Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Imprisoned for Christ -- Update #2

"So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God."   Acts 12:5

We continue to wonder about our friend Esther who occupies a prison cell somewhere in China. It has been months since we have had any contact with her husband Brother Du. While they suffer, we motor on with our familiar routine: school, a restful summer break, meals together, nightly walks for all.  Although Du and Esther have never been far from our minds or thoughts, earlier sorrow and worry had dissipated.  Until yesterday.

Fresh news came via email  from retired co-workers of our former city.  Our senses heightened as we caught the title, "Update from ...(city)..." offering the latest news about Du and Esther. The situation is grim.  The preschool has been shut down.  Brother Du and his two boys are getting on their way, moving thousands of miles away to live with family while waiting out Esther's prison time.  Much uncertainty lingers, for Esther could be anywhere within the country serving out her sentence.

As if this weren't bad enough, a second preschool in a city some hours away was raided as well.  The police came in the middle of the night and apprehended two workers.  In one case, the worker's husband was out of country on business, so she did not answer her door.  The police hacked their way through the iron apartment door, seized the worker and hauled her away, leaving two children aged eight and four at home alone.  I'm not making this stuff up.  What twisted mind could fabricate a horror story of this magnitude?

Our co-workers sent us a link to an advocacy organization that highlights the plight of persecuted believers in China. This organization, China Aid is following Esther along with the two from the other preschool, all of whom have been arrested and imprisoned.  China Aid has obviously done its homework, providing a very detailed account of all that has transpired since February.

Some of you might be interested to read this account from a credible source.  The story can be found at:
You'll know that you've reached the right story when you see the photo of the family dressed in sunny yellow.  Many related stories are accessible within the article.

There are no new photos to share this time, just a fresh wave of sadness.  Once more we must surrender our sense of helplessness to the One who is able to pull us through hardship.  

Funny thing, I had it on my mind to write a post this week, but I came against a mental block.  What about our stable, routine, almost mundane lives was worthy of writing about?  What did cross my mind amounted to nothing more than a "poor me" essay.  "Oh, life is difficult.  I have a physical ailment that limits me.  We are lonely.  I have an aged mother in-law who needs assisted care and we are too far away to help."  The middle-aged lament...blah, blah, blah. 

Do I need to be reminded that I chose this life across the Pacific?  How pathetic.  God forgive me for such self pity.

You know, yesterday's email got me thinking.  I've really got it good here. My dear friends in China, on the other hand, are suffering far more than I ever have in my 51 years.  So stop the whining, Lissa, and pour your energy into something that matters.  Like praying for those who are in truly desperate need, not imaginary.

Please continue with your prayers for Esther, her two imprisoned Christian sisters, and all of the affected families.  These include immediate family, extended family, and families of enrolled preschoolers whose schools were ransacked and ultimately shut down.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Imprisoned for Christ -- Update

Thank you for your concern and prayers for our dear friends, Du and Esther.  Du has bravely communicated with us and another stateside friend via Skype during what seems like an interminable 3 months.  He sounds despondent, primarily because the authorities have prevented him from seeing his wife during her incarceration.

So it's with some relief that we received this photo -- proof that she is in prison, but proof also that she has been allowed visitation.

Notice the handcuffs
It turns out that she was arrested on account of utilizing "illegal curriculum" in her preschool. Esther had been given a gift of several English Children's bibles and was using these to teach the kids about morality, and to teach the parents about healthy family relationships.  The authorities seized the illegal materials, arresting both Esther and the lead teacher.

We ask you to continue to "support her"with your prayers as she serves the remainder of her prison term.  Pray for her reunion with her family and for their future, which is uncertain.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
(Spring in Tokyo)

We love spring in Tokyo.  Spring makes its welcome appearance after a desperately chilly winter.  For three gorgeous months, our city is abloom with flowers that come one right after the other in an orderly succession. The season begins with the deeply colored plum trees. 

After that comes the Sakura cherry blossom.  This delicate flower lasts only 10 days.  The Japanese anticipate this all-too-brief season the way that American children pine away for Christmas.

Spring flowers follow in sequence after the Sakura.  Tulips.  Dogwood.  Azalea.  Iris.  Each flower lasts through its own season, spending itself and giving way to the next.  The mark of our Creator makes itself evident in the beauty of nature that surrounds us.


The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God stands forever.
               -Isaiah 40:8

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Imprisoned for Christ

Many of us are familiar with the accounts of the Apostle Paul, who in his missionary journeys faced a myriad of hardships, many to a degree that we cannot even fathom.  Ridicule.  Rejection.  Intimidation from the Jewish power-brokers under the guise of religious leaders.  Shipwreck.  Hunger and deprivation.  Paul found himself imprisoned more than once, and many of his great letters were written there.  These are often referred to as the “Prison Epistles”:  Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.

