Stay on Your Feet

I’m not a fan of crowded trains.  I try to avoid them whenever opportunity affords, but this week I had to travel an hour in order to be at the doctor’s office early so I could give the obligatory fasting blood sample. There are closer doctors around, but when I can, I prefer to go to one of the few English speakers in Tokyo. There are some words, particularly pertaining to my own health, that I just didn’t study at language school!
One improvement to Japan’s train system lately has been the addition of “Women’s only” cars, for use during the rush hours.  They’re still packed to the gills, but at least they smell better.
Many of you westerners don’t understand “Japanese crowded”, so let me explain.  Have you ever opened a can of sardines?  With the exception of perhaps your head, movement is nigh onto impossible.  The crush at the station can be frightening in itself as you see the guys with the white gloves known as ‘pushers’, and then as you board, it’s a shuffle and twist sort of challenge.  The configuration changes with every stop and sometimes it seems you are ’standing’ at right angles to your feet.
All was going well, I’d been relaxing safe and secure in my happy cocoon of bodies, when I remembered my phone was not on silent.  Possibly the rudest thing that can be offered up to this mass of people is for your phone to ring.  This is because often half of them are asleep even though they’re standing.
I managed to slide one hand down along my body and into my bag which was hanging around my knees. (where there’s more space).  I’m so adept, I actually got the phone up to about my waist without bending my elbow.  In this position I felt for the button and successfully switched it to silent.
Then I very carefully slid it along back down my leg and felt for the unseen fabric of my bag.  “I’m so clever”, I thought, “now I can just drop it into the bag and all is well.” I let go of the phone and then realized that it was on the OUTSIDE of my bag…….it clattered to the floor and away it went.  Several people heard it hit and shuffled slightly.  Sure enough, there it lay about 4 or 5 legs away.
Looking at each other (silently of course) we came to the conclusion that I could not accordion my body into myself, so people squeezed together even more to allow me to squat straight down to where I could reach the phone.  I did that with grace and style.
However, as I reached for the phone, fully extending my arm in the darkness, the train jerked and………you guessed it. This time there was neither grace nor style.  I grabbed for anything I could and succeeded in getting a good hold on a ladies skirt (and maybe her stockings, I’m not sure).  By now I was saying quite loudly “Gomen! Gomen! Gomen”(sorry)!  I fell sideways, and was now no longer supported by my legs, but now was flat on my ……..well you know. Fortunately I fell toward the phone so now I had no trouble picking it up. You’ll be happy to know I did remember to let go of the lady’s skirt as I sat in my cone of shame on the floor.
I must say that as nice as the Japanese are, they do NOT get involved, so no one even offered a hand for me to pull up on. Fortunately, I was fueled by embarrassment, so with astonishing strength, I was able to pull every ounce of muscle together and somehow rise like a phoenix out of the mess. The lady I most offended straightened her skirt and looked at me with a look of distain mixed with some pity and maybe just a twist of empathy, but let me tell you, if the empathy was there, it was not much.  Then she quickly looked away as if nothing had happened.  We continued the ride, expressionless, staring mindlessly into the cramped silence.
All of us have had children to whom we’ve given “the look”. You know what I mean …..”How many times have I told you…….”  “When will you ever learn?”….  or maybe a self righteous “I TOLD YOU  this was going to happen!”
I wanted to jump up onto a seat like in the movies and announce to the whole train that, “Hey! I’ve seen YOU people do the same thing and worse, so quit having those derogatory thoughts about me!”  But I didn’t.  There could be no jumping up anywhere, and It was eight in the morning…..I wasn’t drunk so therefore I was without excuse.
We’ve had one of those weeks where you need a lot of patience.  Our little church plant struggles, and some of the personalities just need an extra measure of kindness because they’ve fallen and are reaching in all the wrong directions for help. There’s been some tense moments this week, with Tony and I trying to understand nuances in the language and how to head off the hurts and setbacks that often come from misunderstandings. More than once this week, we’ve had to step back, take a breath, and say, “Yeah, these folks are doing it tough, but that’s what we’re here for, after all. We remind ourselves that Jesus came to ’seek and save the lost’….. not the ones who had it all together. I mentioned last week of how ‘timely’ the service was that reiterated to me that we often just have to ‘hang in there’ and pray for the best.
Jesus often looked at His disciples, but not with the scorn and distain I felt from the others on the train. However, even though He has all the compassion of God, it must have taken the patience of well…… of Jesus, to say like He did in Luke 9:41, “How long shall I put up with you?”
None of us want to fall down on the train.  These new believers don’t want to mess up their lives and lose their way…….we just DO!
I hope I don’t ‘disappoint’ the Japanese again any time soon with my clumsiness, or worse yet, my insensitivity. But I hope they will understand that I’m just a poor foreigner trying to show them the Love of God.
This morning Tony had a lump in his throat as he finished off our morning worship with some of these irascible seekers. He gave them a homework assignment: to sit down at least three times a day, turn to Jesus and say out loud, “I know I am loved by You, I am loved, I am loved.”
Have a good week and stay on your feet!
Marsha

