What to do when you find yourself in Japan
“Your mission field is in your own backyard”. How many times have you heard that? While the intentions behind these types of sayings are not wrong, they neglect crucial aspects of what missions really is.
I have read and heard countless speakers teach on Acts 1:8 about how the disciples were to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Many people compare these 4 locations to mean that we are to focus our mission starting in our own neighborhoods, then to the areas surrounding that, then to the world. The question this always causes me to think about is, “Aren’t the disciples from Galilee?” If Jerusalem isn’t there home town, does this teaching even make any sense….?
Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t share the Gospel with all the people we interact with on any given day in our home town. The point I am trying to make is that I believe that there is a difference between evangelism and missions.
Looking at the words linguistically, evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news” or “gospel”. The word mission comes from the Latin word missio, which comes down to meaning something along the lines of “send away” (I studied Greek, not Latin, haha). So while an evangelist can be anyone who shares the gospel, a missionary is someone who is specifically sent out from one place to another to do it.
food for thought: can you be a missionary in your own home country by intentionally sharing the Gospel with people of different cultures there (e.g. refugees, foreign-exchange students, etc.)?
John Piper says, “Evangelism is speaking to anyone anywhere the gospel. Missions is doing that by crossing a culture. It usually involves learning a language, learning new cultural things where… they don't have any access to the gospel. So evangelism is speaking the gospel to everyone, especially those in your culture. Missions is realizing there are cultures and linguistic groups that don't have anybody in them to do that.”
So obviously we can all take part in evangelism, but how can everyone be a part of global missions? I don’t expect everyone to be able to go overseas (nonetheless move to another country), so maybe there is more than just one role in missions.
Romans 10:14-15 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” So there are those who GO to preach the good news in unreached, cross-cultural places and those who SEND them. That’s where you come in!
unreached people group: a people group without enough indigenous Christians to evangelize to the rest of their nation. They have less than 2% evangelical Christians and less than 5% professing Christians. The Japanese are an unreached people group!
John Piper often talks about the importance of missions for ALL Christians, and here is a short blurb of one of the videos we like. To warn you, this video can come across as a bit in-your-face, but if you are open to being challenged, then please watch!
We do have organizations that are helping to sending us such as TEAM and The GO Fund, but they both emphasize that it is truly the church that should be the one to send their missionaries. One of the best examples can be found in Acts 13. While worshipping in the church of Antioch, the Spirit told the men there to set aside Paul and Barnabas for a certain work He called them to. So after fasting and praying, the men laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off! Other instances of individuals and churches that supported Paul’s missions can be found in the New Testament as well, and we are encouraged by them because we have found support in our churches and relationships as well.
So while you may not be able to commit to going on foreign missions, you can still be a part of it by being a supporter. After all, we can’t go unless we are sent! Giving support can come in various forms (see previous post on giving), so if you are not called to go to missions, find your way of sending people out!
Nearly all of March was spent with us on the road from Northern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and finally Texas. The main focus was all about sharing God's mission for Japan and bringing people on to be a part of that. We had some great meetings with family, friends, and new faces. We gained some new supporters, ate some interesting (good!) food, and even better, gained some new stories.
We began our trip leaving from Morgan Hill, CA and made our way across the I-40 which we found takes us on a much more scenic and less busy route to my hometown of Payson in AZ. It also avoids both LA and Phoenix, and who wants to drive in LA by choice? Not I. We pulled it off in about 12 hours over the course of one day, but this leg of the trip has been done a few times now. We stopped to stay with my family for a few days while we made a few calls, had a couple meetings, did some car maintenance (Ended up being pointless, read on...), and bought more food because road snacks are important to over-all well-being and keeping Nick awake.
We left Pine and went south through Phoenix, were we made a pit-stop in east Mesa (car things again...) then out east into New Mexico. At this point, crossing the vast empty desert that is New Mexico, it felt I might pass from old-age before I saw another city/town/something with more than a tumbleweed and single gas station, but oh what little did I know. But it happened, we hit El Paso! Texas! I could feel the second wind coming on, this was our destination state, it can't be much further...
6 hours later, I could drive no more. The great plains of Texas defeated me, and nearly the cars gas tank. It had seemed that I was spoiled on seeing a gas station every 10 miles or so for much our trip, but the phrase "everything is bigger in Texas" must also apply to the distance between stations. This dawned on me as what my family refers to as the "idiot light" on the dash for one's gas level had now illuminated, effectively stamping me as the idiot. So I was hungry, car was hungry, wife was just barely keeping my sanity by playing road games, and thus we decided a more lasting stop was needed. We picked a small hotel in Fort Stockton to stay the night.
