Left: Candle lighting & singing Silent Night at Morioka Bible Baptist Church's (MBBC - our church) kid's Christmas Program
Right: Annual wreath making party at MBBC - One of my (L's) favorite events of the year!
Hello! We hope this update finds you well. Maybe you're sitting at an end of the year party or a New Years party and need some introvert time... well, we're here to save you! Lol... Just kidding. ;) But we did include a lot, so apologies for the lengthiness...
During this Christmas season, there have been many Christmas programs going on and visitors, and I (Kohei) was easily caught up with the busy schedule. But in the midst of the busy schedule, I tried to stop and remind myself what the birth of Christ means to me before I shared that with others. Recently I start to realize more how privileged I am to be able to spend time with Jesus. I know I am not completely there yet to have deep and sweet fellowship with Jesus everyday but I sense God is helping me to move forward from mere ritual devotional time that I have had over years.
We are looking forward to spending some down time with Kohei's family for the New Year - Oshogatsu (that's what they call it in Japanese), and make our way into 2018.
The holidays can be such a mix of emotions for many of us. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, we hope and pray that the Prince of Peace and His comfort would be ever so present. Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Immanuel really agrees with my (Linda) heart especially during this season and the upcoming months. May you know God is with you...
Prayers for a Family
A German who loved the Lord and came to Japan to love His people...
On December 9th, one of our missionaries who we work with, Strauss Sensei, passed away suddenly at the age of 52. It was such shocking news for all of us. This man was so full of life and gave his life sharing the love of Jesus to those affected by the 3.11 disaster.
We had an annual 3.11 Iwate Church Network retreat on December 18th. In the last email I received from him, it said, “I am looking forward to seeing you all at the retreat.” We spent some time remembering him during the retreat. We also played a recording of his preaching from when he came to MBBC last year. We had 12 volunteers of EPJM team (from Singapore) at the retreat so I was a translator for them. When I was translating the part where we remembered Strauss-Sensei, I got a bit choked up as I couldn't hold back my emotions. I have been doing simultaneous translation during the Sunday service pretty much every week at the Morioka Bible Baptist Church and I am getting hang of it. But this was one of the few times it was difficult to do my job well, given the circumstance.
We didn't get to see Strauss-sensei all the time, but enough that he made an impression on us. Our hearts are heavy as we think of his family and the loss of a coworker. Strauss-Sensei left his wife and three children (a collegian, a high-schooler and a soon to be junior high schooler) on this earth. Please pray for them.
Our family, Terry (a short term missionary from Singapore), and some of the Ippo Ippo staff. Shingo-kun, on the far left is the staff who went with me to Oura.
Oura is a small village of Yamada City, which is also one of the small cities of coastal Iwate where the 3.11 tsunami hit less than 7 years ago. Every Thursday, I visit a community center in Oura which is managed by Kinoko-san, a 70 year old woman. There are only less than 30 kids total from 1st grade to 6th grade who attend the Oura Elementary School. About half of the kids (~10-15 kids) come to the community center everyday to do their homework and play in the little gym.
I volunteer as a representative of Ippo Ippo ministry there and assist Kinoko-san. Like many other Christian ministries in the Iwate coastal area, Ippo Ippo takes a careful approach to minister to unbelievers, building trust & relationship before prematurely sharing the Gospel. You tend to lose trust with the community if they see that you are not really caring for them first. Most days when I go to Oura I just play with kids. The first time we shared some kind of a Christian message was during Christmas two years ago (2015). I remember I carefully checked the content of the Christmas program with Kinoko-san. Last Christmas (2016), when I tried to check the content of the Christmas program, without looking it over she just said, “I trust you with whatever you do.” By the grace of God, I thank God that Ippo Ippo has earned trust from Kinoko-san and it is getting much easier for us to share the Good News more ways and more clearly.
This year, I picked a Christmas animation of shepherds and had the kids dub their voice into the animation. In this way, the kids might remember more of the Christmas story. They had a lot of fun doing it and watching the little animation movie on the day of the Christmas program. One of the Ippo Ippo staff, Shingo-kun gave, a short message after the movie. A few kids were not paying attention to the message but majority were. More noticeably to both me and Shingo-kun, Kinoko-san was attentively listening to the message and nodding as if she agreed with the message. I do not know how exactly God is working in Kinoko-san’s heart or the kids’s hearts but for sure God is wooing them. I will never know what future God holds for them but I trust Him that He will continue to guide their way. Would you pray for Kinoko-san and the rest of the kids in Oura that however God is speaking to them that they would be able to receive His word?
Kinoko-san and the kids enjoying watching their dubbed version of the Christmas animation.