A Birthday Present

This last week I celebrated my 63rd birthday.  That may come as a surprise to many of you, not that I’m getting old, but that there was a day when most Baptists read the ‘prayer calendar’ in some WMU publication and prayed for each missionary on their birthday. Sadly, those days are almost gone, but I DO thank each and every one of you who did pray for me.
Anyway, I’m happy to say the day went well. I got some sweet notes from various people, such as my 5th grade teacher, my own children, and from our dear friends the Tipps, who ‘adopted’ us after Buddy died.
On my birthday, Tony and I decided we could wander off our duties long enough to go ‘out’ for Breakfast.   Off we trudged in the pouring rain to Dennys, just a few stops away by train.
Now before you get too excited about “Dennys”, keep in mind that we’re still in Japan, and the restaurants here have to cater to a different clientele. I’m afraid the ‘Grand Slam’ is more like a pop fly to the shortstop. It was on a plate, though; one egg, one slice of soggy bacon (in spite of the fact that I asked that it be “yoku yaitte”…burned), and I had to ask if we could also have some salt and pepper, and come on, just a little butter? Jam? Don’t even go there. Tony played it safe and got the Japanese breakfast… much better because at least they know how to turn out rice and fermented soybeans the way Mama used to make. But please don’t pity me; I knew what I was getting into, and somehow it was all wonderful.
Then today (Sunday), I got my real present.  We hopped the train over to Shinkoiwa Baptist, the church we were privileged to work in the last couple of years whenever we weren’t in the north doing disaster relief. I knew Shinkoiwa was an ‘old church’, but I didn’t know much else, until today.  Today they celebrated their 63rd birthday!  Yes, apparently they were founded the year I was born, 1950.
Let me give you the brief version:
There was a guy named Tateishi Uishiro who became a Christian because of the influence of a co-worker back in the early 1900’s.  Soon he felt called into the ministry and went to seminary where he met and married a lovely lady, Katsu.  A little later with the expansion of pre-war Japan they moved into Manchuria with the idea of being missionaries there to the Japanese.  They had their first born son (very important in Japanese culture) and several girls.  Unfortunately within a year of living on this hard field (present day northern China) their only son died.  Heartbroken but resolute, they carried on.  Ultimately they had 5 little girls. By now WWII was in full swing and I’m sure every day living was a trial.
When the war finally ended, they, along with every Japanese in the area had to flee for their lives. They did, but as they went, the youngest daughter died, probably from starvation, which was all too common during that time.  They had no means to do anything except to stop long enough to bury her in an orange crate somewhere in a vacant field and continue on.
Arriving back in Japan, they joined the masses of homeless impoverished survivors, but never faltering, they started church after church, finally starting Shinkoiwa Baptist the year I was born. I’m guessing they would have been in their 50’s or 60’s by then.
All of the 4 remaining girls had married pastors by now and were starting their own families, committing them to the Lord.  Our present pastor, Yoshio Sensei was one of those resultant grandchildren.  Most of these ‘kids’ are now deep into their own ministries as well.  Today, we enjoyed renewing an old acquaintance in the form of one of Yoshio’s cousins who is the pastor of the largest Japanese congregation in Hawaii. His name is Makito Watanabe.
The “present” I received today was the whole morning, led by these mature, righteous men, Yoshio and Makito.  They both have grown children who participated as well. There were many other relatives there, including a couple of the original daughters, now in their late 80’s.   Someone dug up a bunch of slides (leave it to the Japanese) and melded them into a DVD production complete with ACTUAL recordings of these Godly grandparents, now 30 years passed into glory, admonishing their children to carry on for the Lord.
Sometimes I think we’re working all alone here. Of course I’ve always known that God’s been here long before I arrived… but still it gets lonely sometimes. Today I was reminded of the precious Heritage that the Japanese people have been building for so long. Part of Yoshio’s message this morning was from Genesis 12:2, where God promised that Abraham would be a blessing. But I noticed something a little different in the Japanese Bible there. Where in English it says, “…you will be a blessing”, the Japanese reads, “you will become a foundation of blessing.” Yoshio’s point was that many have gone before us, building a foundation upon which the rest of us labor. That point was easy to see today, in the lives of the men, women and kids gathered together and singing praises. I have been so blessed here in Japan, and I can be thankful that the times we live in are not as tragic as before. If the Lord tarries, I wonder what our children’s children will see when they look at our foundations? Let’s pray together that they will be blessed by what we are doing today.
A little older,
Marsha

