A Samurai in the Vatican

Last week a friend recommended a PBS video about someone I thought I knew a lot about.  But as it turns out, there’s more to this fellow than I knew. I’m going to call him a “Hero of the Faith”, but with a different perspective. If you have access to PBS, take the hour to watch “The Secrets of the Dead, A Samurai in the Vatican”, Season 19, episode 5.”

His name was Hasekura Tsunenaga, the year was 1613, and he was the first Japanese to travel more than half way around the world looking for Christianity. Well …

If only it were that simple.

Actually, he was a disgraced Samurai.  His father had brought shame on his family for some technical error and was ordered to commit ‘seppuku’ or ritual suicide for his carelessness.  Now the son, Hasekura, with really no future as the whole family was shamed, was ordered by the Daimyo (think Governor) Masamune to go to Spain and check things out.

Masamune himself, many years prior, had been sent to Northern Japan by the Shogun (the big guy over the whole country). There, he was ordered to establish the Shogun’s authority and start collecting taxes. Using conscripted labor, he built a big castle overlooking the town of Sendai, which coincidentally, is where Tony and I spent the better part of 25 years.

The whole Christianity thing was prompted by the arrival of Jesuit missionaries, and there had been a lot of discussion concerning their motivations. That they were spreading the Gospel was obvious, but there seemed to be a political current as well.  Personally, Masamune seemed to have had leanings toward Christian faith, but I think most likely he was trying to better himself politically and possibly with a hopeful eye on becoming the next Shogun.  There were a number of Catholic missionaries in Japan and they were doing a successful work amongst the upper class Samurai, so it was Masamune’s thought (perhaps), to send an emissary to Europe and increase his influence by being more current in world affairs. While there, they were also instructed to request more missionaries.

So Hasegawa and an Italian Priest, who was a missionary and possibly had a few personal aspirations himself, set off for Spain. The ship was small, since this was the early 1600’s.  And since the world was big, the journey took years.  Finally they reached the Spanish peninsula, then over to the Vatican. Both the priest and Hasegawa were welcomed as honored emissaries, and eventually they started back for home.  But wait! While at the Vatican, it was reported that Hasekura embraced Christianity and was baptized.

They arrived home to Sendai after a 7-year journey, anchoring in the harbor in preparation for the big arrival the following morning. Legend has it that a friend of Hasegawa came aboard to report that things had changed since he had left. There was now a new Shogun in power and Christianity had been outlawed! Historians believe that the new Shogun (who sadly was not Masamune) had become nervous about the impact the Catholics were making on the Japanese.  It was not the religion they worried about but more the political power and the possibility of falling the way the Americas and other places had, who were becoming more Catholic and Spanish than those countries were ready for.

Anyway, the story ends badly…….. or does it?

The priest who had gone with Hasekura, instead of becoming a Bishop as he had dreamed, was dragged off and martyred with 26 other priests in Nagasaki, the city where Christianity had originally entered. There in Sendai, you can see a statue today dedicated to three local Catholic priests who had been staked out in knee deep water along the banks of the river and left there until they died of exposure. This happened in January when Sendai is as cold as it gets.  I often said a prayer of thanks when we drove by, glad that Japan is now much nicer to Christians.

As for Hasekura, we only know that he “died in obscurity”.

That might be the end of the story, except for this interesting fact: Hasekura’s children, now grown and professing Christ as Savior, were all martyred. Did the faith of the father extend to his children?

Almost 400 years after that time, Sendai awoke to the fact that one of their own had made a real difference in the history of the area! Hasekura had gone the distance, and paid the ultimate sacrifice. If you go to Sendai today, you’ll find an impressive museum and a full-sized replica of the original ship in which he travelled. Furthermore, if you walk out a ways from the Sendai train station, you’ll find a quaint clock which on the hour features a parade of figurines depicting Hasagawa and entourage wobbling along, carrying a gift to Rome.

I suppose only in Heaven will we know the real story of Hasekura Tsunenaga, a lowly disgraced Samurai. But we can look around today and see his influence on the lives of people.

