Lines in the Sand

Good Morning!

Happy to report that we’ve made it to Singapore and Tony has already preached his first sermon at the International Japanese church of Singapore, launching a two week “event” with his Anagaion Bible Study.  We’ve been excited about this for a long time and are happy to be finally able to do it.

But let’s talk today about our visit to Beruit this last week.  I’ve asked a fellow missionary friend who lived thru the whole thing to help me with the facts, so I’ll add what she has to say here also.

I guess I spent the whole week in awe and wonder, both at such a beautiful city, and the terrible destruction that has been tearing stuff up here for centuries, most recently until the late 90’s.

My friend says, “Israel attacked Lebanon n July of 2006 –bombing bridges and other infrastructure.  It was a 34-day war that Lebanon calls the July war.  Israel calls it the Israel Hezbollah War.  All Americans had to be evacuated to Cyprus during that period.  Not only were our personnel evacuated, but there was a large mission trip group there.  Not a nice time”.

Now, thankfully, there have been no serious attacks (car bombs, etc) in the city for about 4 years, and they’re only averaging one or two suicide bombers a month.  It’s never in the news because no one in the world cares anymore.  People know where to go and where to stay away from, and I believe they were watching for us at the same time, that we didn’t try to do something stupid!

When my friend was a short term missionary like we were, but to Lebanon instead of Africa,  the population was about 60% Christian and 40% Muslim.  During the 1975-1990 Civil War, many Christians left if they had the money and a way to leave (i.e. a country who would take them).

She continues, “About 100,000 Palestinian refugees came to Lebanon when Israel became a country in 1948 and multiplied.  After the 1967 war in Israel, more refugees came.  In the early 70’s, PLO leadership made themselves undesirables in Jordan and were kicked out.  They came to Lebanon.  They began flaunting their weapons and power outside the camps in Lebanon, which finally erupted in the spring of 1975 into the civil war.  The civil war was much more complicated with many more players, but the first skirmishes were between the Palestinians and the Lebanese Falangists (a Christian private army).   Really, the whole Middle East issues are almost impossible to keep straight, impossible to get a handle on, and only the Prince of Peace will be able to straighten things out.”

And she goes on to report, and she should know, having married a Lebanese missionary and living there all these many years, exactly the thing I’ve been trying to say all week:

“Like all the Middle East, there is a surface of life going on as normal, but under the surface is a cauldron of gasoline and the smallest spark could set things alight.”
For us this week, we’ve seen more different nationalities and heard more languages in one place than I can imagine.  For our last night, we went to a fancy Lebanese restaurant for one last ‘feed’ and the sweet little girl there let us guess that she was Ethiopian.  We tried to relate but she didn’t speak English.  We mentioned towns where we’d worked in Ethiopia, but were met with blank stares. Who knows? She may have been born in Lebanon, maintaining her culture, for generations.

Walking home one night (we felt 90% safe most of the time, just more afraid of falling unnoticed into a gaping hole or tangling ourselves up in rusty barbed wire), I told Tony, “I feel like this city is a great ball pit like you have at McDonalds, so many different colors and nationalities, and all mostly fitting together and getting along”.

However, The Bible more of less indicates that we’ll never have peace in the Middle East. What I saw in Beirut was what they wanted me to see, the bustling shops, the beautiful lights along all the avenues at night.  I know there’s still deep strife here and it’s so sad that we can’t hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya.  The recent Moslem shooting in New Zealand is a tragic example of this.

I wanted to see the cities of Tyre and Sidon, mentioned often in the Bible and visited by Jesus.  We were told that it’d be safe to go there, but not to spend the night because somehow, it’s too close to the border and deemed a trouble spot. It turned out that we couldn’t organize a ride anyway, so we just stayed put.   When we were in the Galilee area a few weeks ago, we were just 70 miles or so from these places, but that line in the sand kept us away.  Damascus, which has never been a ‘tourist option’ at least in the last memorable years, is only about 50 miles from Beruit, easily walked in a couple of days.

Speaking of the ‘lines in the sand,” we had some James Bond dramas coming into Beruit by plane.  We’d gone into Israel and Cyprus on our Aussie passports , as we usually do, and once the lady caught the “Jordan” stamp from a couple of years ago.  Well, she gave me the third degree about why I’d gone there, who did I see and what did we talk about. She finally bought it that I was a dumb tourist and didn’t have any nefarious plans, but it made me nervous.

So on a whim, I suggested that we switch to flying on our squeaky clean USA passports, even though I’m not completely sure what they think of Americans in Lebanon.

Checking in at the airport to fly over from Cyprus,  the first question was, “Have you used this passport to visit Israel?” to which Tony calmly replied, “NO”.  Absolutely true, we’d been in Israel on our Aussie passports.  Then when we were clearing immigration to leave Cyprus ( a country which I believe is neutral to all this infighting,) the agent couldn’t find our entry stamp.

