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.


What About Bob?

In following the theme of “God’s Faithfulness in Japan”, I have a bit of a humorous story to pass along.  We’ve tossed this one around for years. It’s always good for a laugh, but pretty hard to repeat.  I guess it helps if you’re one of the “Bobs”.

Anyway, here’s what missionary Bob Gierhart has to say:

“In the early 80’s there were seven “Bobs” in our mission.

Early one Saturday morning when we were living in Kyoto and working at the Kyoto Friendship house, I received a call from someone who said, rather in a rush, I thought, ‘Bob, I’m putting them on the 9:00.’

As I said, ‘Okay’, he hung up.  I was half asleep so I hadn’t asked for any details nor had I asked any questions. And these were the days before called ID.

The caller assumed I was supposed to know who it was that was calling, and who would be arriving (and where) after being put on the “9:00″. The problem as I saw it, was that I didn’t know who called, who the person was that was coming, when they would be arriving, and whether they were coming by train or plane.  Needless to say I was in a bit of a fix.

It was about 9:00 on a Saturday morning and someone was going to be waiting for me to meet him or her when they arrived somewhere that morning.

After a couple of minutes of panic, it came to me that perhaps that person had called the wrong Bob and the right Bob would know who it was and where they were to be met.  The problem was, who was the right Bob?  As I said, there were seven “Bobs” in the mission at that time.

I called Bob Hardy who lived in Kobe not too far from Kyoto.  He worked at the Baptist Hospital in Kyoto.  I thought it might be him.  However, when I talked to him, he had no idea who it was.  He agreed to go to Osaka Air Port to see if someone was waiting for him.  In the mean time I would go to the Kyoto Train Station.

After several hours, neither one of us saw anyone who might be waiting for a “Bob”.   We hoped someone would call one of our wives telling us they were waiting for us somewhere, but when we called our houses, there had been no messages.  We had no idea what happened to that person.  Of course these were the days before mobile phones, and even pay phones were few and far between.  Dejectedly, I returned home as did the ‘other’ Bob.

It wasn’t until two years later that we learned the rest of the story.  It seems Chuck Gafford, who was living in Tokyo, put the president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, Dr. Harold Graves and his wife on a train going to Arakawaoki Station in Ibaragi-ken (far north of Tokyo, nowhere near Kyoto or Osaka) at 9:00 that Saturday morning and had assumed that Bob Daugherty was going to meet them.

Bob Daugherty used to live in the same house in Kyoto that we were currently living in. Chuck Gafford must have looked in an old mission directory for Bob Daughtery’s phone number. When I answered and he said “Bob”, I guess he didn’t realize he had the wrong Bob and that I, Bob Gierhart was now living there.

Meanwhile, on this Saturday morning, Bob Daugherty was wondering why Chuck Gafford hadn’t called him to tell him when and where to meet the President and his wife.

And so, no stranger to confusion after living many years in Japan, Bob Daughtery realized he just needed to get down to the train station and see if his expected guests were there.

There he found Dr. Graves and his wife who had been waiting at Arakawaoki station for over an hour.

When Bob Daughtery arrived, there was much rejoicing even though Bob was mortified that he had left such honored guests waiting for so long.”

Back to Marsha…. Now, I guess if I was a better missionary, I’d find the sermon in this story. Several have been suggested, but maybe I should just close with a moral: If your name is Bob, you might consider changing it to Robert.

Or how about this one: Psalms 147:4, He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names.

Rest assured, God knows your name, and He never gets confused.

Til next time,


A Soft Word in Due Season

Happy New Year all,

Well, did you enjoy the holidays?  I know we did.

We had a wonderful, if chaotic Christmas day with all of our children, their in-laws and soon to be added (thru son in love Chris’s brother) even more in-laws.  Of course there were three joyously rambunctious little boys who made us glad we have a pool to throw them into when it got too loud.

When all was done and dusted and the hordes moved on to other venues, Tony & I shot off to the mountains for a few days to rest and recuperate.  We found what’s known as “the coldest area of Queensland”, about 3 hours due west from our house in a little town called Stanthorpe.  There we found a quiet little cabin with no air conditioning (didn’t need it at night), no internet (wanted it, but really didn’t need it) and spent time writing, sleeping, hiking and getting ready for the New Year.

We were able to finish the book we’ve been writing for what seems like forever, about our life together these last 50 years.  Pretty interesting stuff…… at least to us.  Probably not to another soul, but if you know of a publisher or a book agent who would be interested in looking at it, please let us know.