Think about who you’re influencing today!

Till next time, Marsha


A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of baptizing a new friend.

Hearing her testimony gave me goosebumps all over. And honestly speaking, we can’t claim much of the process in her journey to Christ; but the “goosebump event” came about more because of the reminder that God is at work all around us even when all around us seems to be tumbling down.

Our friend is Japanese, but we were moved to hear of her family’s involvement in the local Buddhist temple. Because of that, she was naturally taught to be “good”, moral and hard-working. In addition to that, her family focused on the exterior, “visible” aspects of living circumspect.

As she got older, those characteristics took her a long way, through a somewhat privileged life, traveling and learning languages, and becoming well educated.  She married and had kids, but there was still a God-shaped vacuum in her heart.In 2010, she came across a church, found it inviting and started taking one of her children there.  While there, a visiting missionary talked to her about being baptized. She declined, but the encounter planted a seed.

Time passed, life was busy, and she settled into finishing off raising her kids here in Australia.  Then one day, thru a friend of a friend, she found herself at a 3-day Japanese Bible study camp.  She sat next to me; you may remember my mentioning this in a blog a few weeks ago. In her testimony, she remarked about how I had smiled at her, which surprises me because Tony had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I wasn’t smiling a lot.

Anyway she took Tony’s class on basic Christianity, that Anagaion book I’ve sure you’ve heard of by now. From that point, she began seriously considering becoming a Christian.  Before leaving the conference, she also bought Tony’s Road Rising book, and started reading it as a daily devotional.

Then on April 15th this year, she suddenly felt very strongly that she should take the next step.  She even searched the web for the “only real truth”.  God and Google led her to Mark 16:16,  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  She knew what she had to do (and this is where it gets crazy), a few days later she picked up the Road Rising and out of curiosity looked at the April 15th reading.  It said exactly what she’d just heard God say. The title of that day’s devotional is  “Real Truth”, and in it the character in the book says,
1. I am loved by God

2. I’m forgiven by Jesus’ blood

3. God’s Holy Spirit lives in me

4. Satan has no authority over me

5. When I resist him, Satan has to run

6. I can do anything thru God’s power

7.  I’m a citizen of God’s Kingdom

She read the words, lifted the passage out of the book and made it part of her testimony to give before her baptism.

Life has not been easy for this lovely lady. Her husband of many years walked away. She could have crumbled and lost her newly found faith at that, but instead she responded to him, “I still love you; I pray for you, and I still hope that we will find reconciliation.” Please join her in praying for the family.

Then, as a sign of God’s Presence and Power, while she was leading her students on an outing, they looked up and noticed a sky writer flying just above their heads. He had already written, “T……R…..U…S…T” Then while they watched, he finished with “… IN JESUS”.

I’m not making this stuff up.  A few months ago, a friend, tired and weary with the constant CoVid challenge remarked, “Well, it looks like twenty twenty …won!”  I was inclined to agree with her back then, but now I’m being reminded that God is still very much alive and well.

But lest I should work myself too much into this story, I recall the Apostle Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 3: 1-4,“Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.”



Counting the Costs

We’ve been a bit ‘off subject’ lately, so today I’ll return to the ‘Known heroes of the faith’ via Canon J. John.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a name you may or may not have heard in your life, but if you’re like me, you’ve just cringed back in your ignorance, silently thinking ‘Let’s see; was he a good guy or a bad guy?”

So here’s what I’m reading about him. He was born to an aristocratic German family living in Poland in 1906.  Obviously gifted, he chose to study Theology and had his PhD by age 21.  He then began to contribute to what were many international links including Germany and then the USA.

Returning to Germany in 1931 he was horrified by the rise of the Nazis and because of either his bravery or his naivety, wasn’t afraid to speak out against Hitler.  His was not a popular point of view because many German Christians, encouraged by Hitler’s manipulative use of Christian language, saw Hitler as the nation’s savior.

