Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Merry Christmas! (exert from our December Newsletter)

The holiday season is a natural time for us to look back and reflect on the year that’s passed. Obviously, our family has experienced a lot of changes this year (and we've only just begun this new adventure). Over the past 12 months, we've known joy and sadness, confusion and clarity, faith and fear (I guess it’s actually been a pretty normal year in those ways). But through it all, Christ has been a solid rock. He’s been faithful in spite of our fickleness and has provided even more than we've needed every step of the way. That’s been true spiritually, emotionally, and financially. We’re so grateful that we don’t serve a capricious God who toys with us but that he’s generous and unwavering…a real savior for real sinners like us! We’re also grateful that he demonstrated his love by sending his one and only Son to live and die for us - as well as for many others who live in still-unreached countries like Japan!
     We want the people of Nagoya to know the peace with God that only the Gospel can bring. Right now just one-half-of-one-percent of them know Christ and there’s only one Christian church per 22,000 people. That’s not meant to be a guilt trip – it’s a call to action and the reason God is sending families like ours to Japan. Would you join us in praying that by next Christmas, our family would be ready to join the church-planting team in Nagoya? This is a lofty goal, but we know that nothing is too hard for God. Even in this economy, there are more than enough resources within God’s Kingdom to send many families to Nagoya. Plans for new church plants are underway, and the team needs our help as soon as possible. So, we’re setting our sights on leaving early in 2012 and want to ask you to join us in praying to that end. One more Christmas before we leave! Someone once said, “Attempt something so great that it’s doomed to failure unless God is in it.” This certainly fits the bill. To God alone be the glory!

*** you can download a copy of our December newsletter by clicking on the link to the left of this post.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Random Bits of Good News and Gratitude

It's been an encouraging few weeks on the "Japan front".  Here are a few things that have us especially encouraged today:

1.  Shiloh's buffet breakfast was a roaring success and the congregation raised around $2,600!  As I understand it, this was a record-setting amount for a breakfast at Shiloh.  We're so grateful to all those who got up early and worked so hard to make the event happen.  We're also thankful for such generous contributions during the event.

2.  We received news today that another church has included us in their 2011 budget at $300 per month.  That brings the total of our ongoing, monthly support to just over $2,000!  This evening, our family colored in a new section of our "giving chart" and went out for pizza at Cici's to celebrate the crossing of the $2,000 mark.

3.  Also, today, I received a call from a pastor in our presbytery who wanted me to know that an anonymous donor in his church has contributed a very large sum to our support account.  I'm excited to report that after paying the bills (which include some training expenses that we'd previously attended on "credit"), we expect to enter January with over $5,000 in our support account!

The above developments couldn't come at a better time.  With my salary at Grace Fellowship ending next month, it's nice to be closing the year with such strong numbers.  Of course, $2,000/month won't replace my salary, so we're not completely in the clear yet...but we're getting closer...and we now have the luxury of some surplus funds in our account from which we can draw if we need them.  Our Father has always taken care of us, and we know he'll continue to do so - one way or another!  Thanks for your prayers...and please join us in thanking God for these new developments.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A highlight from the Global Missions Conference

Joe Novenson of Lookout Mountain, TN was one of the main speakers at the Global Missions Conference we attended last weekend.  Before his first talk, he interviewed an African American pastor from the podium.  I wish I'd have caught this brother's name, but I missed it - or can't remember it.  Here's the main thrust of the interview:

Joe:  When did you become a Christian?
Pastor:  When I was 18 years old.
Joe:  When did you plant your first church?
Pastor:  4 years later.
Joe:  Brother, I'm not trying to embarrass you here, and I thank you for giving me permission to ask you this last question in front of all these folks...when did you learn to read?
Pastor:  When I was 40 years old.

Joe went on to describe this man's ministry, which included several drug rehab centers and church plants.  I think I often make all this too hard and fall into the trap that the advance of the Kingdom is dependent upon more learning, more money, or more resources.  But it's "by MY Spirit" says the Lord.  Thanks, Joe, for reminding me!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Global Missions Conference, Chattanooga, TN

Future Mem's Nagoya Team with the Newsomes & Youngs
*** Please forgive grammatical errors and typos.  I'm writing this at midnight, and my day started at 5am!  However, tomorrow is a full day, and I want to go ahead and express some important thoughts. ***

This weekend, Gina and I are at MTW's Global Missions Conference in Chattanooga, TN.  Our first day has been full and exciting.  The Holy Spirit seems to be pulling together a lot of pieces in MTW's ministries in Japan, and that's especially evident in the teams functioning in the city of Nagoya.

Wayne and Amy Newsome (our team leaders) are here for the conference - along with several other couples who are being led to join the church planting effort in Nagoya.  In all, we met with 3 other couples and a single man who have now been approved by MTW to join the team in Nagoya.  This new group will almost double the size of the church planting team serving in the city and open up all sorts of new possibilities for expansion!

