Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Contributions, Pledges, and Financial Partnership

This is an update to a previous post answering questions about pledging and giving.  Since some of that information has changed (now that we're on the field in Nagoya), we thought it important to post this update...

     Greetings!  Our family currently serves with Mission to the World's church planting team in Nagoya, Japan.  MTW is the global missions arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  Since our denomination does not have a centralized mission budget, we rely on the Holy Spirit to lead individual families and church congregations to support us on a monthly or annual basis.  
     Before moving to Japan, MTW required us to raise 100% of our projected needs through special gifts and ongoing pledges.  Since Japan is such an expensive field, that process was daunting, but God was faithful to raise up an army of supporters who have been contributing faithfully toward our ongoing support.
     Even though we are now in Japan, it's still important for new partners join our support team.  Financial situations are always changing for us and our partners.  Our budget may increase or decrease for a variety of reasons that are beyond our control (like the changing value of the Dollar and Yen).  There are also cases where churches or families have to stop giving prematurely, so, new partners often replace those who are no longer in a position to give.  It would be impossible to plan for every contingency, but we're trusting God to continue to provide for our needs by stirring up new partners as needed. Ultimately, we're in His hands...and that's very comforting to us!
     Our hope is that financial contributors will see themselves as as more than "donors".  We want you to realize that you're partnering with us in this work.  For new churches to be planted, there must be church planters on the field and senders at home.  Without both of those groups in place, new churches won't be started.  So, we're partnering together to make that happen.  Making a pledge is a way to partner with us to plant new churches among the world's largest unreached people group.

How to Make a Pledge:
  • Our Web Site:  The easiest way to make a pledge is just to go to our online form by clicking here.
  • By Mail:  You can print a copy of our donor card by clicking here.  Simply fill in the blanks and mail it to the address indicated on the card.  
  • Credit Card:  You can set up a recurring contribution using a credit card by following the directions in the next section (below).  Setting up a recurring credit card payment automatically registers as a pledge, so there's no need to also send in a prayer card.
Options for sending in one-time or special contributions (without making a pledge):
  • Personal Check:  You can mail personal checks to:  MTW Donations, P.O. Box 116284, Atlanta, GA 30368-6284.  Always include "Sinks, acct #17143" somewhere on the check or memo line.
  • Automatic Draft:  It's easy to set up an auto draft from your checking or savings account.  Simply print out MTW's e-giving brochure by clicking here.  Fill in the blanks and send it to MTW along with a cancelled check.
  • Credit Card:  You can set up a one time or recurring contribution using your credit card by going here.

FAQ's

What if I'm unable to keep my pledge?
You can change it.  Ultimately, we'll trust God to raise up another donor to take your place.

How long will my pledge remain in effect?
Until you change it.

Now that you're on the field, do you really need new pledges?  What if I want to just send in a regular contribution.
There are many people who send regular contributions but haven't felt led to make a pledge. We're incredibly thankful for those folks, and they fill a great need every month. We never pressure anyone to pledge or give. However, making a pledge does help us plan and strengthens our sense of partnership with one another.

Will I receive a bill each month?
No, but you will receive a receipt each time you send a contribution.  That receipt also serves as a reminder to send in the next month's contribution.

Are contributions to MTW tax deductible?
Yes!  All contributions are tax deductible.  You will receive an official statement for your taxes at the end of each year.

I have another question...
Please feel free to contact us directly at grace4japan@gmail.com .  You may also visit the donor section of MTW's web page, which is located here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Do you want that TO GO?"

This is just a lighthearted story from a few weeks ago.  Maybe it'll provide a chuckle at our expense and also give you another peek into our lives here...

Thanksgiving Lunch with our Team
     It was the Friday night before Thanksgiving, and Gina had promised to make a green bean casserole for our team's thanksgiving lunch on Saturday afternoon.  In case you (like me) have never made a green bean casserole, you need to know that those crunchy onions on top are absolutely essential to the recipe.  This fact is important to the following story...as is the unhappy reality that the aforementioned crunchy onions are a little hard to find here in Japan.
     To put things into context, we were on our way home from a shopping trip where I'd reluctantly spent $7 each on light bulbs (yep, go back and read that again...it's not a typo).  Gina pointed out that she'd seen some fried onions on the bar at a local udon restaurant where we'd eaten lunch the day before.  She asked if I would please go inside and get an order of fried onions "to go" so she could use them on her casserole.  Probably that seems like a reasonable and simple request...but NOTHING in our lives is simple right now!  I immediately started thinking about the mental effort it'd take to communicate that I wanted those fried onions..."to go".  After having spent so much energy (and money) buying light bulbs, there was no way I was going to such trouble for a casserole.  I started shaking my head before Gina even finished her sentence.  I explained how the casserole would be just as good without the onions on top...in fact, I surmised that it might even be BETTER!
     As I walked from the car to the door of the udon shop, I opened up "Google Translate" on my smart phone and started to put a plan together.  I looked up the Japanese word for "box" (bo-ku-su) and rehearsed it a few times before walking in the door.  When the lady behind the counter looked my way, I smiled and said "konnichiwa!"  She obviously understood my greeting, and I felt a flood of confidence wash over me.  I proudly pointed to the onions, opened and closed my hands like I was holding a take-out box, and pointed from the onions to the front door, saying "bokusu, deska?"
     Yes, it's alright to laugh at me...it really did look as silly as it sounds.  The lady behind the counter was doing her best to keep a serious face and listen intently, but she didn't seem to understand.  So, I repeated myself a little slower (and probably a little louder, because that's what we Americans do when someone doesn't understand us).  She left me hanging for what seemed like an eternity...pretending not to understand.  Then, in very good English, she said, "Sir, are you saying you want the fried onions take-out???"  I smiled sheepishly and replied, "Yes...I'd like the onions take-out...thank you."  She turned around and told the man behind her to put some fried onions in a take out box.  Actually, I'm pretty sure she said a bit more than that based on how they all laughed after she finished!
     You'll be relieved to know that Gina's casserole turned out great and was a big hit at our team lunch.  In fact, the fried onions from the udon shop were even better than the canned ones she'd used in the past, and everyone wanted to know where they came from.  So, I expect this won't be my last trip to the udon shop for fried onions.  Next time, I'll just tell them I want an order of onions "take-out"!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Good Shepherd (Luke 15:1-7)

