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.

Baby Steps

So here we are back again after our humorous note about the missionary lady on the train last week.

Since the last blog went out, we did enjoy a long road trip up the coast to a place called “Emu Park”. The 10-hour drive (each way) gave us a lot of time to visit and enjoy some warmer weather, which is nice in winter.  It also reminded us a little of the long hours we spent on the road a few years ago when we were traveling back and forth to the tsunami disaster in Japan.

On Wednesday we had a nice, rather quiet 49th anniversary.  We tried out a new Japanese Sushi cafe, and were delighted to find some things we love, and equally alarmed to see some concoctions that no Japanese would recognize as Sushi.  I guess it’s like ‘Tex-Mex’ to a Mexican.

So, today I’d like to begin a story you may have heard before……from us perhaps, but one that bears repeating: yet another reminder about God’s Faithfulness in Japan.

The year was 1981 and we’d just finished language school in Tokyo and moved up north to Sendai where we were assigned the task of beginning a student ministry.  We had often fantasized about what it would be like to be no longer driven by schedule and tests, but just to follow the Lord’s leading and get started.  I’ll have to admit, we weren’t nearly as fluent as I thought we’d be after two long years of language study, but by now we could at least make rudimentary conversations and bumble around successfully most of the time.

Our work began even sooner than we dreamed. Two teaching opportunities dropped into our laps almost as soon as we arrived, teaching English at some large Christian universities in town. Our 5-year old, Trevor was settled into pre-school without incident, and we were off and running.

Tony walked around the campus of Miyagi Gakuin University, wondering how to turn a teaching role into a Christian ministry. Stopping at a campus coffee shop, he ordered up, laid his Bible on a table and sat down.

Within minutes a young student walked by, stopped, did a double take, and made a cautious approach.

“Are you Woods sensei?” she asked.

“Why, yes I am,” he answered, a little surprised. “How did you know my name?”

“Well, our teacher said a foreigner would be coming. I saw your beard and your Bible, and I just guessed it was you!”

She bowed politely and introduced herself as Yukiko Tanaka. Then she went on…

“You are a missionary, right?”

“Yes, I am, but,”

“So when and where is your Bible study?”

This was no time to hesitate. He gave her a look of confidence and said, “Next Thursday night at our house.” And being a Southern boy, he had to add, “And we’ll serve dinner!”

She took down the details and off she went.

And so began what is even now, almost 40 years later, called “Searchlight Club”.  Sometime when I’m talking about some of the more funny things in the language, I’ll fill you in on how that name came to be. But it got started that next Thursday with a bowl of chili and two students. Yukiko wasn’t there, but she had spread the word

Within months we had 20-30 kids each week.

First they would eat (in typical college student fashion, devouring everything that wasn’t nailed down); our little boys entertaining them with their antics and baby Japanese.

Then while Tony taught the Bible in simple English with as much Japanese explanation as he could manage, I’d put the boys to bed and lay out a snack for the “post study”.

Finally, I would happily shove everyone out the door at 9:10 to catch the last bus at 9:15. I was so thankful for the fact that it was the LAST bus because by then we were exhausted. One of the guys nicknamed me “The Pumpkin queen”.

We didn’t loose track of Yukiko however.  She never took a class from us, never even came to dinner, but she became what we call in the mission, a “Person of Peace” or a person who introduces and leads others to us.  She was interested in Christianity and began coming to our church, which we felt was much better than coming to an English class anyway.  She spoke some English but was a Japanese Literature major, so it wasn’t English she was after, it was God.

A few weeks after meeting her and getting her introduced into church, we decided mutually that she would ride the bus to my house every Tuesday afternoon, and while our baby slept, we would “discuss” Christianity.  This benefitted both of our language quests, me trying my best in Japanese and she in her fledgling English.  Fortunately we had bi-lingual Bibles that could fill in the gaps.

Every week was a debate.  “Why this?”, and “How about that?” sort of repartee. She was a tough nut to crack.

And then after a few months, she came in one day and settled down at our low “kotatsu” table, arranging the warm comforter around her waist.  This is how we managed to get thru the winters with little or no heat. The kotatsu had a heat lamp under the table with a quilt between the frame and the table top.  Magnificent idea.  We still have that original table and have used it a time or two here.

