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If Just a Boiled Egg …

As we continue in the Christmas season, I’d like to tell you about a WWII gift from a Japanese prison guard that changed a man’s life.

We met the aging veteran several years ago in a large church in Louisiana. We had been invited to share about our work in Japan. After the morning service, we were invited to stay for lunch. As we stood and chatted with church folks, an approaching gentleman caught my attention. He was rather frail and his gait was unsteady, but the smile on his face broadcast the love of Christ throughout the room.

He introduced himself and startled me with this comment, “I was led to the Lord by a Japanese prison guard”.

That’s certainly not something I’d ever heard before or since. I asked him for details.

“Well, you see, I was in one of the more notorious prison camps in Western Japan, near Niigata” he said with a southern drawl.

I nodded in sympathetic agreement.  I’d heard of the place, and knew that it had been a bad one.  Not only were the guards sadistic and merciless, but the weather there was so treacherous that the death rate was particularly high.

The man continued, “I was almost dead of malnutrition and the cold.  But there was that one guard”.  He stopped, and a far away look came over his face, as if he were seeing the sight all over again.

“Whenever he could, the guard would hang back a bit from the others and then from beneath his coat  or inside his hat would come an egg……or a handful of rice or piece of beat up fruit or vegetable”.

“At first, I was afraid that this was some sort of cruel trick. If I took what was offered at all, it was like an animal, grabbing it and running away to eat it in secret.  But as I began to regain some strength, I could feel a sense of hope coming back from deep inside me.

“Finally one day, I was bold enough to take the food, give a small bow and smile in gratitude. We had no words between us to use, so I shrugged my shoulders as best I could with a look of ‘Why?” on my face.

“I’ll never forget what he did next, only after carefully looking around to be sure no one was watching. Very quietly he raised his finger to his chest and crossed himself.*  Then he hurried away.

“I was certainly not a Christian back then. I had even prided myself as needing neither God or anyone else, but on that day, I could do nothing but fall to my knees, crying tears of both grief and happiness. God was saving my life.”

He went on to explain that as the guard was highly secretive and since neither one could speak the other’s language, there was no way to learn any more about him. The war ended, he was released, and eventually found himself back home in Louisiana.

But when he did get home, one of his first actions was to find a church and learn more about the faith that Japanese prison guard obviously had. When we met him, he was a testimony to joy, and love and forgiveness.

Today I feel pretty certain both the guard and the Louisiana man have gone on to their eternal reward; and if that’s the case, then I’d love to be able to witness the reunion that’s going on between the two of them in Heaven.

And I can’t help but wonder: is there an egg or a piece of fruit that I’m holding onto? Who can I give it to in the Name of Jesus?

Especially during this Christmas season, may we look for opportunities to be salt and light, and if necessary, a boiled egg for someone whom God points out to us.

Feeling blessed, Marsha

*I must interject a note here that all kinds of Japanese Christians occasionally  ‘cross themselves’ to visibly note to onlookers that they’re Christian.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Catholic; it’s just a symbol of Christianity that most people recognize.  We were told to ‘cross ourselves’ at Buddhist funerals to let others know that as Christians we wouldn’t be doing the ritualistic stuff out of conviction and we didn’t mean to be rude or disrespectful.

Things that go bump in the garden

Hello friends,

As you’re reading this, Tony and I will be sitting in a performance of Handel’s Messiah.  I don’t know where we got culture, certainly not from our humble beginnings, but give me a seat to see Les Miserables or the Messiah and I’m in High Cotton!!  I must say though, I wilt at Opera.

And so today, we realize that we only have 3 more Sundays til Christmas, with not much time really to contemplate the season the way we’d like to.

Of course we’ve all heard that the Son of God was probably not born in cold December, as the story goes, but Tony was reading the other day about how Jewish culture leans towards counting a child’s ‘birthday’ as when he/she was conceived. The is true in fact among many Asian cultures, including Japanese. This adds an interesting discussion point when we read in John 1:14 that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Our Asian friends point out that Jesus didn’t “become flesh” when He was born, but rather when He was conceived. I’ll leave that to the theologians, but then we don’t have to the know the WHEN; only THAT He was.

But today I want to tell you another story.  It sorta has a thin connection to Christmas

We’d been in Japan several years when we got some new missionaries.  This couple and their two boys were unstoppable.  In particular, the wife clearly had a musical ear, leading her to have a real gift for the languages. I tried not to be jealous of her prowess.

And then one day she dispelled any jealousy I’d had by telling this story on herself.

It was the Christmas season. That’s when we missionaries would crank into gear and take every opportunity imaginable to show Christ to Japan.  After all, materialism had appeared soon after the war was over and most Japanese understand that Christmas is coming, even going so far to seek out churches and other venues in the hope of some ‘holiday cheer’.