Two things happened that night. One: we got into the hotel somewhere around 1am. Second: a special thing occurs on Sunday March 12th that a person in AZ doesn't care about. Daylight Stinking Savings Time. DSST. Somehow I managed to plan us into getting a bit less sleep and putting our arrival time later and later, yeah, I am pro at logistics. We still managed to get enough sleep and finish our trip moving into Houston later that evening.
The actual time in Texas was eventful and the trip back trouble-free. My Aunt and Uncle were generous in providing us not only a place to stay, but also fed us with food that was much tastier and classier than our typical value meal road grub. We loved spending time with them and all the connections we could make, both new and old. We are hopeful to go back out (even further east next time!) to keep sharing this mission.
Since this stage of our lives has mostly been revolved around raising support, the act of “giving” has been on my mind lately. As I’ve said before, when we first realized that we were going to have to fundraise to pursue the mission God set before us, the thought made us cringe a bit. The concept of fundraising can just have such a bad connotation to it, but we know that there is nothing innately wrong about it. So I’ve been contemplating about the idea of giving both from the missionary’s perspective and hopefully from your perspective as our supporters.
Firstly, all things belong to God. The reason we try to reach the lost with the Gospel is not so that they may become followers of us but because we are trying to bring back to Jesus what He rightfully owns. He purchased all people for Himself through his sacrifice, and we want both parties to rejoice in that restoration. Similarly, all money, talents, gifts, resources and everything else belong to Him.
We do our best to maintain the mindset that we are not asking people to give money to us and for our cause but to God and His cause for the world! The ministry you give to acts merely as a legate of God, to whom you are truly giving. Anything you could give belonged to Him in the first place, so you can rejoice in giving it back to where it truly belongs.
This idea appears in 1 Chronicles 29. I’ve recently read through this book and was particularly encouraged by this chapter. Throughout the story, David is trying to build a new temple for God where the Ark of the Covenant can reside. He gathers an abundant amount of resources from all over the land, and in combination with what the people were able to provide, they are able build it. In verses 14, David says, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Earlier in verse 9, you see the people rejoice over their leaders giving willingly, freely, and wholeheartedly toward David’s project because they realize that they are giving back to the Lord. It also pleases David to see how earnestly the people are serving God through his mission to complete the temple.
Just like David, it makes us joyful when we see your commitment to support the mission God has given us because it gives us affirmation that this is how God wants to use us. If you are confident enough to entrust us with your gifts, then it must be God’s work at hand!
So we hope you find through giving to us (or any ministry really) as your own means of service to the Lord. By giving, you are an equal partner in serving that mission. The missionary, Paul, thanks the Philippian church for the aid they provided him. He says, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account,” (Philippians 4:17). We hope that everyone who does decide to support our ministry finds it as an opportunity to be credited with serving the Lord.
Another one of my favorite examples of giving in the Bible comes from the book of Nehemiah. Again, God gives his servant a desire to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The passion he has for this vision consumes his thoughts so much that it shows in his face while he is at work as a cup-bearer for the king. The king notices the change in Nehemiah’s demeanor and inquires about it. Probably being moved by what Nehemiah has to say, the king willingly offers to support him in a variety of ways. The king not only gave him supplies to complete the task of building the wall, but he also made connections to people in authority so that he could successfully make the make the trip.
The king truly acted in accordance with Proverbs 3:27. Because it was within his power to do something about it, he did not withhold good from this man whom he thought deserved it. He had the power to help Nehemiah in several different ways, which goes to show that support can come in many forms.
In the context of making a sacrifice to God, Deuteronomy 16:17 says, “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.” So however God has blessed you (your resources, your talents, etc.), that’s the way you should give back to Him. If you aren’t able to give with your finances, then find a way you are able to! Several of our supporters don’t really have money they can commit to giving, but they sure are zealous prayer warriors! Not all people can honestly commit to praying for us on a regular basis, but they do have the resources to mail things for us or to send us care packages once we’re on the field. And as far as financial giving is concerned, we have quite a wide range of amounts we receive because people are only able to give in proportion to how God has blessed them. The best part about different types of support is that they are all equal in partnership, equal in service to God, and all equally needed!
We have had the privilege of being able to witness people’s earnest hearts in giving toward our mission just as Jesus got to witness the widow offer her gift to the temple treasury. Even though, by the world’s standards, her two copper coins were nothing in comparison to the large amounts of wealth that were put in, Jesus said that she put in more than the others because she didn’t give out of her wealth but rather out of her poverty – a true sacrifice (Mark 12:41-44).
We see the ways you have been able to give toward this mission to Japan, and it is beautifully different for each person. So just remember that in whatever way you choose to give to God that it’s not about equal giving but equal sacrifice.
Disclaimer: This story was found in an earlier newsletter of ours, but some were not getting them yet and wanted to share it, so here it is.