Again, Tony, who could double as a spy as I’m wringing my hands and thinking of fainting or confessing everything, said casually, “Oh no, we used our other passport to come in”.  Again absolutely true but necessitating nerves of steel.  The guy shrugged, looked at us with palatable enmity and slammed our passports down, jerking his chin to the exit.

I’m too old for this.

And now two weeks doing what we love in city that’s not too shabby either!

More about that next week,


Paragoric for the Soul

Good morning, or evening….

Tony wrote this blog today, as explained below.  We’ve had another great week, leaving Israel, tired and full of inspiration.

Today finds us in Cyprus, so it’s only fitting that I talk about Barnabus: born and raised Cypriot, Church Father, missionary to the Gentiles, and friend and fellow worker with Paul the Apostle.

Together this dynamic duo traveled all over the land, bringing the Gospel and planting churches, sometimes accompanied by Barnabus’ cousin, John Mark. That fact led to a falling out between Paul and Barnabus in Acts 15 because of something J. M. had done. They parted company for awhile, but apparently were reconciled because the next time we see them mentioned is in Colossians 4:10. It’s a long story, but here’s the part that speaks to me today: we find Paul and John Mark, along with “fellow brother” Aristarcus together in prison, where Paul describes them as a “comfort”.

The Greek word there for comfort is “paragorea”. Sound familiar? That’s where we get the word for “paragoric”. How many of you older readers can recall a time when your mother gave you a spoonful of that foul-smelling, worst tasting medicine? It was awful, but looking back, you’ll have to admit, it made you feel better.

The reference is especially meaningful to me today, because Marsha and I both have come down with the screaming banshee, head-bashing cold from the Other Side. It’s not often that we both get so incapacitated at the same time, and let me tell ya, it puts a damper on your travel plans! But God is good as always, and we find ourselves parked for four days in a rather tired yet quaint hotel with nothing we have to do, and nothing much of note to sight see in Cyprus, so we can just be miserable together. I’m so thankful this hit us now, and not next week, when we’ll be hard at it in Singapore, trying to introduce the Anagaion program to Japanese churches there.

And I’m so thankful that I have a little Paragoric here at my side. She’s as sick as I am and therefore not worth much, in terms of running at my beck and call, but she’s exactly what I need as I am hopefully what she needs right now: a comfort.

We leave tonight for a few days in Beiruit.  We’re excited about the sights there and hopefully we can finally see the “Cedars of Lebanon”, provided either Solomon or the war didn’t get them all!

Thanks for praying for us.  We’re flying standby from Beiruit to Singapore, so would appreciate getting on that flight!

Love you all, Marsha

Let us go up

Isaiah 2:3, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

Hello from Jerusalem,

I’ve come to think that Jesus must have been very fit.

Did you know that it was a six to seven day WALK from Galilee to Jerusalem?  And just about anywhere else in Israel, for that matter.  We’ve travelled by bus, but each day we return to our rooms with 6 or 7 miles on foot to our credit.  That’s not counting the climbing and whatnot, and Jesus did it every day of his life.  WOW

This evening, after another 12-hour day, with half of us dozing in exhaustion, our bus pulled into a lookout on a hill outside of Jerusalem, and as the sun went down, they played that song I haven’t heard since George Beverly Shey days, “ The Holy City”.

Maybe you remember some of the words,

Last night I lay a sleeping

There came a dream so fair

I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang
Me thought the voice of Angels
From Heaven in answer rang
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up you gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

What a taste of heaven awaits us! As we all sang along, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I think I’m going to have to take some time to sort out all the feelings we’ve had this week, but suffice it to say, you’ll be hearing more about this trip.  Furthermore, I totally recommend it; do it now if you have any strength left in your earthly bodies!

I’ve got to sleep now.  Between hiking in Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea and just standing agape at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; between all those and about ten other “Oh by the way” stops, we’re shattered.  In 10 hours we’ll pack another three days’ into one, then start packing for Cyprus, a place we’ve never been but have always been curious about since we were once asked to be interim pastor at a church there.

Let me leave you with something I heard today at Masada. If you’re not familiar with the story, please look it up; it’s such a heart-rending account of a small band of Jewish rebels and their families, making a last stand at one of Herod’s fortresses on the shore of the Dead Sea. For nearly three years, the Romans surrounded, laid siege to and finally built an incredible ramp up to the walls that would allow them to break in and make short work of the rebels.

The night before they breeched the wall, however, the defenders made a pact to kill their families, then kill themselves rather than let the Romans have the opportunity.

Today, Israeli soldiers come here on a regular basis to make what they call a “Masada Oath”. They vow that they will never give up the cause, fighting to the death before allowing their enemy any cause for victory.