Mind you, most have very little idea to this day of WHAT Christmas means, apart from gift giving to children  and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with your boyfriend on Christmas Eve. I’m not making this up, you can google what an incredible marketing ploy the Colonel pulled off some 60 years ago!

And so this new missionary invited some ladies to her house for Christmas tea.  There, to the tinkling of fine china, she shared with them about Jesus, why He was born, etc.

Just as they seemed to be losing interest, she announced that next week, she’d like to have this time together again. They smiled and nodded in agreement.  Then they all sprung to startled attention when she continued,

“And I want you ALL to go into your gardens this week and gather up as many cockroaches as you can find!”

Seeing their faces, she thought to herself, this is a bazaar request, so she elaborated,

“You see, next week we’re going to PAINT the cockroaches and decorate our houses with them!”  More jaw dropped stares.

As the ladies were stumbling over themselves in horror, bowing and making excuses that they’d left a pan on the stove or it looked like rain and they needed to get home, she fought back tears of defeat and tried to understand how she’d offended them so.

Her best friend, the last to leave, but leaving all the same, asked, “I wonder what you’re trying to say?”

Later that afternoon, as she was cleaning up the penny dropped. She’d been saying “Go-kiburi” which is the word for  cockroach, when she had been meaning to say, “Matsu-bokuri”.

If you say these two words quickly, you can see how similar they are.  Cockroaches and Pine Cones.

I’m  happy say she sent a runner to tell the ladies about her mistake in the language, and the group grew and many were blessed.  This family stayed many years, grew in the language and culture and influenced many for Christ.

Be we’ll never forget to be careful what we say for it has to power to terrify people!

This last week I heard a good sermon.  It was filled with hope, and relative to the season. Ephesians 4:29 was included, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

We have the POWER to ‘Change the Narrative” in people’s lives. Our words can make them raise up and find life, or as in the story above, run in terror.

Guard the ‘story’ you tell this season, both in words and deeds, to those around you.

Happy decorating!

Marsha

Getting Excited!

Last week you may have seen me, rather ungracefully (me, not you), on Facebook. We were at our grandboys’ combined annual ‘slip and slide’ birthday party.  Every year I keep saying, “I’ll go down the hill … next year”; and I realize next year is not going to get any better. So this year, before the teeming hoards arrived, I just “Did It”.  I have to say, it was a glorious experience (except maybe for the painful dish soap that knew no boundaries whatsoever).

I think in our old age we start to focus on the aches and pains and forget about hope and ridiculousness. Tony’s booked in for his big splash next year! (Editor’s note: Tony here. “It ain’t gonna happen”).

The entire kid community, comprised of neighbors, school and church chums is beginning to realize this is a major event of the season.  What started as a small strip of plastic and a garden hose has now taken on a “NASA Level” annual project. Son Nathan just keeps making it grander and grander, explaining that he now has a reputation to think about.

This year, he expanded the run to a double-wide construction grade roll of plastic, generously fed by a dozen irrigation sprinklers and liberally soaped up by volunteers using heavy duty squeeze bottles all the way down. Surrounding the entire slide were a string of 78 “pool noodles” providing bumper protection as well as a focal point for any passing space station.

Now we’re actually starting to worry about the 10-foot high retaining wall drop off at the bottom of the run. Until this year, no one thought a slider would ever get that far, but the goal is now within reach, given enough mass and momentum. A temporary stopgap was hastily assembled this year by heaping up plastic at the bottom and filling it with water. Next year we’re going to need a pond… or maybe a bungee cord.

So if there’s a word to take home from all this, it might be the word, ‘Anticipation’. For Tony, as well as myself, growing up, the day after Thanksgiving wasn’t set aside for Black Friday sales (we didn’t have them back then anyway), but for decorating the house for Christmas.

I’ve been reading through all the Gospel stories about Mary and the angel today, and what better word for describing this story is there? Anticipation!

It’s with anticipatory hearts that we jump into this year’s Christmas Season.  It was an acquired taste, and it’s taken many years, but I can honestly say now that we love the idea of a HOT Christmas with all the trimmings, like cold prawns and ham decorated with mango slices, followed by a big “Pavlova” dessert. Icy drinks and long bright daylight evening Christmas Carols in the park, reminiscent of childhood 4th of July celebrations back in the Northern Hemisphere. For the hardy, there will be plenty of time with friends at the beach …. and of course, more food than can be imagined, carefully packed in the old Eski (ice chest).