After the meeting with our future team members, Gina and I had the opportunity to serve at the "Japan Partnership Booth" in the exhibit hall, where we met two additional couples who are considering a move to Nagoya!  To put all this into context, I spoke with a former missionary to Japan recently who was lamenting the fact that he didn't know of ANY new missionaries headed to the country.  He was discouraged, because mission-sending agencies were abandoning Japan due to the fact that conversions were so slow, and the cost of living was so high.  When I told him about MTW's commitment to Japan, he rejoiced.  I can't wait until our next conversation when I can add these new details.

To add to the above, we heard a rousing testimony from Michael Oh during tonight's opening session.  Michael is a South Korean missionary to Japan who now heads up MTW's "seminary team" in Nagoya.  In 2005, the team founded Christ Bible Seminary (CBS) with the vision for training and equipping future Japanese leaders (especially church planters).  Some of you may know that the seminary has been meeting at Nisshin Christ Church since its inception, but they're in need of more room to expand.  During his talk, Michael announced the good news that this morning, the seminary team signed papers to purchase a new building in an ideal location in the heart of the city.  During the real estate bubble, the property was valued at $15 million, but the seminary has now purchased the property for just over $1 million!

It's exciting to see God weaving together so many different threads in Japan right now.  He's stirring up missionaries to go to a hard, expensive country.  He's opening the door for further expansion of CBS, and stirring many men and women to give generously to the effort (something we're experiencing first hand).  I'm no prophet, but it seems like something big is in the works!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Buffet Breakfast at Shiloh UMC

A photo of Shiloh's fellowship hall, where the breakfast will be held
Shiloh United Methodist Church will always hold a special place in my heart.  My grandparents and great grandparents attended the church, and it's the church that I grew up in as a child.  I met Jesus through the Sunday school ministry at Shiloh, and still remain close friends with many of the members there even though God led Gina and me along a different road after we were married back in 1995.

Ever since the congregation at Shiloh became aware of the fact that our family is pursuing this calling to Nagoya, they have become a strong source of encouragement.  Among other things, Shiloh's United Methodist Men and Women have teamed up to plan a buffet breakfast to benefit our mission.  The breakfast is scheduled for November 6th from 6-10am in the new fellowship hall behind the church building.  The buffet is all-you-can-eat (adults $6, children $3), so if you leave hungry, it's your own fault!

Unfortunately, Gina and I won't have the opportunity to taste the food that morning since we're scheduled to take part in MTW's Global Missions Conference in Chatanooga, TN that weekend.  I must say, it feels a bit strange to know that all of this will be happening in our absence.  We feel such a need to lend a hand and contribute to the effort, but in that sense - this event is a lot like the Gospel.  The only thing we're contributing to the cause is our need, and all we can do is gratefully receive.  Thanks, friends at Shiloh!  We're humbled by your generosity, and we'll look forward to thanking you in person in a few weeks.

If you'd like to attend the breakfast and need directions, CLICK HERE for Shiloh's web site.  There's an address on the home page that you could enter into mapquest (etc).

Monday, October 11, 2010

The CPI Conference (November 2009)

My trip to Japan last November coincided with the  Japan Church Planting Institute's national conference for 2009.  The conference was held near the town of Hakone, which sits near the base of Mt. Fuji.  Though seeing Mt. Fuji up close was breathtaking in itself, the highlight of the conference was the opportunity to interact with missionaries from all over Japan.  There were men and women in attendance from a broad range of Christian traditions and denominations.  One of my roommates was a Freewill Baptist missionary, and the other was with Campus Crusade for Christ.  On the surface, we couldn't have been any more different - and yet we shared the same core convictions and reasons for leaving the (seeming) security of our homes in America for ministry abroad.

At the time, Gina and I were still trying to come to grips with whether God was calling our family to Nagoya, and I made it my personal goal to speak with as many missionaries as possible.  Mostly, I wanted to get a sense of what God was already doing in Japan and whether our family would be a good fit in that country.  

Almost every conversation with every missionary began and ended in the same way.  Most of the folks I spoke with had been in Japan a very long time - on the order of 15-30 years or longer, and almost everyone told stories about very slow progress with little fruit for years at a time.

But none of those conversations ended with hopelessness or discouragement.  Almost every conversation had a real turning point where the missionary telling the story would brighten up and say..."but things have been different recently..."  To summarize 25-30 conversations, missionaries from every tradition reported that there's been a brand new interest and openness to the Gospel over the past 3-5 years.  Several different church planters said things like:  "We're seeing people drop by the church to ask questions about Christianity, and that's new!  It's never happened before!"

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Japan is experiencing a move of the Holy Spirit similar to what the Church has seen in countries like China or South Korea in recent least not yet.  The ground is still hard, and progress is painstakingly slow.  The waters flowing at a trickle, not a torrent.  But when things have been dry for a long time and you begin to see a trickle, that's more than hopeful.  

I wonder what God is doing behind the scenes that causes so many missionaries to tell the same stories right now?  In retrospect, I wonder if the missionaries I spoke with have the opportunity to speak with one another often enough to realize they're telling such similar stories?  So often, we get so wrapped up in our own particular plot-lines that we miss the novel God is writing.