Today God’s people face an enemy who would love nothing more than for us to roll over and accept defeat. The real tragedy is that for God’s people, victory is already assured… and yet we are so easily deceived, so willing to concede defeat.

Lord, make us strong and open our eyes to those who are “with us” (2 Kings 6:16).

Until next time,


God of Wonders

Today’s blog will be slightly out of sync, as we are again on the move, but I wanted to tell you about our Finland adventure.

This week I had an unexpected reversion back to my toddler days.  It wasn’t that pleasant to finally realize, as an adult, how a 3-yr old must feel when dressed for cold weather.
We arrived at our “Northern Lights Village”, about 20 miles from the town of Ivalo and, because our plane had been late arriving,  were ushered hurriedly into dinner, and then directly to a staging area to get equipped for our evening sleigh ride to ‘search’ for the northern lights.
When we had managed to get the requisite layers on, they came at us with the jumpsuit.  It took two of us to enshroud Tony in the waterproof, cold proof, gear, kindly engineered to prevent you from taking a deep breath.  Another smiling and agile person did up my boots for me, as by then I couldn’t reach them to save my hide.
We walked out into the night, goose-stepping like Zombies.
Then I remembered I had forgotten to use the facilities we had passed on the way in. Alas, unlike the toddler, I just had to accept my fate and bear up as I was manhandled, shoved, squeezed and tamped into what they called a “heated sleigh”.  We thought of it more as a tin can on skis.  Eight of us were packed into this tube of terror, each one trying in vain to find a comfortable way to sit, as the hoon on the ski doo responsible for pulling us, shot off at a reckless speed.
And then came the crash.  I believe Tony prayed it in because he was at a 45-degree angle, feet up, with his back jolting at each icy ridge in the trail.  The driver took a corner with a bit too much cavalier of an attitude and broke the yoke, sending us mercifully into a deep and soft snow bank, stopping abruptly while we all screamed, mostly in delight at the chance to be freed from this metallic mangler intent on crushing us.
Are we having fun yet?
Relieved, we extracted ourselves, limb by limb, from the sleigh (as they had so wrongly called it) and rejoiced in the frigid but beautiful North Woods. Tony suggested we all walk back to the lodge, but our guide mumbled something about “wolves” and radioed for rescue. Not to be dissuaded, I flopped on my back and made a snow angel (number two on my Finnish bucket list) and let the falling snowflakes revive me.
After what seemed like hours, and several sleigh changes, a welcome campfire and some loganberry tea (further exacerbating my aforementioned predicament), we arrived home and got to our cabins.
After an hour or so, we realized that we had a backed up toilet (not our fault; it was that way when we arrived), but after the sleigh ride, that was nothing.
But God is good. We couldn’t have predicted it, but the next day was absolutely glorious.
They gave us a new, nicer smelling cabin, we learned the long forgotten toddler rule, to “take care of business before suiting up”, and joined another, slightly better driver and enthusiastic guide for an hour’s ride to a Lapland museum, followed by a short hike thru a virgin forest finishing at a welcome fire and a three-course picnic of Michelin standards.
And then it got dark.  It was still snowing and there was no chance to see the Aurora Borealis……or so we thought.
Our friends have in their possession a buzzer that goes off when the elusive lights are approaching and we had just enough time to extricate ourselves from our delicious dinner of reindeer and exotic salads to zip up, tie down and hurdle ourselves outside.
There is no describing the wonder and beauty of the Northern Lights.  Even Disney hasn’t been able to mimic them.  Later from our bed we tried to sleep but kept getting woken up by light shows coming in thru our glass ceiling.
And so is life.  Sometimes it’s such a struggle, both physically and mentally, and we wonder if it’s worth it….but then, just in a breath of cosmic magic, you find that it is.
The sewer moments, the restrictions of our earthly clothing and the cold………and then the magic!
I always say this, but isn’t God a wonderful?  Such an ammazing artist.  Doesn’t He give us awe-inspiring gifts?
Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
And of course the song by Third Day, “God of Wonders” comes to mind as well,

Lord of all creation
Of the water, earth and sky
The Heavens are Your Tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

God of wonders, beyond our galaxy
You are holy, holy
The universe declares Your majesty
You are holy, holy

Lord of Heaven and Earth
Lord of Heaven and Earth
And in the words of so many Jews throughout civilisation  “Next time in Jerusalem”!  It’s been 35 years since we’ve been there and we’re looking forward to seeing it again, Lord willing!

Stand by…


Old Clothes and Lobster

Our friends, Tom and Bonnie Hearon and we watched with nervous anticipation as the clock ticked.  We had been told that it might take as much as three hours to get thru the immigration into Cuba, but in fact it was just a matter of having the correct paperwork, being polite and waltzing thru with no problems.  We were well ahead of our meeting time, so first we had a very long cup of coffee, sitting in the plaza like Hemingway.  Then we began to pace. We had been anticipating this meeting for months, and, as the time arrived and then passed, we hoped that it wouldn’t come to naught.