Ok, we also did a fair bit of Bible reading and the Lord really impressed me with a New Year’s thought I want to share with you.  Come Sunday, we made our way into town, found little Stanthorpe Baptist church, and sprung ourselves on them. They were lovely, and guess what the preacher chose for his sermon?  Yes, the same thing I was reading in Acts 21 and 22, especially around 22:24.

To paint the picture, Paul had been told by several groups of believers and then by the Lord himself to take care in Jerusalem because the authorities were out to get him.

But he went anyway, and after 7 days in the temple, (where he was sure to be noticed, I’m thinking), eventually he was arrested.  He was chained, subjected to the crowd who almost killed him, until the situation escalated enough for the soldiers to come and literally pick Paul up and carry him out of the melee.

And then, after carrying him into the fort, he ‘spoke’ to the commander,  “May I say something to you?”  He didn’t scream or plead, he just ‘spoke’.

What happens next is Paul launches into a long testimony to the guard of who he is (a Jew) and what has happened in his life. He throws in a reference to studying under Gamaleil, which subtly lets them know he isn’t just any Jew but a highly educated one.

Then he goes on thru his conversion to Jesus, telling them the complete Damascus road story.

But it’s his next question that I think we can learn from.

Acts 22:25 says this, But when they had tied him up to be whipped, Paul spoke (I’m guessing here, in a quiet and respectful voice) to the officer standing there, “Is it lawful for you to whip a Roman Citizen who hasn’t even been tried for any crime?”

You’ll have to keep reading to hear what happened, but I thought WOW.  This is PAUL, one of the most assertive of all the men in the New Testament, who liked to preface his letters by things like “I say unto you” and countless other commands and opinions that he didn’t seem to leave open for discussion.  (”It’s better that a man never marry” sort of thing)

So why was he so meek and mild?  I don’t know.

I remember a friend of ours who was that way.  He died a year ago and we still miss him terribly.  Why?  Because he had a way about him.

I’ll never forget him and his wife Beth visiting soon after we moved into our house.  We were so proud of it, including the beautiful lawn that Tony had just mowed…

It spread out from the deck and we all four stood there admiring Tony’s handiwork … until Alan “spoke” to us.

He said softly, “This is beautiful, I wonder, did you want all those lines in it?”

That’s all he said, it wasn’t him bowling over in laughter, as we all did when we realized that the blades weren’t adjusted and had carved deep grooves in the yard.  He didn’t call Tony an idiot, he just said, “Did you want that result?” Paul did the same thing, in a tone that only pointed out the obvious.

I would like to think that Christianity may have been on trial here as well.  The guard tying him up must have been curious about these firebrand ‘Christians’ and how they would behave.

Paul was sharing his faith……by just being “Christian”. I can’t think of any better New Years Resolution than to be kind, and gentle…showing Christ to a crazy world.

Have a great week ‘getting back into things’.  We will do the same.


PS. We enjoyed getting to know a little about the pastor at Stanthorpe Baptist where we visited.  He is a transplanted American from upper New York but has been out here longer than we have.

He told me he had been converted from being a rather famous celebrity chef in NYC  (and no, he said, he does NOT watch all the TV cooking shows) to ultimately becoming a pastor.

When he heard that in the US, we’re Southern Baptists (they don’t have that denomination here) he told us that he began his search for God after sitting by a Southern Baptist missionary on a plane.  They had a good talk and “Joe” shared his faith and said he’d be praying for him.  That’s all; nothing more, but it got him thinking.  He never got his complete name, but refers to him as “Baptist Joe”, the one who showed him that life could have meaning.

Any of you SBC “Joes” out there want to claim this conversation?

Making Memories

Good Morning,

Well, we may not have snowstorms to contend with here Down Under, but we have had some pretty wild weather this past week. Our neighbor across the street had just hooked up a massive reindeer in the front yard. Really … the thing was almost as tall as his house, and the way it was placed, it stared right over his wall and into our place. A little disconcerting, but I was NOT responsible for what happened the day before yesterday.

They call it a “Super Cell” here; one of those perfect storm combinations with everything you’d expect: hurricane strength winds, cricket ball sized hail, and enough rain to make me grateful the low-lying land behind our house is an official flood plain. It is … and it did.

We survived though, with nothing more than a truck load of tree limbs to haul away. Looking around the area, though, I thought, “Something’s missing.” Sure enough the 20-foot reindeer had learned how to fly. I believe he’s at the top of a gum tree about four houses down the street. We thought about calling the fire department … after all, don’t they get cats out of trees? But a closer look reveals that Rudolph has been pretty well shredded, so it would not be a rescue as much as a recovery.