My trip to Nagoya was a good case study after the interactions at the conference.  The team leaders were honest about how slowly things have moved during almost two decades of work.  And yet, there's a healthy church in the city that's "pregnant" and ready to give birth to triplets...or maybe even quadruplets!  The team has also founded a seminary that's training future Japanese church leaders...and a Christian school that's having an impact on quite a large group of elementary and Jr. High School students.  Any single item on that list would be a considerable accomplishment.  Together, they represent a strong foothold for advancement.  

In addition to all this, God is sending more help to the team in Nagoya.  There are 3 families besides our own who are presently raising support and making preparations to join the Nagoya team for the next phase of church planting in the city.

All this leads Gina and I to believe that God is in the process of doing a great work in the yet unreached country of Japan.  And they're details that God has used to confirm our own sense of calling to Nagoya.  Be praying, friends!  Ask God to pour out his Holy Spirit on the land of the rising sun and draw many people to himself.  Pray that the trickle would become a river that gives life to the people of Japan.  Pray especially for our new friends on the team in Nagoya.  They're doing heroic work and making strong progress - even if they sometimes have trouble seeing that from their own vantage points - so close to the work!


What a great, God-honoring time of worship at Grace Presbyterian Church in Kernersville, yesterday!  The congregation welcomed us warmly and the time of worship was rich and sincere.  Randy Edwards is my new hero as he brought the Gospel from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes!  It was a special treat to reconnect with a former high school (french) teacher.  Why is it that when I saw her I felt the deep, vague need to apologize for something???  :-)  As we walked out of worship, Gina said, "If I lived in Kernersville, this is where I'd want to come to church!"  Of course, Gina's said that at several of the places we've visited over the past couple of months, but it really feel a lot like like "home".  It's a special thing to gather with God's people to worship.

Last night, I had the honor of leading a discussion about "Contextualizing the Gospel" at Northside Presbyterian in Burlington.  Basically, we talked together about how Christians in the U.S. (i.e. towns like Burlington) face similar challenges to those faced by foreign missionaries as we take the Gospel to our own friends and neighbors.  We reflected on how missionaries (both foreign and domestic) must constantly repent of self-righteous attitudes that cause us to feel superior to others - and pray for the fruits of the Holy Spirit to be evident in our lives.  As is usually the case, I think God used the conversation to help me as much as anyone else in the room.  Thanks, Northside!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Trip to Greenville/Spartanburg, SC

On Monday, October 4th, I'll be spending the morning in the Greenville/Spartanburg area.  I plan to begin with a small group at Java Jolt on East Butler Road at 7am and am working on another meeting with a different group at 9am.  At noon, I'll be in Spartanburg for a lunch gathering.

At each meeting, I'll be presenting information about the MTW team in Nagoya and our family's calling to help with the work there.  Anyone is welcome to attend these meetings, and if you live in the area or know someone who does, please feel free to contact me for times and meeting places.  The meetings are purely informational.  There's no expectation or pressure that those who attend will ever give any money to the work.  If you're interested in coming, please let me know!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Missions Conference, Jamestown, NC

Last Sunday, our family enjoyed worshiping with the congregation of Friendly Hills Presbyterian Church in Jamestown, NC.  I was honored to preach the morning sermon that kicked off their "2010 Missions Conference" which will continue this weekend.  If you live in the greater Triad area (of NC), you may want to consider attending some of the events scheduled at Friendly Hills this weekend.  Joe Novenson of Lookout Mountain, TN will be the keynote speaker at the conference.  Additionally, several missionaries will be speaking.  For a complete schedule of events, check out their website by clicking the link above.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Summer Oaks Presbyterian Church

Last Sunday, we had the pleasure of worshiping with our friends at Summer Oaks Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, NC.  Summer Oaks is a relatively new congregation that meets on the campus of Oak Ridge Military Academy.  The worship service was simple, honest, and Christ-exalting.  Our dear friend, Caleb Cross led worship, so that made things feel like home to us (Caleb has led worship at Grace Fellowship on many occasions).  After preaching the morning sermon, the adult Sunday school class invited Gina and me to share a bit more about the details of our calling to Japan.  Their questions showed a sincere interest in what God has called us to do, and that was deeply encouraging to us all.  After the service, a couple in the congregation was gracious enough to invite us into their home for lunch (it was quite a feast).  Thank you, Summer Oaks, for your warm hospitality last week!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ashe Presbyterian, Jefferson, NC

Jeremy speaking to a couple following Sunday's service
     On September 12th, our family had the joy of worshipping with the folks at Ashe Presbyterian Church in Jefferson, NC.  What a delightful group of Christians!  The church is launching a brand new missions program, and we were honored to be some of the first missionaries they've invited to meet with them.  During the Sunday School hour, I talked with the adult Sunday School class about the Gospel-needs in Nagoya and then had the privilege of preaching the morning sermon from Habakkuk 1-2.  After the service, members of the congregation took turns encouraging us in our calling.  I'm not sure who benefited the most from the morning - us or them!