Finally, about 20 minutes later, as Tom and Tony strolled in ever increasing circles, wondering about every single Latino man who might meet our idea of a Seminary President, Tony noticed a small girl holding a penciled sign that said “Tony Woods”.

We jumped in the van with her and her husband. Victor is the full time seminary driver and they were late because of course there was no parking.

We left the dock and drove more or less directly to the Baptist Seminary that sat perched high on a hill overlooking the entire city of Havana.  We were impressed on many levels.  The campus was quite well kept and the buildings were also well maintained and pretty.  We were told later that while the seminary was begun by Southern Baptist Missionaries in 1906, the present building was built in 1950. Tom and I agreed that we were also “built in 1950” and consider ourselves fairly well maintained as well.

We were met by the president, Pastor Barbaro, who delighted us for several hours talking about Baptists in Cuba, accepted Tony’s Bible study material and promising to spread it around to see if we can get it into Spanish.  He told us, perhaps politely, that this is just what the churches need.  Please pray with us that it gets used.

We were humbled and amazed at the history of this far flung little place that few of us have ever even thought of.

Pastor Barbaro is currently working on his Phd at Southwestern Seminary, his thesis is examining the fact that the Baptists, since work began by our missionaries in 1906, have never really changed their theology.  He outlined the “Big 4” denominations and how over the years they have changed, either radically to the left or to the more Charismatic.  Only Baptists remain.  Now this could be seen as a bad thing, except that the denomination is growing and the seminary now has over 200 students and in addition to the main campus, has 8 satellites throughout Cuba.

We so enjoyed the deep conviction of this wonderful servant leader (who was actually moving house and carved out enough the time to see us) and came away in awe. We’d love to go back and help somehow.

Later talking together, the 4 of us came to realize that even though we’d served as missionaries in about a combined 7 or 8 countries, this was the first time we saw first hand a country where to be a Christian was not only at some times dangerous, (the seminary dropped to ONE student during all the turbulent revolution years, but somehow remained open), but on a day to day basis was and continues to be very deprived of what we have always considered ‘normal’.

For example, these folks can’t travel freely, they can’t access materials or even internet.  In today’s world, these things seem to us like normal ‘human rights’.  We were talking about Tony’s Bible study materials, and realized that the Cubans cannot access them unless someone physically takes the thumb drive with the files on them. Even then, they would have trouble printing the books, but would have to rely on reading them on the seminary’s private computers. They (don’t laugh) cannot access Amazon……that is a shock to us these days!  They cannot get packages in the mail.  Again, unbelievable.

And yet the denomination grows.  On Sunday we took ourselves by a lovely stroll to the “First Baptist Church” called “Calvary”,  It was founded in 1898 and is housed in a former theatre, so it was literally ‘church in the round’. There were over 600 in attendance, we were ushered into the balcony and sat on very flimsy plastic chairs.  Some of my prayer time that morning was that I wouldn’t drop to the floor with a distracting explosion.

No one spoke even a smattering of English but we were welcomed with open arms.  Tom and Bonnie were comfortable as they speak Spanish but we just hung on to their shirt tails as we sang and listened to the 45 minute sermon delivered by a passionate seminary student.

Afterward, a deacon who’d studied medicine many years ago in South Africa, gave us a tour of church, while they were ALL in Sunday school. He mentioned that the music was not his liking (full band, etc),  and I pointed to him and said “Old” and we all had a good laugh.

To sum it up, Cuba was a huge blessing to us.  Not only were the people wonderful, everything we saw from “cleaned up around the port area as to give a good impression to the Cruise guests” to get down and dirty poverty in the outskirts, was clean and beautiful.

Oh, and the Old Clothes and Lobster?  After church we went to a Cuban restaurant recommended to us by the Seminary.  It was where Obama had eaten on his ‘tour of Havana”.  Apparently he loved the dish they call  “Old Clothes.”  We did too. (although we pointed out to the waiter that was about the only point we agreed on with Obama).   It’s basically pulled pork, which Pastor Barbaro says is delicious because the pork is “grown naturally”.  And the lobster?  Tom ordered that as it was only $12!   This place could grow on us!!

I’m sending this late because of our inability to find reliable internet.  Probably next Sunday your inbox will be empty again, but we’ll catch you when we can.  We’re in London now getting bundled up to head north to Finland and hopefully the Northern lights!

Till next post, Marsha

A Stop to Re-Fuel

This morning as you’re reading this, I’ll be about to speak to a group of ‘veterans’.

By that, I mean ‘veteran missionaries’. Our little band of what’s called “Journeymen” in Baptist circles, went out in 1973 to all the world.  There were 80 of us back then and still are almost as many, but after a lot of cancellations because of health and family matters, there were only about half of us (with our spouses) who were able to come to the reunion this year.