The lines became increasingly clearer, and soon Bonhoeffer was a part of the resistance against Nazism.  He spoke against the persecution of the Jews, and when Hitler demanded that the church swear loyalty to only him, Bonhoeffer left the country.

Sometime later, he returned to Germany and was denounced as a pacifist and enemy of the state.  In 1937 he wrote one of his famous books, “The Cost of Discipleship,” in which he created the term “cheap grace”.  This, he explained, is “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, etc.  Looking at that list, I’m a little troubled to see similarities to what many of us face today.

Gradually Bonhoeffer realized that with war looming, he could very understandably be executed, so when an opportunity came to teach in the USA, he left in June of 1939.  However, he soon realized (and here’s where the “hero” part comes in) that he needed to be with his own countrymen in such a time. As soon as he arrived in America, he boarded the next ship for Germany.

Not surprisingly, he no sooner arrived than he was arrested and sent to Buchenwald Concentration camp.  The accounts we have of his time there include descriptions of a man of peace, full of grace and kindness and totally occupied in pastoring and counseling those about him.

In the spring of 1945, Bonhoeffer’s name was linked with an old plot against Hitler and as a result, his execution was ordered.  He was hanged on the 9th of April, 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated.  His last recorded words were, “This is the end. but for me the beginning of… life”.

He was just 39 yrs old.

His faith was displayed in his doing. If he had stayed in the academic circles that defined him, he would have gone unnoticed and been safe.

But he was daring. Again, he could have stayed in the USA and been safe, but he knew he needed to be with his people.

And lastly, he was defying. He had to courage to speak out against a corrupt government and a church that was too weak to stand up to it.

As he wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.” In these 11 words, Bonhoeffer manages to encapsulate the New Testament’s teaching on what it means to follow Christ.

High above Westminster Abbey’s west door there are statues of ten modern martyrs.  And there amongst them, stands the figure of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He deserves that place.

And now you know his name. Can you wonder with me if you would live this way if called upon to do so?

All the best till next week,


Those “Hero-ees”

I’ve been thinking about heroes lately, but another thought came into my mind as I was reading the 12th chapter of Romans.

You’ll remember last week I talked about men who lived with sacrifice and hard work, a product of their dedication to God.  Those efforts impacted so many people we can’t even imagine.

And that started me thinking about ‘those people’ who were impacted.  Not the Heroes, but let’s say the “Hero-ees”: the people on the receiving end of the heroism……..

Tony remembered one sweet but frank church lady in our first church in Japan, back in 1979.  Here we were, all puffed up about ourselves and planning to bring God to these shores and save the whole Japanese Nation. Over tea and rice crackers, this sweet lady asked simply, “Are you planning to bury your bones here?”

What a question! We didn’t know how to answer, and in fact, didn’t answer it very well. Who started talking about burying bones?  We were planning to be HEROES, not martyrs. But as I’ve thought about that conversation over and over, I keep coming back to the people on the receiving end of our heroes out there. How are they affected by what they see and hear? Can they trust us? How far does the “ripple affect” extend?

I think immediately of a (different) lady many years later. She watched us bring our child’s ashes back to Japan and bury them at the church where he had grown up. Soon after, she, and many others like her, became believers, in spite of the fact that we had practically no personal contact with any of them. It’s a fact: these people were WATCHING!

What about those mean, awful prison guards with Paul, who watched and thought about these people called ‘Christians”? They quietly observed, watched how they behaved in the face of persecution, and many became believers.

I’ve told you about the American pastor we met while on furlough one year. He told us that he became a Christian after returning to freedom, simply because an unknown guard in a Japanese prison camp gave him an egg once or twice a week, keeping him alive.  Neither spoke the other’s language, and when the American kept gesturing, “Why?” the guard simply smiled and surreptitiously made the sign of a cross.

I had the privilege of teaching English for a few years in one of the Imperial Universities in Japan.  One day I asked these elite future leaders of Japan to write an essay.

