2 Baptisms This Month!

God’s love is amazing! Last week we got to see just a little of the breadth of it when M-San was baptized into the family of God. She had been coming to our church on and off for about 2 years, but long before that the Almighty chose to set his heart on this unremarkable young lady living in “the most boring city” on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. Like all of us, she was completely opposed to his love and ambivalent about his existence. Throughout her life God has been patiently pursing her through friends and seemingly coincidental experiences until finally he opened her eyes and her hard heart was melted by his kindness. It’s amazing to see how far God’s grace reaches.

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The other baptism this week is one that could have gone unnoticed, one I was tempted not to tell you about. You see, the girl that was baptized on Sunday is not Japanese. She’s American. She’s also an infant.

I know that infant baptism may be a contentious subject for some of you, but every time I see one it is a beautiful reminder to me of the undeserving nature of God’s grace, and this one was no exception.

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Before the baptism, Riva and I were teaching Sunday School where we read in the Jesus Storybook Bible about Jesus’ about God’s love for children:

“…children loved Jesus, and they knew that they didn’t need to do anything special for Jesus to love them…’No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my kingdom.'”

And so Jesus sets up children as the archetypal kingdom citizen. They’ve got nothing to offer and nothing to prove. They just receive God’s love. And that’s why this baby just laid there as the water was poured over her. Like the rest of us, she couldn’t do anything but receive God’s love. God delights to welcome this infant into his family based on nothing but her parents’ faith (Genesis 17:7, Acts 2:39), awaiting the day when she’ll embrace the covenant from her own heart. That’s how deep his love goes! Eyes began to fill with tears as our pastor prayed for Japanese kids to no longer have to hear the gospel from a stranger, but to grow up in homes where they hear the gospel everyday. He prayed that our grandchildren and great grandchildren might grow up having never known a day without Jesus. I long for that day as well!

God showed his undeserved kindness when he took our friend born into a Buddhist home on the other side of the world and grafted her into the family of God. He reminded us that his mission is geographical. He also showed his undeserved kindness when he placed this child in a Christian family and made her an heir of his grace. That’s because his mission is generational as well! Thank you for being “on mission” with us as we seek out the young and overlooked all over Asia and attempt to display the heart of God to them.

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Our All Nations Fellowship Church family after M-San’s baptism

A Gospel Presence in Japan’s Least Reached Prefecture

When we first arrived in Japan four years ago, we met a young seminary student who smiled with his eyes, played the bass like a pro, painted beautiful artwork, and whose love for Jesus overflowed. His name was Nozomu. Fast forward a few years and we have had the privilege of teaching him in our next gen ministry courses, singing along while he proposed to his beautiful girlfriend, sitting under his preaching at ANF, and sending him out from our church to plant a new one in the least reached prefecture in Japan.

 

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Shoko, Nozomu, and their son Colin introducing us to “the most beautiful Starbucks in Japan.”

This past weekend we drove from one coast of Japan to the other so that Brooks could preach at Trinity Church Toyama, the church Nozomu has planted directly across the street from a college campus in the heart of the biggest city in the prefecture (state). When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was that their worship space was filled with Nozomu’s artwork. There was a cafe in the back and people were sitting on cozy couches preparing meat for their weekly Sunday lunch together. When Nozomu first arrived he knew no one, but that morning two of the first people there were English teachers whom God has provided to help lead a bi-monthly English cafe night outreach event.

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In Kansui Park in front of Starbucks (with Japanese Alps in the background)

Just before the service began, they pulled the projector screen up to reveal a white board FULL of the names of people (mostly nonbelievers) who had attended an event at the church. They spent time praying for each person by name, asking God to work in their hearts and give them faith. The friendship and love growing inside that room was palpable. People in search of community are finding Trinity Church to be a refuge, and that heart of welcome is beginning to spill out into the community of Toyama and make God’s name famous in that city. We’re told that Nozomu often has to kick people out in the evenings so he can go home and be with his family, because they just don’t want to leave.

 

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After preaching and leading worship each week, Nozomu also cooks lunch for everyone!