While the Journeyman program only allowed for two years on the field, we were young, and two years represented a lot of time, so the experience has stuck with us.

This particular reunion is especially being held for the benefit of being with our leader, Stan Nelson. While we were buzzing around with our own lives, he has become nearly 90. He lives in this area and we thought we should all try to see him while we still have the chance in this life. Two months ago, his own precious wife went to be with the Lord after several years of debilitating illness coupled with dementia. But now, as I look into the eyes behind that face so etched with pain, I’m thinking Stan may well outlive us all. He comes to us with a strength born of hardship, and a spirit that can only come from God.

Stan was able to speak to us for quite a while today, and he never fails to awe us with his wisdom.  As usual, he had our full attention and we were either laughing or crying as he recalled each of our names and details from 46 years ago, an uncanny “gift” he had back in the day, and which has never left him.

Here’s what I’m talking about: When Tony wrote the book, The Road Rising several years ago, Stan wrote the Foreword for it. Here’s how it began:

“Impoverished imagination removes the color and the zest in our biblical readings.  Because of our environment’s usage of the visual, the inner world has shrivelled and become nearly extinct.”

… and then Stan continues on to write about the book, and how it possesses that elusive element of imagination wrapped around a message so vital that it has to be seen, heard and experienced.

You can see how it is that Stan has always inspired us so.

Anyway, back to the retreat, for some reason they asked me to deliver our closing sermon.  I reminded them that Southern Baptist Women don’t preach, so they told me I could ‘share’ instead.  I think it’ll be hard for Tony to sit on the bench this time!  You can imagine that I’ll thank you for your prayers this morning!

Then, after I finish, we and another couple will head for the airport to Miami where we’ll board a ship and travel around thru some Caribbean islands, the goal being to spend next Sunday at the Baptist Seminary in Havana, Cuba. Tony will be giving them his discipleship course, Anagaion, and hopefully talk about the possibilities for a Spanish version.

By the way, here’s an off-the-wall idea, just in case the Lord might be leading you as you read this. The seminary got hit by a huge hurricane a couple of weeks ago, resulting in lots of broken windows and damage to their one vehicle. We’re planning to give them what we can spare to help with relief efforts. If any of you would be interested in contributing, let me know by email before next Saturday. We can “add to the pot” whatever you’d like to give, then you can deposit into our Stateside bank at your convenience. Just a thought.

Our trip is going well, we’ve been in good form, surviving in two carry-on suitcases, and are looking forward to and hoping we’re ready for the next adventures.

We probably won’t be able to send out a blog next week, as we’ll have no internet when we reach Cuba.

But we’ll look forward to telling what we find in Cuba, as soon as we get back to internet, as we’re quite intrigued ourselves.  We chuckle at the fact that while Cuba appears happy to have ‘cruise people’ arriving, if you want to alight, they offer you a visa; $50 for everyone except Americans; for them it’s $75.  (Fortunately we also have Aussie passports so we’ll try to use those).  And then presumably, when you get to shore, you get to do several hours of voluntary ‘community service’ for them, before you can do any sightseeing!  So funny.  We’re hoping that our letter from our church will convince them that our community service will be visiting the seminary, but who knows, we may be picking up trash as well.

I heard a piece of Cowboy wisdom this last week we spent with my sister.

“For every mile of road, there are two miles of ditches, tread carefully!”

Happy Trails, Marsha

Leave It Open

Today I want to tell you a story.  It has nothing to do with our trip, which by the way has gotten off to a great start, first in Honolulu and now in Arizona. But this story takes us back about twenty years, to when we were living in Sydney.

Of course our ‘job’ was to work with Japanese, but we did a lot of other things as well… including Tony serving as pastor of a Chinese church.

It’s a bit convoluted, but try to track with me

A man and his family showed up at Japanese church one afternoon and said that they were the Chans.

Well, that’s definitely a Chinese name, and one that took us back to our days in Sendai, Japan. One of our young people back in the early 80’s was a foreign student by the name of Bob Chan. When we mentioned that to these new folks at church, they brightened up and he said, “That’s my brother!”

Dany Chan went on, explaining that his brother Bob had finished university in Sendai and was still in town, now working as a medical doctor at the local hospital. Both Bob and Dany had been sent by their father to Japan from Hong Kong for their education. Bob stayed on in Japan while Dany married a girl from Taiwan and moved to Australia. Among the several languages spoken between them, Japanese was the most comfortable, so they had sought out our church in Sydney and jumped in with both feet.

Before long Dany came to Tony with a rather interesting proposal. “We’re starting a Mandarin Chinese-speaking church on Sunday mornings, and we’d like you to come be our pastor!”

“Uhm, Dany,” Tony began, “did you notice that I don’t speak a word of Mandarin?”