It is easy sometimes to just gloss over the fact that Paul wrote these letters from a jail cell.  We focus instead on the content of his teaching, parsing his thoughts on marriage, legalism, the fruits of the spirit, the supremacy of Christ, and a number of other matters.  It’s tempting to discount any contemplation of Paul’s mistreatment and deprivation, interrogation, accusation…

Until it happens to one of yours.

Our hearts were shattered when we were informed that a former ministry partner of ours in China was detained by authorities five weeks ago.  Esther was the business manager of a day care center, located within the most upscale government subdivision in our former city.  This center was the most high-end of its kind:  the teachers were educated, the children received a quality educational experience and were provided with nutritious food.  The parents enjoyed the added benefit of classroom webcam access.  They could go online and “check” on their child at any time of day that they wanted.

This day care center also offered weekend seminars for the parents of these children, focusing on physical health/hygiene, healthy relationships and nurturing skills for the home.  Many of these subjects were addressed from a Christian perspective, all of it sanctioned and approved by city officials.

Esther and her husband moved to our city 6-7 years ago.  They came from another province, having started their Christian work in Sichuan province, ministering to victims of the 2008 earthquake.  Esther put her administrative skills to practice, coordinating resources for scores of search/rescue and volunteer activities.  Her reputation was well-known, and she was given permission from the government to move away from her home province and set up this business in the city where we worked.  Through a network of national friends, we were introduced to this couple with the objective of partnering together. We were nervous at first, not knowing whether or not we could trust Chinese nationals whom we’d never met before.  As time went on, however, we determined that they were genuine believers and not local residents recruited to spy on us and report any unlawful activity (which basically included all of our work.)

We enjoyed a warm relationship with this couple.  We visited their day care center a number of times, playing with the children in the outdoor playground, watching them sing and perform, and letting our girls play with them.  Most memorable of all were the weekends.  After their morning parenting seminar, we would enjoy a monstrous feast of Chinese dumplings prepared by Esther’s husband.  Stew became an expert at making these dumplings after serving several times as our friend’s apprentice.

So why has Esther been detained?  Why was she accused of running an “illegal business” when the day care center remains open in full operation?  Why is she completely cut off from all communication with her family?  We think the answer lies with her husband who conducted “activities” outside the home, mostly with students from a nearby university.  He carried out a growing “work” under the umbrella of his wife’s business, which gave them permission to live in the city.   Although city officials more or less turned a blind eye to his activity, there must have been somebody who did not approve.
Clever authorities:  they know that the best way to punish a man is to take away his wife and place her in an unknown but notoriously harmful environment.  We can only speculate because there are many reasons that fine, upstanding citizens are detained by the police:  intimidation, a chance for an official to get promoted, retaliation for loss of “face” (very important among the group societies of Asia), or directives from provincial police or from Beijing itself.

Whatever the reason, the current situation is heartbreaking.  Dad and boys are at home alone.  The boys, aged 5 and 2, cry for their mother.  Dad has run out of explanations why Mommy won’t come home.  They suffer in isolation because nobody wants to be associated with them, not even their fellow brothers and sisters.  He got word that even his attorney is unwilling to stick his neck out and pursue Esther’s release out of fear of retaliation.  Our stocky and spirited friend has been reduced to tears every day of the week.  He is discouraged and worried sick about his wife.

Paul’s imprisonment has suddenly come to life.

We pray for this couple.  Like Paul and Silas who were supernaturally released from prison, we pray for Esther’s release.  We pray for strength for our friend who is wilting in his grief and racked by the pressure of the unknown.  Join us in prayer, will you?

Friday, January 17, 2014


Note to readers:  This post is centered on my present “assignment” as a minister of the Gospel to the Japanese.  Friends who are not inclined toward Christianity may not desire to read further.  That being said…

One of the biggest challenges of cross-cultural ministry is understanding the people among whom you live.  Overseas missionary work is frustrating and ultimately fruitless for Americans who rely on Western methods of evangelism.  The Western mentality does not apply in Asian countries, as we found out during our years in China.  Now that we have transplanted ourselves into Japan, we are starting the cultural acquisition process all over again.  It is slow going, but I experienced a dramatic breakthrough a couple of days ago.  This post will summarize events of recent days.

My heart is so full.  This experience was extraordinary:  it is one of only a few times that God has vividly revealed His heart to me, in this case regarding life and death issues in the Japanese psyche.  It began as an episode of gut-level unease, but I suspected that was from the evil one.  I prayed “against” Satan and rebuked him, claiming that he had no authority over me and whatever misery he would bring my way, I would never be deterred from carrying out God’s work.

As the afternoon went on, I was overtaken by a distinct presence that led my thoughts directly to the Japanese people and culture.  My heart was pounding and I could not eat – so I took that as an indication that God wanted me to fast.  As I carried on with making dinner and so on, God basically “blew the doors open” and began filling my mind with profound thoughts linking Japanese culture to demonic strongholds that have existed in Japan for centuries.  There is absolutely no way that I could have come up with these understandings on my own.