But what makes it really joyful is the knowledge that the reason for the season goes all the way back to the message of Christmas, and the anticipation that has been generated for the last couple of thousand years.
“For unto us a Child is born, a Son is given”

Happy Beginnings!

Marsha

P.S. Next week I’ll get back to the Japanese stories till I run out, which, unless you give me some more, you can anticipate sooner than later.  In the New Year, we’re anticipating some pretty exciting travel/vocation related stuff, so stay tuned!

Coming and Going

So last week I touched a little on the difficulties Tony and I had trying to learn the Japanese language back in 1979.

Most of us missionaries could fill volumes about our mistakes in the language, many of them unrepeatable in mixed company. Any of you who have ever had to deal with a language that you were not born with know what I’m talking about. The traps are everywhere; and it’s not just the words. Things like syntax, intonation, spelling, and that huge grey area full of euphemisms are lurking everywhere, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting, reducing him or her in an instant from the status of respected peer to that of village idiot.

Having said that, I simply have to pause in honor of our beloved Japanese people and their eternal patience.  I’ve realized after many years, that the Christians we worked with in the northern town of Sendai, were particularly gracious with us.   Maybe they’re just more ‘godly’, or perhaps it’s because they’d known a couple of generations of missionaries before we got there.

One of our more saintly mentors, Bob Boatwright of Atlanta, Georgia, had very early on dispensed with those difficult object particles in the language, known as “Wa”, “Ga” and ‘O”.  The mystery around them lies deep, but we have been assured by our teachers and our friends that the proper use of them is absolutely essential to speaking proper Japanese. So you can understand our horror when we first moved to Sendai straight out of language school and heard Bob Boatwright preach a sermon in Japanese.

We listened in confused silence for awhile, then turned to each other and whispered, “Is he….?”

“Yep, the rumors are true; he doesn’t use object particles.”

When the service was over, I turned to my new Japanese friend and asked, “Do you understand what he says?”

“Oh yes,” my friend insisted, even as she was correcting my own grammar. “When Boatwright Sensei speaks, we can feel the pain he has suffered to learn our language. We forgive, and we love him.”

Let me add that this man was no slouch in the language. He read the Japanese newspaper every morning, preached sometimes 6 or 7 times a week, and was always there to help us when we simply could not understand the salesman at the door. In fact he was the only one among all the missionaries in town who understood the obscene caller when we passed along Bob’s phone number, apologizing for not being able to understand the poor person, no matter how many times he repeated himself.

We were blessed with a sweet couple, Kumiko and Shinkichi Ito, who not only became good friends, but our priceless language checkers over a period of about 20 years.  I learned years later that Kumiko’s major in college was English, but I would have never known that as she never spoke it.

One day we decided on the phone to meet up.  We talked about our house and their house, and we decided (at least I thought) that the meeting would take place at 4:00 PM at their house, so I said,  (In Japanese)  “OK, we’ll come to your house at 4:00!”

Well, that works in English.  You begin a visit by “coming”, no matter whether it’s at my place or yours.  “I’m coming to your house, you’re coming to my house”……..makes sense.

So we loaded up the kids and went to their house, where I’d said we were coming…….and we waited about 30 minutes, wrote a note and went home.

That’s where we found their note, saying that they had ‘come’ to our house.

“kimas” (come) and “Ikimas” (go).  Two little words, big difference in understanding.  We always laugh about that.  Kumiko told me, “Next time we speak English!”

But as I think about it, I’m not sure switching languages would have solved the problem. As I said before, even in English we talk about “coming” to your house, even if we’re not there at the moment. The problem lies not in the word “come” but in where you happen to be situated. I can be halfway around the world and still talk about “coming” to see you, because in my mind I’m already there.

Well, this could become a lot more complicated than it ought to be, so let me just close with a spiritual application. Jesus said, “Come to Me”, and in those three words, I understand all I need to know. He is there. I am here. I want to be where He is.

As we move into Thanksgiving, I would love to be where you are. This is a time of family and friends, of gathering together and sharing the joy of our blessings. But even if I can’t “come” to you, be assured that I will be “going” to the Father in my prayers, and by His love and mercy, we will be together in His Spirit, bound by His love.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Marsha

Two Fingers

Today I’d like to tell you another interesting story about God’s faithfulness in Japan.  It’s an old story, but an important one, at least to me.