The Upper Room

The Upper Room

Lately, Tony and I have been talking about what we’d like to leave in Japan when we retire (besides some hideous furniture and about 10 kilos each!). Now before you jump to conclusions, we haven’t exactly started the calendar countdown yet; provided our bodies cooperate, we’re still looking at least a couple of years down the track.

But when that time comes, what do we hope to leave behind in this beautiful land whose people have been our joy for the past 35 years? Besides hoping and praying that there are a few folks out there somewhere who are part of the “ripple effect” … lives changed either directly or indirectly by something we’ve said or done, Tony and I looked around and concluded that at least two “things” would be nice. First, we hope to see an on-going and viable ministry here in the Nishiarai area of Tokyo where we live. That’s the focus of the work these days, and I’m happy to see a few signs of emerging life. I hope in a couple of years we’ll be able to step away, confident that a church will flourish and grow with the Lord’s help.

On a slightly larger scale, we’d like to see a strong, Japanese-led discipleship program, preparing Christians to step up and move this nation toward a Great Revival. There have been two what we might call “surges towards Christianity” in Japan’s history, both of which were decisively put down by persecution.

To that end, Tony’s been cooking up something called “Anagaion”. That’s Greek for “upper room”, and I bet you’re already seeing where this is going. Jesus had a lot of followers, but just before the Cross, He called 12 aside to celebrate the Passover with Him. They gathered in an “anagaion” in Jerusalem, where they were made privy to the next step in God’s process of “gathering all creation back to Himself” (Colossians 1:20). These men were not chosen because of their special skills or spiritual maturity, but by God’s grace.

We’re hoping that the Anagaion program will encourage some Japanese Christians to take the next step in their spiritual growth; and then they in turn might raise up the next generation. We’ve already enrolled a couple of girls who are working like crazy to help us put this together. One of them, Miki, has even determined to quit her job and commit to one year as full time intern for the church here. Of course, in order to do that, she needs to raise enough support to live on. Would you please make that a matter of prayer in your own groups? Drop me a line if you have any ideas.

Is there an “upper room” somewhere in your future? I know we could all use some discipling, myself most of all. But can you see another image here? As a Christian, I know there’s an “upstairs” that I’m headed for … how can I best prepare for it?

I’ll leave you with our brand new, patent applied for logo! It was designed and produced by fellow missionary Tara Jones, and we love it … and you.

Marsha

To The Goal

I met a 10 inch centipede coming into the front door of my apartment building the other day.  I tried to reason with him by stomping and shouting, but he was determined to make it to the elevator, same as me.  Another lady came along, and together we tried to come up with deterrents. I wished for that girl I mentioned a couple of weeks ago who was cleaning her Ferrari with a lint brush.  We could have used her spike heels.

Well, the centipede never slowed down. We jumped over him into the elevator, banging on buttons and screaming.  He finally got distracted at the threshold and headed for the crack between the floors.

In a lot of ways, these past few weeks I’ve been like that centipede: focused on getting to the goal. Circumstances tried to frighten us but fortunately (shall I say Divinely?) no one came along to just stomp us!

Last time I talked to you, we were getting ready to head back up north with a volunteer team of 10 college girls.  I’m happy to say that I did fine, coming out of retirement to drive one of the vans, while Tony manhandled the BIG bus we affectionately call “Tinkerbell”.  Within 10 minutes of arranging the mirrors and pulling out into Tokyo traffic, I was wielding the van down the narrow streets, steering with my elbow and dialing on my cell phone (I know it’s illegal, but so is driving your car into a wall because you’re lost!), all the while speeding and slowing to keep pace with Tony.  Seriously, we both missed the very first turn!  For those of you who have been in Tokyo, one miss is equal to an hour’s wandering.