But I digress.  On this particular day we opened our Bibles and I began by asking,  “So, what do you want to discuss today?”

She said nothing, and looking down for a moment, she finally whispered.  “Nothing.  I just want to ask Jesus into my heart.”

I guess you can call me a person with low expectations, but I was really surprised!  I thought for a minute and then jumped to my feet and grabbed the phone, calling our pastor, Noguchi Sensei.  You may remember him from previous blogs. He was an ex-kamikaze pilot who pastored his church just the way he would have piloted his plane: straight for the target.

“Can you get over here right NOW!” I practically shouted,  ”Yukiko wants to pray for salvation.”

Within minutes I heard the door open down the hall and the call came out, “Gomen Kudasai!” as he was taking off his shoes.  That phrase literally means “I’m coming in!” and it’s how Japanese always arrive, sometime much to my surprise, but this time I was very relieved.

He talked with Yukiko, prayed with her, and we rejoiced and took a few minutes to discuss where we would be headed from here.

I knew she was the firstborn daughter with only a little sister.  If there had been a son, no matter in which order, he would have been the heir, but in this case, she would have to be the heir, with all the responsibility for the family, the graves and the ancestor worship.  It would not be easy for her family to accept that she’d seemingly relinquished her duty to become a Christian.

Noguchi Sensei and I agreed that prayer was the only tool she needed.  God would tell her when to let her parents know; meanwhile she could continue to read her Bible and grow.  I added that God would also tell her when to get baptized, which is very important to Japanese.

And pray she did.  Within a few weeks she said something I’ll never forget.

“Marsha, when I used to come here, my goal was to know EVERYTHING and also to prove you wrong.  The Bible is hard to understand, but with your patience, you showed me that I just need to TRUST God and let go.  Now that I’ve done that, I realize that I either don’t care about what I can’t understand, but more importantly, a lot of things have become crystal clear!  I know now it is the Holy Spirit that led me and now is telling me about Himself.”

Thru the years, I’ve remembered often that I don’t need to know or understand everything…….because HE does.

Next week I’ll tell you what happened next…..stay tuned.

Rash Words and Sweet Oranges

Good Morning Everyone,

We are enjoying some beautiful winter weather here in far north Queensland.  We came here with a friend to visit some other friends, and are having a good time.  It’s been lovely.

So for a bit of a break, this morning I’d like to share a missionary story of one of our greats, but maybe a little bit more humorous.

Last week I talked about the arduous life in the north of Japan, both with the isolation and the weather. For obvious reasons, this missionary may want to remain anonymous, but I suspect that maybe some of you out there reading this will remember the story.

She was a rather largish woman, especially by Japanese standards.  I have never forgotten a cute rhyme she gave me during one of our visits, referring to herself:

Some men like their women thin and willowy, but my guy prefers me ‘soft and billowy’.

I’ve held this to my heart as I get softer and billowy-er over the years.  Anyway, one day she was making the long trip to Tokyo on one of those crowded trains I mentioned. After awhile she too, made her way to the dining car.

She was able to find an empty table next to 4 business men.  She sat with her back to them and opened her “obento” or special box lunch that she’d purchased on the way in. If it’s a train box lunch, it’s especially nice and referred to as an “Eki-Ben” (“eki” meaning train station, and “ben” short for bento, or box lunch).   Japanese food is easy to like and we always try to pick especially nice ones when we ride the trains in Japan.

She was enjoying her meal when she began to notice that the talking behind her was getting louder and more animated, so she cocked an ear and listened. Very soon she began to realize that they were talking about her!

“Look at her, would you?”  They guffawed in Japanese. “Can you believe it, look how BIG she is, and what about those… (and they used the more colloquial word) ……..well, have you ever seen such a sight?”

They went from that to a few more rude observations, all while she sat and ate silently.

Then a family came in.

There were no more tables, so catching their attention, she said in her smooth and fluent Japanese, “Hello, what beautiful children you have, would you care to share the table with me, I’m about to leave just now.”