It’s an exciting problem to have, but Nozomu and Shoko are tired. There are not a lot of leaders in the church to offer support. Nozomu is working a lot of hours shepherding the congregation by himself, preaching weekly, and leading worship. They have a new baby and Shoko will begin her medical residency next month. Please pray for them!  Please pray also for the new class of seminary students just like Nozomu who will graduate next week and move out into the places God is preparing for them. We feel the earth (and our hearts!) swelling with excitement as the Gospel breaks into places that we had heard were impossible to penetrate. As we start to pack up our bags and prepare for a year in the States, this is just one more way that God is overwhelming us with how much He is doing in Japan.

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Quinn and Marley in front of some of Nozomu’s artwork advertising the Church’s presence.

A peek behind the curtain

The last 4 years in Japan haven’t always been booming with fruit in ministry. At times we’ve felt impotent, illiterate, and aimless. But sometimes God graciously peels the curtain back to allow us to see the amazing story he is writing behind the scenes -one that ends with countless people from all over the world worshiping at the feet of Jesus.

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Friday night we had one of those moments. We were at our monthly youth outreach party, one that we had considered canceling. There was a movie night at the school and we expected attendance to be low, but it wasn’t! In fact, someone had to go get more rice to make sure everyone was fed.

At one point a kid got out his tablet and started Facetiming a friend. Brooks almost called him down for not participating in the group activity until he recognized the voices on the other end of the line. It was a group of guys our students met at Adventure Camp last summer who live 7 hours away. These guys had formed a special bond and had continued to communicate and encourage one another completely on their own (unbeknownst to us).

As the conversation continued, we discovered that they weren’t the only people on the line. They were at their own youth gathering! Instead of sitting at home and watching Netflix because no one showed up to our event, we were getting a foretaste of heaven! In a country where not many people know Jesus, 2 groups of young people were hearing the gospel, 7 adults were investing in them, MKs from 2 different mission agencies were among them, at least 4 different nationalities were represented, and our 1 God was getting all the glory!

As I was sitting back trying to soak up the moment, I turned around and realized that our pastor (who allows us to use his house for youth group) was sitting at the kitchen table with one of the Japanese moms having Bible study. They both had their Bibles out and she was not holding back as she asked him deep questions about Scripture and the implications for her life.

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This was one of those moments – a moment where God pulled back the curtain and allowed us to see some of the amazing things He’s doing to expand his kingdom both geographically and generationally. We are so thrilled be a small part of this ministry and are thankful for the part you play as well! Most of all, we’re thankful that God’s in charge of it, and are excited to see what He will continue to do even while we’re away.

New Year Musings – Bearing Fruit

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God knows what He is doing. When are my Japanese friends going to finally experience the good news of the gospel? When is this kid I’ve been ministering to going to quit being so difficult? What is God waiting on? Doesn’t He care?

Then I go through my list of complaints with God – You’re so incompetent (no, that’s not true), uncaring (nope, not that either), slow… oh, that’s right – He’s just patient. So much more patient than I am! And come to find out, the main thing he’s waiting on is my own stubborn heart. Over the past few years, I have mistakingly called “slow” what is really a methodical, surgically precise vine-dresser intent on bearing fruit not just THROUGH us, but IN us as well.

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I wish we could say we’ve arrived, but we’re starting to realize that it’s going to be a lifelong process, this cycle of God intentionally frustrating our plans in order to bring us to repentance, faith, and deeper delight. There’s no other way to experience the vastness of the love of Jesus – the depth and height and breadth of his provision – than to keep coming back every hour for more.

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And all the waiting and pruning has not been in vain. As my own heart is changing and I’m learning to confess more of my weakness and disbelief, other people are opening up, too. Kids I’ve been hanging out with since I got here are finally starting to share what’s really going on in their hearts. We are seeing the Holy Spirit bearing fruit in all of our lives.

Some of it’s dramatic like the 6 baptisms we witnessed this last year, or students who were previously disengaged now saying that they don’t want to miss chapel because they really need to hear what God has to say about things. Some of it is more subtle, like the way I can now pick up where I left off with an MK from Tokyo (because we’ve actually become a steady enough presence in his life), or the fact that when we host a youth event there are other adults who show up to invest in the lives of our students (because they’ve caught the vision).

Fruit grows slow, but I have a feeling the Vine-dresser’s not looking at His watch like I am. I bet He’s looking at us and celebrating the fruit. I’m praying that I can be more like Him this year.