   After church (and then lunch with one of the elders), we spent the afternoon hiking at Mt. Jefferson State Park.  It's a beautiful place with pristine views of the surrounding country.  Of course, our boys kept us on our toes by running right up to the edge of several "cliffs".  We capped the day off with a trip to Shatley Springs Restaurant where they serve meals "family style".  After a feast of fried chicken, country ham, and all the fixin's we set out for home.  It was a great day all the way around.

Our 3 boys on top of Mt. Jefferson
      On a different note, I recently watched a video clip by Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  In the 3-minute-clip, Keller is persuasive about the deep need for church planting in Tokyo, but all of his arguments apply just as well to church planting throughout Japan.  If you have a few minutes, I'd recommend you watch the video which can be found on MTW's Japan Partnership Website (click here).  On the same page, you'll also find a link to an insightful paper by Dan Iverson - MTW's country director in Japan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ladies' Bible Study - Nagoya, Japan

Jeremy taught at this ladies' Bible study in Nov 2010
     One of the many surprising discoveries I made on last November's visit to Japan was the fact that many Japanese men work extremely long hours.  During my visit, I met several men who worked 18 hour days, 5-6 days each week.  Pressure at work is high, and the company often rules the family's life.

     Long work days obviously place a strain on families in general, but they also create a situation where men simply aren't available for interaction or relationships outside of the office.  As a result, evangelistic work among men is often painfully slow.  Gospel outreach to women, however, is welcome and is bearing some exciting fruit.  During my time in Nagoya last November I taught at two ladies' Bible studies associated with Nisshin Christ Church.  The photo above was taken at one of those gatherings.

     I still remember meeting this particular group of ladies.  As we introduced ourselves, I asked each lady to share a little about her family, what brought her to the church, and how long she had been a Christian.  The delightful surprise was that several ladies in the group reported that they were not yet Christians but wanted to know more about what it meant to follow Christ.  This was the case in every group I led in Nagoya, and it still excites me to think about it.  Imagine sitting down at a Bible study in America where half of the members introduced themselves like this:  "Hello, my name is Martha.  I have been attending this church for several months now.  I'm not a Christian yet, but my life is a mess, and I'm wondering if I should follow Jesus."  That was precisely my experience on several different occassions in Nagoya last year!  At first I wondered if I'd been set up...maybe I was being "punk'd!"

     One of the ladies pictured above is Aiko (not her real name).  I remember that there was a lot of celebration (even tears) when she arrived that day, because several of the ladies had been praying for her to know Christ.  She is a friend of Michiyo, who leads the Bible study each week.  Aiko had come for a while, but the group hadn't seen her in some time.  Michiyo had been praying earnestly that she would return on that particular day, and she did!  The group received her like a long-lost friend, and there were hugs all around - and praises to God for answered prayers.

     Aiko was not a Christian, but her eyes were brimming with tears as we looked at a passage in Luke about Jesus crossing over the sea of Galilee to save a demon-possessed man on the other side.  Unlike the idols in the Buddhist shrines, the man on the other side of the sea didn't need to clap his hands, ring bells, or burn incense in order to get God's attention.  He didn't look attractive, and he didn't have it all together.  Christ knew who and where he was and took the initiative to save him from certain destruction.  And he has done the same for us on the cross.  How shocking!  Simply unheard of among the Buddhist idols!  And such a powerful, merciful picture of grace!  At one point, I asked, "Wouldn't you like to follow such a Savior?"  Aiko replied, "I wish I could believe that he loves me like that!"  A few weeks after returning to Asheboro, I received a an exciting email from the team in Nagoya.  Aiko had surrendered her life to Christ.  She'd become a Christian!  The Spirit of God had shown her that he DOES love her like that!

     Last week, I received the following update from Amy Newsome (the American missionary sitting opposite me in the photo above):

" continuing to move forward.  Over the summer she helped with the Kid's Gospel Week, and her husband came with her for the concert and summer festival -- his first time in the door of the church!  We hope to follow up with them as a family, having them over and trying to get to know him.  She is growing and moving forward - praise God for his work in her life, and now she is praying for the salvation of her husband."

     One soul at a time.  Jesus loved Aiko enough to send missionaries across the Pacific to share the Good News with her (just like he loved that demon-possessed man enough to cross the sea for him).  He loved her enough to send His Holy Spirit to open her heart to receive that Good News as her own.  And it appears that He is now continuing that work in the life of her husband.

     The Gospel has traditionally moved forward very slowly in Japan.  Many missionaries have labored for long years and seen little fruit.  But who knows what the Spirit has in mind for the future?  Who can know the mind or timing of Almighty God?  What we do know is that we serve a mighty, merciful God who takes the initiative in the lives of individuals and even whole nations.  We also believe that this is the time to plant new churches in and around the city of Nagoya.  Please pray for the MTW team in the city as they're doing heroic work.  And pray for our family as we raise support and make the necessary preparations to go and help.

Our Story in Print...

Gina and I grew up in Lexington, NC.  We actually went to elementary, middle, and high school together - though we didn't start dating until college (at UNC-Charlotte).  Recently, the Lexington Dispatch heard about our calling to Japan and decided to write a story about us.  Since they make us sound so "good" we're happy to share it here!  You can read the story online by clicking here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A quick update...