Each Sunday at Nisshin Christ Church, the sermon is translated into English in a manuscript that is available for those (of us) who don't yet speak Japanese.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach the Good News on a Sunday morning.  The manuscript for that sermon follows: 

The Good Shepherd

(Luke 15:1-7) Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Thank you again for the warm welcome you have shown our family. We also want to thank you for your patience with us as we begin to learn Japanese. Please know that we will work hard to learn to speak to you in your own language as soon as possible. We also want you to know that we feel very happy and honored that God has called us to serve with you in Nagoya, Japan. 

In the today’s passage, we see that “Tax Collectors” and “Sinners” were drawing near to Jesus, and the Jewish leaders were grumbling about it. They didn’t approve of how comfortable Jesus seemed to be with these kinds of people.

When reading the Gospels, it seems like Jesus enjoyed being with the kinds of people that most of us try to stay away from. These people liked Jesus, so they must have felt loved and accepted by him. In contrast, they were not drawn to the religious leaders of the day, because the religious people condemned them. 

Jesus told this parable along with the two which follow it, to respond to the objections of the Jewish leaders who were grumbling about the company he kept. It might be good for us to ask ourselves whether outsiders feel loved and accepted by us as they did by Jesus. However, this is not the main point that I want to make today.
This morning, I only have a little bit of time, because Takahashi san must translate for me. So, I want to point out just two things we can learn about Jesus from this parable of the lost sheep.

The first thing I want to point out from this parable is that Jesus is willing to Save His People from their Sins. 

Even though it is not obvious at first, this parable is about Jesus. He is the shepherd in this story. In John 10, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus often described himself as a shepherd, because the people living in that country were very familiar with shepherds and sheep. They all knew that a good shepherd was completely committed to the welfare of the sheep under his care. 

Since there are not many sheep in the part of the world where I am from, it has helped me to read about shepherds who lived in this area during this time. I've learned that these shepherds knew each sheep in their flock very well, and they loved them very much. When a sheep went missing, the shepherd recognized it quickly.

The sheep in this story is physically lost. She is out in the wilderness without food and water, and everyone listening knows that she will eventually die. The sheep in the story can’t save herself. She doesn't know the way back. Maybe she has wandered up a high mountain and doesn't know how to get back down. And it is possible that this sheep doesn't even know she’s lost. Oftentimes when an animal gets lost, it doesn't realize the danger it’s in until it’s too late. Maybe she’s been eating delicious grass and getting further and further from the care of the shepherd. And maybe there are dangerous predators and high cliffs all around. The lost sheep is in a terrible situation and in desperate need of help whether she’s aware of it or not! But there is hope for this sheep, because she belongs to a good shepherd who has noticed that she is missing. 

Again, remember that many of the people in the crowd were shepherds, so Jesus’ words were familiar to them. Look at verse 4 - “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the one that is lost until he finds is?” 

It is important to realize that the shepherd owns this particular lost sheep. This sheep is important to him. He loves her, and he is committed to recovering her. 

Our family has a little, white dog named Abby. One day, Abby wandered away from our home and was lost. We knew she was somewhere in our neighborhood, but we didn’t know where. So, each member of the family went a different way to look for Abby. And we searched until we found her because she was OUR dog and we loved her. While we were searching, I passed a sign with a picture of another lost dog. But I didn’t look for that dog, because she wasn’t my own. Our hearts broke for Abby and we were committed to finding her. 

Jesus is the good shepherd who knows each one of his sheep. They belong to him, and He is committed to finding them. The shepherd in the story represents Jesus, and the sheep represent his people.
The sheep in this story was physically lost. We are spiritually lost. The sheep in the parable was in grave danger. We are also in grave danger, because our sin is rebelling against the God who made us. And God has promised to punish sin. The sheep in this parable may not have even realized how bad her condition was. And maybe you came here today not realizing how bad your condition really is. The incredible, good news that Jesus is telling people is that even though they are lost and rebelling against God…and even if they do not realize it, yet…Christ is committed to finding them!

Maybe you aren't even sure that you are lost or that the God of the Bible even exists. It could be argued that this is a perfect definition of what it means to be lost. But there was hope for the sheep, because she had a good shepherd and so do we! God sent his only son. The true shepherd to rescue all of his lost sheep who are scattered out all over the world.

Just like the shepherd in the story was willing to leave the comfort of green pastors and go into the wilderness to rescue his lost sheep, Jesus was willing to leave his throne in Heaven and even suffer and die on a cross to rescue his people! So, one thing we see in this parable is that the Son of God is committed to saving each of his people from their sin. 

