Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Past Few Days

You know what they say about good intentions!  I'd really thought I'd keep a daily journal here during this trip.  I don't think I realized how full my days would be.  After arriving here on Friday, Eric Larson and I got up early on Saturday took the train to Kyoto for the day.  Kyoto was the former capital of Japan, and it is the site of many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  The day was a lot of fun and also incredibly valuable.  I've posted pictures on my picasa web page.  You can find those at

Just be prepared...there are a LOT of photos there!  :-)

On Saturday evening, I was the "guest speaker" at an evangelistic Bible study with Wayne Newsome (the MTW team leader here).  Wayne meets with several men each week at a local Starbucks.  On this particular night, there were 5 men present.  Two of the men were relatively new Christians, and the other three said they were not yet Christians.  I told them about some of the things I'd seen in Buddhist temples in Kyoto, and asked them to help me understand what I'd seen.  I was particularly interested in a practice where worshippers were encouraged to purchase a special stick of wood to be burned in a fire by the priests.  The temple priests claimed that when the wood was burned up, the worshippers sins would be cleansed.  I wondered aloud how burning a stick of wood could possibly forgive a person of their sins.  The question led to some wonderful conversation.  We then opened our Bibles and read the account where Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God.  These "seekers" were full of questions and obviously wrestling with the claims of Christ.  It was a refreshing, exciting time.

On Sunday, I worshipped with the congregation here.  The service style was very familiar.  There were a couple of guitars and a set of Roland V-drums up front.  The worship leaders were very good, and the band sounded great.  They did several upbeat songs with the band as well as some hymns with just piano accompaniment.  The sermon was in Japanese, but the church provided me with a transcript of the sermon in English.  We closed the service with the Lord's Supper, and I was struck - once again - with the universality of that sacrament.  I was able to participate with my brothers and sisters in Christ even though I didn't know the language.  God is very wise in giving us visible, tanglible pictures of his grace! 

On Sunday evening, I went to a dinner party at Tom and Teresa's home.  I had a chance to interact with several Japanese families.  All of them spoke pretty good English.  Near the end of the evening we heard from several musicians in the group - one lady played the flute while Tom accompanied her on the piano.  They played a beautiful version of "O Holy Night."  Then, several of the Japanese sang some Christmas carols they'd been learning in a choir that Tom leads.  It was a pleasant evening.  As in the group that gathered at the coffee shop on Saturday night, some of those gathered at this dinner party were not Christians.  They weren't ashamed of that fact, and they would tell you plainily that they weren't a Christian - and why.  At the same time, I am finding a great deal of open-ness to Christianity here.  The best is yet to come...the week has only gotten better and more exciting.  But that will have to wait for another time since I'm terribly sleepy (it's almost 1am here).

If you're reading this, please forgive the mistakes and "rough draft feel" of all this.  I'm mostly writing so that I don't forget some of these details.  But I'm happy for you to follow along.

More later...


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Meeting with the Nagoya Team and First Large Group Meeting

On Wednesday morning, I had my first opportunity to meet with the MTW team serving in Nagoya.  The team is made of of 5 families - of which two are made up of single ladies.  Lots of children, too.  Wayne and Amy Newsome have 5 children (Sam, Josh, Katlyn, Mary Grace, and Sarah), Peter and Diane have 2 children (a boy and a girl), and Tom and Teresa Wilson have a little boy.

The team members obviously love one another, and most of them have been together for a long time.  Together, they've helped to plant 2 churches in Nagoya, begin a Christian school that now serves over 100 Japanese and American students (elementary and Jr. High), and have started a seminary that presently has an enrollment of 13.  Last Sunday, one of the church plants celebrated its 10th anniversary.  It's about the same age (and size) of Grace Fellowship.  I'm looking forward to seeing the various facets of the ministry in Nagoya next week.

Yesterday afternoon, we had our first conference worship service.  The worship leader is bi-lingual (American and Japanese).  He led us in longs like "How Great is Our God" and "You Never Let Go".  We'd sing each verse twice - once in Japanese and once in English.  The participants here really represent a large cross section of denominations, missions agencies, and national pastors and church planters.  It has been beautiful to worship together with such a diverse group.