I was a very young missionary.  I think it was about 1979 or so and we were in the struggles of language school, beginning to wonder what the point was, especially if we could never manage to communicate with ‘these’ people.  So far we’d learned to say important things like; “I’d like to buy a blue ashtray”, and “Last night I ate spoiled shrimp in the Ginza”.
One Sunday, we went up to Tokyo to sit in on one of the many services of Tokyo Baptist Church, where we occasionally got to go for a treat (since it was in English).  A glance at the bulletin mentioned that a lady named “Yoneko” would be speaking.  I didn’t know anything about her and wondered what she’d have to say.
And then a very beautiful and stately woman ascended the stairs up to the platform and turned to address us.  It was only then that I noticed she was missing an arm.
Well…..did she ever had a story.
She had been a young woman just at the finish of WWII, about 73 years ago now.  She, along with many Japanese because of the war, had almost no education so had to find work where she could, happy to be a train attendant selling chips and tea on a little local train line on an island south of Tokyo.

The hours were long and the pay was insignificant. By now she had been doing this job for several years, and what meagre family she’d had had died or dissipated, and she had no real friends. The landscape of her daily life never changed.

Gradually she began to wonder at the meaning of her life.  There was no room for improvement that she could see, and with everyone being devastated by war, she couldn’t better her circumstances.  She supposed that she was glad to even have a job, but struggled with thinking of a future and wondered why she hadn’t died with everyone else.

One cold night, the doubts overtook her, and as she left after finishing her shift, in the early hours of the morning, she chose to end it all by stepping off the platform into the jaws of the oncoming train.

Blackness.

And then, some days later, from far away, she could hear voices and see shades of light.  She wondered if she was in the afterlife, but instinctively opened her eyes to observe the surroundings.

A scream of raw pain overtook her but she remained conscious. Then gradually she realized she was looking up at the ceiling in a hospital.

The nurses rushed over to her with happiness mixed with concern.

“Oh, we’re so glad you’ve survived, you had us scared there for awhile”, they greeted her.

She reached for them, but didn’t touch them.  Looking down she noticed that although she ‘felt’ her arm move, there was indeed no arm there.  Then she looked down at the sheets and saw that they were tucked in tight and there were no impressions of legs.

She had, at the crushing impact of the train, lost her two legs at the hips, her complete left arm and three fingers on the right one.

As you can imagine, she was not as happy about surviving as the nurses were.

For days she lay in pain and agony, both physically and mentally. Finally she came up with a plan.   It would be painful, but she would somehow take the pain pills in her one remaining palm, and surreptitiously tuck them under her pillow until she had enough to really ‘ease’ the pain and leave this world for good.

And then one day, in her un-medicated raw pain, her eyes focused on a handsome young man standing beside her bed.

“Hello” he said in disgustingly cheerful voice. “I’m here visiting someone else and I’ve been told that you’ve had an accident. Do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Go away!”  She screamed and tried to roll away from him.

“No, just hear me out,” he said kindly, leaning toward her and smiling.

Well, she was Japanese, and had been brought up to be polite, so she listened as he explained God’s love for her, and His concern that she get well.

She closed her eyes and let the sound of his voice ease her pain, even though she didn’t believe a word of it.  He wrapped up his short visit with a question,

“What would be the harm of just asking Jesus to love you?”  Then he said good bye and left.

That night, as the pain continued and she couldn’t sleep, she thought about the fact that she had just about enough pills to end it all.  But then she also thought about the guy’s question……….No one had ever loved her, so maybe that might be an interesting feeling, if only it could happen.

Finally in the wee hours of the morning, she prayed.

“Jesus, if you’re really there and you really care, please, if it’s not too much trouble, think of me.”  She wanted to say, “Please love me,” but she couldn’t even imagine that.

Unbelievably, she slept the best she had since the ‘accident’. When she woke, it was to the sound of birds chirping in the trees.

“Oh!” She thought, startled, “Look!  I have TWO FINGERS!!  I can grasp things!  How good is this God to let me have TWO fingers!”

And from that moment, she was a new creature.  She was the beautiful composed lady I was looking at on the platform.

She recovered, was fitted with prosthetic legs, MARRIED the handsome boy, who was a young pastor.  Together they had two beautiful girls.  She went on to tell how the first baby lay quietly as she changed diapers, and never struggled against her as she went on to do everything that was required to take care of her. Then soon after, the second one was born, and was as wiggly as any baby could be, perhaps, Yoneko thought, because she had a wonderful big sister who could help.

I think Yoneko and her husband are rejoicing with the Lord now.  I do know they had a long and fruitful ministry.

That morning long ago, after hearing her speak, I came away much inspired.  Somehow I could take my worthless sentences in Japanese, and trusting God, make them work for His Kingdom.  I understood again that He always takes what we have and makes it enough.