The Second thing I want to Point out from this Parable is that Heaven rejoices when the lost are found!

Please notice that the lost sheep didn't come wandering home full of shame. The shepherd didn't scold her when he found her. Instead, he celebrated! He wasn't angry with his lost sheep, he was full of joy that he had found her! The shepherd returned with his precious sheep on his shoulders, and he called his friends and neighbors and invited them to celebrate with him!

I realize that people celebrate in different ways. Some of us do so openly with singing and dancing and others are more reserved. But there is nothing reserved about the celebration that takes place in Heaven when Jesus recovers a lost person! Jesus says this: “In the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

There is so much good news in this parable! There is a God in Heaven who is willing and able to save sinners who are lost, and Heaven celebrates when that happens! At another place in the Bible, Jesus said, “I will lose none of those that the Father has given me but raise them up on the last day.” The Good Shepherd will not lose even one of his lost sheep!

This parable applies to you if you’re here this morning and you have never known Jesus. Maybe today, the good shepherd is finding you for the first time. Maybe you’re not even intellectually convinced that you are lost or that Christianity is true. Christ even comes for that kind of person, and many times he surprises them unexpectedly.

Maybe as you listen today you find yourself thinking, “I am not sure this is true, but oh how I wish it were true!” That could be the Holy Spirit working in your heart. Maybe the good Shepherd is already on his way to rescue you!

But this parable also applies to those of us who have been Christians for a long time. Sometimes Christians can become disconnected from God and he begins to seem far away. At other times, we return to living in ways that we know are displeasing to God or even worshipping other gods alongside of the true God. That is why I say that this parable also applies to Christians. It applies to Christians because Christ is the good shepherd who comes for his lost sheep again and again. He will never lose one of his own, not even you! 
You can never stray so far that you’re beyond his reach. You can never do something so terrible that his blood cannot save you. You can never move to a land where His is not the King! His power and love are infinite. He is faithful even when we are not.

I tell you this from experience, because He has come to find me many times. One was just last week after we moved here to Nagoya. I realized that my heart was cold, and my love for Christ was very small. Maybe it will be surprising to hear this from a new missionary, but I was not praying much, and the Scriptures seemed very dry to me. I was like the lost sheep…again. I prayed and asked Jesus to forgive me, and to come warm my cold heart…and he did! And it was like I could hear the music of the celebration in Heaven all over again. He has done this many times in my life. You see, I think I’m not a very good Christian most of the time. But Christ is a mighty savior. And he is patient…even with people like me.

And so, if you are here and have never had the joy of experiencing the saving power of the Good Shepherd, you should call out to him today. And if you are here and (like me) your heart has grown cold. You should call out to Jesus today. He loves to pick up lost sheep and carry them back into the fold. And when he comes, he doesn’t shame them…instead, lifts up on his shoulders and calls for Heaven to celebrate!

Let us have a moment of silent prayer, so we can each tell him what is on our hearts. Then, Wayne will close in prayer before we continue with our service.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Humbling to be so Needy

Members of Nisshin Church at the Fall picnic last Sunday
     These past few weeks have been very humbling for Gina and me.  We've gone from living in a place where we were mostly competent and self-sufficient to one where we're functionally illiterate, unable to communicate basic ideas, and as a result very needy.
     It's been getting cold outside, and last night I decided to fire up one of the kerosene heaters we'll use to warm the house this winter.  I went to the gas station, bought some kerosene (an adventure in itself), and then topped off the tank in the heater.  The heater itself is more complex than its US counterparts with buttons and digital readouts all over the front.  Of course, each button is clearly labeled...in Japanese!  I finally did get the heater to light, and it warmed the house nicely. However, I'm not sure which combination of things actually resulted in ignition, so I'll be starting from scratch tomorrow morning!
     Everything in our lives right now is like lighting that kerosene heater.  The buttons on the microwave oven and the washing machine are all written in Japanese - as is the owner's manual for our new (to us) Toyota van and the labels on everything in the grocery store.  It seems like we need help with almost everything!  By the way, this experience has given us a different perspective on some of our Spanish-speaking neighbors back home in Asheboro, but that's a blog entry for another day.
     So, through this transition, the Holy Spirit has been giving us a better view of our weakness.  At the same time, He's been mercifully providing for our daily needs through His Church here.  Our teammates and the Japanese Christians who attend Nisshin Christ Church have been so helpful and patient with us.  I'm pretty sure that someone from our team has spent time with us EVERY DAY over the past month.  When we've thanked them and apologized for taking so much of their time, they've assured us that helping us is their joy, and they're so pleased to have us here on the field.  We feel humbled and grateful for the welcome and constant help they've been to us.
     The Japanese Christians at Nisshin Church have also received us warmly.  Within 48 hours after our arrival, one of the church ladies knocked on our door to take Gina to the grocery store and teach her how to cook a Japanese-style meal.  Another lady took us to City Hall to register our address and then helped us open bank accounts.  Someone else spent their whole Saturday translating for us at the cell phone store to get us set up with phones, and a team of 3 ladies are taking turns meeting with us each week to help with basic language acquisition.  I could go on, but you get the idea.
     The Church here is very (very) small, but God has people here who've welcomed us with lavish generosity.  They're able to do that because they've experienced the lavish, welcoming love of God through Christ Jesus.  He received them when they were aliens and strangers because of their sin, and now they're showing a similar welcome to us.  It's a marvelous picture of God's grace drawn around our new-found weakness.
     I wish I could tell you that we'll be independent again in a few weeks, but that's probably not reality.  We'll need a lot of help (and prayer!) for a long time.  And in the process, God will get glory as He continues to show Himself strong through our weakness.  Thank you for praying to that end!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Encouraging words from John Piper (to language learners)

A friend pointed us toward this video from John Piper where he encourages missionaries who are in the process of learning a second language for the sake of communicating the Gospel.  I'm mainly posting it here so I'll have a convenient place to come back to it in the future.  However, maybe some of our friends in different places will be encouraged as well.