August was a busy, productive, emotional month with very little margin for blog updates.  On August 29th, I preached my last regularly-scheduled sermon at Grace Fellowship.  Although I'll continue to pastor these dear friends for the remainder of the year, I won't see them nearly as often, and it feels sad to realize that  such a wonderful season of our lives is drawing to a close.

During August, God raised up several new financial partners who have a vision for planting churches in and around Nagoya.  Some of those new partners are church congregations, but most are individual Christians who feel led to throw in as much as they can.  A ladies' sewing group here in Asheboro asked us to come and speak early in the month, and yesterday, we learned that these ladies decided to pool their resources and have pledged to contribute $50/mo as a group!  The unexpected nature of that gift has made it of special encouragement, and we're currently very close to our $1,000 per month summer goal.

We're also grateful to be going into September with a full Sunday morning schedule through the end of October (see our itinerary to the right).  Please pray that God would give me the words to effectively communicate the Gospel need in Japan as we stand in front of churches and meet with individuals this Fall.  Pray also that the Holy Spirit will stir people up and make them outrageously generous in support of the advancement of the Gospel in this needy country.

More soon...


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Wilson's Ministry in Nagoya

Tom Wilson, musician, choir director
Gina and I are especially grateful that God is leading us to a team that already has a lot of Gospel-momentum in the city of Nagoya.  Tom and Teresa Wilson are key members of that team.  Tom is a trained musician and uses music and choir to reach Japanese people with the Gospel.  The following links will connect you to some videos of recent choral concerts done in and around Nagoya.

  • Click HERE for a video of short clips of every song at the concert (copyright laws only allow for clips of less than 30 seconds each on youtube).
  • Click HERE for a a video of the choir singing Amazing Grace in English and Japanese (not copyrighted).

As you watch these videos, you'll be excited to hear that most of the people you see onstage are not believers (yet).  Participating in choir provided another opportunity for them to hear the gospel, and even to proclaim it in song from their own mouths!  Since these videos were taken, two of the women you see onstage have become Christians!  One lady said that as she sang the gospel songs in rehearsal, she realized that the Holy Spirit had been working in her heart.  She believed the words she was singing, and placed her hope in Christ.  In addition to the 70 singers in the choir, around 500 people attended the charity concert and the team raised the equivalent of $2000 for Haiti relief efforts.

Teresa Wilson

The concert series created a lot of interest around Nagoya.  A local cable television station in the area actually reported on the choir.  The report showed clips from choir rehearsals and also interviewed several of the choir members.  Tom and Teresa sat for an interview in their home, and  shared about gospel music, how they became involved with it, and why they lead gospel choirs.  Tom says, "We were very happy that they didn't edit our answers!  It's very clearly presented that we lead gospel choir to tell people about Jesus' love.  I'm not sure an American TV show would give us as much freedom to talk about Christ!"  If you'd like to see the interview (complete with Tom's helpful English commentary), click HERE.

There are so many more marvelous stories of how God has been using the MTW team to reach Japanese people living in Nagoya, and I'll continue to share those here.  The team has a long history, and a good track record.  A solid foundation is being laid, and the team is actively pressing out more and more.  In the years to come, we expect to plant numerous new churches in the region.  We want to see the proclamation of the Gospel continue to grow and expand until the glory of God covers Japan as the waters cover the seas (Hab 2:14).  

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to know how you can be a part of reaching Nagoya with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

First Major Transition

     Time passes so quickly! In April, when we announced our intentions to help with the church planting effort in Nagoya, the elders put forward a transition plan that would gradually move me out of the pastoral position at Grace Fellowship over a series of 3 stages. The first phase of that plan ends on August 29th, when I will preach my last "regular" sermon at the church Gina and I helped plant 10 years ago.

     I have to admit that I feel very conflicted about this transition. On the one hand, I'm as certain as I've ever been that God is calling our family to serve in Japan. He's given us a great deal of confidence about the decision, and our gaze has already shifted in that direction.  The idea of being free to focus more of our energy on preparations for Japan is exciting.  On the other hand, the people at Grace Fellowship are our friends. We love them a lot, and I take deep satisfaction in sharing the Word of God with them week in and week out. Maybe this is similar to the competing desires Paul expressed in Philippians 1:21-24 (though Paul was referring to his own death):

"...For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the 
flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose 
I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. 
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account."

     Of course, I'm not alone.  The rest of our dear friends at Grace Fellowship are wrestling with the same sense of tension.  Most of the families in the church have expressed their wholehearted agreement with this move.  They understand the deep need for the Gospel in Japan, and they're honored to be able to send their own pastor to help.  At the same time, it's not hard to see the grief in their eyes.  Change is hard, and goodbyes are some of the most difficult changes of all.  Please pray for us, friends.  Pray for our family and for the congregation of Grace Fellowship during the month of August.  Ask God to strengthen our faith and to allow the changes ahead to cause us to loosen our grip on this world and look to the promised land where there won't be any more hard goodbyes.



