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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?


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!


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

Buying Land in a War Zone

Good Morning All My Friends,

Here we are safe and sound back in Australia.  I want to thank all of you who prayed that we’d have safe travels and a productive trip.  You outdid yourselves with the prayer cover because not only did we get on the airplanes we needed (even flying standby), but we had extra seats given to us (that means a lot in Economy), smooth flights, no delays, no sprains or departure from realistic thinking in terms of getting on the rights trains, etc (unlike our last train trip in Thailand).

Everything went smoothly and we were able to have a lot of meetings with significant players for the 2020 Olympic Games Evangelical outreach.

Now the ball is in the hands of the Japanese. Tony gave them an 11-page report accompanied by a step-by-step proposal; and now we trust them to move forward.  Whether we will continue to be involved is pretty much up to them and of course everyone’s budgets. We can put the outcome in His hands and settle back, at least until next week when we have a Really Big Japanese conference in Sydney.  Hopefully I can tell you about that next time.

I was also able to get a few more stories to add to my “Faithfulness of God” Series, but even better than that, I came to understand a few things about myself on a deeper level.  Believe me, at our age, understanding yourself better is always a good thing!

Last Sunday, we visited the large downtown church in the Ginza district of Tokyo.  It was founded in 1890 and had the pipe organ to prove it. What a delight to be ushered in to the last two available seats in the house.  It was also encouraging to see people of all ages, truly happy to be there and singing from their hearts out of the hymnal.  We joined right in.

Then they made the announcement that the one person we specifically came to see (the pastor) was out of town and the stand-in would be preaching out of Jeremiah.  (I inwardly groaned as our ability to understand Japanese is often limited to conversations, lighter passages in the Bible and maybe TV, but not so much the deeper teachings of the Old Testament).

If that weren’t bad enough, I glanced down and noticed that the fill-in pastor was none other than Kondo Sensei, Professor Emeritus from one of the more prestigious seminaries in Japan.

“I’m toast,” I thought as I rolled my eyes at Tony and tried to settle back on the hard pew.

Well…..what this man, Reverend Kondo had to say, was not only clear and easy to understand, but quite possibly changed a lot about how Tony and I have always seen our roles in this world.

His text was Jeremiah 32:6-25. I’ll paraphrase it for you if you don’t have your Bible handy. The prophet Jeremiah, you’ll remember, had been preaching doom and gloom to the Israelites for a long time.  By now, I’m guessing he’s beginning to believe it himself.  The siege ramps are going up and the Babylonians are on the doorstep about to attack.

But the Lord tells Jeremiah in verse 6 that his cousin is going to offer to sell him some land and that he should buy it. Keep in mind that the Babylonians are right outside the door, and so far they’ve never been defeated.  The city’s about to fall.

But in verse 8 Jeremiah says, “I knew that this was the Word of the Lord, so I bought the field.  I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed and weighed out the silver on the scales (v11). I took the deed of purchase, the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy (vs14). This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:  Take these documents, both the sealed and the unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so that they will last a long time.”

By the way, in 2005, archeologists in Jerusalem uncovered what was called the “House of the Bullae”, a storeroom for such documents. So far, they have uncovered and identified 51 jars like the Book of Jeremiah describes. And although the one belonging to the prophet himself has not turned up yet, the seals indicate that they were buried there at about the same time.

The next several verses are Jeremiah’s praise of God and all that He has done, but then the prophet ends up with a query of sorts. Vs 25.  “And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, You, O sovereign Lord, say to me, ‘Buy a field with silver and have the transaction witnessed’. Who says the Old Testament prophets weren’t candid with God?

I think I would have had the same response. Why on earth would I buy a field when it’s in a war zone, during a war that You Yourself said we’re going to lose?

But Pastor Kondo continued on to read the rest of the story. Vs 37, God speaks of his love for Israel.  “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger, and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.  They will be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and for the good of their children after them”

I realize this passage is for the Israelites, but because of Christ, I think we can include the Japanese in this promise.