Grace and Peace!

Jeremy and Gina

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Two weeks in...

Joshua in front of our ride to Nagoya on 10/17/2012
Today marks the end of our second full week in Nagoya.  In fact, it was about this time 14 days ago that our wheels touched down at Chubu International Airport and we began the next phase of this adventure we've been on for the past two years.  In one way, it feels surreal to think that we've already been here so long.  It's even more surreal to think about how long it may be before we're back home...to realize that we are in fact home.

Our biggest challenges these past two weeks haven't had anything to do with the transition to Japan.   Everyone except Josiah has now been sick with what I'll call a bad, long-lasting, chest cold.  Lot's of coughing, low grade fevers, and generally feeling yucky.  And it seems it will never end (7-10 days to run its course).  Garrett, Joshua, and I are now on the mend, but Gina's still in the thick of it. 

On Sunday, we also got news that Gina's grandmother had passed away unexpectedly.  She had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous lesion on her liver, and she died of complications related to the surgery.  Up until that moment, Skype and email had seemed sufficient to keep some semblance of connection with family and friends at home. But technology can't give or receive a hug...and that's what everyone needed.  The cost of this calling began to feel a good bit heavier than it did before.

Our home for the next year or so...
In spite of sickness and sadness, we've also experienced a lot of joy these past few weeks.  When we arrived in our new home, there was already a card waiting for us from home.  Some precious friends took the time to write a note and sent it on ahead of us.  There was also a loaf of homemade banana bread in the fridge from our teammates here - along with a welcome note telling us how happy they all were to have us here.  That first Sunday at church was overwhelming in many ways, but there was a steady stream of people who approached us to introduce themselves and genuinely thank us for coming.  The Japanese Christians are conscious of the fact that we've made a big sacrifice to be here, and they come across as being very grateful.

These past few days, I've thought about how much of our ministry will be built on the foundation laid by those who've gone before us.  So much about our transition has gone smoothly because we're joining a team that's been on this field for a lot of years.  They were here to welcome us, stock our fridge...bake us banana bread.  They've planted a church where many of the members speak relatively good English, where there are friends for our boys, and where there's an elementary school for Garrett to attend.  The team has relationships with people all over Nagoya who trust them...and whom they can trust (trust is something that's incredibly important and hard to come by as foreigners in Japan)

Steps leading up to one of the many temples in our city
The current team inherited many of those relationships from teammates who plowed even harder soil before them and have long since retired or gone home to be with Jesus.  And before our missions agency (MTW) was ever born, there were Christian missionaries in Japan who were laying down their lives in the face of bloody persecution to bring the Good News to the Japanese.  There's such a legacy here, and it helps me to remember that we're now joining a work that the Church has been laboring at for many hundreds of years.  More importantly, it's a work that the Holy Spirit has been doing long before we sensed His calling to come.  It's moved quite slowly to this point...only God knows what lays ahead.  But we feel honored to be here to play some small part in bringing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this dark land.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Travel Notice...

Jeremy will be at our denomination's General Assembly in Louisville, KY between June 17-22.  If you're in (or near) Louisville that week and would like to connect, you can reach him at 336.308.9859 or jwsink@grace4japan.com.  He'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Update on Our Family

The following is an exert from our June 2012 newsletter.  If you'd like to download a copy of entire piece, you can do so here.  You can also add yourself to our mailing list to begin receiving copies of our newsletter in your inbox.

Overall, our family is doing well right now. Of course, Gina and I are tired of always asking for money – and we’re certainly ready to get on with what God has called us to do in this next season of our lives. If you think about it, we’ve been in the process of “leaving” for almost 2 years now, and that’s getting old. At the same time, the slow transition has been good for our family in many ways. Joshua, in particular is doing better than ever. He’s talking about Japan openly and even smiling about it sometimes when he thinks no one will notice (just don’t point it out to him)! Josiah and Garrett remain excited and are anxious to get on with the adventure ahead.

Everyone in the family is sensing that time is growing short, and we’re looking at familiar things with the perspective that we may not see them again for a long time. That was true while I walked home from the Coffee Xchange earlier this week and thought about how Asheboro probably won’t be our home for much longer. That made me sad, but then the Holy Spirit reminded me that Asheboro has never been our home – neither was Lexington. The home that we were made for is still waiting for us. It’s the place our hearts are really longing for – where goodbyes will be over forever, and there won’t be any need for missionaries to leave friends & family to fly to far off places with the Gospel. Thank you for praying for us so faithfully all these months. God is answering your prayers…both the financial ones and the ones that are more personally directed toward our family during this long time of leaving. Thank you!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

70 by 21: Seventy New Laborers by the Year 2021

The following article written by Eileen Lass in the newsletter, FYI4, Feb 2012, vol 1.  To read the entire newsletter, click here.  You can reach Eileen at LassProofer@yahoo.com.

