Japanese soul needs! Help me, Lord, to lead Japanese people to its source.

"Where the river flows everything will live." (Ez 47:9)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Japan's Gone Bananas!

It seems that bananas have been in short supply in our grocery store these days. I wondered why at first. As it turns out, foreigners are the last to pick up on the trends and pop culture. I overheard a conversation at church that brought me up to speed. Stated simply: Japan's gone bananas!

It all started with a pop Japanese singer claiming she lost more than 20 pounds on a banana diet. There was no stopping it after that. Every Japanese young woman who felt she was a kilo or so overweight had to try it for themselves. It is the diet for the undisciplined. The protocol is:

1) Eat 1 banana with room temperature water for breakfast.
2) Eat whatever you like the rest of the day within reason.
3) A small sugary snack at 3pm is fine.
4) Get to bed by midnight.

Here's a link for a video if you're interested in checking it out for yourself.

Japan is a homogeneous unit of people, not individuals. When compared with their western counterparts, Japan is far and beyond a copycat culture. If something becomes hip, it takes the country by storm in as much time as the 150million cell phones can get the word out. (As a side note: I pray for the day that revival sweeps through Japan in the same fashion).

This isn't the first diet to sweep the nation. There was the tofu diet and the fermented bean curd diet crazes not too long ago. I didn't mind the grocery store being low on those. I suppose in time this diet will also go the way of all flesh, but in the meantime if you want a banana you've got to stand in line.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Neighbors

We're getting some new neighbors. About 7,500 of them to be more specific. We continue to marvel at the new city-in-a-city called "Rise" being built just a few minutes from us. Its three towers rise some 30 and 40 stories above the rest of the neighborhood. It's slated to be completed by April.

This is just another in the trend of major construction projects around us. Just last year "Eden" opened. It's massive towers of concrete and steel hardly do justice to its name. More than 8,000 people live in that tiny footprint of land. And more such construction projects are in the works in our immediate area. Our easy access to points in Tokyo makes the Denentoshi rail line a desirable place to find housing for commuters. But we wonder if this massive urbanization is really sustainable. Talk about population density!

On the other hand, 7,500 new neighbors means 7,500 new evangelistic opportunities. Thank you, Lord, for bringing those opportunities our way!