I’m reminded of that beautiful verse in the Bible (and then the accompanying hymn) that says in Malachi 3:10, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Have a great week, Marsha

Sweet Reunion

My daddy and Mr. Kojima sat eating watermelon together, laughing and enjoying stories about their grandkids and life in general.  They were both in their 60’s and it was in the early 80’s when this was happening.  My parents had come out to Japan to see their new grandson Nathan and spend some time with us in our new country, about 2 years after we’d arrived. We were industriously studying Japanese, living next door to Yokohama Baptist Church where Mr and Mrs Kojima lived and took care of the church and the grounds.  They had become like grandparents to my two boys and we were enjoying this special visit.

Suddenly the scene froze as Mr Kojima raised a piece of watermelon to his lips.

“You know”, he said, clearing his throat, “A few years ago you and I would have killed each other”…………Daddy’s face let on that he’d just thought of this about the same time.  You see they were BOTH WWII veterans, just on different sides.

Then Mr Kojima said, “Let me tell you a story” and we settled in.

“When WWII was well into it, I was drafted to go to service.  I would be leaving my wife, but I was honor bound to serve Emperor and country.  I don’t think she minded that I was leaving, we’d never enjoyed each other too much”.

Then Mrs Kojima interjected.  “It wasn’t that I didn’t like you, I HATED you!”  then turning to us, she continued, her head bowed and speaking in a confidential tone, “Ours was an arranged marriage as all marriages were those days.  He was a brute and beat me regularly, especially if his business wasn’t going well or he’d been drinking.  I had to live with his family as was the custom, so I was practically a slave and had no place to run.  It was easy to understand that I was definitely not happy.”

“Yes Yes, I remember” he leaned over and stroked her hand lovingly.

The story continued.

He went off to war and ended up on the island of Saipan where the Allies had been engaging the Japanese for about 16 months. There had been an estimate of 30,000 Japanese deaths to that time.   Finally the end was near and the Japanese were scared.  The propaganda that they’d been fed by the Japanese about the Americans led over 1500 people, mostly women and children, over a period of several days, to jump to their deaths off some very high cliffs.  What a tragedy, you say, but Japan was really under the sway of ‘Death without surrender” and this was the only honorable thing they knew to do.

Kojima, for whatever reason, was not in that area at the time, so he and several of his buddies took to the nearby jungle to hide out.  There they stayed for over 2 years, contacting no one, ignoring the leaflets dropped from helicopters explaining in Japanese that the war was over and they could come out.

“Why would we believe such a thing after all we’d heard about the demon Americans” he told us

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so to speak, Mrs Kojima continued to live with her inlaws, unhappy as always, but praying dutifully at the family shrine every day.

“What they didn’t know, she chirped in”, was that my silent prayer every day to Buddha was that Mr Kojima would die as bad a death as he’d given me when he was living”.

But then one day she happened upon a church, and listening to the Good news of love and forgiveness, gradually her hard heart began to change.

Back in Saipan, it had been two years, and Mr Kojima and his friends were enjoying the nightly movies put on by the GI’s from their camp. They would broadcast the American musicals with Doris Day and other beautiful women onto a huge screen that was facing the jungle, most likely aware that while they were enjoying themselves, there were hundreds of little black eyes watching the movie right along with them.

Finally Mr Kojima had had enough. He told his friends, “These guys can’t be all that bad, I’m going to turn myself in,” and he marched into the camp.  GI’s ran to him and clasp his hand in greeting and took him off to the commander.

The propaganda wasn’t true. They did not eat him or beat him, but fed and clothed him and even went back with him to the jungle to tell his friends.  And even though they brought a message of Good News os to speak, no one would come out.  No one would believe or trust him.  Sound like a Bible story?

And so, Mr Kojima thrived.  It was far enough post war by now that he wasn’t considered a prisoner, and he was housed, taught English and more importantly, thru some of the men, told about the Love of a Savior.

He retuned home eventually.  There was Mrs Kojima waiting for him.  She might have had a conflicted look about her, but he was glad to be home at any rate.

Within months, he began to wonder what had happened.  She was not throwing his food at him or recoiling from his advances. she was almost, what’s the word, he tried to think………..nice?

Finally she shared with him how a man called Jesus had made her able to love him.

The rest is a love story that led them to us.  Mr Kojima, having been prepped by the Americans, was able to quickly ask forgiveness from God and his family and from that time on, the two of them really fell into a deep love for each other and others.  They even had children and added to their joy.

As they sat there with us, we all had tears in our eyes.  My Daddy spoke first, “Yes, we would have killed each other, but now, because of Christ’s love, we’re brothers.” ………and then that prompted us all us all to have a big american hug!

Christ the healer….

Now both my Daddy and Mr. and Mrs Kojima are sitting at the feet of Jesus, the one who brought them all together!

This week let’s think about the forgiveness God thru Jesus can give us all, forgiveness to put away the past and enjoy the future.