And then it hit me.  We are the messengers today of God’s promises.  We went to Japan 40 years ago along with countless others who were carrying God’s love and promise of salvation for generations before us. We all “bought the field” when it didn’t seem to make sense. Satan had claimed this land as his own, and we were essentially going into a spiritual war zone. Our “purchase” was witnessed by you, who prayed for us and supported us for so many years. The deed of sale was sealed up in a clay pot: that is, the clay vessels that we are.

To all who look at Japan, it still pretty much looks like enemy territory. I didn’t see much improvement this last week in the ‘lostness’ of the people; and it made me cry all over again.

BUT GOD KNOWS what He’s doing, and He’s telling us not to give up on the people He loves……

Now I can really understand why I always feel a pull to Japan; why when we go back to visit, I feel that satisfaction of being “home”. I think I finally realize that this feeling is kept strong because of that “senseless” investment God asked us to make.

I believe with every fiber of my being that this purchase will not be wasted. I know that someday, if the Lord tarries, our physical bodies will also be placed in another kind of clay urn and placed in the little church where our son lies.…….in the land God is keeping in His heart.  Hopefully, maybe even before our contract is up, God WILL restore Japan to Christ. Until that time, we just pray for those who remain in harm’s way, bound and kept by a defeated enemy until the time when he is banished for good.

Have a great week.  It’s good to be back in the saddle here.


Back to the Future

40 years ago this last May, we stepped off a plane at Narita with a screaming 3 yr old and couldn’t even find the bathroom because there were no English signs.  The mission had sent us a letter by mail months earlier to say that they wouldn’t be meeting us at the airport because they were “Very busy’, so we had little expectations.  That was good because the travel agent had neglected to get our son a visa.  I told the immigration agent they could have him.

But thankfully our lifelong friends and partners in crime, the Gierharts, rearranged their ‘Very Busy” schedules and came out to pick us up.  They’d been in Japan for 6 months already and had acclimated to the smog, stop and go traffic on the freeways, cheek to cheek housing, etc. They picked us up and drove us into the guest apartments, across Tokyo in rush hour, and it took about 3 hours.  We were trashed.

That night, Trevor finally gave up and went to sleep and I wrote my Daddy a postcard.  All it said was, “We’re here safe.  I think I FINALLY found a foreign country.” Keep in mind we’d lived in Africa three years prior to this, but I was freaking out.   I looked at Tony, on the verge of tears and I’ll never forget what he said. “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

The next morning we were rested and the sun was peeking out from the clouds.  We went shopping along a little street near the mission that looked like something out of a samurai movie. It may all have been in Black and White, I can’t remember, but the shopkeepers all thought Trevor was cute so that made us happy.

Japan will get under your skin.

As we were walking back to the hostel the other night, I stopped and just took a deep breath.  The SMELL of Japan. The wet street, the aroma of a nearby flower growing out of a manhole cover, the waft of the famous ‘oden’ that’s always cooking at the check out counter of the 7/11 where we’d just bought our favorite ‘go to’ supper (sea chicken onigiri, or rice balls with tuna).

We’re half way thru our sudden visit, asked by the mission to come and see if we could untangle the challenge of “What should we do about the Olympic evangelism outreach for 2020?”  They’ve been working on this project for a year already but haven’t come up with what they need to be on track, it now being only two years away.

Since we’ve had the experience of doing this twice, first in the winter Olympics in Japan in 1998 and then in Sydney for the summer Games in 2000, we’re considered what they might call in some circles, ‘expert witnesses’.

We’re not too sure we’re all that ‘expert’, but we do have the ability to focus, since unlike the rest of the missionaries here, we’re not already overloaded with other vital ministries.  But before we get too full of ourselves, we’re also realizing that at 68 and 70, we also have several handicaps to work with.

The last Olympics we did was 20 years ago.  We gave out thousands of VHS “Jesus Film” videos.  That’s not gonna be appropriate now.  We’re dealing with a new technology age that we are just barely aware of.  Once we can get our heads around this, or better yet, find someone who can, things may actually be easier than before.

We’re older than we’ve ever been.  We’ve been away from the ‘no car’ world of Tokyo for three years now, but now, being back, have averaged 8 miles a day just walking to and from trains, climbing innumerable stairs, sitting on floors …… you know, the healthy life of the Japanese. And as a result, we’re popping aspirin like never before, and literally crawl into bed every night, groan a couple of times and fall into the sleep of the aged.