Elsewhere, things are escalating for Christmas, with lots of special services, get togethers, singing and food. It’s been a busy day today with Tony preaching this morning, then a special Japanese Christmas gathering this afternoon. I won’t keep you too long.

But, as we continue to think about Japan, here’s an excerpt from one of our missionaries, long retired, about the REAL meaning of Christmas:

We had arrived in Fukuoka in July 1967.  I was Charlie’s new bride and had not studied Japanese yet.  It was now Christmas…my very first Christmas not to be at my home in East Texas.  We went thru the motions of the holiday but after we put our guests on the train, we returned, rather somberly, home.  Unfortunately, I began to remember all the Christmases I would now be missing and was about to start crying.   But I believe God was watching, and we heard the doorbell ring. It was one of Charlie’s high school students, Kaoru Sadamatsu.  He came in and it did not take long for him to use up his English, so I excused myself so that he and Charlie could visit. That night—my first Christmas in Japan—Kaoru became a Christian. That was indeed a special Christmas, and many more were to follow Our prayer for you and yours this Christmas is for an extra special helping of happy memories in the making. Something that will come to mind at your Christmas Futures as the best thing that could have happened.

Tony and I will be offline for a week or so, escaping to some nearby mountains we’ve yet to visit and hopefully compiling these letters I’ve been sending out about ‘God’s Faithfulness in Japan” into a book.  I’m guessing we won’t have internet, so maybe there’ll be nothing for you to read on the 30th, but don’t despair, we’ll be back in the New Year!!

Merry Christmas,


Remembering Christmases Past

I still remember my first Christmas in Japan.  I was cold, I was frustrated in the language, or should I say “lack” of language.  I was missing my family and generally dreading celebrating such an important event in a country that didn’t even recognize it.
Then one day I passed by Hazel Watson’s office door when for some reason we were visiting the mission headquarters in Tokyo.
Les and Hazel had been in Japan forever, or at least that’s what I thought.  I knew she had FIVE master’s degrees, because that’s what she liked to do on her furloughs. They’d been working in Japan for over 25 years, and been on five, one-year furloughs during that time; thus five degrees. She thought learning was fun, and was simply energized by the studies. There didn’t seem to be anything this woman wasn’t game to try!
She called out a cheery hello and invited me in. We exchanged greetings, she asked the typical questions like “How are you settling in,” etc.  Then I asked with a slight quaver in my voice, “How will you be spending your Christmas this year?”  I knew her children were grown and back in the States so I figured it would be a hard time for her.
“Oh, we’ll be at church from dawn till after dark,” she sighed.  I almost collapsed into the chair and reached for my tissues because I pretty much thought we were both going to need them.  I couldn’t think of anything more torturous than being with ‘those’ people all day on this, possibly one of the more emotive days of the year!
Then she continued as she popped up and almost danced, “It’ll be so wonderful, I can hardly wait!”  My jaw dropped as she continued her pirouette around the room, “There’ll be singing and children and lots and lots of food!  Then when it gets dark we’ll have a candle service with the Christmas story acted out by the kids and hundreds of strangers will come in and hear about Jesus!!”
Her joy was almost infectious.
Fortunately, we ‘got thru’ that first Christmas, actually rather happily because we too were sharing Jesus, eating and singing……..
And as the years went on, we began to LOVE the idea of a freezing cold Christmas in a foreign land.  I laughed to my friends that the candle service was the only church service in the winter where I was actually warm, and the memory of that alone lingers fondly with me today.  We discovered that as we made friendships, learned a little more language and “suffered” with “those people” through the bitter cold, the hard seats and interminably long sermons that felt as if they were left over from Samurai days, we actually developed a bond that grew into genuine love. Looking back now, I can see that they gave us SO much more than we’d ever left behind.
God is so good to first share His Son with us, and then to share His children with each other.  Wherever you are this year, be it bitter cold, perishing hot, or somewhere in between, I hope the bonds you’re making with His family will grow only stronger over the years.
As you’re reading this, Tony and I are off to celebrate carols at the church.  It’ll be ‘warm’ for sure, even with the air conditioners pumping overtime, and we’ll have candles, even though it’s still light outside in the mid summer.  And most importantly, we will be celebrating the joy of being together, now and forever, thanking God again for His great Gift.
Pass it around…Marsha

If Just a Boiled Egg …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling blessed, Marsha

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

Things that go bump in the garden

Hello friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy decorating!