I fed Stew and Heather, and then went outdoors for a walk.  I walked to the train station where I met Jenna coming home from practice.  We walked the mile home together and I explained to her what was happening with me that day.  Of course she thought something had gone horribly wrong at home, for me to meet her at the train station like that (first time ever.)  I assured her that all was well at home, and proceeded to share with her what God was “sharing” with me.  Would you believe that as I was articulating my thoughts….she began finishing my sentences for me!  I informed her that in spite of her skepticism about God and Christianity, God himself was planting seeds of understanding and discernment in her heart.

Once we got home, the four of us spent about 90 minutes engaged in deep spiritual discussion about God’s activity with me….about the Japanese, their culture, and the way that Satan has established his dominion over this secular nation.  It was a rare and precious family time.  I hardly slept that night; I was physically exhausted but my mind was absolutely too full to fall off to sleep.  I spent the night awake in prayer, singing praise songs in my mind…and yet the following morning I was operating at full strength.  Praise be to God!

Many images and messages were revealed to me that day, and some were absolutely terrifying to comprehend.  The dominant message, however, was this:  Japan is populated by walking islands.  Persons who live and operate adjacent to one another, yet they are disconnected.  They co-exist in an island chain of people (society) but with very little direct relating to one another.  Families often share space under the same roof in veritable silence.  Co-workers labor in an environment characterized by very little office banter or informal interaction.  Commuters shut out their neighbors through headphones, smartphones, or closed eyelids while on the train, not so much as a hello or "Hi, how are you?"  

With my primitive language skills, I haven’t had much success making friends yet.  It will take a lot of effort to earn the trust of these isolated “human islands” but I know that our  family has been sent here to do just that.  Perhaps by the time I can speak the language with any proficiency, I will have developed some quality relationships.  Cross-cultural ministry often begins this way:  going about life intentionally, building acquaintances that hopefully result in friendships.  It will be a monumental task in this archipelago of polite, protective, perfectionist people who in their efforts to not offend their neighbor, live solitary and lonely lives.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy 2014 from Japan!

Okay, so a friend in Tennessee shamed me into updating our blog.  And, yes indeed, much time has passed since we've posted here.  Let's say that we were very busy studying during December, followed by RELAXING during our Christmas break!  Christmas Day was a lot of fun opening presents at home and talking via Skype with Leslie/Josiah and Stephanie/Ben.  They surprised us with a very, very large box fully packed with presents and candy-filled stockings.

Our tree basically took over the living room!

Surprise Christmas shipment from our adult girls and sons-in-law!

Our "double stockings" this year.

Heather tries on our new antlers.

Momma and her newest cardinal. Notice the "Frosty" fuzzy pants...

One Happy Dad, talking with Leslie and Josiah.

One crazy, newlywed couple!

At year-end, we celebrated New Year’s Day both American- and Japanese-style.  We didn’t attend any parties this year, but in true American fashion we stayed up until midnight playing board games with Jenna and Heather, hot cocoa in hand. 

The Settlers of Catan battle lasted till 1:00 a.m.

What we noticed around our neighborhood surprised us.  Tokyo, the largest (and arguably the busiest) metropolis in the world became a ghost town as residents fled the city for their hometowns in order to spend the holiday with their families.  We heard absolutely no street traffic outside our bedroom window, in contrast to the typical morning commute that begins before 6:00 a.m.

We have heard that New Year’s Day is the most important day of the year in Japan. To understand why, we visited a couple of religious sites to observe how the Japanese bring in the new year.  The Japanese visit nearby temples and shrines on New Year’s Day to beseech the gods for prosperity, good health and happiness.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  After all, the American expression reads, “Health, Wealth and Happiness.”  I am convinced that these 3 wishes represent the deepest wishes of all mankind.

Very few people visited the shrine on New Year's Eve.

New Years' visitors ring the bells, bow and pray to the "Kami" spirits.

Stew and Lissa made two visits to a shrine and its neighboring temple.  We visited them on New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s Day.  What a contrast!  A sparse crowd paid homage at the Shinto shrine on NYE, but wow, the line on New Year’s Day stretched for about a quarter mile, as though the shrine was offering free I-pads for all!  These residents waited up to 3 hours in line to perform a simple ritual that lasted at most, 15 seconds.

Patient pilgrims, blocks away from the shrine.

Our new friend and Shinto shrine guide.

This stooped "ojiisan" prayed to an image inside a Buddhist hall.

On both days, the Buddhist temple was virtually deserted, except for a couple of families who combined their Shinto shrine pilgrimage with a visit to tend to their ancestors’ graves.  This seemed perfectly appropriate since most Japanese carry out a thorough cleansing of their houses, businesses, and cars during the New Year holiday.

Not a person to be seen...except Lissa, that is.

Family tomb, freshly washed, incense burning.

Most families adorned their entrance gates with a specially designed collection of pine boughs, rice roping, bamboo leaves, and in some cases rice stalks with the grain still on it.  Families purchased these decorations at the shrine. I just might write another post, describing the spiritual symbolism of Shinto New Year practices, because the temple visits make a strong impression on these two Christian  missionaries.