We haven’t yet had a moment to indulge in our favorite meals, choosing instead to just grab the rice balls and the like. We even ran out of time and had to eat at MOS Burger the other night.  This would NOT be on my list of food I love. We’ve drunk a LOT of tea, and even with new facilities going up all over Tokyo still got to experience again a nice, dirty, ‘squatty potty’ in a train station.  If that doesn’t ‘take you back’ nothing will.

But it’s all good news.  We’re so happy to find people willing and interested in helping.  Now we just need to sort, report, allocate and figure out the big questions like …….what ARE the big questions?

Thanks for your prayers, none of us know where this is going.  We’re talking to a large group of volunteers this next Tuesday who possibly will be getting their mega church in the States to jump on board.  In fact this blog is going out late because we’ve been busy getting them settled in today.

Concerning volunteers, we have said over and over, “Sometimes it’s not the receivers who are blessed but the givers”. Either way, these Olympics will be a blessing to thousands of Christians and Christians to be.

Our goals for the remaining time we’re here are to reach as many potential contacts, churches and the like.

Our selfish goals are to get some of that beautiful Japanese food that we miss, hit a “100 Yen” shop for essentials and maybe have a nice hot bath in a hot spring somewhere. These goals may or not transpire depending on the schedule.

But we’re loving it all.

Till the next week!  I’ve got some NEW stories for you!!

Off to Japan

Good morning all,

This morning we’re going to have to veer away from “God’s faithfulness in Japan” theme because we’re actually going to Japan this week!

We got a text in the middle of the day a week or so ago asking if we’d consider ‘helping’ with the Olympic games (not actually participating in the events as I’m sure you thought, but in organizing the volunteers who will be coming to spread the Gospel among both the athletes and the spectators).

We thought those days were behind us. We did two Olympic outreaches about 20 years ago, first for the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998 and then two years later for the Summer Games in Sydney. That’s when Tony started on blood pressure medicine.

But like throwing gas on a flame, we couldn’t help but be excited about the chance to share some of our old, but hopefully helpful experience.

So I need you to stop reading this and just pray that from the 12th of September, thru the 19th or so, we can;

Find a seat and get on the plane (we’re flying standby with Nicki’s stewardess discount).

Be able to touch base with as many people as possible regarding what needs to be done with this huge event.  With less than two years till the event, we’re already behind in the planning.

Please pray for our energy levels and for Japan who in the last week has experienced the worst typhoon in 25 years as well as a fairly major earthquake……again.

Japan needs the Lord, no doubt there. We love the land of most of our adult life and want them to find the Lord as well!

And as a bonus, while I’m there I hope I can gather up some more exciting stories to continue to tell you about the amazing history of Christ in Japan.

Till next time, “hoo roo” and “sayonara”. Depending on how things go in the next few days, I may or may not be able to post next week, but don’t give up on me!


Keeping Your Cool in Tokyo

So after the last few weeks of rather heavy drama, I thought I should show you the more ‘human’ side of some of these great missionaries of the past.

The person relaying the following information to me suggested that I leave out names to protect the innocent and perhaps the not-so-innocent. I agree and I think you will too. It’s just possible that we’ve all been in these situations before, regardless of the culture surrounding us.

In the 1970’s, just 20 some years after the war, Tokyo had recovered economically to the extent that there were a lot of cars back on the roads.  Out of necessity, the streets in Tokyo had been rebuilt right over the rubble, so there understandably was no rhyme or reason to the layout, and traveling in a straight line was out of the question.  Of course, thru the metropolis of Tokyo, most of the moving traffic is captured quite literally by toll roads.  When I say ‘captured’ I mean that once you get on one of these arteries, you are several stories above or below the city, and there is no escape until several miles later when there may or not be an exit.

I’m reminded of a single missionary who was particularly absent minded.  She gave everything she had to evangelizing the lost and as a result, rarely thought about the reality of day-to-day living.