The week in Sendai went by in a blur.  I had the bad luck to catch a terrible cold (one thing more to add to driving, that of wiping my eyes and blowing my nose constantly).  The girls were lovely and it was good to get back to see what had happened in the disaster zone after almost a year’s absence.  We were somewhat relieved to find that while most people are still in temporary housing, they seem happier. Every time we spoke with them, though, you could see the painful memories come back to the surface.

One day we accompanied a group of 6 semi-famous O-Koto players (long wooden instruments with about 10 strings) as they performed for the refugees. All of us nearly cried as we heard the beautiful streams of “Sakura” and “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” spill out into the streets.

The organizer of the concert was our old friend, Pastor Noguchi. It was good to catch up with him, especially since he was on his way to Hawaii on a speaking tour! You may remember that he’s the author of the book, “Sacrificed”, the story of his life as a 15 year old kamikaze trainee become Christian pastor. While you’re reading this, he’s busy speaking to capacity crowd church groups around Honolulu, and has even done a segment on the local Japanese radio station! He told our friend this morning, “They’re all coming to see an ex-Kamikaze pilot and all I want to do is run for my life!” ha.  He’s a very humble man, but I know he’s very confidant in what God can do and he’ll be fine!  If you’d like to write him a letter of encouragement, his email address is: pastornoguchi@gmail.com

So back to the centipede in the foyer.  These last 10 days I have felt like he must feel.  HOW do you keep all 100 legs working at the same time and get to the goal, no matter how many people are trying to deter you?

This morning (It’s Sunday night here) we had our second “Life Church” meeting.  We’re breaking our backs to make it “non-Christian friendly”, but today they just seemed to want to study the Bible and pray……..in our pre-prayer meeting with our short termers, we asked for guidance and for prepared people.  Here’s one answered prayer already:

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been bumping into a lady several times. I always invite her to our meetings, but she declines.  Well, today she showed up! We announced to the group that our next meeting would have to be somewhere else, since we can only book the apartment’s “conference room” once a month. The lady piped up, “No problem! Just book it under another name!” Long story short, she ended up booking the room for next time in her name, and promising to be there.

As we closed the meeting with prayer requests, she said, “Well, I just want to go to Heaven!” Imagine this coming from a person who has never seen a Bible before, but who has been given a “prepared heart”.

Is God good or what?  Can he GET US TO THE GOAL even when we have 100 legs to worry about??? Piece of cake.

Love ya,

Marsha

Changed Lives

Today as you read this, we find ourselves in Northern Japan, home for so many years and the scene of the great earthquake and disastrous  tsunami of 2011.  As we drove through remnants of debris today, still waiting to be picked up, we were reminded of the terrible tornadoes that have ripped through America last week.  Nature can be a monstrous thing.

But today I want to tell you a HAPPY story about someone we know in Thailand. His name is Toshio Morimoto, and here’s his story:

Toshio was born in southern Japan in 1932, and right away things did not look good for the little boy. His lungs weren’t working right, and back then that was an almost certain death sentence. But his parents found a doctor who thought he might have an idea, and suggested an experimental surgery.  He needed to be awake, because at that time, little was known about anesthesia.  Fortunately, he was too young to remember, but will happily show you the scar that about cuts him in two.  The procedure worked, and before long Toshio was growing strong and healthy.

But unfortunately he also grew into what the Japanese would call a “rambo”; not Sylvester Stallone, but a Japanese word which means “out of control”.

When he was about 12, he was living about 15 miles from Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, killing 200,000 people.  Just before then, he had been praying fervently for the Kamikaze soldiers who would save Japan and protect the Emperor.  When the bombs fell,though, he was crushed. At that point in his life, Toshio didn’t know much about the god he’d been praying to, but he did know one thing: he hated him.

The war was over, and Toshio began hanging around the military base which was now occupied by Australians. The soldiers there were kind to him, making him a sort of mascot.  He enjoyed the tea, bikkies and cigarettes (he’s 12, mind you).

Eventually some friends told him about a church who offered free English classes. He refused to go for several weeks, until somebody mentioned the girls who were there. Of course for a young ‘rambo’ that’s all it took.

You can imagine his surprise when he heard that Jesus loved him!  Even his parents and family had more or less given up on him because of his loose and lazy lifestyle.  What a wonderful thing to feel accepted by a God who sent his only Son because he loved Toshio! The road from there led to marriage, and eventually to Thailand, where he and his wife, Toyoko have served faithfully for over 50 years, raising 4 boys and working in Bangkok’s infamous “Klong Toey” slum.