 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two [some manuscripts say seventy] others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Luke 10:1-2)

Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) to go ahead of him, and told them to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. In 1881, Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland missionaries for China by the close of 1884; he got 76. 

It seemed good to us, and we trust to the Holy Spirit, to pray together for 70 new laborers (35 missionaries and 35 Japanese) to serve in the harvest field of Japan by the year 2021. We want to keep before you, our supporters, this 70 by 21 Vision. Each issue of this newsletter (beginning with the next one) will give a visual of how many new workers are identified, approved, trained, fully supported and on the field so we can see the progress as God answers our prayers. Will you join us in praying for the seventy?

*** Would you like to receive future editions of FYI4 and keep up with this story?  If so, send me an email.  I'll make sure you're added to the distribution list!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How God Called Us to Japan (part 3 of 3)

A quick review:  In my first two posts, I shared how God used two seemingly minor episodes to call Gina and me to pursue cross cultural missions.  In part 1, I described our move from rural Randolph County into the city - and how opportunities for ministry increased based on the increased needs in our community.  In part 2, I wrote about how God used a pastor in Lithuania to open our eyes to the need for Christian leaders in unreached countries.  Now, let me explain why we believe God is specifically leading us to Japan.

After our return from Eastern Europe in 2008, cross-cultural missions began to dominate our conversations.  For the first time, Gina and I began to seriously consider whether God was calling our family to go to the mission field.  This was a big change from how we'd previously seen our life-calling, so we invited insight from trusted friends.  The first place we turned was to our elders at Grace Fellowship.  I told them the whole story, assured them that we had not yet reached a decision, and invited them to join us in seeking God's will - both for our family and Grace Fellowship.

Wayne and Amy Newsome
With our elders help, we developed a plan to help us test and discern God's leading.  Part of that plan included attending a missions retreat where missionaries from all over the world shared about their respective fields.  That's where we met Wayne & Amy Newsome and heard about their work in Japan for the first time.  We loved hearing about missions in Japan, but we were especially struck by the Newsome's willingness to share openly about their failures on the field.  While Amy was speaking, Gina leaned over and whispered, "...if I could work with anyone in this room, it'd be that couple!"  I laughed out loud and replied, "Honey, you're never going to work with the Newsomes...I'm not sure where God is leading us, but I'm sure it's NOT Japan!"  I'm pretty sure God's throne room erupted in laughter at that moment!

As we sought God's face, two things became increasingly clear.  First, we grew very secure that God was calling us to leave Asheboro and become cross-cultural church planters.  Secondly, we grew confident that God wasn't leading us to work in Eastern Europe.  At first, we felt confused, because we'd assumed that if God were calling us to missions, He must want us in Latvia or Lithuania.  But slowly, it dawned on us that we were feeling drawn to a particular "job description" rather than a specific place.  We felt like our greatest contribution would be made on a field where:
  1. A team was in place and had already established a healthy, local church.
  2. The team was ready to plant a 2nd generation of "daughter churches" in the city.
  3. There was a seminary (or equivalent) to help train future national pastors and leaders.
Nisshin Christ Church, Nagoya, Japan
We imagined that our "dream scenario" would be hard to find, and were surprised to learn that it actually exists in countries all over the world!  MTW plants churches and is committed to raising up national pastors and elders to lead those congregations.  The organization has been at this for several decades, so it wasn't hard to find a team at exactly the stage we were dreaming about.

Christ Bible Institute, Nagoya, Japan
Most notably for us, the above pieces all come together on the team I said I'd never join!  The Newsomes' team in Nagoya had already planted Nisshin Christ Church and founded Christ Bible Seminary.  They were ready to launch several daughter churches throughout the city and had been actively asking God to send new team members to do so!  There were also many other factors that made the team a good fit for our family, but space won't allow me to list them all here!  I finally gave in and admitted what was obvious to everyone except me...God was leading us to Japan!

Since then, we've come to understand our calling in a much fuller way.  The Japanese people make up the world's largest unreached people group with less than 0.5% professing faith in Christ.  Unlike much of Europe, Japan has never been extensively reached with the Gospel, and missions tend to move very slowly.  Over the last decade, the astronomical cost of living combined with slow progress have caused many missions organizations to abandon Japan altogether (a 24% decline in Western missionaries in the 7 years prior to the tsunami).  In the meantime, MTW has been adding teams.

Last year's tsunami served to strengthen our sense of calling to Japan.  Unity among evangelical churches and opportunities for church planting have never been greater.  All of our teams are pushing out, and we're hearing good reports form the field.  We're amazed at God's wisdom and timing in calling in reinforcements a year before the tsunami.  Our trajectory was already set, and the need on the field has never been greater!

So, that's how God called has us to Nagoya.  It's not especially dramatic - no bright lights or booming thunder.  The experience has been more like the gradual change from darkness to light just before dawn.  Through divine providence, the Spirit has slowly and steadily turned on the lights for us and solidified our sense of calling to Japan.