One day as she sailed above the traffic, from one life changing encounter to the next, she remembered that she had no money. When she reached the toll booth, she smiled her biggest southern belle smile and explained her situation to the toll taker.  He replied with equal amiability that she needed to fill out several forms in triplicate, basically outlining her sins against humanity for being so thoughtless. Of course these forms were all in Japanese as there were few foreigners with so little regard to their responsibility to society.   As she squeezed her car out of the traffic, the toll taker finally had compassion and offered to fill out the forms…… if she would just sit in the box and take everyone’s money.

I chuckle as I write this, thinking of this gangly blonde from Alabama leaning out the window and offering her bony hand to the surprised commuters.  It would have been just like her to somehow share the love of Christ in her greeting.

But ‘sharing the love of Christ’ wasn’t always on these saintly missionaries’ minds.  One of our rather noble and respected missionaries was cut off in traffic one day by a large truck.

Somehow at the next light, he jumped out and managed to get into the passenger’s side of the truck as his old nature had taken over and he was pulling back his fist to deck the driver.
“That’ll teach him to mess with ME!” his evil twin shouted in his ear, just as something snapped into his head and he thought,“Wait!  I thought I came to this country to love these people and share Jesus with them!”

He didn’t yet have the language to explain himself, but by now he had definitely got the guy’s attention, so he gave him a big smile as he extricated himself out of the truck, bowing over and over, all the while murmuring in his broken Japanese, “Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you”.

Another equally esteemed missionary had actually been a highway patrolman before coming to Japan. Nevertheless, one day he allowed his temper to get the best of him when another driver perceived that he had been cut off and starting honking his horn incessantly. Finally jumping out of this car, the former policeman-become-missionary strode back to the offending driver and yelled in his best Japanese, “I DID SIGNAL!!”  “I so DID SIGNAL” at an equally angry driver.  Then still in his former ‘cop mode’ he looked for his backup, another missionary who he carpooled with. Not seeing him, he realized that his wing man had not gotten out to join the fight but was cowering in the front seat well below the window and out of sight!  Taking a deep breath, he made a gracious bow and backed shamefaced back to his car, still saying, “Really, I promise you I signaled”.

But perhaps the most ‘godly’ response to an impossible situation was that of an older missionary, very fluent in the language and familiar with Japanese culture.  He found himself in one of those seemingly interminable gridlocks that only a city of 39 million people can create.

The irate dump truck driver behind him held his hand on the horn for several minutes when finally the missionary reached his boiling point.  There was no way he could move, but the guy kept honking. Finally the missionary got out of his vehicle and proceeded calmly back to the truck, wisely heading not for the driver but to the passenger side where and assistant driver sat.  Tapping on the window, he waited until the assistant driver looked down, then bowed deeply and said in his best polite Japanese,

“I understand how tiring this must be for you when you’re working so hard. Therefore, if it’s convenient for you, would you please humbly suggest to your driver that I would honored if he would like to come sit in my car.  If so, then I would count it an even great honor to take his place and continue honking the horn for him!”
After the initial shock of being addressed this way by a foreigner, there was a lot of laughter. The honking stopped, and everyone left the best of friends.

At the end of the day, your missionaries are still people, getting thru the daily toils of life, and hopefully sharing Jesus at every opportunity. We don’t always succeed, and for those times, we covet your prayers!  Let’s all remember this week to show the better, redeemed side of ourselves, no matter what happens. God bless you,

To God Be the Glory

Good Morning,

If you’ve been following me for the last several weeks, you know I’m telling a story about the conversion of a young girl named Yukiko.

She became a Christian, faced persecution but then her sister followed by giving her life to Christ, and now, many years later, we’re up to facing another encounter with Yukiko’s parents, something I wasn’t looking forward to.   I will end the story with this post, so you can relax! I promise that when you finish reading today, you’ll know everything that I know about these people, even though I’m sure God’s not finished with them!

So our last chapter ended with an unplanned late night visit by Yukiko’s mother and father.  The door to our house slid open and in walked Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka.  We had no idea what to expect, but judging from the large basket of beautiful grapes they brought (quite a delicacy in Japan), we hoped for the best.

Obviously we had set our sights low, because we certainly weren’t prepared for what came next.

As soon as we all sat down, Mr. Tanaka shifted on his zabuton (a cushion on the floor for use with our low kotatsu coffee table). Finally he said point blank, as if commenting on the weather, “We want to become Christians.”