*** If you'd like to see a timeline that illustrates our transition plan from ministry at Grace Fellowship to ministry in Nagoya, please click HERE.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Friends, Familiar Story

This afternoon, I had the honor of having lunch with Dr. Argyris (Ar-HEE-ris) and Dina Petrou who serve as Christian missionaries in Greece.  Dr. Petrou is the director of the "Greek Bible College," which is the only Bible school in the country.  He is also an ordained minister, Bible teacher, and published author.  Dina serves in a ministry dedicated to reaching out to prostitutes in Athens.  Many of the women who are trapped in the brothels of that city are victims of human trafficking from countries in Eastern Europe and Africa.  It was such a delight to meet these new friends and to hear their exciting stories!

Over the course of the past two years, God has been slowly opening (Gina and) my eyes to the deep spiritual needs that exist in other parts of the world.  Other places and people groups simply don't have the access to the Gospel that we've come to take for granted in this country.  Argyris said that there are only 5 large churches in the whole country of Greece (large, to Argyris means 500 people or more).  The rest of the evangelical churches are very small (less than 50 people each), and there are not many of them in relation to the population of Greece.  

In 2008, Gina and I witnessed a similar situation on our trip to the Baltic Region.  On that trip, we visited missionaries in the countries of Sweeden, Latvia, and Lithuania.  There are very few evangelical churches in these countries, and those that are established lack the leadership, training, and resources that exist in such abundance in the U.S.  As Gina and I considered what we'd seen on that trip, we realized that the Holy Spirit was stirring us to go and help.

It's a bit ironic that God would use a situation in Eastern Europe to bring us to Nagoya, Japan.  But that's exactly what he's done.  It might seem equally strange that I'd begin this blog entry by reporting on a lunch with missionaries to Greece and end up with a paragraph about our calling to Nagoya.  For us, I suppose ALL roads lead to Japan!  

The truth is, I'm a Gospel minister...and we're a "Gospel family."  We're going to be about the work of spreading the light of the Kingdom of God wherever we are - we just want to be where the King wants us.  More and more, we're realizing that we live in a world brimming with darkness.  Athens, Stokholm, Riga, Vilnius...Nagoya...they're dark places begging for the light of the Gospel, and the Spirit of Christ is on the move around the world.  He's at work right now through families like the Petrous in Greece, the Chaplins in Riga, and the Newsomes (etc) in Japan.  And the job isn't finished...right now, He's in the process of moving more resources to the darkest places on the globe.  Our family can testify to that!



Elderly living alone increasingly dying the same way | The Japan Times Online

Elderly living alone increasingly dying the same way | The Japan Times Online

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The 10-40 Window

What is it?
The 10/40 Window is the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia located between approximately 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude. The 10/40 Window is often called "The Resistant Belt" and includes the majority of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.  Around 4.43 billion people, representing over 8,700 distinct people groups live in this relatively small region of the world

So What?
It's not that people living in the 10-40 window are more valuable than those who live at other points on the globe.  However, this part of the world has been especially resistant to the message of the Gospel.  Not surprisingly, many of the countries within the 10-40 window are unattractive to missionaries, because they're dangerous places for Christians to live.  That's especially true in Muslim nations like those in North Africa and Indonesia (shaded green above).  Other countries (like Japan) are open to Christian missionaries, but mission works typically move ahead very slowly over many years.  Of course, the Great Commission applies to the people of the 10-40 window just as to the rest of the world.  It's not acceptable to neglect any part of the world as we move out with the glorious good news of the Gospel.  When the apostle John wrote down his vision in The Revelation he described people from every tongue and tribe gathered around the throne in worship of the Lamb.  That certainly includes people living in the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist nations of the 10-40 window.  As we go out, we can go with the confident expectation that God has many people there.  Our part is to go and proclaim the Good News.  As we do so, we'll trust Him to provide lasting fruit.

Why Japan?
1.  Japan is of Strategic Importance - It's a first-world country with worldwide influence.
2.  Christian Missions is "Legal" in Japan - unlike many of the Muslim nations within the 10-40 window, Japan welcomes Christian missionaries.  This isn't meant to be construed as an argument against sending missionaries to dangerous countries where they face imprisonment or death.  However, given the fact that Japan is a nation of 127 million people and less than 0.5 percent of those are Christian, it seems obvious that the Church would be sending many missionaries through the open door that exists there!  FYI - the Japanese people are one of the largest, single unreached people groups on planet earth.
3.  Japan is Ripe for the Gospel - Currently, the Japanese economy is in the midst of a recession that has lasted nearly 20 years.  Japan has one of the highest suicide rates of all the industrialized nations of the world.  Depression and disillusionment are at an all-time high.  Old idols are failing to deliver on their promises to bless and protect worshipers.  This is an excruciatingly hard place for a people to be, and we don't rejoice in their hardship.  At the same time, the country's troubles also put the people in an unusually good position to hear the hope of the Gospel and receive the love of God through the person of Jesus Christ.
4.  Missionaries all over Japan are Reporting New Interest in Christianity - I attended a church planting conference near Mt. Fuji in November 2009.  While there, I made it my goal to speak with as many missionaries from different Christian traditions as possible.  Every missionary that I spoke with told a similar story.  Most had been in Japan for decades, and all reported that their work had been slow and difficult.  However, every single missionary pointed out that over the past 1-2 years they had seen brand new interest in the Gospel - a level of interest they'd never seen before.  I had the opportunity to lead 3 different Bible studies in Nagoya, and half the Japanese people at every study introduced themselves saying some version of this sentence:  "Hello, my name is __________.  I have been attending church for some time, but I am not a Christian yet (stress on yet).  I have some questions about Christianity..."  That's a sentence heard all too infrequently in the Southeast U.S.
5.  Mission to the World is Positioned to Advance - The Nagoya team has been in place for over 20 years now.  Over the course of that time, the church planting work has been painfully slow.  However, there is now a healthy church (with two different congregations meeting for worship in the same building), an international Christian School, and a newly formed seminary is in place as a direct result of the team's work.  (Some would argue that this isn't slow progress - even over a span of 20 years!)  The team's vision is to work from this starting point and press out aggressively by planting new congregations in various places around the city.  