“No problem, I’ll translate!”  This is Dany, whose mother tongue is Cantonese, but he was nothing, if not confident, in what the Lord could do through them.

And so we started with a twice-a-month schedule. Dany glued himself to Tony’s side, translating everything that came out of his mouth (even if there were times when he didn’t intend for his casual observations to be made common knowledge). Soon people began getting saved and they would come with lots of food and fellowship for baptisms in our swimming pool. Now in case you’re drawing conclusions about missionaries with swimming pools, keep in mind that 75% of Sydney homes have pools while only about 20% have air conditioners!

Then the church started doing evangelism around the neighborhood and in the University campuses, asking Tony to come along.  One day they met a young girl, straight from Mainland China.  She didn’t speak much English but she and Tony talked a little and he gave her a Chinese Bible. The others chatted with her and later went and visited her a couple of times as she got settled into University life.

Then one weekend we got word that she had gone to the beach, got caught in a riptide and drowned.

What a shock.  The Chinese church members rushed around checking on things, asking questions like “did her family know” etc. Then the family arrived and the church members met the plane and took them to her dormitory room.  There were no others on hand as the poor girl hadn’t even had time to make friends.

Her parents went through everything in room, packing some, discarding some, weeping over everything. Imagine the surprise when they came to her bedside table and found a Bible, lying open. We’ll never know exactly what happened in this young girl’s life but the reaction of her parent was unmistakable. “When we go back home to China, we will live as Christians because of our daughter!”

And they did. The church kept in track of them for a number of years, and they were true to their word.  We won’t know if the girl actually became a follower of Jesus, but her family did.

What amazing ways God puts His fingerprints on our lives, to bring us to Him. Paul said to the jailer, if he would but believe in Jesus, he and his whole family would be saved. We know of course that this is no magic formula, but rather an observation of fact: families often lead families to the Truth. From an open Bible on the bedside table to a faith lived out each day, what we believe and live speaks volumes to those who know and love us.

Next time you read your Bible, leave it open.


Connecting the Dots

Today we’re sending this from the road!  We’ve begun our trip. Hawaii has good internet so you can get this.

Speaking of connecting the dots, we have completed the first two flights of our trip and I will be mailing this from the home of our good friends Bob and Gail Gierhart.  He was the one that wrote the blog about all the “Bobs” a few weeks ago.  We’ve been serving Japanese for a lifetime together and they have been like family for us ever since we met them at a small college church in the early 70’s.

Anyway, today’s blog isn’t about ‘Bob’, mainly because you already know a lot about them, but rather the couple who has come from Japan to house sit in our Australian home for about 5 of the 8 weeks we’re gone.

We’ve known Masami and Janeen Nakazawa for about 20+ years. We worked with them in the 1998 Nagano Olympics and lived quite near them in the mountains of western Japan.

I’m telling you about this couple because only God could have done what He has done and continues to do in their lives.  They have been missionaries about as long as we have, but also support themselves with a litany of interesting entrepreneurial ideas that leave us shaking our heads in wonder.

But let’s start at the beginning when we didn’t know them.

Masami was born and raised in Nagano, where the Olympics were. When he was 18 he finished high school with his class, but unlike most of his class, he had a tug on his heart to do something amazing.  He liked all things American, was a talented musician and most of all enjoyed languages.

It was a known fact at that time that if you wanted to learn English, you needed to put yourself with English native speakers.  He and his mom figured out that if he went to the next city over, Karuizawa, he might be able to interface with some foreigners. For many years, from back in the 1800’s, Karuizawa attracted the elite expatriates from Tokyo who often summered there to escape the heat.  So off he went.

It wasn’t long till he met foreigners. However, the ones he met, perhaps by God’s hand, were missionaries, and so he not only learned English but soon accepted Christ.  He went back home and led his mother and his sister to Christ as well, and then was able to go off to Biola College in California and pursue a degree.

Several years later he was home for the summer doing ministry to Japanese when a young girl started coming to his classes, much as he had done years before. Her name was Miss Yorie Ito.  Hang on to that name.

And that summer he also met another winsome girl, Janeen, from America. She had come out with a summer mission team to teach young children, but she and Masami actually met where he was playing Bluegrass guitar in a small steakhouse called ‘“Cowboy House”.

They discovered they both had the same love for God, fell in love, and got married.  For the next 30+ years they’ve traveled the world, usually with Operation Mobilization and other mission organisations  living in everything from boats to log cabins, doing whatever it takes to get the job done, all the while raising three beautiful children and now three grandchildren.

And now they’ve moved into to our house, not only to escape the deep winter snows of Nagano, but to help Tony by doing a LOT of translation for him.  I mentioned Masami loves languages. Tony won’t be there with him but they should be able to communicate if we can just find a signal here and there.

