VBS 2015 at Morioka Minami Church

  • This year’s VBS saw over 30 kids during the week and 65 people at Sunday Church (more than double our regular number and 25 more people than chairs in the building!)
  • Many of our VBS kids and their families this year were returners from our other programs like men’s basketball and English clubs.
  • As we’ve been on home assignment in California for the past seven months,VBS was a great time to see old friends and warm up contacts as we prepare to return to Japan full-time in September.
  • Thank you all so much for your prayers, gifts, and help in running our VBS! Iwate is one of Japan’s least reached prefectures, and the Japanese are one of the largest unreached people groups in the world, thanks for helping to bring the light of the gospel to families who have become comfortable with church people, but haven’t yet received Jesus as their savior, ground is being tilled, and we continue to pray for harvest!

 

flying renji

The VBS kids had a good time with the animal shaped beach balls. With a creation theme we were able to use a lot of familiar concepts.

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We also had coloring sheets where the kids were able to reinforce the days of creation.

vbs english game

English practice using a drill from Aquila’s old karate class. Kid’s slapped the ground if they knew the flash card.

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Our daily schedule in pretty form

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And of course a highlight for many of the VBS kids each year, the water day

First term summary, second term hopes

We finished our first term in January, which is why I haven’t posted for awhile. I wanted to keep the Japan ministry close to the top of the page, but I also realize when the newest post of a blog is 6 months old the blog is dead. This blog isn’t dead though, and to prove it, I’m writing the very rare ‘home service post’. The update concerning home service is that home service is going well. I love visiting our support team, because it is a big encouragement to me to be with the people who care enough about ministry in northern Japan to partner with us. Also, my kids are having a blast doing American stuff like t-ball and jumping on grandpa while he tries to watch golf. I have a little tomato garden in my mom’s backyard that I’m hoping bears fruit before I go back to Japan in July. What a segue! We’re going back to Japan in July! 2015 VBS is right around the corner, and will be our first thing to do when we return, probably followed by house-hunting. Here are some things we were happy about in our first term:

 

  • Church attendance went up by about 10, from 18 to 28, during our time in Japan!
  • Our VBS programs were a great bridge with the community, both years had attendance over 40!
  • Our second year VBS program culminated in a record 92 in attendance at Church, where we included a song performance, hot dog lunch, and simple gospel message.
  • Our English classes ran 3 semesters, and we ended up with about 20 families that enjoyed the program, most of them expressed interest in returning in 2015.
  • Similar to VBS, our English class friends performed a song in our Christmas eve servce, resulting in about 50 people in attendance.
  • Our neighbors began coming to church regularly!
  • I began preaching in Japanese!

Here are some things we hope to do in 2015 and beyond:

  • We are looking to continue our kid’s English programs, and possibly begin an adult English program including a Biblical curriculum.
  • We are hoping to continue hospitality ministries, especially with mom’s of young children in mind, in order to do this we need a suitable house, please pray for God’s provision!
  • There are four church plant plans underway on the Iwate Coast, but not enough preachers to fill the pulpits regularly, I hope to help out with this ministry on a regular basis.

So that’s it in a nutshell! Thanks to all of you who read this blog and pray for our ministry!

Now for some gratuitous pics of my home service.

Easter in 'Murica.

Easter in ‘Murica.

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Coffee on the Pier.

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This is what you do for fun when you have little boys, and access to discounted homeschool day tickets.

Gearing up for Christmas

Step aside Santa, there’s a new Sheriff in town…

colonel santa

 

I feel like I’ve used the phrase ‘gearing up for…’  before in my missionary updates, perhaps even on this blog. Whatever. How you all doing? Merry Christmas! Christmas in Japan used to be about making sure you have a date and aren’t alone for the evening, or at least going out for some KFC. Now there’s Christmas decorations and other things, and I expect by the time I’m a grandparent I’ll have to buy just as many Christmas presents as American grandparents in the States. Consumerism wins. But! That also means a holiday with the word ‘Christ’ in the name is becoming more well known in Japan, the land of the kami (gods).

 

This year at our church plant we’re hosting various Christmas programs, and with the English Club crowd we have more people to share Jesus with. I’m not sure how many of them will show up, but that’s the thing, you never know, but God still works. We try to create opportunities for people to encounter Jesus, and it’s happened more in our first two years in Tohoku than I expected it would. After Christmas we’ll be back in the States for a short home service, but we’ll be back in time for Summer VBS, where we’ll look to create more opportunities for people to encounter Jesus. Thanks for your prayers!

Go-Go-Gang 3.0, Holiday season special!