Happy trails, Marsha

Write This Down

Good morning all,

I mentioned the other day about trying to put together our memoirs. Yeah, that sounds kind of arrogant, I know. But I’m thinking this is a good thing for anybody to do, if for nothing else then for our own sakes. As the years go by, we tend to forget things; in this exercise alone, Tony and I have lost whole Christmases that we can’t for the life of us remember where we were that year. And it’s only going to get worse, I’m afraid.

So for our own sakes, and for trying to keep the history, we want to get our stories down on paper (or in digital, as it were). But also for the sake of those who come after us. I’m being realistic; I doubt seriously that our kids will ever read it (although they of all people should be encouraged to do so, since we spend a lot of time talking about them!) But maybe their kids will take a look at our ramblings. Think about it: what would you give to be able to read the story of the everyday life of your great great great grandfather? When Tony’s Dad passed away, we came across Mom’s diary from back when she was a teenager. Dad had kept it on his bedside table (Oh great, now I have to stop and cry a bit!). Looking through it, we can see that she was a typical teen during an untypical time (WWII), and to see the pages come alive makes it so precious to us.

Without writing it down, we might miss some of those memories that took many years and lots of miles to come together. Here’s an example:

One year while on furlough, we were at a missions fair in Chattanooga, Tennessee, working alongside Tony’s Dad, who by now was known far and wide as “Uncle Buddy”. It was a great time, and we had fun trying to “outdo” Dad’s Africa stories with our own experiences in Japan. Didn’t come close.
Now fast forward several years. One of the young couples we met at the fair had felt called to missions, and we wrote back and forth. Eventually, it all came together, and they were appointed as missionaries to Japan. That was wonderful, but I kept wondering about where they were being sent. They are American citizens, but both were born in Thailand, and Thai is their heart language. But we figured the Lord and the Board knew what they were doing by sending them to Japan where they would have to go to language school for two years just like the rest of us.
They settled in, did what was required and finally were posted to southern Japan. Keep in mind that we were living in Sendai, way up in NORTHERN Japan, so we didn’t get to see them very often.

Then one day we got a letter from the couple (whose names are Jack and Prinna). They had been hosting an event at their church, and ended up sitting at a table across from someone they didn’t know. As they spoke together, the newcomer mentioned that he came from northern Japan, in a town called Sendai, and were members of Taitomi Baptist Church there.

“What a coincidence!” Jack exclaimed. “We know the couple who started that church, Tony and Marsha Woods. In fact, Tony’s father, who goes by Uncle Buddy was the one who led us into mission work.”

“Oh yes,” the man (whose name is Shinkichi) said. “I know Uncle Buddy very well. I’ve been to his house in Texas a couple of times, and his wise counsel brought me through more than one crisis in my life.”

Isn’t God Great!  From Tennessee to Texas, from the far north of Japan to the far south, He just keeps selecting, calling and using His children, weaving the fabric of their lives into the awesome work of art that we won’t be able to see in its completeness until we ourselves are made complete in Him. Once in awhile the threads come together, and we manage to get a glimpse of the Weaver’s work.

Forget that old adage about “six degrees of separation”. For God’s family, we are never farther away than our prayers for each other. We are bound, not by random choices in life, but by the One Who made us all, Who built us for a purpose, and Who guides our efforts, drawing us into all that we were made to be.

Back to the “memoir” theme: on at least two occasions, God has spoken to His people, revealing to them those things they or someone near them will be needing down the track. Consider the Apostle John in Revelation 1:19, and to the prophet Habakkuk in 2:1. They were told, “Write this down.”

Good idea.

Marsha

Faith Lines

Back in the 60’s, we used the word “trip” in different ways than we might use them now. The drug culture was ramping up, and before the disastrous consequences were fully known, young people just referred to it as “tripping”, as if it were nothing more than a ride in the country. Today, the young folks have moved on to a different set of vocabulary, but some of those old descriptions have taken on newer meanings. One of those expressions is called a “mind trip”, or a time when your senses tell you one thing but reality shows you another.

While we were at the Japan church conference last week, we experienced one of those “mind trips”. Let tell you about it. As I mentioned, there were over 180 people there, many strangers, but we were amazed at the number of connections that we were able to make, either from shared experiences, or from people who just ‘knew’ about us or knew someone close to us.  It was heavenly, discovering relationships both new and old and re-living together so many memories from our time in Japan. One day I was talking to a young pastor, and, just making conversation I asked him where he was from.

“Yamagata,” he beamed.

