It’s early morning, winter in Fukuoka, Japan. The gas stove timer went off hours ago, but Jim didn’t notice it until the icy air of the bedroom surrounded his head, the only thing protruding from the covers. Quickly, he dashed out of bed to hit the timer once more so the room would heat up enough to get dressed without shivering so much. Tracy dons her thick fleece bathrobe and shuffles to the kitchen to make coffee and turn on the heater. Ah, coffee. Breath visible in the cold but humid kitchen air, she finds makes a pot to start the day. Aah, that’s better–things are warming up now.
This is how we start our winter mornings. In the dark, in the cold, until the routine of firing things up gets heat going where we need it. In Japan there is no central heating or air conditioning. The walls (including exterior walls) of most Japanese homes are very thin, and uninsulated. That being the case, it is not only very cold in winter and very hot in summer, but you can hear Mr. Imoto sniffling next door while he sips his tea. It has taught us how loud we can be in contrast to our neighbors, and it has taught us to turn the television on while using the toilet when company is over 😉
Life is full of small trivialities such as the heat and cold, but they are not all that difficult to manage after getting used to it. However, living and working in a foreign, essentially non-English speaking country (statistic: 12% of the population speaks English in Japan) has more challenges than one. I would like to help outline some of the challenges that we faced early on here, but not as complaining or whining. Many people often ask, and few get to visit Japan, so this is an opportunity to share our lives, our mission and finally our needs with you.
When we first arrived in Japan, we knew a handful of words, had terrible pronunciation and could not read Japanese. We didn’t have a Japanese driver’s license or a car, so our first year in Japan was especially confusing, frustrating, challenging and full of “help me, Lord” prayers.
We could not speak Japanese. In every conversation we were in constant need of interpretation or simply felt left out of the loop for information, out of the fun of jokes and humor, and out of the range of doing anything significant involving the Japanese language. That’s tough for a family with a heart and mission to share the gospel… but our tongues were tied.
We could not read Japanese. Teaching, discipling and even basic instructions were very difficult to get across to non-English speaking Japanese. Let alone paying our utility bills, being worried about answering the phone or calling a Japanese who did not speak English. Terrifying!
Daily life, daily brain squeeze. Opening a bank account, learning to drive on the left side of the road with right-side steering, using an ATM, ordering food at a restaurant, etc. — all of it was difficult and took time and patience to learn.
Since that time five years ago, thanks to God and His mercy, wisdom and grace, we can now speak Japanese and read (a fair amount of) Japanese. Not perfectly by any means, but we can hold conversations and get to deeper matters. We can pray, preach and teach in Japanese. We can drive a Japanese car and use the Japanese roadways, use the bank and manage our accounts, send packages at the post office, talk to the gas station attendant and make jokes in Japanese. It is a liberating feeling.
So it might seem that this was sure a bunch of work to minister to such a non-Christian nation. Indeed, it is/was. That is, to us, the beautiful part about being here in Japan. The very essence of the ministry here is much like salvation itself.
The name of Jesus is unknown until it is made known. The love of God is unseen until it is shown. And who can say the Name with any conviction, who can show the Love, unless that one is friends with God on a personal level.
This is where we become less in ourselves as God shines through us; we cannot do it in our own strength (none to give), or our own ability (none to boast of). Anything that comes from this mission field is 100% God’s doing, His timing and His leading. Sure, it’s hard. No doubt. I am an American in love with the Japanese. How did that happen? God did it. Therefore, we trust His love to lead the way and to craft this passion that HE birthed into the future that only he can see.
It is our job to stand by, to stand firm and to stand with Him as instruments of righteousness to display His glory.
That is really what being here boils down to and we praise Him for it every single, miraculous day. Since arriving in Japan, God has provided for us miraculously in many more ways than simple finances. He has given us opportunities from day one to use what is before us; He has blessed us with a great home, a vehicle and so much more. He has placed us in a fantastic church with wonderful leaders; He has given us a home church which supports, cherishes and prays for us.
Indeed we are thankful for all that we have, and thankful to all of our supporters. For those who are not sure what it is we do in Japan, here is a brief synopsis:
We live what we learn. We apply the Bible to our lives, just like any other Christian–but in our case, we are a small minority in a very crowded country, so opportunities for people to hear the gospel for the very first time abound every moment of every day.
We build friendships, we serve in our church and around our community. We visit seniors in the seniors home, we sing and offer community events to expose our city to the love of God.
We translate important teaching materials, offer training, leadership and mentoring to those younger or new in the faith.
We have committed to the long haul. This is not a boast, but a wake up call to the seriousness of this mission field. We are not giving up, and we are not headed “home.” We are here, because God put us here and He keeps His hand over us every day that we commit ourselves into His vision and care.
The Youth Light worship team.
But what that means is significant financially, too. Each year we are looking for additional supporters to help with our daily (and unforeseen) needs such as food, clothing, dental, medical, books, gifts (gift-giving is customary on a regular basis in Japan), utilities, gasoline, fuel, education for our daughters who are home schooled, furnishings for the house, and so forth. Out of 40 asian countries, Japan ranks 6th for cost of living. As missionaries, we cherish our givers who support financially and we apply every dollar to things which support the work of the ministry and our families needs.
Our greatest challenges now are not language, although we continue to learn day by day. The greatest challenges are not with anything such as they were in the past.
Munakata Bethel Christian Center, our church in Japan.
Our challenges now are to look forward to the future of Japan in a very rapidly-changing world, seeking God in peace and holiness to give all believers what is needed to keep a clear direction in leading the Japanese to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is a much-needed friend in these last days, and by that I mean those without spiritual discernment will surely perish in times of deceit with other gods and false beliefs. We do not want that to happen to the Japanese, a people we feel God has entrusted to our care (in our circle of influence). No, we cannot save all of Japan–but God can! By faith ALL things are possible to those who believe. Therefore, I do not believe that WE can save Japan, but that GOD can. How? Who knows? We do our part, He does His. But to do our part, we must remain and we must have the ability to sustain the work of the ministry.
Would you commit to helping us sustain this awesome work of the ministry at Munakata Bethel Christian Center? Would you help us to WIN the lost in our community for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? Would you consider donating on a monthly basis, strengthening our commitment to God together on an even greater level? It is a humbling life to live with the help from brothers and sisters in Christ who share the burden of missonary work. But then again, some might say that would imply pride is being curtailed and that our lives are something more special or significant than anyone else’s. This is not so, quite the opposite. We firmly believe in a body with ALL parts functioning. A body with a head which is Jesus, and then feet, arms, legs and all healthy parts. Often you do not see the most important parts. Without a liver, we would die. Yet few know what it even does. Without a pancreas, we would die unless we take regular medication. Yet most don’t even know where it is. Every part is important — especially the heart. But without a brain, the heart is pumping blood through a lifeless body. Without a heart, the brain starves. Without limbs a body does not move and without nourishment, a body starves. All components are equally important and each depends on the other.
We depend on your faithful generosity through God’s leading. We depend on the Holy Spirit to provide for our needs, supernaturally. We look forward to your prayers of intercession for the Japanese and for us. God bless you this Christmas, New Years and in 2016–may God richly pour out his BEST upon you. Thank you for reading today. Details below for those who would like to help.
Happy New Year from (L to R) Jim, Serena, Tracy and Sophie.