Year-End Giving and Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again, the time where you’ve got tons of extra money lying around and are trying to find a good charitable place to donate to for tax purposes…

…We want to help you out! Here are a few ideas:

  1. You can support our ministry by buying an awesome Next Asia-Pacific T-shirt for you or someone you love! All proceeds go directly to our team account to help fund scholarships, book translation, and other ministry events. Don’t wear t-shirts, but want to donate anyway? Click here to donate to our team account, or here to donate to our personal account.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-4-16-25-pm2. Our friend and recent seminary graduate Nozomu Kawakami has planted a church in a nearby city. He is an exceptionally talented artist and has created a one of a kind calendars with original paintings and scripture. You can order a calendar which will remind you to pray for his church plant and all money for calendars will go directly to his ministry! Support Trinity Church in Toyama!

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3.

Hope in the midst of Godlessness

I remember the days when I used to hear a cheesy song on the Christian radio station and cringe, or spot a billboard that claims to be a message from God and wonder what non-Christians thought about that. Nowadays, I’d give my left arm for an accidental, even cheesy reminder of God’s presence in my everyday life. That sort of stuff just doesn’t exist here.

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Our family in front of the coliseum

I felt the spiritual void even more keenly as we traveled to Malta and Rome this month for a conference and family vacation. We visited the Island where the Apostle Paul was reportedly shipwrecked on his way to stand trial before Caesar, the jail cell where the Apostle Peter was held before his execution, and the Roman Colosseum that was built on the backs of Jewish slaves who had just had their temple destroyed by the powerful Roman Empire. We visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel where we were caught up in the reality of the final judgment and other biblical narratives. We were literally standing within the true story of the world – past and present. In that moment, I realized how hungry my soul was for realty as God describes it, instead of the narrative Japanese culture tells me daily – there is no God, we’re here by chance, education money and sex can make life more bearable, there are gods that can help you a little as long as you make them happy, but the best you can do is keep your head down, do your best, and try not to bother people.

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The prison where Paul was probably imprisoned in Rome

At the same time, I was encouraged. Rome wasn’t always a Christian museum. It used to be more like a tomb for Christians. How afraid the first Christians must have been preaching a crucified Messiah with such a powerful nation breathing down their backs! They were small in number, constantly in danger, and living in a world that preached the Greek and Roman meta-narrative to them each day. In light of these realities, how in the world did Rome become the birthplace of the Catholic Church?

Only the faithfulness of God can explain it! – faithfulness to his rebellious creation, faithfulness to his chosen people throughout the ages, and faithfulness to his Son. He has promised Jesus a multi-racial, multi-national, multi-splendored, part Japanese bride. And His honor is at stake, so He won’t stop until she is gathered, mature and beautiful. If that doesn’t give us hope in a godless nation like this, nothing will!

This is the way that God answered your prayers for refreshment and encouragement during our time in Europe. Thanks for praying and don’t stop!

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A memorial to Paul where he was probably ship wrecked in Malta.

Two things to pray for this week!

The Theology of Next Gen. Ministry Course begins on Monday November 7! Please pray for us and our students. It’s only takes a spark to start a wildfire of passion for the next gen. We want to see every church in Japan evangelizing and discipling the students in their communities. Please pray for our time with our boss man, Eric Larsen, as we all three teach this course.

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Also November 10 our friend and teammate Rachel Bauserman will land in Nagoya!! Please join us in praising God for raising all of her financial needs and sending her to join us here. Also please pray for Rachel as she settles in Nagoya and continues to look for an apartment.

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Twinning with Rachel in Malta.

Retreat week: please pray!

The first week of October (THIS WEEK!) there are two big events happening at the same time that we would love for you to pray for: The GYFM team retreat and the “East Asia” team retreat.


On the plane to Malta with Rivas parents (who came to watch the girls) and the Radkes (our newest GYFM team members)

(1) The GYFM retreat (Oct 4-11) in Malta (woohoo!) is a time for us to rest, reconnect with our teammates from all over the globe, be fed by the Lord, led by him, and strategize together about how we can better reach young people for his glory! Please pray specifically for God to do each of those things next week!


The view from our hotel during our 12 hour layover in Rome!

(2) The East Asia team retreat in Thailand is going on at the same time this year. People from all over that big red country are gathering to do the same sorts of things we’re doing as a team – rest, pray, reflect, plan – and they are bringing their kids along with them. So, we have two associates from the States going to minister to their families – Matt and Ruthanne. Please be praying for these students’ hearts to be open to the love and good news that our associates will be serving up. Pray also for Matt and Ruthanne as they minister through jetlag and other distractions, that God would sustain them and use them for his glory!

