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.