And maybe God - in His providence - is leading you to partner with us in this journey.  We believe God has called us to move to Nagoya and plant churches among the world's largest unreached people group, but we can't do that on our own.  Our two greatest needs are (1) prayer and (2) financial support (in that order).  Right now, God has raised up an army individuals who are praying for us regularly.  If you'd like to join that group and receive regular prayer updates, you can register at www.news.grace4japan.com.  If you'd like to partner with us financially during our first term, you can communicate that desire by using this form.  As of this writing (April 20, 2012), God has already raised up financial partners who have pledged 80% of our budget, and we're prepared to move to the field as soon as the remaining 20% is pledged!  Thanks for your prayerful consideration!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Church Planting in the Wake of the Quake: Praying for a Tsunami of Grace

The following article was written by Eileen Lass in the newsletter, FYI4, Feb 2012, vol 1.  To read the entire newsletter, click here.  You can reach Eileen at LassProofer@yahoo.com.

     The greatest need of the tsunami-devastated area in northern Japan (called Tohoku) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some 20,000 people were killed by the tsunami. This rightly saddens us so much. But 32,000 people committed suicide last year in Japan. This happens every year. 320,000 Japanese have killed themselves over the last decade.
     127 million Japanese people desperately need the HOPE of the gospel of Jesus Christ. More than 99% are non-Christian. Some estimate that fewer than 5% have ever heard the message of Jesus in an understandable, even brief, way.  Yes, the greatest MERCY MINISTRY we can do in Japan is bringing the gospel of hope. And, the best way to bring this gospel to Northern Japan is by STARTING HEALTHY, REPRODUCING CHURCHES!
     March 11, 2011 brought a triple disaster to Japan unprecedented in the history of the world with the 9.0 earthquake, huge devastating tsunami, and the resulting nuclear disaster. MTW Japan immediately responded together with our Japanese partners in a large relief and recovery effort that continues today. 2,700 Christians and churches have given more than $1.4 million through MTW to help us bring relief and recovery to the people of northern Japan (see below).
     Now we urgently need to follow this ongoing mercy ministry with church planting in the devastated region. God has used relief efforts to make many people more receptive to Christians, and some people more receptive to our Christ. We are developing a 10-year plan with our Presbyterian Church in Japan (PCJ) partners to plant a presbytery in North Japan as we pray and work towards a Biblical church planting movement (CPM).
     We need funds to send the first Japanese church planters north to begin more intentional evangelism and church planting ministry in tandem with the ongoing relief, recovery, and rebuilding ministry. Without funding it is very difficult to recruit for this effort that needs to begin immediately. Church planting soon in partnership with the ongoing mercy ministry and relief teams from Japan and abroad would be ideal.
     The earthquake brought devastating tsunami waves (many over 100 feet high) to 300 miles of the Japanese coast. We are now praying for an even more powerful TSUNAMI OF GRACE to flow
over this most resistant part of Japan that has so little gospel witness and so few churches. This wave will not come in one day like the March 11th tsunami. We are committed to persevering in this huge effort for northern Japan over the next ten years. But we do need to start immediately with the first church plants. 
     Often we hear of ministries that can't keep going due to lack of funding. We fully believe God will provide all the funding we need for this new ministry, but even with 100% of the finances, the ministry of church-planting in Tohoku can't get off the ground without MINISTERS. We are looking for people who will commit to pray DAILY that the Lord of the harvest will raise up church planters for this project, both missionary and Japanese. Will you join us?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How God Called Us to Japan (part 2)

Note:  This is part 2 of a 3-part series.  Click here to read part one...

During October 2008, Gina and I had the opportunity to join a team from Mission to the World on a "vision trip" to Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania.  MTW has several church planters in that region surrounding the Baltic Sea, and the trip was an opportunity to see the works and pray for the missionaries in person.

To say the trip impacted us is a great understatement.  Over 10 days, we visited three church plants in Sweden, spent time with MTW church planters Carl and Becky Chaplin in Riga, Latvia, and heard a presentation by one of MTW's national partners in Vilnius, Lithuania.  At every stop, we were struck by the great opportunities for the Gospel as well as the recurring need for more missionaries.  Jesus' words in Luke 10:2 came to life in new ways:  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

In Stockholm, I had the joy of leading a Bible study made up of young professionals who dreamed of planting a new church in that city.  I don't remember the passage I taught from, but I do remember the expressions on their faces - how open and hungry they were for God's Word.  I also remember their gratitude.  They were so grateful for our willingness to travel so far to spend an evening with them in God's Word.

The time we spent in Riga was especially memorable, and we were captured by the stage of the work in that country.  MTW partners with several Latvian pastors who'd already established two churches in the city.  They'd also founded a seminary called Baltic Reformed Theological Seminary to train new leaders for church planting throughout the whole region.  Although Gina and I weren't looking for a new job, we talked about how we could see ourselves contributing to the work in Riga.

On the last day of the trip, we visited Vilnius to hear about the state of the Church in that country.  Most of the Lithuanian ministers (at least those in our circles) are very old and nearing retirement.  A dear brother named Algamonte shared with us about the need for Christian leaders in Lithuania.  As he closed his presentation, he became emotional and said, "My friends, the fields here are so ripe for the Gospel.  If I had 10 men who would simply read my sermon manuscript before a group each week, I could plant 10 new churches next year!"  At that moment, Gina and I looked at each other, and I think we both knew that our lives were taking an unexpected turn.

On the flight home, we talked at length about our experiences in light of Algamonte's challenging statement - which was still ringing in our ears.  Algamonte was praying for 10 "manuscript-readers" and no one was willing to come.  I imagined that if I resigned my position at Grace Fellowship, at least that many men would apply to take my place.  In our own denomination, there are more trained leaders than pulpits and I was occupying one of those.  Was I really in the place where I could be of maximum benefit to Christ's Church?  More importantly, might God be leading us to move?