We were stunned.

We looked at each other in shock and Tony began by asking a few pertinent questions to try and understand this sudden decision on their part. But Mr. Tanaka raised his hand to interrupt, “I don’t know anything at all, but I do know when I see my girls, that there must be a God and He must love us very much. Will you tell us about Him?”

Still in disbelief, we led them thru the sinner’s prayer, while they followed along in their own words. “Amen” was barely out of their mouths when Mr. Tanaka spoke up, once more with no preamble. “I have a small question.”

“Here it comes,” we thought. The real motive for coming to see us. Probably something like, “Why does God allow suffering?” or “What is the eschatological meaning of the Second Coming?” Again he surprised us.

“Will I have to sing?”

We both laughed and said he could do anything God led him to do!  And with that he visibly relaxed.  You can imagine my smile years later when I saw him singing away during worship, revealing his happy heart.

Like a stone rolling down hill, the pace picked up from there. Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka were baptized into our fledgling church plant.  I chuckled to myself when he chose to add his “Don’t make war with your daughter” speech into his “Shin ko kokku haiku” (the customarily required testimony and vote before being baptized in Japan).

On a humorous note, my chest swelled with pride as we would be showcasing our new baptism robes, finished according to my own design after years of watching the thin robes go all ’see through’ when they hit the water. I had taken this problem up several times with the ladies in charge, only to be reprimanded with a strict and, I felt, a bit chilly, “We don’t look!”  explanation.

Not this time, I determined, not on my watch. Finding some thick shower curtain material, I laboriously made robes in several sizes. This peep show was going to stop!

If you’re smarter than I am (which is quite probable), you may have already jumped ahead in your mind to see the challenge Tony would be facing in the baptistery, that is, trying to get the AIR out of the instant balloon that appeared as soon as the people stepped into the water. Talk about your “swelled chests”!  Poor Mrs. Tanaka took quite a beating before Tony managed to get all of her under. But eventually she, along with everyone else in attendance could consider that she was sufficiently ‘immersed’. For some reason, Mr. Tanaka had no problem. Maybe he was heavier and meaner, and went down with more ease.

I’m happy to say that I can now fast forward several years with the Tanaka family.  They became substitute grandparents for my children, and are undoubtedly continuing that role in the church as we speak. Mr. Tanaka is now a deacon and is a dramatically changed person, although he still possesses that “go for the throat dynamism” that has always been a part of who he is. But now that energy is devoted, thankfully, to the Kingdom of God.

Yukiko, meanwhile lived 25 or more years in a fairly unhappy marriage. They lived mostly overseas on assignments for Tak’s work, and when the job finally brought them back to Japan, it was to a city in the south, far away from our home in Sendai. We saw them only occasionally and Tak never became a Christian even though his FOUR children had grown up (with assorted difficulties) and by God’s grace, had all become involved in full time ministry of some sort. Tak continued to faithfully provide for the family, but he was not a happy man.

Then it happened.

It was in 2011. Tony and I had been transferred back to Japan from Thailand, where we would devote our last five years before retirement helping disaster relief teams up in the tsunami zone. Tak called Tony out of the blue, and asked if they could meet. His marriage was floundering and he needed help.

Tony rushed to meet Tak, and there in a coffee shop he poured out his hurt and anger.  He had lived his whole life living as a proud and haughty atheist, knowing it all, while his entire family lived and loved as Christians.  Finally Tak realized, just like his difficult father-in-law, that God was his only hope.

If you can open this link and continue the ‘drama’ for a few minutes, you’ll see the happy ending to this very touching story.  For those of you who are getting this on email, you should be able to just click your ‘right click’ button anywhere on the line below and it’ll play. Otherwise, copy and paste into your browser:

The last thing Jonathan says on the above video is, “To God Be the Glory” which was my daddy’s favorite song.  Without him and his influence on me, Tony and I would never have become ‘those’ missionaries’ whom Jonathan refers to, who made their way to Japan and allowed God to use them to reach the nations thru this family.

I continue to be amazed.

Hope you enjoyed this drama. Next week we’ll be back to a broader picture of “God’s faithfulness in Japan.”