When we lived in Bangkok, our house was 2 blocks away, in a relatively new area, but even then just walking near Klong Toey could take your breath away. Toshio and we used to laugh about how ‘prayer letters’ just can’t convey SMELL!

The Morimotos have now expanded their work to include a very successful outreach to prisoner’s program called “House of Blessing”.  We attended church there whenever we could, and you’ve never seen such happy CHANGED lives as those prisoners singing praises to a God who loves them, no matter what.

When we think of the Morimotos, we have to ask ourselves, “What is God asking of me?  Can I leave the comforts and assurances behind and step out on faith?”

I’m not sure what my answer would be.  This week as we reconnect with the disaster victims, we are reminded of two things,

Life may not be easy but…….

God loves us and cares about the lives we live.

Next time: we’ll report on this latest trip into the tsunami zone. Come back!

Love ya,

Marsha

Here and There…

As I write this this morning we are saddened to hear of the home-going of a sweet man, Pete Crocker, to be with Tony’s dad, Buddy in Heaven.  I didn’t know Pete very well, just that he was a newlywed in his 80’s that he always had a smile and an encouraging word from the Lord.  I can imagine he and Buddy, slapping each other on the back and reveling in their new home!

Speaking of Buddy, he had a favorite story about the Weaver bird; how the fella would weave this elaborate nest and then the girl would show up, sniff around and then, depending on her impression, (either of him or the nest, I’m not sure) she would move in or give it a haughty snip, sending it tumbling to the ground so he might start over….presumably more to her specs.

That happened with Buddy’s house this week.  The husband came, liked it, signed the contract for the agreed price, and we had about 24 hours of euphoria that all was well……….and then SHE showed up!  We are trying to laugh about the irony of the contract lying smashed on the ground.  Please continue to pray with us that GOOD buyers will come soon. These little things to ‘worry about’ wear us down.

But in other news, we’ve been BUSY this week, and we find that’s usually a good thing.  On Tuesday we flew to the tiny island of Okinawa for the night.  Why?  Tony had to sit (and pass handily) an entrance exam to see if he wants to pursue a Doctorate of Ministry.  Why Okinawa?  It’s the only American military base that can administer this test thru their campus University.  It was a brief but fun time, mostly spent with me sitting in the car (civilians can’t go on base you know).  We flew out in a tropical storm that had me clutching the armrests and reviewing my last week’s blog where I was so cavalier about sacrificing my life!

As you read this, Tony will have preached TWICE today!  You know he loves to preach, so he’s happy.  Also I had a GREAT Bible study (finally after 2 ‘false starts’) with our young missionary co-worker and two lovely Japanese girls who want to be Christians.  It presents a challenge as they clearly have some gaping holes in their understanding.  Pray with us that we will be able to continue to move forward with some degree of consistency.

Other vignettes that make our life interesting:  We felt our first noticeable earthquake since being back in Japan while having coffee with friends.  I was curious how our ‘new’ apartment would do, and I was unhappy to say that being a couple of years older than our last place, there was more motion, but we all sighed and passed the cookies.  Such is life in Tokyo.  Another funny moment of Tony racing across the street to stop a homeless man’s cart from free wheeling into a car.  No one saw him………(don’t you just hate being an unsung hero?)  Or how about me coming down stairs from our apartment to find a very young girl in spike heels using a LINT ROLLER on the old man’s Ferrari?  (some things are just universal I guess).  You can imagine my chagrin at not knowing the proper greeting……

On Wednesday this next week, we’ll be driving two vans full of college girls to our “Hometown” northern city of Sendai where the disaster was in 2011.  While most of the hard and dirty disaster work is done, there is still enough to do to fill these girls’ week.  We will be driving to all the places and helping them dig in and make a difference, mostly in the temporary housing units.  We’ll be gone 10 days, and just so you can understand my level of anxiety about ME driving all over the place, last night I prayed in Japanese with some believers, and when I got to the part about “Please protect us as we drive”……..instead of saying “Please keep us safe” I said “Please euthanize us!”…….I have to say, the Japanese language never gets any easier.  I almost laughed out loud myself, but afterwards no one even admitted to hearing me say that, which is a relief and a wonder…were they even listening?

Since I’ll be so ‘out of it’ all next week, I’ve already written next week’s blog, and it’s a HAPPY story from Thailand, so please….

Stay tuned!