Tears of repentance came to my eyes when I read one of them. He said, “I was 8 or 9, standing by the road with my friends when we spotted a beautiful blond lady waiting for a bus.  We started up with our usual harassment shouting, ‘Harrow!!!!’ (in our best English).  ’You Pletty!!’ one of the more adroit boys added. But then, instead of turning away or moving on (as I myself was often prone to do when this happened), she turned and SMILED at us!”  Now this student concluded,  “And now I’m studying English because these people are so kind.”

I will never know until Heaven how many of those students found Christ.  Even though I was forbidden from teaching anything religious, Tony and I taught the C. S. Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as ‘literature’. With that, I was able to ’teach’ all the Christian symbolism and present them with a Bible each for further ‘research’.

Paul says “We are Ambassadors for Christ” but does that mean we are heroic? Only God knows, I suppose, what our actions will produce in the lives of those around us, but think about it: the neighbor, a parking attendant or that sweet young girl checking your ID and testing your mask to make sure you’re not spreading Covid. Lots of temptations there to be “less than a hero”. All the more reason to read Paul’s words again:

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.                                                                                           (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Lets see what we can do for those who are waiting this week!!  I would love to hear of your experiences.


Living a Life Worthy

A few weeks ago I mentioned Eric Lidell in a blog.  He was the “Flying Scotsman” of 1924 Olympic fame.  The movie in1981 that launched his story into world news was “Chariots of Fire”.  Who can hear the theme song and not want to go jogging?

The other day, while surfing through the Christian movie channel online, we found “On Wings of Eagles”.  It’s a more modern version of Eric Lidell’s life story, taking up where “Chariots of Fire” left off. It was well done and stayed true to the man, but it lacked the beautiful music of the former movie, and since it focused on his death was not near as much fun to watch. I was left, however with the thought that I had gotten a glimpse of the “real” hero of the faith.
And while I’m at it, here’s another “hero”, but this one is a fictional character. His name comes up in the book “Hawaii”, by James Michner, and goes by Abner Hale. In the story, which was loosely based on truth, he was a Congregationalist missionary to Hawaii in the early 1800’s.

Having watched the story of Lydell’s life while also reading Michner’s novel, I was struck by these two men. I couldn’t help but set them up side by side. What was obviously apparent at the outset was that both of these men felt undeniably CALLED by God to “win the Lost”. Neither could be criticized for his lack of commitment, nor for his determination to spread the Gospel. I did take note of a couple of factors for which missionaries are often evaluated. Eric Lidell, born in China, had a natural love for the people to whom he ministered. He was surrounded by his flock all through his life and was grieved over when he died. Abner, on the other hand, was a relative newcomer to his mission field, and not surprisingly, never succeeded in understanding nor appreciating the culture. Much of his energy was devoted to changing the ways of those to whom he labeled as ”Heathens”, to the extent that he rarely had time to show them the “Way” to salvation through Jesus. As a result, he lost his battle on several fronts, including the one with his own sanity.
One true story, one fictional. But in the telling, we’re given a fresh look at what it means to be completely sold out to God. Being sold out to God is a lifetime challenge, and thanks to His wonderful grace, is not a Pass/Fail endeavor. It’s a relationship builder with the One Who made me.

And what does that means to you and me? I couldn’t say it any better than the Apostle Paul:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”


Smart Heroes

For some time now, I’ve been talking about “Heroes of the Faith”: those remarkable men, women and children who by their trust in the Lord left a legacy that blesses us all to this day.

While looking for more “faith giants” to report on, I came across one of Tony’s Creation magazines and found an article about Albert Einstein. Unfortunately, he was not what we would call a “hero of the faith”, since he seems to have abandoned God as he grew older. But I was surprised to find that Einstein had heroes of his own, three of them, in fact. Each was known for his advances in science and each merited a picture on Albert’s study wall.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is best-known for his discoveries about gravity and the subsequent motions of the planets and stars.

Michael Farady (1791-1867) had a lot to do with our understanding of electricity, and,

James Maxwell (1831-1879) is responsible for a unified theory of electricity, magnetism and light.