But here’s the hook.  We mentioned in passing to Miss Yorie Ito, better known as Ito Sensei, as she is the current pastor of the Singapore Japanese Baptist Church, that someone would be watching our house and helping with translations while we were gone. We mentioned the name Masami and she wrote back within a minute or two.

It seems that she was saved largely because of Masami’s leading!

You know the saying, “What goes around comes around”?   Here’s God, reaching out across time and the whole world (they’ve never met each other after all these years) to remind us that we’re all working together to bring about his purpose.

Isn’t God good!

Angels Unawares

Good morning all,

This morning I’m going to tell you about a couple of fairly mundane but routine ‘incidents’ that our friends Sherwood and Margaret Moffett and we experienced in our early years.  First Sherwood’s story:

“The summer of 1977 was our first year in Japan, but  Margaret and I and 3-year old Matthew decided to escape the  heat and humidity of Tokyo by driving into the mountains   near Nagano to stay a few days with missionary friends.          Going up to Nojiri-ko in the daylight was easy enough; we followed Max Love, a seasoned missionary, the whole way.  Coming back, however, was a different story as we decided  to drive at night while Matthew slept in the back seat.

This was before GPS, of course, so all we had was a map in   Japanese and the assurance that Highway 18 (currently   National Highways 19 and 20) went all the way from Nagano   to a point in Tokyo that we could recognize.  The markers for  the highway were sometimes displayed prominently and  sometimes in locations that would challenge the foreign   driver in a moving vehicle — tiny little signs on telephone   poles, for example.
So by about midnight, after perhaps a half hour of not   spotting a road sign, and under an ominous and increasing   conviction that we were lost, I spotted a police box and   pulled in to ask (in my first-year Japanese) for directions /          assistance. Margaret said she would wait in the car while   Matthew slept.  After about 30 minutes, when I didn’t come   back, she got really concerned and decided to check on me   (Had I been detained for some gross negligence or          impropriety?).
What we had not realized was that foreigners were an   unusual sight in these rural precincts — actually something   that called on (nay, demanded) Japanese hospitality, so the   three policemen on duty had insisted that I sit down and          make myself comfortable while they brewed a fresh kettle of   green tea and put their heads together to figure out first, what   in the world I was doing out there in the middle of the night,   second, what was I looking for, and third, which of the many  options would best serve the poor stranger to get back to   Tokyo with the least amount of difficulty.

As far as I could tell, they actually had a spirited debate about   calling their supervisor to ask for guidance, but decided that   waking him up in the middle of the night might be a bad idea.  They did enter copious notes in the logbook, I think as a way   of covering themselves in case the supervisor was miffed   about missing what must have been a once-in-a-blue-moon   experience.
Then, when Margaret showed up (”an oku-san!”) and the   policemen had expressed delight over the sleeping Matthew   (”kawaii!”-adorable), we were given a detailed, hand-drawn   map of how to proceed with, naturally, all landmarks in kanji   (we hadn’t gotten THAT far in our studies).
At long last, powered by our ocha consumption, with all of   them lined up and bowing profusely, we successfully set out   and arrived back home about dawn the next day.”

And now Marsha’s addition to the story:
And of course three years later, we decided to go together with the Moffetts, whom we now considered the “seasoned veterans”, up to this much talked about missionary vacation spot. We were new to the country and excited about seeing this ‘lake’ that everyone spoke of in reverent terms.   We left our annual mission meeting at night, again so that our now four children could sleep, since it would at best be a 7 or 8 hour drive through some deep and mysteriously remote mountains.

Margaret and I were following the guys, Tony and Sherwood in the lead car, when (in torrential typhoon rain) they sped through a small sleepy town and took a turn at a significant junction. We, following, had NO IDEA which way they had turned. Remember, this was decades before mobile phones, but in this storm, they probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

We had no choice but to turn back into town and find the police box.  Our kids were sound asleep, so we BOTH went in, although Margaret had more language experience, girls just like to do things together!  The policeman, again amazed to see foreigners in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, sat down. I noted that we were offered neither chairs of freshly brewed tea (how times had changed), leisurely took out a blank piece of paper and begin to draw a map.  He carefully drew a bridge and began to laboriously write out the word in his best English,  “R…I…V…E….R”.  I think he was about to add some shading to the bridge drawing when we lost our feigned patience, knowing the guys were speeding ahead into the night, both of us yelled, in Japanese (her), and English (Me),

“WHICH WAY??” “Dochi gawa?”

The policeman jumped up from his reverie, saluted, dashed outside and pointed the way. We were now able to return to the chase. We DID find them soon, as thankfully, they had noticed we were missing and had turned back to find us.  What a night!

Years later, we were happy to watch as Japan straightened out some of the crooked roads, naturally adding crippling tolls, but well worth the money to get you where you want to go!
As we laugh about this misadventure now, we both have to agree that this well known verse in Hebrews might be an appropriate verse to add to the saga: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

Now the only remaining question in these stories is, who were the angels and who were the hosts?