We need you this week. Thanks for praying!

God Sightings: Summer Internship

It’s fun to have summer interns here, but it’s also a lot of work. The interns certainly help us do things we couldn’t do on our own, but we also spend a lot of the time that we used to spend on other things taking care of them. So, why invite them?

For us, it’s a strategic way to invest in the next generation of missionaries. An overwhelming number of longterm missionaries here in Japan were interns at some point (some of the best ones I might add). And it’s part of our own story as well. God called me to missions as a highschooler during a sermon in Olanchito, Honduras.

Internships also fit really well with what God has called us to do. We spent a summer investing in interns who are just a little younger than us, and they invested in students who were just a little younger than them. “One generation declares your works to another…” Psalm 145:4.

Here’s what some of the interns had to say about their experiences:

“God really showed me how big He is this summer. He also showed me small and incapable I am, but that He would direct my steps and do amazing things through me, anyways. I realized more than ever, through the people I met and the ways in which I learned God works, that He truly does love me, despite who I am.”

“We would pray before going into different meetings with our new Japanese friends. ‘Lord, give me the words to speak.’ And He would. While I was talking with girls I would pray, ‘Father, how can I share the Gospel with them?’ And He would open doors. One girl I met towards the end of my time told me (literally on the last day that I was in Japan) that she really wanted to learn more about the Christian religion.”

“There were four of us sitting around a table in the café. Three believers (one of whom was Japanese) and the fourth person was not a Christian, but he was coming to church and asking questions. We talked about Christianity. We talked about salvation…We talked for as long as we could about trusting and believing—about what faith meant. The last train leaving Nagoya departed at midnight, he left the café 14 minutes before that time, running.”

“One of the interns and I had the opportunity of meeting a Japanese girl almost every morning for 6 weeks. Why is this story important? Because she was one who the Lord really obviously ‘placed’ in our path. The intern and I had prayed and decided we wanted to start going to a coffee shop. But we weren’t sure which one… The first day we went to Starbucks, we met this girl. She wanted to learn English and we were ‘learning’ Japanese. We had language exchange conversations after that.”

As of right now, two of the ladies and one of the guys are making plans to come back for a longer stint in the near future. God is multiplying the workers and he is using your prayers and financial investment to do it! Thank you!

What God taught me this summer…

I didn’t realize it, but I needed this summer. I had forgotten that Jesus is NOT all I need. Of course, he IS all I need, but at the same time, life and ministry are not about me and Jesus by ourselves. We are called into a family with many members, a body with many parts, one that only functions as we grow up TOGETHER into him who his the Head (Ephesians 4). Therefore, relationships are not optional. We need one another, and I needed this summer to remind me of that.

I needed to realize how lonely I have felt in ministry, so that I could appreciate God’s gift of my wife and the new teammates he is bringing. He’s actually building our team!! It’s really happening!! There’s so much need all around us, and now we can begin to scratch the surface a little bit and really help some people. But it’s not by my genius – planning, recruiting. It’s by his grace. And because he helped me see how very alone I have been functioning, and how insufficient I am for the task, I’m able to see what a blessing this team is!

I needed to be encouraged by fresh blood coming in and breathing life into our friendships with students. There’s no one way to share the gospel. There’s no one right way to build a relationship with a student. There’s no perfect question to ask, and even if you ask the perfect question, you can’t connect with every student on a heart level. There are different temperaments, personalities, interests. We need to do ministry together, and having interns this summer helped me remember that.

I needed to be a part of a camp that felt like “ahhh. This is what I was made for. This is why I am here!” I needed to experience the delight of ministry again, to taste the fruit so that I could be sustained for those many weeks and months when I don’t see any.

And the funny thing is, people needed me too! Interns needed relationship advice, prayer, and encouragement. They needed people to speak prophetically into their lives and help them explore their callings. High school and college students needed an interested adult to ask questions and just have fun with them – no agenda! They needed someone to tell them God loved them and they weren’t alone.

We need each other. Thanks Jesus, for reminding me of that! And thank you all for praying for us! Next week, you’ll get a peek into what God did in the lives of our interns this summer. Thanks for praying for them as well!