Have a blessed day, remembering that there are so many people to whom you too can speak God into their lives.

The Story Continues…

So hope all is well with everyone and you’re ready for the continuing saga…

Mr. Tanaka did as Noguchi Sensei ordered and refrained from taking out his aggressions on the church or the daughter, but his constant grizzling and complaining was making life pretty tense at home, so Yukiko decided to find somewhere else to live.  Somewhere where she’d have less emotional stress as she finished up her degree.

She regretted leaving her little sister, Yukari, alone, as she was doing her best to excel in a music degree and needed the support, but she realized that to keep the peace at home, she would have to distance herself.  Besides, since Yukiko had become a Christian, she’d been tutoring young children and giving the money to Yukari so that she could afford better music tutors anyway, so that wouldn’t have to stop.

Yukari was paying attention thru all this, and was learning that becoming a Christian was certainly a dangerous life path. Instead, she chose to partner with some very nefarious people.  After a couple of years, she graduated with a prestigious music degree, but instead of stepping into her career, she messed around and ended up getting caught in a drug bust.

After a few days, Mrs. Tanaka showed up at the prison to see her. Yukari got ready to hear all the things she had already been thinking.  “What do you think you’re doing?”  or “How could you just throw away your life like that?” “We’re so ashamed.”

But instead, Mom just handed her a small book thru the bars and said, “This helped your sister; maybe you should read it.”  You guessed it.  It was a Bible.

Now if this were a movie, the scene would change and you’d read the words, “5 years later”. Yukiko was married (against all of our concerns), to the nice boy that she’d been attending the English classes with when we first met her.  It was a Christian English class, but Tak wasn’t a Christian; he was a scientist and frankly, thought that he knew more than God. Yukiko, however, was certain that he was ‘very very close’ to being a Christian, so Tony finally relinquished his “unequally yoked” rule and married them.

Yukiko was slated to wear my wedding dress, and some weeks before the wedding, my friend and I were downtown getting some material for alterations. Who  should we bump into but Mr. Tanaka himself!  I very much did not like or trust the man, but he insisted on giving us a lift home.

As my friend and I sat in the back seat of his big black car, I wondered if we were about to be taken to be dropped off a bridge.  But I’m an optimist, so instead of worrying,  I decided to venture into even more danger and take up the “Yukiko versus Daddy” thing.  I started by talking about how beautiful she would look in my dress and how we were looking forward to the wedding.  He nodded in reserved agreement.  (Of course he wasn’t pleased about the groom, but for other reasons than him being a non-Christian).  Then I made one of my (many) great blunders in the language when I said, “I just wish you’d stop this WAR with your daughter”.  What I meant to say was “Fight’ with your daughter, but somehow the word I meant to say, “Kenka” became the war word, “Senso”.  Sometimes I wonder if God lets us make mistakes on purpose, but that’s another subject.

Mr. Tanaka slammed on the brakes and turned around to face me.  “You’re right!”  he practically shouted. Then he stared off into the distance for a moment and then resumed driving us home mumbling under his breath, “Senso, Senso, Senso”.

At the wedding reception, I had thought no more about the language mistake until the ‘table speeches’ began and Mr. Tanaka stood to give the charge to the couple.  I’ll never forget what he said,

“A few weeks ago, Marsha said something interesting.” He nodded to me as every eye in the room, as well as the spotlight, focused on me.  I slunk down and shuddered for what might be coming.

“She told me to stop going to WAR with my daughter!”  There was a twitter of laughter at the stupid foreigner as he paused and then continued,

“…. Well, I’ve had time to think about that, and I want to apologize to you, my beautiful daughter, for waging war on you.  I love you and want the best for you and even if I don’t agree with everything,……..and now I think you’ve found the best.”

Another few years passed after the wedding and now Tak and Yukiko had a little boy. They named him ’Takayuki’ which is the compilation of their two names. Tak (Yukiko’s husband), had a PhD in science and a good job, so they were on a several year assignment at Corning Ware in the USA.  The whole family attended church.

Yukari, the little sister,  had come out of her short stay in prison and gone straight to Noguchi Sensei’s church and become a Christian.  She was also married and had a child.