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Our Mommy-and-me English club, daddys ok too, the Go-Go-Gang! just finished up our second semester. We’ve had about 20 unique families sign up between the two semesters. Some families joined us for Spring and Fall, some joined in Fall after enjoying our Church VBS program. We have 20 children signed up so far for our Holiday program. We’re looking forward to the holiday program because it’s going to be based on Thanksgiving and Christmas, two holidays widely celebrated in English speaking countries (see what I’m doing here?). So while some of our kids have been exposed to the gospel and Christian themes through VBS, and some families have spent time at church barbeques, we’re looking forward to another chance to talk about Jesus to these families. Please pray that God would continue to use the Go-Go-Gang! to help families in our neighborhood to feel comfortable coming to church, and become interested in learning about Jesus’ love for them!

A Group Effort

This weekend we had a great team from California help out with some church programs. The team came with the primary purpose (I think, though I technically didn’t ask) of volunteering at some of the coastal ministries which serve tsunami survivors. While they were here in Iwate they helped out with our mommy and me english class, and passed out flyers for some church-related holiday programs in the neighborhood. The team was a big blessing for our church plant, and they are currently on their way to the coast to spend the week working with tsunami survivors.

Over the past four years, ministry in Iwate has changed drastically. According to Operation Japan, before the tsunami struck Tohoku in 2011 there were no international evangelical missionaries serving in Iwate prefecture. At the same time there were close to 1000 missionaries in Kanto (the seven or so prefectures surrounding and including Tokyo). The need for relief work brought in new missionaries and many many short-term teams. While some agencies helped provide infrastructure in hosting teams and getting them to the coast, a few pastors from some of the inland churches have set up a network to streamline efforts. Today, the Iwate 3.11 Church Network is, to my knowledge, the last remaining evangelical platform hosting foreign assistance in Iwate. What this means is that in 2011, four churches needed to share their pastors (and pastors wives!) with coastal ministries. Unlike larger western churches or even churches in larger Japanese urban areas, the churches of the Iwate 3.11 Church Network were too small to have assistant pastors, and too remote to attract cooperating missionaries; staff consisted of lead pastors, with the unwritten expectation that pastor’s wives would contribute time as unpaid assistants.

The church where we serve is one of those churches. Since Maki has known one of the pastor’s for a decade we were familiar with this situation back in 2011, and it was one of the motivating factors in bringing us to serve at one of these churches, in addition to helping the church, we could help tsunami survivors by sharing some of the infrastructure work that our pastor was responsible for, It’s another way we get to see God work in Iwate.

liferay team

This team helped out with some of our church ministries on their way to the coast.

Preaching in Japanese

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed during my second term in Japan is preaching in Japanese. After two years in language school, countless hours with tutors and six proficiency tests, I started preaching in Japanese, the pastor at our church plant has been kind enough to let me fill in when he’s out of town, which often means in Tokyo for a denominational meeting of some kind. It’s pretty helpful for the church as well. While there are many churches in Japan’s metropolises (Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka) with multiple missionaries able to fill-in on a sunday morning, here in Iwate it’s pretty rare, and that’s one of the reasons we feel this is the right place for us. Four messages so far this year, and I’m gearing up for one more later this month!

20140925_154604Here are my notes from my last message. I use a lot of colored pencils to help me find my place when I look at the congregation. 
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Right before the message each week we sing this song called ‘Hallelujah’, not the Leonard Cohen one, the words are simply Alleluia x 8, and we sing it twice, so it becomes Alleluia x 16. I got this new commentary on the Psalms which was written by one of my college professors (Awake Oh Harp!, by Dr. William Varner if you are interested), and chose to do a message on Psalm 113, it begins in Hebrew with ‘Alleluia!’ so that’s what I titled my message.

2014 Summer VBS

This year we ran our second annual VBS at the church where we serve in Iwate. We saw a lot of new kids, as well as previous contacts we’ve made through mommy and me english programs, and other programs. It was great teaching the kids to sing songs like ‘peace like a river’, and seeing many of them listen intently during the messages of Jesus’ love for them. Here are a few photos from the five day event!

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Pastor Otsuka shared a message from the Bible each day. Many of the kids heard about Jesus for the first time!20140806_092844

We had nine summer workers from three different churches helping us, they were great!

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Summer VBS finished with a song recital during our Sunday morning church service that resulted in 92 people in attendance. A regular Sunday sees about 25 people in attendance, and we have 40 chairs available. A lot of people were sitting on the foor!

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After church we ate hot dogs!

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After VBS, one of our team members, a seminarian and prospective missionary, stayed a few extra days and we visited a temporary housing community center on the tsunami-struck coast. It has been three years since the tsunami, so some of the younger kids have spent half their lives in temporary housing.