Marsha

Living to the Fullest!

This morning I want to tell you a story.  It’s short, but for me it went right to the heart.
Back in the early ‘60s (I think; someone may need to correct me on the exact time), there was a missionary family from America who went to Thailand.  They served a couple of terms, had some kids, and were relatively successful in the eyes of their mission.
One day they were traveling by public van from a meeting in the country back to their home in Bangkok.  There was an accident (very common, even now) and all SIX family members were instantly killed.
End of story.  Or was it?  Their deaths were wasted …or were they?
I know when I heard it, my heart cried out for the relatives, the living, who  had had their entire family taken away in the blink of an eye. Was that it?  But then I thought of WHAT this ‘tragedy’ may have started. For one thing, the story of their deaths reached all the way into the depths of my heart ….. even as I was hearing about it half a century later. I wonder what other effects were wrought by their deaths?
Christianity in Thailand is much more ‘popular’ than say …….. in Japan.  Many people today know of this tragic accident and have had a chance to think long and hard about WHY people from Christian worlds come to theirs.  You might see a ‘missionary’ or two of some weird cult or another religion, but generally, “missionaries” are part of that long and honored tradition of Christians who leave their homes to carry the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Why is that?  Christians want to SHARE the gospel, even if it costs them their lives to do so. I’m sure you can recall similar stories of martyrs for the Gospel, such as the sad story of Graham Steines, an Australian missionary who along with his two sons were burned to death in their car by a local crowd in India who did not know or appreciate the message they brought.
Again and again I’m drawn to the verse in the Proverbs 29:18.  “Without a vision the people lose restraint”.
I wonder sometimes if I may be guilty of … well, not losing the vision so much as maybe misplacing it in the tyranny of the urgent. Lately in particular, we’ve had a lot of constraints placed on finances. Things are tough all over, as I know many of you would agree, and the work of our mission is not immune to global downturns. But rather than come back to the vision which brought Tony and I to the field 37 years ago, I find myself focusing on “reality issues” … real vision breakers, to say the least.
But look back to the martyrs: I believe that these people all died with the commitment in their hearts to share the Good News, WHATEVER IT TAKES.  I doubt that their last thoughts were on the budget.
Please continue to pray for us as we ‘remember’ why we are here.  We had a knee slapping good time with some old old friends who went to a forbidden country about the time we came to Japan years ago.  I’m sure you can imagine where they are, and it’s tough.  They were passing thru our airport so we were able to have a quick catch up.  One of the recurring themes was, “Why is this being a missionary thing so HARD?  Why do we sometimes want to throw in the towel and go home? After some laughter and tears,  a couple of things occurred to us, one being “where IS home anyway?” and “Why is it that we just CANNOT let go of these people?”
We parted “friends forever”, knowing the answers to our questions and having a new Hope in our hearts.  It IS hard, but it IS worth it. Selfishly speaking, we do not want to be martyrs, but think about it: we’re all closer to The End today than we were yesterday, regardless of how we’re spending our time. The big question would seem to be, “Just what are you giving your life for?” My prayer for each of you is that you would rejoice in the assurance that you’re right where God wants you.
Have a blessed week and don’t forget to share the Gospel wherever your mission field is!
Marsha