Even many Japanese would only have a vague idea where that was, and practically no one outside Japan would know it, unless of course they had seen the movie, “Departures”. It a great movie, by the way, and I highly recommend it. After just a few minutes, you forget that it’s in Japanese and you have to depend on the subtitles, the plot is so gripping and relatable. The Japanese title is “Okuribito”, and I won’t say more so I don’t ruin it for you.

Anyway, Yamagata is right over the hill from our “home town” of Sendai, and we have a whole basket full of memories from there. I really perked up.
“So do you know the Penners?” I asked. They are our missionary friends who work with the deaf and are second generation missionaries, both of their parents being missionaries themselves.  Such a question is like finding someone from Boston and insisting that they must know your sister who lives there, but I figured it was worth a shot.

He scratched his chin for a moment and then said, “Uhm, yes, I think they’re the ones who led my grandfather to the Lord.”

Well, now we certainly had something to talk about!

“So you’re a third generation Christian!” I beamed at him.  Unfortunately it’s pretty rare in Japan where families are generational, passing down the Christian life to their kids and grandkids. I was excited to hear about his long history of Christianity in his family.

“No,” he answered.  “I went to school in America as a high school boy and that’s when I discovered Christianity and became a Christian.”

Now I’m confused.  I tried to work out this puzzle in my mind and finally I thought I had it,

“So your granddaddy was a Christian and then we skipped a generation and you became a Christian in America?” I asked.

“No,” he answered again.

This was getting complicated. Maybe he wasn’t understanding my Japanese.  I know things can get tricky with grammar and tense, but you’d think by now I could communicate basic ideas.

He saw my confusion and smiled.

‘I was not ever exposed to Christianity growing up and when I came home from America a new Christian, I couldn’t wait to share it with my grandpa.  He listened and said, “Oh!  I’ve got a friend who’s a foreigner and he always tells me about this, I’ll go see him now!”

That was the Elder Penner missionary, who had been faithfully witnessing to him for years.  Thanks to grandson’s encouragement, the grandfather became a Christian and within a few years, almost the whole family had followed in believing.

But there’s more!  First we have the grandson, then the grandfather and most of the family but what about our younger Penner friends who also know of this surname (which is quite unusual)?

During the meeting I’m texting the Penners back and forth, and they answered,  “Yes, we heard from our parents about the grandfather but we remember someone else of that name who’s deaf and has done some translating for us years ago……..who’s that?”

I had to text back, “How do you say ‘deaf’ in Japanese?”   I didn’t think my ‘go to’ expression, “His ears are far away” would be politically correct and I was right.

The proper word came back and during the break I was able to ask, “Who in his family is deaf?”

“Oh!” the pastor said, “That’s my uncle! And he’s very near to making a decision as well!”

What a crazy world we live in.  God knows not only the ups and downs of generations and time but also side-to-side when it comes to loving us and leading us to Him.

If you’re as confused as I was, get a paper and pencil and work it out.  You’ll be amazed at God’s faithfulness to his children.

And while you’re at it, try mapping out your own “faith line”. Who was responsible for bringing to faith the one who led you? How many steps back can you take? It’s like weaving a tapestry, with no idea how the picture is going to turn out until the job is finished. For that matter, it’s not finished yet, is it? What do you suppose the Master Weaver is working into your life right now?

Marsha

Just Ask

A few weeks ago we went with our children to their church, Hillsong.  Many of you know of this mega church, 28 of them in Australia alone, and then that many more all over the world.  They produce a lot of the music we all sing in contemporary worship.  It’s true that they get a lot of flack from the media, but the church here at least seems to have been changing for the better over the years, and I believe that all in all the preaching is sound and relevant.

This particular morning Brian Houston, the “Senior Global Minister” preached a great sermon on seeing ourselves, not as worthy or as unworthy, but as God sees us, namely created for His pleasure as it says in Romans 3:23.

At the end of the sermon, he gave an invitation.  Our Aussie churches here, or at least most of them, don’t do this to a great extent.  Yes, there’s a call to come down if you have something on your heart, but Brian spelled out the invitation, and made sure everyone understood that coming to the front was not just for a chance to “feel good”. He explained the entire plan of salvation, no excuses, no exceptions.  He then asked that the ENTIRE congregation stand and pray with him the sinners prayer, out loud for all to hear. When we finished, he closed up with a invitation to anyone in the room who had just prayed that prayer from the heart for the first time: pick up a Bible on the way out and connect with a counselor.

I was very impressed, and I saw several people taking Bibles and talking to helpful people.  I thought of an old missionary, just after the war, who did the same thing with our pastor, Naoki Noguchi (the one we’ve talked about so much).

Elizabeth was a single missionary living on the island of Kyushu (at the bottom of Japan) in the early 1950’s.  She became quite famous thru her life, similar to our Southern Baptist Offering inspiration, missionary-to-China Lottie Moon.