During the coming months, the trip continued to dominate our conversations.  Gina and I found ourselves wrestling with how over-staffed the American Church is when compared to the ones we'd seen in the Baltic region.  Here, we have the luxury of choosing a particular church based on the personality of the pastor and the style of music in the worship service.  In Stockholm, Vilnius, and Riga there are only a handful of Gospel-proclaiming churches in he whole city!  And those have limited resources and very few members who are qualified to teach or offer spiritual leadership.

We also took stock of our own ministry here in central North Carolina and thought about how small our impact has been.  Don't write that off as hopelessness or false-humility.  We know God has used us, and He's done some big things in people's lives through us.  We rejoice in that and don't take it for granted.  At the same time, the church in America will barely notice when we leave.  There are hundreds of Christian leaders who are ready, willing, and able to fill any small gaps we leave...that's just reality.  In contrast, the Church in a country like Lithuania (or Japan!) may be forever changed by our coming.  It's just another example of the same lesson God taught us after we moved from our house in the country (from part 1 of this series).  If Gospel-opportunities increased based on a relatively small into the city, how much might they increase if we went to a place with a much greater need?

As I shared all this with a friend over coffee one day, I asked him to pray that God would make his will clear to Gina and me.  His response jolted me when he said, "Brother, it sounds to me like He's already been clear.  And it sounds to me like you've already left."  I knew he was right.  I'm pretty sure we made the decision while Algamonte was sharing his heart with us that day in Vilnius.

I realize I promised to tell you how God called us to JAPAN and so far I've barely mentioned that country.  As I shared in my first article, the Spirit used several small, related stories to send us across the Pacific.  Ultimately, He used a trip to Eastern Europe to open our eyes to the need for Christian leaders to move overseas for the sake of Christ's Kingdom.  As we wrestled with that, we always assumed He was calling us to Riga or Vilnius.  In retrospect, He simply used that trip to loosen our grip on ministry in America.  He was leading us to Nagoya all along, but that part of the story will have to wait for now.  There's still one more chapter to go...

(To be continued)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Post-Tsunami Update (1 year later)

The following are highlights from Bruce and Susan Young's most recent prayer update that we received this week.  Bruce was born in Japan while his parents were serving as long-term missionaries, and the Youngs have focused their whole lives on church planting in Japan.  Note that words in parenthesis are mine.

Dear Friends:

On March 11 it will be exactly one year since the catastrophic 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan, causing massive destruction. Looking over these past 12 months we see the terrible effects it has had in four areas—physical damage, emotional damage, nuclear damage and economic damage:
  1. The tsunami which was at some places 90 feet high, killed over 15,000 lives! And there are 3,320 still missing; it will take 245 billion dollars for reconstruction;
  2. Emotional damage that resulted in increased suicides, depression and emotional stress (throughout 2011 earthquakes continue to shake Japan—there were over 19,000 earthquakes in the 3.0 category and 2200 5.0-5.9 magnitude quakes!)
  3. Exposure to nuclear radiation and the shut down of the power plant which resulted in the loss of 20% of Tokyo’s electricity and the scare of contamination of food, water and the air.
  4. It was a blow to the all ready hurting Japanese economy by the loss of production and increased debt from having to pour money into repairing the infrastructure and care for the affected people.
Could there possibly be anything positive come out of such a tragedy? Yes, (here are) four ways God is using this:
  1. The evangelical church has become unified in their efforts to work together to reach the affected areas.
  2. Our Presbyterian denomination has committed to starting several (new) churches (which will form a new presbytery) in one of the least churched areas of Japan!
  3. The reputation of Christians in Japan has taken a turn for the good. Many Japanese are impressed at the unconditional help and concern shown by Christians to those suffering from the tsunami.
  4. Local churches have become visible in their community. Neighbors have entered churches for the first time to bring contributions to be sent north for relief work!
How You Can Pray:  Pray that God will use the one year anniversary of the terrible tsunami in the ways listed above—that the testimony of the church would be a means for many to hear the gospel and turn from fear, apathy, loneliness, discontent to the Lord Jesus Christ!


Bruce and Susan Young
MTW Spiritual Life and Japan

To see the whole prayer update in its original, unedited form, click here.  If you'd like to get in touch with the Youngs to ask questions or partner with them in their work, you may email them at Bruce.Young@mtw.org .

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How God Called us to Japan (part 1)

To tell the whole story story about how God called us to Japan, I'd have to start all the way back in high school even though foreign missions wasn't a blip on my radar screen at the time.  For now, share a few of the most recent threads that the Holy Spirit has been weaving together to call us to cross-cultural missions.  Maybe I'll tell the earlier story at a later date - like George Lucas did with Star Wars.  :-)

The truth is, Gina sensed God calling us to missions long before me, and I became very skilled at diverting the subject whenever she brought it up.  My favorite technique was to patronize her by implying that she was naive and hadn't counted the cost of foreign missions.  Gina is definitely not a "bugs, snakes, and mud-hut" sort of girl, so it was helpful to inject those images into the conversation as soon as possible.  Truth be known, I had no intentions of entertaining the idea of serving as a missionary outside the U.S.