Walking by Faith

On Wednesday of this week Tony read Oswald Chambers to me in my early morning breakfast fog.
This time, it was based on the verse in 1st Corinthians 5:7 where Paul so wisely says “We walk by faith, not by sight”.
I flashed back to a Sunday afternoon 30 years ago when I had been selected to address a large group of Japanese Baptists in Sendai as to “Why I Love Being a Missionary”.  For some unknown reason, I had selected the above passage to pontificate upon for several minutes about my blessed calling.  I don’t know why I thought this way; as it turned out, the speech never got delivered……
You see, a year or so before that, Tony and I felt that we had ‘graduated’ from doing student work, and now were involved in full time church planting activities. Somehow we thought it would be easier on our 30 yr old bodies to be home at night.  But it wasn’t long before I found myself saying,  “Give me back to the heathens; these Church People are going to be the death of me!
That particular morning, after the service, we were going over the worship schedule for the next Sunday.  Lady ‘A’ jumped up and announced that she was going to sing a solo from the hymnal.  Lady ‘B’ looked startled and said softly that she had been practicing that SAME song, but naturally would not think of singing it now.
Now if you were in America, you can imagine the fight that would ensue if this happened.  (I use italics because we ALL know no one actually fights in church, right?) Anyway, in our culture we would expect the fight to be about WHO GETS TO SING THE SONG.
I’ve often thought that Japan likes to do things backwards (did you know that to use a handsaw here, you PULL instead of push?  Most Japanese books start at what we would call the BACK, and don’t even talk about which side of the road we drive on …. but I digress)
The ensuing fight that day reached screaming levels about who would NOT be singing the song.  “No, I WON’T sing because you prepared!”  “No I WON’T sing because you’re so much better than me”.
We walked out the door for our afternoon gig (“Why I Love Being a Missionary”, remember?) with both of them still screaming.
Needless to say, I was a bit rattled when I stood up to talk, and when I read the passage, “We walk by faith, not by sight” I exploded into tears.  Now we know no one likes crying, especially Japanese, and I was ushered unceremoniously off stage and someone else filled in……..
Now it’s now, and as Tony began to read, those words of Oswald pierced my heart once again.  How this man wrote these devotionals a hundred years ago that can so appropriately touch us is a mystery.
Here are a few of the excerpts from the readings for May 1:
“Some of us always want to be brightly illuminated saints with the glow of inspiration and to have other saints of God dealing with us all the time.  A self-assured saint is of no value to God.”
And then he goes on to the sucker punch with the following:
“But what God wants from us is to ‘walk by faith’.  How many of us have set ourselves aside as if to say, I cannot do anything else until God appears to me? He will never do it.  We will have to get up on our own, without inspiration and without any sudden touch from God, Then comes our surprise and we find ourselves exclaiming, ‘Why, He was here all the time’.”
Many of you have sensed our discouragement in the last several weeks.  We want God to appear and get us going at the pace we were at once before, but we seem to be continually………well, catch this last thing Oswald says:
“We must never consider our moments of inspiration as the standard way of life—our work is our standard.”
Tony and I pray that you have a blessed week, working at your job/life, all the while remembering to “Walk By Faith”.
And just as a little encouragement, this afternoon we had a good meeting with 11 believers who came all the way across town to pray with us about our ‘step of faith’ in trying to start a church in this neighborhood. Then as soon as we got them out the door and cleaned up the cups and plates, another couple (He’s a Christian, she is not) dropped in, asking if we could include them in a Bible study!   God is faithful!