The Aokigahara, or better known as the “Sea of Trees”, is a beautiful forest at the base of Mt. Fuji that got its name from the illusion it gives of waves in the ocean. However, these "waves" of leaves hide a very sad secret in their depths, leaving this location to be more infamous than famous. Nearly 100 years ago, a Buddhist monk traveled to this forest on a journey to reach a higher plane of enlightenment through fasting and seclusion. The lack of food actually resulted in his death, which started a trend for other monks who believed that the first must have achieved one of the highest states a Buddhist could aspire to. While monks are no longer found going here, the trend of death continues. Kuroi Jukai (translated ‘Sea of Trees’) is a 1960's Japanese novel in which a pair of young lovers take their lives together in the forest. Later in 1993, a handbook was written for the suicidal called The Complete Suicide Manual. The guide praises hanging (the most common method for those who perish among the Sea of Trees) as a “work of art” and called Aokigahara the ideal place to die because your body will be impossible to find and “You will become a missing person and slowly disappear from people’s memory.”
Today, an average of 100 bodies are removed from this ominous location each year, and that’s only counting the ones private parties find in this vast and dense 14 square mile area. It got so bad that since the early 2000’s the government doesn’t even report the number of deaths there. Rather, their solution is to post signs like the ones on the right and scatter phone boxes that connect to free helplines.
Given that over 24,000 people committed suicide just last year, there is still a lot of work to do; more is needed than a couple metal framed signs. The Japanese are losing a person to suicide every 15 minutes. Many of these same people have never heard the Gospel, and with less than 0.5% of Christians in Japan, there is almost no one to share this hope with them. It breaks our hearts to know people are leaving this world without knowing Jesus, and we know it breaks God’s heart as well.
You might think I’m referencing other missionaries already in the field, but this time I'm referring to those we’ve lost and have gone on ahead of us. They go on ahead to see the glory of the Father and to be in His presence. Though this isn’t always the case (because sometimes even our closest loved ones may not have yet received the free gift of Grace), we are left wondering, will we meet again?
I’ve spent the last couple days on the road, traveling back out to the place I was born in Oklahoma to be with a family member who may begin that journey soon. For many of us, not to sound too cliché, death is only just the beginning and not at all the “end”. We go to spend an eternity with the God who loves us in worship of Him. I’m very grateful to rest in the fact that this family member is without a doubt a strong believer in Christ, though I’m saddened that I have to fear that it may not be the case with others.
The death of others close to us is the time that causes many people to contemplate their own passing away as the sudden reality of it, once so removed, is undeniably right in front of them. When we are teenagers, the end of life seems like it comes at the age of 30 (I’m nearly there, what will I do?!?!) While I certainly don’t think that way anymore, I do realize that for many (non-believers) the end of life is just that, the end with nothing else to look forward too beyond a black abyss of nothingness. How can someone push on without some kind of hope?
Woody Allen sums up this way of thinking the best, “…Because in the end it has no meaning. We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life, and everything you create in your life or do is going to vanish…”. His solution to the matter? “Turn on a baseball game or watch a Fred Astaire movie or do something that distracts you.” I can’t fault the logic: if you don’t believe in God and life after death, there doesn’t seem to be much point in preparing for it, is there? Many buy into this form of thinking, and their pursuits end up being focused on materialistic things. Money, prestige, etc… They seek to fill a gaping void in the core of their being with something so temporary and incapable of truly filling it. During several years of my life, I found myself trying to do much the same. It took losing those temporary, material things for me to see the true hope. Now I just want to share that hope with anyone and everyone, though I realize they don’t often want to hear it. I know I didn't.
Even for all that pursuit, when asked, did you know only 10% of people say they actually find their happiness in material things? Relationships and achievements (work, education, etc…) held about 60 and 30 percent respectively. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t often heard people say that their pursuit in life has to do with relationships. But it should, and apparently we know it, but I suspect many of those people didn’t have God in mind when they checked that box off in the survey. Regardless, it points to a core point of our being that the Creator designed in us with a need for relationship.
That is what makes relationships beautiful things yet so hard when they must be broken. Sometimes the break comes from disagreements, death, misunderstandings, or distance (emotionally or otherwise) but each results in an emotional pain, and this can be a good thing as we learn to grow from them. However, we must focus on the joy and goodness relationships bring as well. It brings us happiness to spend time with our loved ones, it gives us strength to be encouraged by our spouses, it provides us growth when we work through conflict with a friend, and it gives us hope and life when we have a relationship with God.
To those that go on ahead with the work of Christ leading the way, they take their relationships with them. The earthly physical components may end for the time but the impact their lives have had on us live on fully through us and to others. If a person’s legacy only consists of relationships they’ve had with people that God used to His glory, I think Jesus will welcome them with the phrase any of us would long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”