This situation all continued for about 10 years when one night, there we were, minding our own business, kids in bed, dishes dried and settling in for a quiet evening, when we got a call from Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka.  I won’t say they were my favorite people, although the Mrs. seemed nice. They said they’d be dropping by.   We wondered what to think as we straightened up the living room.

“Gomen kudasai” we heard a cheery voice as the front door opened: “We’re here”…..

A Turbulent Baptism

This weekend we’ve had our daughter Nicki and husband down from Brisbane to celebrate her birthday.  We had a lot of good food and accommodating weather, which let us eat out on the balcony, much as if were in Summer.

Later, we were playing the “Un Game”, something that was created by a lady who wasn’t allowed to talk for several months after a throat operation.  What she created was a set of questions, all different and of different levels, so that even our grand boys, 6 and 8 could enter in.

Some of the questions are fun, “What’s your favorite food”, or introspective, “What do you see when you look in the mirror”.  The 6 yr old got “What’s your favorite childhood memory”, which we all found amusing, but he came up with a good answer.

When it was my turn, the question I got was “Who was your greatest mentor?”  I had to think for a moment till I remembered Noguchi Sensei and how much he influenced both Tony and my lives.

You remember from last week that Noguchi Sensei the told young Christian Yukiko to pray and wait till the Lord told her to go on and be baptized.

After several months, the call came one evening.

“Marsha” she said, “I just feel that it’s time for me to be baptized.  I need to follow and obey”

“Do your parents know?” I asked

“No, there’s just no interest there.  Besides I’m of age and so I want to be baptized.  But just to be sure, can we keep it a secret?”

I told her I’d talk to Noguchi Sensei and get back to her, and the next week Tony baptized her in the little church near our house. We all rejoiced.  It was the right thing to do and the church was excited.

In Japan, once you’re baptized, you automatically become a church member, and your details are printed in the church directory.

Now this was not a huge directory, just 50 or 60 names, alphabetically (in the Japanese alphabet).  Her last name, Tanaka, meant that ’ta’ was her first letter, tucked pretty far back in the directory.

Unfortunately the day came when she needed to make a quick call to another person with a name starting with “Ta”.  She made the call but in her hurry she left the directory open by the phone.  Then Daddy walked by.

Well…….the response was not good.  Tanaka san showed up at church, his fist curled, shouting his way through the door as he confronted Noguchi Sensei.

This is where the ‘mentoring’ part comes in.  We happened to be there as well and Noguchi Sensei invited him in with all the cordiality he would give a dignitary.  He motioned for us to join them and nodded to the women in the kitchen to get the tea happening as Tanaka san blustered around and finally allowed himself to be directed to the best seat in the room.  He looked around and with a loud ‘Harrumph” sat down.

“What has happened to your daughter is a wonderful thing, you must be so proud and happy” the pastor began. (I’m guessing Noguchi sensei knew full well that this was not the case, but it’s always good to lead with the positive!).

“NO!”  Tanaka san shouted and stood to leave, shaking his fist in the pastor’s face,  “You’ve brainwashed my daughter and stolen her and I’m going to ……..”

The tea arrived, and there were some nice sweets on a side dish as well.  Tanaka San looked at such a fine offering and sat back down, still grumbling.

We all let him go on until he took a breath. We honestly didn’t know how to respond or what to say, but finally Noguchi Sensei raised his hand and said quietly,

“No one has ever coerced your daughter to do anything.  She initiated each move toward Christianity because God led her to do so.  She clearly loves you both very much, but sadly, YOU, as her father, were not there to answer her questions.  In fact, you so intimidated her that she chose to keep this all from you, so actually it’s YOU you should be shouting at!”   He smiled, dropping his gaze to the teapot as he refilled Tanaka san’s cup.

Tanaka san’s jaw dropped as he continued.

“Now Yukiko, being 20 years old, has the right to make her own decisions, and she’s chosen Christ.  You would be wise to do likewise.  She will be welcome to continue to attend this church as long as she believes God wants and we will not stop her.  Neither will you.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the tea and Good day”.

I wish I could end on a happier note, but you’ll have to wait just one more week to find out what happens………..

Just a hint.  Yukiko did find it to her advantage to find other accommodations.