Without turning to the men, she stood, and as she headed away from the table she noticed the entire car had gone eerily silent. With an inside chuckle, she returned to her seat without comment.
But wait, there’s more.
She told me that throughout the next several hours, every one of those men came by her seat, and without a word, but with bowed heads, making no eye contact, each one offered a canned drink or an orange or some other delicacy. One even gave her a whole box of cookies.
I think the take away this week will be, “Be careful what you do when you think no one is watching………or listening!”
We’ll be back in the saddle next week, having celebrated our 49th anniversary on August 1st!
Hoping to keep my words honorable at all times, Marsha
Proverbs 12:18, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Running in Snow

So here we are this week, back to Annie and Nomura san.  They were in full swing when we arrived on the field in 1979. We didn’t know it then, but Annie would have 30+ more years of faithful service and how about Nomura san??

The first time we visited Hokkaido, they invited us for a meal. After that, we made it a point to be invited to their house whenever we were on the island, and especially if we were bringing friends with us! I remember Nomura san would always be in a full kimono, looking beautiful, turning special attention to all of our children, who in turn adored her.  I also remember being impressed that finally I understood the phrase sometimes used of a table ‘groaning’ with food. Both were excellent cooks, and it seemed each time that they outdid themselves; Annie especially, whenever she could show off her ‘Southern cooking’ for appreciative Americans. She even passed on some clever ‘hacks’ (before they were called that) for making ingredients that couldn’t be found in Japan.

There are so many things I remember about these two.  Life in Hokkaido was (and still is) hard.  Not far from Siberia, there is nothing to stop the wind and the cold, and the winters are long and dark.

One time we were sitting at this ‘groaning’ table, reveling in the taste of forgotten favorites like bacon and grits, when something felt like a freight train hit the house.  Suddenly we were sitting there in the dark.

Annie pushed back her chair with resignation and headed for the light switch, sighing and saying,

“Well, that’s it till spring.”  The snow on the roof had slid off with a thunderous crash, completely eclipsing all the windows on the north side of the house.

Don’t get me wrong; Annie and Nomura san loved their lives and their challenges.  She laughed about the tram drivers repeatedly scolding her for shoveling snow onto their tracks.  She leaned back in her chair with a triumphant sigh and reported that after several of these reprimands she told them, “After all I do for this city, you tell this old lady where I’m supposed to put all that snow you keep pushing into my yard!”  They shot to attention and stopped complaining.

As much as these two loved the Japanese, they also knew how to play the game.  Annie told me of riding a very crowded train from the capital city of Tokyo, almost 800 miles away, down on the main island of Honshu.  Back then it was at least a 2 day ride, and with smoking allowed in every car, accompanied with either coal or diesel smoke pouring thru every crack, it could be quite laborious.

One time she said, “I was riding with Blake (a bachelor missionary who lived a few cities away from Annie)  “We had to give up our seats because there were so many families that needed them, but after awhile I got so tired standing that we made our way to the dining car. It also was crowded but we found two seats and I ordered an apple for us to share.”  She paused and thought back wistfully, as if remembering the good old days.

“We sat there for over an hour” she continued her story.  ”Finally Blake got embarrassed and went to stand out on the freezing platform between the cars to wait, but I figured that was his decision so I just sat there……for another hour or so….” She chuckled to herself and then added, “It’s amazing how long you can peel an apple!”

Finally in May of 2005, after all the church starts; the Japanese people that she had mentored into the second and third generations, the programs she had started, the other missionaries she had loved, winter came in and this time broke her down with pneumonia.

She lay in the hospital as people began to gather and they heard her murmuring in a satisfied whisper. Moving closer, they realized that she was paraphrasing Hebrews 12:1, “I’ve run with perseverance the race that was set before me.”
Nomura san arrived, bustling around to encourage her and begging her to stay just a little longer, talking about the flowers she was planting in their garden that would need her attention.

But finally she too realized that her “Big sister” needed some rest.  She leaned down to Annie’s ear and said, “Sensei, you go on home now, I’ll be all right……”

Observers said that at that moment Annie’s heart rate slowly dropped to 0 and then bounced up to 100 just for a second.  They figure she had seen Jesus!

And Nomura san, you ask??  At the writing of this, she is alive and in a nursing home. I’m guessing she’s in her late 80s but I’m not sure anyone ever really knew her age.  She has good days and bad days, as do we all.

Sometimes she seems to ‘rally’, especially when spoken to in English, as if her dear Sensei were back, but mostly she just keeps on keeping on.

My ‘almost son’ Katsuya, that I write about often and lives nearby, told me that she was sick during this last winter, and in fact was hospitalized for a time. However, true to her nature, from her bed she kept saying to everyone as they passed by, “Mada iketeru, mada iketura ”  (I’m still alive…..I’m still alive).