The things these three accomplished in their lifetimes formed the basis for Einstein’s groundbreaking development of the whole “relativity” thing (Remember E = mc2 ?), and he freely acknowledged their work, hanging their pictures up as a daily reminder.

But what surprised me is the fact that all three of these men were also known as being committed Christians. Newton wrote more on theology than he did on science. Faraday was a member of the Church of Scotland’s fundamentalist group known as the Sandemanians, and Maxwell interacted with some of the best theological minds of his day.

Read the biographies of these three remarkable scientists and you’ll see that everything they did was based on absolute belief in the promises of God and His revealed Word. None of their discoveries would have come about if they had not placed their faith and assumptions in Him.

Unwittingly, Einstein placed his faith in the accomplishments of Newton, Faraday and Maxwell, but failed to see the God Who made it all possible. I’m really grateful today for the dedicated men and women who were bold enough to invest their minds in the truth of God’s Word and make no apologies for it.

True Heroes of the Faith, that’s for sure.


Returning to Say Thanks

Good morning all,

Last week I was talking about something I came across in the 17th chapter of Luke.  Today I’d like to talk about a little ‘hero’ that I may have mentioned in this blog years ago. The story following last week’s passage is what brought her back to my mind.

First a little refresher, from Luke 17:11-19,

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

When He saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’”

One day many years ago, a girl came to the door of our Japanese Church.  “Would it be OK if I came in today?” she asked tentatively, clutching a Japanese Good News Bible. Of course, we invited her in with open arms. After the service, during tea time, I asked her about herself.  From the time I met her until she left, she never let go of her Bible, but held onto it like it was a newborn child.

“I am a Foreign Exchange Student at the university nearby.  I don’t know a lot of people, but I was assigned a study carrel that belonged to one of the older students who was planning to be away during the school break.  I looked forward to the quiet space where I could study. But more than that, I was hoping to improve my English as I was finding the lectures especially difficult.   The student had left several books behind on the shelf, and I noticed one in particular called the ‘Good News Bible’.  The English looked simple enough and so, instead of studying, I started reading it to see what I could understand.  I read it all.  I wanted to know about this God who loves me and sent His Son. When the student returned from his holiday, I asked him about it.  He was happy to tell me that it is a true story.   ‘A few days later, he found me and gave me this’.

She loosened her grip enough to show me the Japanese version of the Good News Bible in her hand. ‘Now I have believed in Jesus and I wanted to come today and thank you Christians and especially God for making it possible for me to believe.’

Now the amazing part: that day at our worship service, Tony preached from Luke 17: 11-19, about the 10 lepers who were healed and the one (ironically a foreigner) who returned to thank Jesus.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The girl, whose name is Miki, went on to become a baptized church member, a real blessing for all of us for several years before she graduated, married a fellow Christian Japanese and left for new destinations. It’s not always easy to stop and say “Thank you”, especially to strangers. From Luke’s account, only about one out of ten manage it. But in her heroic act of faith, Miki moved from stranger to sister in the Lord.

And if by some miracle you come across this blog, Miki, let me say a big THANK YOU for encouraging me all those years ago.

As I always say, How GOOD is God!


Refrigerators in Heaven

Today I found an interesting passage in the Bible, a verse that really caught my attention as we soldier on through this series of  “Heroes of the Faith”. It’s in Luke 17, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. To begin with, let’s talk about the generation that we see growing up around us. For myself, that would be two generations away from mine, as I look at the lives of our grandchildren.  Let me be fair: if you have any distinguishing trait, such as the color of your skin, or the heritage that defines you, or if there’s anything about you that has resulted in your being set apart by someone’s definition of cruel ways, then you might possibly be singled out as someone in need of a special exemption from normal living. Please hear what I’m saying –  I’m generalizing here – but there may be a case for special treatment and an extra measure of mercy and grace.    Now, let me get to the thing that caused me to pause and consider this morning. It’s a fact that I personally have the greatest grandchildren on the planet. I watch them growing up and I have to thank God every day for the wonderful parents they’ve been given. But even as I rejoice, I’m saddened to know that not all children are so blessed. And I’ll leave the conclusion-drawing to others smarter than I, but it seems there is a growing attitude around me that has pervaded our society and it’s made manifest in the nature of child-rearing I’m seeing. Now, I come to the Bible verse that startled me, Luke 17:7-10: “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

I remember hearing (probably from my sister who had these kinds of conversations) that my Daddy did not believe in praising children for what was expected of them. That’s how I grew up.