Born to Be

Today I want to tell you about one of the missionaries of this generation who might hold the record for being in Japan for the longest time.  That’s because he was born there.

Takahiro Oue was born in 1943 in one of Japan’s southern towns, Kochi. World War II was raging, and his father left for the battlefield in Okinawa as soon as little Tak was born.  He never reached his destination, however, because the transport ship he was on was torpedoed by the allies and sank with 3600 souls aboard. Tak’s father was one of the many fatalities.

Tak’s young mother left him with the grandparents and did what she had to do, traveling to the mainland in search of a job that would enable her to send money back to support her child.  The war ended, and while she was working in a city near Kyoto, she met and married an American GI.

They had three ceremonies, a Shinto one, one on the base, and one at the US Embassy.  Soon, a half brother and a half sister were born in Japan, after which the decision was made to go back together to the new husband’s assignment in the USA.
They were not sure how yet another ‘war bride’, would be received, or how a small child might respond to such a big move, so it was decided initially that Tak would remain with his grandparents in Japan until the parents settled in. Then finally, when Tak was 12 years old, his mother and family came back to Japan to get him.

Tak’s new ‘dad’ had taken a cut in rank in order to be reassigned to Japan, ostensibly to be reunited with a son he had met only a few times and he didn’t know.

Just before he graduated from elementary school, Tak moved to Tokyo to live with his new family.  He studied English with a tutor, and then a few months later, together, they moved back to the US.

It was a big shock for Tak, especially since the English he had been studying was British English, a far cry from that spoken in Kentucky!  Nevertheless, he was placed in the 8th grade because of his age, skipping one whole year and jumping into his studies with no discernible English skills. His new ‘dad’, in an effort to help him, forbid him to speak Japanese to anyone, even if spoken to in Japanese. He was able to muddle along thanks to some kind classmates and eventually began to thrive.

And as might be expected, Tak became a quiet child.  He stayed at home whenever possible, which may have been in part because he was a teenager, but also because it was just easier.  That is, until one day his friend, a pastor’s son, finally convinced him to come to the church youth group.  To this point he had been raised as a first-born Japanese son with all the responsibilities, including caring every day for the family Buddhist and Shinto shrines.

Because the youth group only had a King James Bible, it was difficult for Tak to understand, but friends and the youth group helped and were glad to see him finally understand and become a Christian at 17.

He graduated from high school and headed to Western Kentucky University where he began attending Glendale Baptist church. There he excelled in Math and Chemistry (Less talking required) as well as being chosen for the Scabbard and Blade Honor Fraternity of the ROTC and on the University Rifle Team.

However, he began to feel a tug on his heart to go into the ministry. After fulfilling his obligation to the ROTC, he separated honorably and graduated, then left for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

One more thing: the night of his graduation Tak asked young Lana O’Banion to marry him, and in his second year of seminary she did!

During their time at Southern seminary, they were able to meet many Southern Baptist Missionaries from Japan. Everyone of them, when sizing up the situation, pleaded for them to get over to Japan as soon as possible.

Then his beloved grandmother back in Kochi passed away. Other missionaries had been sent to her to witness but perhaps because she didn’t know them, she resisted. Tak felt this keenly as he had not been able to reach her for Christ. It occurred to him that perhaps he, like Moses, may have been raised in a foreign land to go back to his people and share the love of Christ. From then on he was committed to go back to Japan, as was Lana, who’d made her own decision a few years earlier.

With that in mind, they had several hurdles to cross, the major one being that at that time the Foreign Mission Board had a policy to not to send nationals back to their countries.

Finally at the bequest of the Japanese themselves, Tak was allowed to be one of the only 4 nationals ever to be sent back to their countries as missionaries.  Fortunately nowadays it’s more common for missionaries to be sent back to their country of origin.

Tak settled quickly back into life in Japan, but because he had been away for so long, found that he had to go had to go back to language school just like everyone else. Thankfully however, it did come easier and quicker to him and he was able to preach in just 6 months, which is nothing short of a miracle for those other foreign born missionaries.

Over the next 40 years, the Oues planted several churches, along with working in the mission in a number of influential jobs. They had their share of ups and downs, both in the ministry and in their health, but they soldiered on, never complaining.   For the last four years of their ministry, they headed up Baptist response to the huge tsunami that devastated Japan in March of 2011.

Their two sons, Richard and Jonathan, have both gone through seminary and continue to serve the Lord, with Richard, wife Renae and four boys spending the last 20 years back in Japan and Jonathan and wife Brittany and three children in the US.

It is a testimony to God that He knows our names before we are even born and has set us apart to do His Will.  What a tremendous legacy the Oues and so many other missionaries have left for the people of Japan!

God is faithful to us.