Why Your Family?
Gina and I have asked this question a lot over the past year!  The current team has been doing an amazing job under the leadership of Wayne and Amy Newsome.  However, in order to begin to plant multiple new congregations, additional team members are now needed.  Men and women with various personalities and gifts will be important as MTW moves forward in Nagoya.  One particular need is for additional ordained teaching elders (our denomination's title for a "pastor") to preach, administer the sacraments, and help develop Japanese elders at new sites.  There is a need right now.  Gina and I are ready to go and fill that need.  There are many pastors in the U.S. who can take my place at Grace Fellowship, but few are in a position to go fill the need in Japan.  Most importantly, we sense that the Spirit is calling us to go.  

Why us?  We're not sure.  Probably, because God delights to use the weak things of this world to accomplish his grand purposes!  We're going because there's a need that we can fill, because the love of God compels us to go, and because we believe the Holy Spirit is sending us.  Please pray for us!

If you haven't had a chance to see our video presentation, you can do so here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greetings Commissioners!

     A special greeting to those of you who are connecting with us at General Assembly this week! Please take the time to explore the page and get a feel for the state of the work in Nagoya, Japan. I'd especially recommend the video slideshow "Introduction to our Family and Calling" as well as some of the statistics printed below on this page.
     This is a wonderful time to be involved in missions in Nagoya. The team has been making strong progress over the past 2 decades. They have established a healthy church, a school, and seminary to train national church leaders. The team's vision for the next decade involves aggressive church planting in the region, but currently there is only one teaching elder on the team. As an ordained TE, I'll fill an important role (one of many filled by a group of unique, gifted folks) and work alongside Japanese Christians to plant a network of churches around the region.
     Japan is a very expensive field, so our family of 5 has a lot of money to raise. This is certainly an example of an undertaking that is doomed to failure unless God is in it. We're praying that he'll confirm this calling by stirring some of you to partner with us.
     If we haven't had an opportunity to meet face-to-face, please look for me at MTW's booth in the convention center. You can also reach me directly on my cell phone by using the "call me" button to the right or by email at I would love to tell you more about the ministry in Nagoya!



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Statistics: The Aichi Prefecture in Japan

The country of Japan is divided into 47 "prefectures" - which are larger than counties or cities but smaller than U.S. states.  Each prefecture has an elected governor and is subdivided into cities, districts, and towns.  Nagoya (where our our family is called to serve) is the capital city of the Aichi prefecture, located in central Japan (see map below).  The latitude of Nagoya is the same as that of central NC.

If you're interested in reading more about Japanese prefectures, you can do so by clicking here.  The following are some statistics published by the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association about the Aichi prefecture:

Population:                               7.027 million
Size:                                         5,152 square km
Population Density:                  1,364 people per square km
Cities:                                       31
Cities with only one church:     4 (population 39,000 and above).
Towns/Villages:                        55
     With no church                    34
     With 20,000 & no church:   11
Churches in prefecture:            315
Churches per person:              1 church per 22,310
Church Members:                    20,998
Members per church:               67
Worship Attendance:               11,767
Attendance per church:            37
Missionaries (approximate):     89
The Japan Evangelical Missionary Association publishes a prayer guide entitled "Operation Japan."  The following is my summary of their description of the Aichi prefecture:

Eastern Aichi occupies the southern tip of the Kiso Mountain Range with plains on the east and west.  The climate is mild with a lot of rain, but Winter brings much drier weather.  Aichi has the fourth largest population of all the Japanese prefectures.  The capital city of Nagoya lies midway between Tokyo and Osaka.  It has become an economic and cultural force in Japan.  Agriculture is the leading industry with a gross product that ranks sixth in the nation.

Fall colors in the mountains 
just outside Nagoya

In 1875 Eikichi Ohara from Aichi came into contact with a Southern Methodist Missionary in Yokohama, was baptized, and returned home.  The following year the missionary came to Ohara's home town to start a preaching outreach which resulted in the first church to be established in the region.

Today, there are still four cities in the prefecture with only one church each.  There are 34 towns and villages in the prefecture that have no established Christian church.  Eleven of those towns have a population of more than 20,000.