Dan Iverson was the first speaker of the evening.  Dan is the country directory for MTW-Japan, and he introduced CPI's core values.  They are:

1.  Kingdom Advancement through Multiplication
2.  A Commitment to Church Planting
3.  Gospel-Centered Ministry
4.  Confidence that the Kingdom will Advance

The second speaker of the evening was Dr. Hideo Ohashi who argued for a Multi-site, multi-campus model of church planting.  He advocated a model very similar to what we have studied and considered for the future at Grace Fellowship (and at other churches in the Piedmont Triad Presbytery).  Dr. Ohashi encouraged us to stop thinking about the church as a "place" that attracts people via church programs and instead think about the church as an organism that pushes out and spreads out over the city.  He suggested that in this culture (Japan) the way to grow bigger and have a greater influence may be to think about getting smaller at individual sites...thinking about covering the city with smaller sites instead of trying to attract everyone to a single large site.  Obviously, I'm leaving out a lot.

If you're using this blog to keep up with what's happening here, I need to apologize.  Things are BUSY.  I'm only able to carve out a few minutes at a time to journal - which will probably make this seem a bit fragmented.  Sorry!

I've gotta run.  The next session is about to begin!


Riding the Train

I arrived at Narita International Airport in Tokyo at around 4:15 on Tuesday afternoon.  The flight was pleasant.  Thanks to some Lunesta my Dr. prescribed for the trip, I was able to sleep for almost 6 hours on the ride over.  That has softened the effects of jet lag, and I arrived feeling rested.
I followed Amy’s directions and purchased train tickets from Narita to Amita with a stop to change trains in Shanagawa station.  No problem at the airport.  I found that train without a hitch.  Shanagawa became a challenge though.  As I stepped off the train (after a 70 min ride), I found an attendant who spoke English and showed him my ticket.  He sent me to track #11 (there were 24 tracks in the station).  Everything was marked clearly and I stepped up to the platform to board the train with about 10 minutes to spare.  As the train to Amita pulled in and opened the doors, I turned to the person behind me and showed him my ticket – just to be sure I was boarding the correct train.  He looked at my ticket, wrinkled his brow, and said, “This not your train.  Don’t get on train.”
I looked confused and pointed to the sign above my head that said “Amita” and then to my ticket that also said “Amita”.  He repeated, “This wrong train.  You no get on here.”  At that point, he stepped on the train and the doors closed.  I wondered if I had just watched my train pull away!
I walked to a nearby snack bar and got the shopkeepers attention.  He was an elderly man.  I showed him my ticket and pointed to the sign.  He was obviously very concered and wanted to help, but he spoke not a word of English…but he tried.  He talked for no less than 5 minutes (nonstop)!  When he finally took a breath, I looked at him, nodded, and said “aragato” (thank you).  He beamed (as if he’d been great help) and bowed.  I walked to the only other person on the platform…who spoke some English.  He looked at my ticket and explained that this was indeed the wrong track.  I had a ticket for the “super express” (the bullet train) and needed to be on track #23.  Had I gotten on that first train I would have indeed arrived in Amita, but the trip would have taken something like 4 hours instead of the 40 minutes on the super express.  That first guy saved me!
The bullet train was quiet and smooth.  Only 40 minutes to Amita.  The bus had stopped running up the mountain by the time I made it to Amita, but no worries – Wayne and Amy were waiting on me with a car.  We wound up the mountain riding on the “wrong side” of the road (they drive on the left here).
Several of the members of the team initiated me last night by introducing me to the “men’s bath”.  I’ll let you use your imagination on that one for now.  However, I assure you it was G rated…well, maybe PG!
Suffice it to say that Tuesday was a day full of adventure! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Beautiful IMages

It's been cloudy all day long, but this evening just before sunset the clouds cleared.  I could see Mt. Fuji looming on the horizon and climbed a fire escape to the roof.  These are shots that I took.  The one above is of the sun setting over the Pacific.  The ones below are of Mt. Fuji - which has to be one of the most awe inspiring sights I've ever seen.

It's been a great first day.  I spent the morning with the MTW teams from Nagoya and Chiba (near Tokyo).  This afternoon, the conference kicked off with worship and the first keynote speaker.  I have a lot to tell, but it's dinner time now, so....more later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting Ready to Leave!

Not much to say here...just a post to get things started. My flight from Greensboro is scheduled to take off at 0830 tomorrow morning (11/02/09). I'll be flying to Atlanta and then from there direct to Tokyo's Narita Airport.

I have good intentions of blogging here during my trip, but it'll probably take a few days to get adjusted. If you're interested, check back on Thursday!