Marsha

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He Never Fails

Before I begin this week’s blog, let me apologize to the many we’ve discovered aren’t getting our emails.  Something always gets ‘glitched’ when we move around and somewhere along with that ‘doowhichit’ and my ‘thingamagig’, some of you also got left behind somehow.   Hopefully you’re back on the list and all is well.  I guess I could say, “If you don’t get this, let me know”………but I hope you’re getting it.  If you haven’t heard from me in awhile, I’d urge you to go to www.mywoods.net and bring up the archives to see what you missed. We depend on your comments to keep us going.
So…….. last time I wrote that we had had a tough week.  What I didn’t mention in the letter was the half sick nausea I was feeling; maybe food poisoning or maybe that trip to the temple. We’re constantly reminded of the spiritual oppression rampant in this country. We know as Christians we’re bullet-proof, but sometimes that doesn’t keep a little “needling” away, especially when we spend a lot of time in those places the enemy likes to think is his turf. (On a positive note, the two following trips with some visiting seminary students to that particular temple presented no ‘humbug’, possibly because Tony had them ‘pray up’ before entering.)  Those of you living in Western countries don’t often get to feel Satan in such up close and personal ways, but don’t let that underestimate his power. Someone once described Satan as “a bad dog on a short leash.”
Anyway, Monday morning I was up and at em’, feeling great, in part because of so many of your encouraging comments.
I was doing some office work when I heard on our online Christian radio playing a simple song I’ve never heard.  Catchy tune, but the words stopped me in my tracks.
‘Jesus Christ never failed me…. yet.’
I flashed to one of those edgy teenager conversations I had with my son so many years ago.   I had just commented to Tony, possibly regarding some big decision we were facing, I honestly don’t remember now, “Well….God’s never let us down..YET”
From the critical attitude of the 15 yr old came the quick retort, “What do you mean YET?”  That caused me to pause and consider, “Interesting observation. Do I actually, perhaps even subliminally, think He’ll eventually let me down?”
As I mentioned last week, it’s been a little tough lately.  I wouldn’t say “Jesus has failed me” but I might have said, “This is not going well…..”. Fortunately for us all last Sunday, when I put my mind to writing the blog, even though I was sick and had a ‘bad’ week,  I could remember that God is God and He’s still here………….
And then the very next day I heard the song, “Jesus has never failed me yet”.  What a joke.  Doesn’t that guy know that in thick or thin, He’ll NEVER fail you….period!
Some answers to prayer this week:
1. An overseas speaking tour we were trying to put together for Noguchi Sensei, the author of our most recent book, “Sacrificed”…….. Suddenly we found out all the details have ALREADY fallen into perfect place, and not with too much work on our part.  “Failed me YET??” How do you spell  “phisha”?
2. This week a couple you’ve been praying for really went to the edge of despair and looked over.  They are having such a tough time with his mother who has recently developed Alzheimer’s. In Japan that diagnosis does not mean sashaying her into a pretty little facility where she’ll be safe and clean; that means moving in and taking over HER house and HER 24 hour care. As the dementia worsens, so does living for all three of them. Quite suddenly, things broke down and we had to cling to God’s promises for them as well as wrestling with ourselves about how we FELT about them…….wanting to criticize and scorn their weakness, at the same time feeling real concern and sadness for them.  This couple has real potential, but honestly…..how much can any of us take?   But just when it seemed the worst, once again, God is faithful (He hasn’t failed us OR them yet) and by this Friday they had found some ’sticking strength’ to carry on.
3.  This morning (Sunday), we had our very first “Lets see if there’s any interest in a church plant in this neighborhood” meeting.  Eleven people turned out (14, if you count the kids), which could be called a crowd in Christian work in Japan! The man mentioned above in #2, gave the most touching testimony of how he’s been a Christian for about a year, and while that’s a good thing, he feels that because of his mother and his past, his life has gone from good to pretty tough in most areas of his life. However, he continued, being a Christian has been like “holding a flashlight in the dark”, giving him hope and courage, knowing he’s safe in the Lord as he walks this difficult path.  Very touching. Please continue to pray for them!
We don’t know what dramas this next week will reveal, but we can be assured that, 1, there WILL be dramas, and 2,”Jesus will NEVER fail us”……….and we will be given a flashlight when it gets dark enough.
You all have a good week in the Lord.  Marsha

Daily Stuff

This week’s been a little tougher in some ways, which means I don’t have anything “earth shattering” to say. Even the constant earthquakes have settled a bit, preferring to terrorize our neighbors to the north and south rather than here in Tokyo

I remember a pastor when I was just a little girl saying something that my parents repeated from time to time.  ”Lord, protect us for the “daily stuff.”……….

We’ve been back in Japan for a month now, and this week was terribly ‘daily’.  On Monday, as I hung out our laundry, the new believers who we’ve been so proud of last year called to cancel a meeting with us yet again….. Tuesday, we filled out forms for the mission research and development guys…..mind numbing. Wednesday, we had a planning meeting, got the car inspected and had dinner with old friends.  That may have been the highlight. Thursday, I read most of Joshua and Judges on the train crossing Tokyo and back.  Filled with enthusiasm, ready to ‘take Jericho”, I sat and listened to one of our most precious converts of bygone years explain how she’d lost her marriage (that Tony had officiated), along with her joy and her faith in Christ.  Please pray for her, that she can find her way back home.  Very sad and discouraging.

Friday, Our friends who cancelled on Monday were able to come for a long talk and prayer. I think they’ll be okay. Also we were delighted to get this sweet word from last week’s “Mint”.  I’ll paste it below:

Marsha ????(Sensei, meaning teacher)

my old sister, she go out of the hospital already. thank you for pray for her.

Saturday, we visited a nearby temple with Japanese friends to get them to read some of the information written in the old classic style so we can guide some American seminary students thru it this next Monday. It was an interesting trip, reminding us again of the lostness and bondage of the Japanese people.

Sunday I woke up to cold rain, but happily with the calm understanding that God IS still here, I know it and you know it.  For that reason, we COVET your prayers, for all the ‘daily’ stuff, but more especially for our new Christian friends, who are walking thru doubts and a lot of persecution just now, Also for Ka chan, the divorced girl; pray that she can get some encouragement and turn back to Him.  In addition, we feel that we want to START several groups these next few weeks: an English Bible Study in our apartment building, and more importantly some proactive steps toward a church. We have a meeting room booked for the 28th (which is a holiday) but so far precious little contacts. You’ll have to stay tuned!  Like I said, we always NEED your prayers!

All the best for a great week ahead,

Marsha