Elizabeth had an English Bible Class for about 15 teenage boys.  Young Noguchi deemed it advantageous, since Japan had lost the war, to learn English. His friend had discovered the free class, and invited Noguchi along.

He joined the group, and in spite of his initial prejudices, found that he really enjoyed it. He had come to the class determined to hate the teacher as the enemy she had been, but instead made friends with her and everyone else, some of whom were already Christians.

Later, when we wrote the book, “Sacrificed, Given to an Emperor and Saved by God”, he told us that Miss Elizabeth gave an INVITATION to raise their hands to indicate that they wanted to accept Christ as their Savior, explaining exactly what that meant, after every single lesson.

Finally it was down to the point where young Noguchi was the only non-Christian in the room.  He dropped out for a while mostly just out of shame, but then realized that he missed the group, and actually enjoyed the time together, so he came back.

Elizabeth continued to ask the whole class for commitments, even though Noguchi was the only boy who had yet to voice one. Finally one night as they sat around the table, eyes closed and listening to the invitation, Noguchi says that he opened his eyes a crack and was horrified to see that his own hand was in the air! But before he could pull it back down, he listened to his heart and concluded that this was something he really wanted to do. He prayed to accept Christ, was immediately directed to wise counsel from some of the older boys, and within a few years had matured to the very effective pastor that eventually we would come to know.

I guess what I’m saying is simply that we NEED to ask people what they’re going to do about Christ. They deserve the invitation, and we would be remiss in our duty as Christians to refuse it to others. Sometimes we get all PC and culturally sensitive, and yes I admit, sometimes we’re afraid. But that doesn’t change the fact that people need to be asked.

I’m thinking just now of another Australian friend who married a sweet Japanese girl several years ago. He had grown up in a Christian home and professed the faith. She wasn’t a Christian, but they were in love, and he took the traditional Aussie approach to life: “She’ll be right, Mate!”

Some time later, they were visiting in the home of his parents. After dinner, father-in-law called her into the living room and shared the Gospel with her. When hubby walked in, she glared at him with an icy stare. “Why did you never tell me about this?”

Of course he had no acceptable answer, but I’m happy to say that today this young couple are living the dream, surrounded by the love of Christ. All because someone asked.

I know there are places in the world where asking such questions can get you killed. Let’s never stop praying for those who must pay the ultimate price for the questions and the answers. But …. I dare say for most of us reading this blog, the problems do not lie in overt persecution, but in covert fear and timidity. What did the Apostle Paul have to say about that? 2 Timothy 1:7, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.”

Go get em tigers!

Marsha

Chilly Sydney with Warm Hearts

Good morning,

This morning’s blog is coming to you from chilly Sydney where we have been attending the annual conference for all things Japanese in Australian and New Zealand churches.

My little heart is full with all the wonderful worship, singing, preaching, testimonies and just the casual fellowship and friendships of what happens when 180 people get together.  The Australian churches have done the catering so we’re all enjoying ‘sausage sizzles’ and barbeques, not exactly Japanese fare, but after all, we live Down Under.

I think I like the testimonies the best.  There are several of what I call the typical “Come to Jesus” moments in Japanese life: A girl comes to Australia to learn “Engrish”, but cannot really get around, someone invites her to church (or a BBQ) and she observes a lifestyle that she’s not known before.  Upon further contemplation, usually involving several years and a couple of trips up to the highest balcony to contemplate ending it all, she commits to Christ and is reborn.

I don’t want to trivialize this, but it’s so common as to appear normal.  Japanese don’t see Christ at work in Japan and when they finally encounter Christians, they have to learn to accept that this is what their hearts have been crying for, and they are welcome to join.

Getting saved and then God’s faithfulness (where have you heard that before?) seem to be the themes of these testimonies. Last night a widow of 14 years, who incidentally from the back of the room looks like a college student, told of watching her Australian husband drop dead at the dinner table from a heart attack.  She knew little English and had three children under 9.  He left her $800.

But she WAS (and still is) a committed Christian, and told of how the ‘Body’ of Christ has kept her going all these years.  So heartwarming to see the Bible commands at work; taking care of widows and orphans.

I could go on and on but then you’d have been better off just coming to the conference.

Tony’s Anagaion course was very well attended, with several folks “sneaking in” at the last minute even tho they hadn’t pre-registered.  Better than that even was that we did sell a lot of the requisite books for the course.  That’s a real good thing because I don’t fancy myself having to drag them home! Ha

As I said, our hearts are full.  It seems like these last few weeks have been all about reminding us that our first love are these people who need the Lord.

Blessings, Marsha