If you're interested in a copy of "Operation Japan" you can find ordering information by clicking here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Gospel: Good News for Legalists

I was reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians 5 this morning in preparation for Sunday's sermon. The following quote struck me again - it was already underlined and highlighted from previous readings.

“Even if the law accuses us, and sin frightens us, they cannot drive us to despair; for faith, which overcomes the world, says, “These things have nothing to do with me; Christ has set me free and delivered me from them all.” Similarly, death, which is the mightiest and most dreadful thing in the world, is utterly vanquished in the conscience by freedom of the (Holy) Spirit...If we could apprehend this with a sure and steadfast faith, then no rage or terror of the world, the law, sin, death, or the devil could be so great that it could not be swallowed up, just as a little drop of water is swallowed up in the sea...Reason cannot grasp how wonderful this is!”

The Japanese are a people enamored with rule-keeping, and as I've reflected on Galatians 5 this morning I've thought a lot about what good news the grace of God is for legalists like the Japanese. I say that with a great deal of certainty, because I'm a recovering legalist, too. I continually catch myself trying to clean up enough to satisfy God. I'm rather proud (and look down on others) when I think I'm doing that well, and I slip into a place of hopelessness when I think I'm not doing what I should (to make God happy).  Sadly, I expect many of you can relate to this.

A few paragraphs later, Luther helped me some more...

"When that great dragon - that old snake, the devil - comes and tells you that not only have you done no good, but you have also transgressed God's law, say to him, "You are troubling me with the memory of my past sins; you are also reminding me that I have done no good. But this is nothing to me, for if I either trusted in my own good deeds or feared because I have done no such deeds, Christ would in either case be of no value to me at all. I rest only in the freedom Christ has given me. I know he is of value to me, and so I will not make him of no value, which I would be doing if I either presumed to purchase favor and everlasting life for myself by my good deeds or despaired of my salvation because of my sins."

These are just some of the implications of the Gospel. Good news for legalists like the Japanese. Good news for legalists like me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Video Recommendation...

Here's an interesting video produced by MTW's Team in Nagoya. It's a "documentary" of sorts.

If you prefer to view this video on Youtube's site, you'll find a link under "More information" in the right-hand column of this page.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Our First Dinner Gathering

We had a wonderful evening with Grandma Jane's family and friends tonight at Gina's parents' home in the big town of Tyro, NC!  It was good to have a chance to connect with family members, and we were pleasantly surprised by several dear friends from Meadowview who came (Wayne, Diane, Dan, and Carol - it was so good to see you again!).

After dinner, Gina and I took turns telling the story of our calling to Japan.  There were lots of good questions, and everyone seemed engaged and very supportive (that's not surprising given the people in the room, but it was very nice all the same).  At one point, Jane spoke up to express the family's support and wanted us to tell everyone just what they could do to help.  She's been such an encouragement to us ever since we told her the news back in early April.  Josiah was the highlight of the evening.  He wanted to have a part in the talk.  Gina asked him why he's excited about moving to Japan.  He replied, "Because I want to meet new people, and so people in Japan can know the Gospel."  That's my boy!

As we drove home it hit me that we didn't take a single picture tonight!  Blogs without pictures are dull, so I think I'll make this post brief.  I'll try to do better next time!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

And We're Off!

We're Headed to Japan!

     As most of you know, Gina and I have been wrestling with a sense of calling to cross-cultural missions for some time now.  Originally, we believed that God was calling us to help the church-planting effort in Eastern Europe, but as we prayed and sought the advice of trusted Christian friends we came to realize that God was calling us elsewhere.  We’re now convinced that the Spirit is sending us to Nagoya, Japan to help the team plant a network of churches in that city where less than 2% of the massive population is Christian.
      Earlier this year, Gina and I were approved as long-term missionaries with Mission to the World.  We’re now in the early stages of raising the support necessary for us to live and minister in Japan.  We intend to publish a short newsletter each month to keep our prayer team updated about our progress.  If you're not currently on our mailing list, please leave a comment along with your email address and we'll be happy to add you to our mailing list.  You can also check back here for regular updates.

May Has Been an Encouraging Month

May has been an encouraging month for us.  Our friends at Grace Fellowship have responded to our news with a great deal of faith.  The comment that we’ve heard most often has been, “We’ve seen this coming for a long time…we knew you’d be heading to a foreign missions field at some point!”  Gina’s Grandma Jane has gotten particularly excited about the news (not that she is happy to see us go).  She’s become our self appointed “campaign manager” among her friends and relatives, and in June she’ll be hosting a cookout where we’ll be talking about our calling to Nagoya with members of the family and some close friends.  Several friends at various places around the country have offered to help us network in those areas as well (including FL, TN, NC, and IL).  We’ve also seen a strong initial response from churches in our presbytery.  One pastor called me today to let me know that his church has been interested in the MTW work in Nagoya for several months now.  They’ve been praying for the team there, and they’re excited for an opportunity to be more involved through us!  We’re grateful for the ways that God has been going before us.  We’re also very encouraged by the fact that so many of you have offered to pray for us.  Thank you for loving us so well!