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Me playing with the kids. Although you can’t see the kids in this picture, there were kids. I wasn’t just doing this by myself.

Thanks to everyone who gave, prayed, sent people, or came to Japan to help with VBS this Summer! The VBS continues to be a big outreach program for our church plant here in Iwate. Since the VBS we have seen one of the families returning to church, please pray that they would come to know the love of Christ!

A few snapshots from 2013

Our first year in Iwate was blessed! Here are a few of the highlights:

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We invited lots of people to Leon’s birthday party in July, to create new friendships in the neighborhood. Some people we knew beforehand and happened to be walking by the house when I was decorating outside and accepted the invite. They’re still friends and their kids occasionally come to church events.

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Morioka Minami Church’s first ever VBS! Three days, over fifty attenders and some exhausted summer workers (including the JEMS Director).

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In the past few months I’ve started taking some in-service responsibilities, emcee, prayers, children’s message, and Sunday School teacher.

First month in Iwate

 

We Made it!

After a 2.5 year home service, a change in ministry location and missionary agency, we’re back in Japan, now serving with the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS). We are spending this term at Morioka Minami Church, a church plant in the capital city of Iwate prefecture. Iwate is one of the least reached prefectures in all of Japan, and was hit hard by 2011’s tsunami. Our goals for this term are to be a blessing and encouragement to Morioka Minami Church, bring my (Jon’s) Japanese level up to a fully capable church worker, to participate in tsunami survivor ministries, and to investigate where (likely in Iwate) God wants us two years from now. Our first Sunday at Morioka Minami Church they had a nice welcome cake for us.

Perhaps the most fun of our seemingly endless set-up necessities, was picking out this car. It seats 5 with great trunk space or 7 with no trunk space at all. It also is classified as a small car, which keeps registration fees down and makes driving on small roads easier.

We live right next to a park, and I noticed that all the neighbors had cleared the snow from the park areas adjacent to their own homes, leaving only one two-foot high snow drift in the whole park. Aquila and I tried to rectify that, but I quickly realized I was doing it the American way. We had an audience. Maki assured me that it was still a positive display of attempting to be part of the community.

Pastor Otsuka took us to a Hot Spring and then a noodle shop, he got me to order a second bowl of noodles, which was about the size of a car wash bucket.

 This is me talking to a Japanese person in Japanese. Very important when ministering in Japan.

This is my language classroom. After three days of classes I’m feeling comfortable with most of the things I learned for the first time three years ago. My goal for this term is to be able to do each aspect of a Sunday service in Japanese (but not at the same time). The biggest goal then is preaching in Japanese.

If Christianity is basically about loving God and loving people, then being a missionary is simply conveying that love to your target people group. In that sense, learning how to preach in Japanese is important, but so is building relationships with people. For me this is one of the easiest ways to do that.

Ministry Tools!

As we look ahead to our return to Japan it’s fun to think about what we will be doing. Maki and I (Jon writes this blog) have tried to think through what has worked for us in the past and what tools are available to us. We like people, which is good. We have small children, which is also good. So we are thinking to start a kid’s club, which would help us to connect with the community while giving a non-threatening introduction to Christianity and the local church. The awesome thing about working as a team with hundreds of prayer partners is that sometimes they get excited about the ministry, and are able to add their gifts and areas of expertise to our bag of tricks. A great example of this happened last month when one of the craftiest people we know bought us a bunch of tools for children’s ministry in Japan! These items are already on their way to Japan. They could be on a large boat with a giant black cat carrying a giant black kitten in its mouth adorning the ship’s hull.

And after it is offloaded from that boat (which doesn’t seem to exist, a google search suggests the company uses airplanes), it gets delivered to us in Japan on one of these trucks.

The kids should get a kick out of painting these and then throwing them around the church. Hopefully the paint will be dry before they take flight. Or, hopefully the paint is washable.

There is enough paint here to paint Noah’s ark, which is good.

While the kids pictured above are now probably in their late 40’s, the kids in our ministry programs in Japan are gonna love this parachute!

Of course, if all else fails, we can play Dodgeball.

Thanks to our friends who took the time to choose and give these (and many other) great games and crafts so that we can hit the ground running with these children’s programs in Iwate prefecture! We plan to use these tools to reach kids in various communities, both for church planting efforts and for tsunami survivor programs (many families are still in temporary housing from the tsunami that struck two years ago). Also, thanks to all of you who pray for our ministry! Without our prayer and support team we wouldn’t have the opportunity to share the gospel in Iwate, the third least reached prefecture in Japan.