I was also in charge of the Christmas program at our church, Morioka Bible Baptist Church (MBBC), which is a much bigger event than that of Oura. Morioka is an inland city of Iwate and the capital of Iwate. I have been in charge of this Christmas program for the past two years. This year, I came up with the idea to do a Christmas musical. Like last year, I tried to incorporate as many church members as possible for the Christmas program. We have quite a few foreigners, missionaries, and English teachers in our congregation so I recruited some of them to participate too. It was challenging to coordinate everybody as it was a mix of talent in the group. Thankfully though it all turned out well. Every year, we give flyers to the neighboring community for this event. However, usually seekers who come to this event are friends or family members of church members or others who attend some of the church's events such as our English café.
One person I would like to share about is a lady who came to this year's Christmas program. She is Makoto Kumagai’s mother. Makoto was a church member and passed away about a year ago by cancer at the young age of 37. Makoto came to know Christ through the Christmas program several years ago. His parents are still unbelievers but they have come to the church occasionally since the death of their son. Our pastor shared that it is also hard for them to be at the church because they feel the grief of losing their son more intensely when they are here, but something still draws them to come. Please pray for their salvation and the comfort and peace that only God can give them from losing a child.
I also intentionally had one young man to be my assistant for this event considering that he will take over this event next year. One thing I have been thinking a lot about is how I would like to encourage laymen to take more ownership of the ministry and to not just relying on the pastors and missionaries. Honestly, I think this young man needs a lot of training but he told me after the event that he would like to take the challenge of heading it up next year. Please pray for my patience and wisdom for training him because at this moment I can see that I have to cover a lot of things that he tends to overlook and very likely I have to spend the same amount of energy or possibly more next year.
(Sorry the videography below is not so good. It was a challenge to carry a kid on my back, rock him to keep him quiet, and try and keep the camera still... But it was the best I could do. ;))
Japanese Christmas song sung by our church choir - not the typical Christmas songs that we hear, so thought you guys might enjoy hearing Christmas songs from another country!
How Deep the Father's Love for Us - Ending song to the musical. One of Kohei's favorites. I asked him why he chose for it to be sung in English instead of Japanese. He said he felt like the English words captured more of the essence of the Father's love for us.
Blessing of hosting...
During the Christmas season, more volunteers from EPJM team (Singapore team that sends a team almost every month) come every year. 12 volunteers of EPJM team came this year. I took 5 of them to Yamada. There was also a young American seminarian who came to do his vision trip considering long-term mission in Japan after his studies. I took this young man to Yamada also. It was blessing to me to have this team and this young man join me in Yamada, and I had a great time of fellowship with them.
If you or a group from your church would like to come do a short term trip, let us know and we can talk about it. Now that we have had a few short termers come, we are open to receiving people.
EPJM December team, various church members and community members who join us for our English Cafe at church to practice their English once a month.
Our church also hosted its first International Food Festival. All the proceeds went to the 3.11 Church Network.
We had representation from Singapore, Korea, China, Russia, Philippines, and the US. Many of the English Cafe attendees came and Linda's Japanese language supporter was also able to join us.
Our family during our Singapore trip this fall. We had the pleasure to meet lots of leaders from different churches and talk about continued partnership in this ministry.
Winter is among us and it's gotten a little better over the last 3 years, but still hard... (yes, it deserves it's own sentence.. lol) We are considering getting a K car (it's small car that many Japanese own) for Linda so that she has a car when Kohei is away on the coast, especially since lil K might be starting school soon. But K cars seem so flimsy..., but most importantly we're wondering if it's worth it for just 1 year, although the prices are not too bad.
I (Linda) took a break from my language studies the last few months. It's been a nice break mentally even though I really only studied once a week. I'm not sure when I will start up again, but it's definitely tiring trying to learn a new language with two little ones. The brain just doesn't work as well these days... :(
As a family, we continue to learn and grow as 4 in our multilingual, complex personality household. It's quite fun and challenging at the same time. Lil K still goes with K to the coast and he really enjoys the people and vice versa. Lil T is walking and adventurous as can be. They love playing with each other. Stop by and visit us some time. Our kids love to entertain our visitors! :)
- Most missionaries do a home service every so often during their time away. We will probably be doing our home service starting Jan 2019. As we anticipate this being the last full year (2018) before we go back to the US for home service, please pray for this next year and the things we will be investing our time in.
- Clear direction and unity for our time after home service.
- As lil K is 3, he can start going to yochien in April. Yochien is 3 years and is called kindergarten, but it's essentially the equivalent of 2 years of preschool &s; kindergarten in the US. Pray that we would find a good one for him and for mom to adjust too. I (Linda) still can't speak very well or understand, so I think it will be a challenge to navigate all the parental duties. Also, pray for me as it is hard for me to entrust him in the care of others (this probably is due mostly because I know I won't be able to communicate with the teachers, so it feels like a big hurdle).
- That Kohei's time with the Lord is more intimate than ever.
- For us as a family and a couple. It's hard time find time as a couple, but we've been trying to be more intentional about it these days.
We'd love to hear how you are doing too, so please don't hesitate to send us an email or reply to this and let us know how you are and how we can be praying for you too!
Happy New Year!!!