Not long after moving to Asheboro, God opened the door for us to purchase the sort of home we'd always wanted.  The house wasn't especially big, but it was private and sat on 4.5 wooded acres out in the County.  There was plenty of room for our boys to run, we had a couple of big dogs, and when the leaves were on the trees, we couldn't even see our closest neighbors.  For an introvert like me, it felt like a taste of things to come in glory, and we imagined being happy there for the long haul.

The house's one drawback was that it had three floors.  The children's bedrooms were upstairs, and the washing machine was in the basement.  Given the ages of our boys and the prolific amount of laundry, Gina climbed stairs all day long...and her knees started to bother her.  In 2007 we realized we needed to move.

It's hard to remember exactly how the Holy Spirit got the drop on us.  Of course, we were praying about a new house - which is to say we were asking God to provide a similar house with fewer burdensome steps.  Then, at some point, one of us injected a new idea into the mix.  Maybe we should ask God where HE wanted us move instead of telling Him where WE wanted to move.  At the time, that seemed very spiritual and rather harmless, so we went with it.

As we prayed in that way, our priorities began to change, and we grew convinced that we should be looking for a house in the city(*) rather than the country.  Probably, this doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, but it was huge shift for us.  And like God loves to do, He used that seemingly insignificant course adjustment to lead us in a drastically different direction for the future. 

To make a long story short, we settled on a house in town.  It was overgrown and run down – a real project.  Our "dream house" wasn't hard to sell, and we accepted an offer less than 12 hours after putting it on the market!  We had to find a home for one of our two dogs, because we no longer had space for two big animals - and the boys complained about losing the woods.  But the move was a great experience for our family.

We didn't have many close friends out in the country.  Our neighbors were all very nice and had values similar to our own.  They were glad to help out if you were in a bind, but (like us) they valued their privacy - that's why we all chose to live out there.  If we volunteered to help with an event at the boys' elementary school, they were happy to put us to work...but there were plenty of people available to help and the needs weren't all that great.

By contrast, our home on Holly Street is only a few blocks from Donna Lee Loflin Elementary School.  I walk to school with my boys every morning, and we always stop to talk to someone along the way.  There are a lot of needs in the school and community, and teachers celebrate when parents offer to help.  We know our neighbors and count them as good friends.  They're ready to help if we need it, but they also stop mowing the lawn to talk about life.  Things are louder here than out in the country, and they're certainly not private.  But we regularly interact with people who look and think differently from us.  People want to interact with one another, so there are more opportunities to build friendships, to serve, and to share the Good News of Jesus than we ever experienced in the privacy of our previous home.

It probably sounds like we're thrilled to live right where God has us (and we are).  Maybe you wonder why we'd move again when God is obviously blessing us in our current location...

We've come to realize that this move wasn't an end in itself.  Rather, it's been an intermediate step in God's larger purpose for our lives.  Instead of finding ourselves "satisfied" with life on Holly Street, the move here has only served to whet our appetites for more.  Living on Holly Street has led us to ask this question:  "If Gospel-opportunities have increased after a simple move into the city, what if we moved to a place where the need for the Gospel is even greater?"

Asheboro is full of people who need to hear the Good News of Christ, but there also are a lot of Christians here.  Statistically there's a church in our county for every 400 residents!  What if we were to move to a place like Nagoya where less than 0.5% of the population knows Jesus and where there's only one Christian church for every 22,000 people?  What if we relocated and lived the remainder of our lives among the largest unreached people group on the globe?  I wonder how Gospel opportunities would increase just based on our new zip code (assuming they have those in Japan)!

Of course, it took some time to even start asking these sorts of questions.  We were content following our move into town, and we expected to spend many more years leading Grace Fellowship.  But God was also weaving some other strands into the tapestry of our lives...

(to be continued)     click here to read part 2


(*) - city is used here in the loosest possible sense.  Yes, I'm referring to Asheboro, NC rather than New York (or Nagoya)!  God used a move into a city with a small "c" as a stepping stone to a city with a big "C".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The "Sew Busy Ladies" are still at it!

 A year ago, I wrote an article about a sewing group here in Asheboro that was using their talents to support Christian missions in the community and around the world.  The group meets at the home of our friend, Emily, who founded the group.  Besides loving our family really well, The Sew Busy Ladies are supplying blankets to several crisis pregnancy centers and shelters, they've made countless dresses for little girls in a poverty-stricken country in Africa, and they've recently sent a shipment of items to some MTW missionaries in Haiti.  Just like our friend Mary Spaar who founded "Gnomes 4 Japan" in response to last year's tsunami, God is using this group of ladies (+ one notable gentleman) in marvelous ways to expand Christ's Kingdom and care for the poor and orphaned.
 A couple of weeks ago, Emily called to invite Gina and me to come by on a "sewing night" because the ladies had a surprise for us.  On that evening, they presented us with this beautiful quilt.  Each group member made two of the squares on the quilt - and they even used a couple of Gina's squares that they somehow acquired!  The quilt will have an honored place in our new home in Japan.  Of course, we'll cherish it because of the friendship it represents, but it also reminds us that God loves to use ordinary, weak people to accomplish his purposes around the world - and that means there's hope that he'll use our family in some big ways, too!

If you live near Asheboro and would like to get in touch with the Sew Busy Ladies, feel free to send me an email.  They're always looking for new members, and previous sewing ability isn't required (they love to teach).  They're also looking for some space that would allow them to expand their efforts.  They'd be happy for you to ask God to provide that!