And she is.  Pray for these amazing warriors who bested the best by choosing to work in some of the toughest country in Japan.  Several generations of pastors, missionaries and laymen exist today because of these two.

Next week I’ll tell you about another, more modern-day girl that we know.

Unless, of course, we’re too far into the Outback. We’re planning to accompany a friend 9 hours north to see some other friends, and the area is not known for its stellar internet and telephone service. If I can’t get anything to send on Sunday, I’ll do it as soon as we home on Tuesday.

Cheerio, Marsha

Sisters in the Faith

Last week I told you about a girl that got ‘adopted’ by missionary Dorothy Carver.  Her name was Akiko, and she had quite a story, but there are so many others similar to this that I thought I’d tell you of a couple more that I know of.

Today I want to talk about a young girl named Hiroko Nomura.

Her story starts with her conversion, thanks to the witness and direction of a man named Bob Sherer.  Bob and his wife Helen had gone to Japan as missionaries in 1948. They brought with them a baby boy, Bob junior, who is still on the field as we speak. I believe Nomura san, as everyone has always called her, came to know Christ as her Savior sometime in the early 1950s.

Again, like Akiko before her, Nomura san’s conversion was not met with welcome arms back home.  In fact, her entire family were strict followers of a militant arm of Buddhism, a sect known as “Sokka Gakkai”. Unlike most Buddhists, who are very open-minded when it comes to other faiths, Sokka Gakkai insists upon strict adherence to its beliefs, which span every aspect of life, including one’s finances, family ties and political persuasion. So Nomura san kept her Christianity secret for many years. Then, in a bold decision, she asked Bob to baptize her in their city of Kobe at midnight on Christmas Eve.  That must have been chilly!

Nomura san continued working faithfully for her aunt during the daytime and secretly studying the Bible with the missionaries at night.  After a few years of this, Nomura san had made friends with several missionaries, including some in the mission office up in Tokyo.  One day, she was asked by the mission if she would consider moving to the far northern island of Hokkaido in order to live in and care for a mission house whose occupants were leaving soon for a one-year furlough in the United States.  She did.

About that time, a young lady from Arkansas by the name of Miss Annie Hoover appeared on the scene. Annie had also come to Japan about the same time as Bob and Helen Sherer, in the late 1940’s. From the outset, Annie felt called to Hokkaido but being a single young woman, the mission deemed it to be too “remote”, and assigned her instead to work in the Tokyo mission office. Annie never gave up her calling, however, and when a new missionary family moved to Hokkaido, Annie was finally given permission to move as well, provided she lived within shouting distance of the new family.

It wasn’t long before Annie had started a church plant for Sapporo Baptist Church (which is still thriving) in her living room.  When the missionary couple on furlough returned, the church plant was going so well that Nomura san, instead of returning south to her Buddhist family, moved into Annie’s house to be an ‘aide’ in her work.

These two adapted to life together as sort of ‘big sister and little sister’.  It was such a good fit that they ended up working closely together in ministry for the next 40 years. We visited in their home back in the early 80’s, and I observed that Annie always spoke English to Nomura san. She said this was done initially to help her learn the language, but eventually became the norm. Nomura san, in turn, always answered Annie in Japanese…. unless of course there was a difference of opinion, in which case Annie would speak in Japanese “so that you are sure to get my meaning”, and Nomura san would reply in English “since you obviously have missed a few of your Japanese lessons.”  How funny the adjustments we all make to stay happy under one roof!

As time went on, each lady did her own thing. Annie excelled at preaching and doing evangelism; Nomura san, being the faithful side kick, was great at writing hymns (more than 16, I believe) and doing pastoral care.

They did corroborate in creating the first Bible correspondence course using the radio.  Annie printed all the materials for it in her garage workshop, and even later produced the Masterlife course in Japanese as well.

Both ladies were instrumental in getting 5 or 6 churches up and going, including what is certainly the ‘mother church’, Sapporo Baptist.  Nomura san would teach someone to play the small organ or piano that Annie would have provided to the new churches.  They together supplied many other things out of their personal funds to keep the churches going.

If you stay tuned I’ll finish this story next week!!  Or maybe it’s not even finished yet?