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 years...at 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!

Yesterday...

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!