Before you feel sorry for me, understand that I grew up feeling much loved and honored, but I had chores and they got done.  I was praised for random achievements somewhat, but what I remembered most was a feeling of loyalty and responsibility to be a “Smith Girl” who was expected to do the right thing at the right time.  What helped with this, is that I felt that they also seemed to believe that I would …. do the right thing.  That made me proud and also instilled a desire to not let them down.

Granted, I wasn’t a servant or a slave, as insinuated in this passage, but I felt very much a PART of a PLAN, and I had my self respect that I would be the agent to get it done, just as the servant in Verse 17 comes in and EXPECTS to make supper and clean up. I never, till this morning, have come across this attitude in the Bible, certainly not from Jesus, who is supposed (as the well-known chorus goes) to be my best friend.  But there it is. And I think in having this attitude, Jesus gives me real honor by expecting the job to be done, just like I think He did when He watched these many heroes that we’ve been looking at of late.  What did Spurgeon say last week?  “The greatest joy of a Christian is to give joy to Christ.” I’ll save you the rhetoric about the “Me” generation, but I think you know what I’m talking about here.  I pray for my grandchildren as I always to, that they will FEEL the honor of doing what they’re meant to without expecting to be praised and coddled for just showing up. There will always be plenty of chances to praise them, like yesterday when 5-year-old grandson Micah went out onto the basketball court for the first time, suited up for a real game with real referees. He may not have made any baskets, but the joy on his face made it worth the trip. And I let him know how proud I was of him. I’d like to think that if there were refrigerators in Heaven, God would have something of mine stuck on the door with a magnet. He would point to it with pride and say, “That’s My girl!” Not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who I am.

The Joys of Work and Play

Tony and I took a few days off this last week to “chill out” up in Far North Queensland. I use the term loosely, since the temperatures are nearly ten degrees warmer in Cairns than back home on the Gold Coast. We’re officially in Springtime here Down Under, and ten degrees can make a big difference in the swimming pool!  But our main reason for going north is the sad fact that, with all the CoVid restrictions, we’re pretty much limited to travel within the State. Now I won’t mention to “some” of you out there, but since Queensland is two and half times bigger than Texas, we do have lots of options. Oops, I mentioned it; sorry about that!

It’s called the Tropical North up there for a reason … it’s HOT and WET, but also beautiful, with abundant flora and fauna everywhere you look. The night of our arrival in our Cairns hotel, I was graced by the presence of an Africa Sized Cockroach who, even with the room lights on, just wandered into our room to say boo.

Tony, ever the hero, played hide and seek with him for at least an hour, while I cowered under the sheet, wishing for my old trusty mosquito net from adventures long past.

The carnage the next morning was testimony to the night’s battle, when I picked up a three-inch leg, but we got no sympathy from the ‘natives’ when we complained. “I’ve seen bigger,” was one comment, accompanied with a photo to prove it.

But, truth be known, our real reason for this time away was to take a breath and make plans for the rest of the year. For a couple of retired folks, we’ve been finding ourselves almost busier than we ever were when we were actually employed. Preaching, teaching and other ministry opportunities have been coming in from all sides, and while we welcome them, we’ve felt the need to ‘corral them in” a bit so we can give them our very best.

As you’re reading this, we will have been back a day already and Tony will have preached twice, once in Japanese. But before we can start to feel overwhelmed, all we have to do is look around to see that we still have it pretty cushy. One of the really “greats” comes to mind, and I’d like to turn the light on him for a moment: Charles Spurgeon.

You may remember that he was born in the mid 1800’s, didn’t profess faith in Jesus till he was a late teen, and yet, soon became one of the greatest preachers of all time. More than 56 million copies of his books and sermons have been circulated in over 40 languages. Among that wealth of material comes a steady stream of quotable quotes. Vicar J. John (who is the grist behind this ‘Heroes of the Faith’ series) has pointed out two that I especially like:

“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”

“The greatest joy of a Christian is to give joy to Christ.”
In 1861, because of his relatable but truthful and non-compromised preaching, his followers had grown to the point they acquired the Metropolitan Tabernacle, (in London) which seated 5000.  To attend, you had to have (free) ticket, and it was always full.  One time he preached to 24,000……….and always with no amplification!

Later along, he and his wife, who was a semi invalid, took to living in the south of France a good part of the winters to write and reflect.  However, he remained, as much as possible, at the tabernacle until he died 38 yrs later at the early age of 57.

I would like to compare my family to Spurgeon’s. However, unlike Charles Spurgeon, Tony does not usually work 18 hours days, preach without amplification or have 57 million copies of his writing in 40 languages (at least not yet, but one can hope!).  Neither am I, his wife, an invalid, but I have to say we certainly have enjoyed the few days away to sit and reflect for the next season.

Except for the cockroach, it was a lovely break.  I hope all of you, wherever you are today, are filled with lots of fulfilling work, along with the chance, once in awhile, to get away from it.


Finding the Restaurant

One day this last week, I was sitting with the grandkids looking through an old photo album. Soon we came across a picture of their parents (son Nathan and wife Kylie) sitting and smiling, at what appeared to be a Japanese Restaurant.  When they asked about it, I laughed and told them the story that goes with it..

It began when Nathan was about six years old. Along with his older brother, Trevor, we were vacationing in the beautiful mountains west of Tokyo.  We came across a particularly lovely hotel/restaurant about 5 miles across the lake from where we spent many a memorable summer, and even much later, two whole years leading up to and during the 1998 Winter Olympics. But back to the story.  We ordered breakfast and I said with a sigh of contentment,

“Ah, boys, someday you’ll bring your brides here!”

That’s when I realised the underlying stress my little Nathan was under.  He was the only foreigner in the Japanese school near our home, and I realize now that being bilingual and having lots of friends wasn’t enough to give him true “local” status. Instead of smiling along with his brother at this acknowledgment of impending maturity, where he’d have a bride to show around, he dropped his head into his hands and, looking up to us, cried, “I don’t know how to get here!”

I had to laugh when I read from John 14 this morning. Jesus had just pronounced some of the most comforting words in the Bible. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. And if I go to prepare a place, I will come back and take you to be with me ….. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Dear Thomas speaks up in a future echo of Nathan’s own fears: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5-6)

I’m going to guess here that Thomas was also carrying a heavy load of anxiety.  Just read back a few chapters and it’s not hard to imagine. Maybe Thomas’s fragile heart wasn’t too evident until he made this comment.  Fortunately, his fears were put to rest; and I’m happy to add that Nathan also experienced a happy ending.

Twenty years after that fretful time, Nathan was able, without anything more than a sturdy car and a GPS, to bring his bride back to that lovely restaurant, a personal fulfilment of my prophecy.

We live in uncertain times, that’s for sure.  When we do decide to watch or read the news, we don’t feel better.  We feel lost.  We feel unable to figure out how we’re going to find that celebratory restaurant or that elusive dream or that pathway to peace…….. But we can rest in the promise that Jesus HAS gone before us and prepared a place for us, and we WILL know how to get there when the time is right.

This morning we attended the dedication of our littlest grandchild, Jeremiah Nathan.  Of course it couldn’t have been any sweeter than to see two parents, aunt, uncle, cousins and four grandparents all together with the church, praying that this precious baby will know a life of peace and joy, purpose and fulfilment. We hope that Jeremiah will never experience stress, but when he does, we know that he will never be far from the One Who gave him life, and a great family and an even greater future.

Bless all of us and give us courage,