Out of My Mind in Japan
So, I see that it has been a while since my last post. Please allow me to give my feeble excuse as to why I have been lax in my writing. As you can see in the picture above, Snoopy and Woodstock have their bags packed and are headed for somewhere either in Europe or Asia. Like the famous beagle, I found myself wearing a backpack and with a bag in hand heading for Japan a little over a week ago. I had not planned to go to Japan, since I had been gone for so long in December and the beginning of January. I thought I would forgo another trip out of Korea since I already had another trip planned for Budapest, Hungary from February 26 - March 15. But God... well, God had other plans for my time.
One of the people originally planning to go to Japan got sick and was told by her doctor not to travel, so her spot was available and it was offered to me. I had had the same sickness as Joy, the young lady who was not going, and it was an act of faith to say I would go in her place. I had not eaten in a couple of days and my intestinal tract was rebelling against anything I swallowed, so I felt weak and had no appetite. But before I could change my mind, the flight reservation was in my name and it remained for God to get me healthy enough to travel. It wasn't the first time that I felt that walking by faith is akin to being out of one's mind, and, now that I think of it, maybe that's a good way to describe taking steps of faith - being out of one's own mind and taking on the mind of Christ and following the Spirit's leading.
Two days before the trip, I was home packing up my few belongings here, mostly clothing and a few books. I took a trip down the hill to HomePlus to buy a bouquet of flowers for Esther as a thank you gift for allowing me to live rent-free in her home for six months here in Korea, and to give her a belated birthday present. Though wobbly, I managed to go out and return without incident and when Pastor Steve arrived with the van and helped move my stuff downstairs, I was still okay; but when I had to climb up to the third floor to the church for service, I felt as though I had climbed Bonghwasan Mountain after running a half-marathon. I was exhausted and thinking, "O, God. I can't be like this on a missions trip to Japan. Help!"
Thursday, I intended to stay home and rest, but I still had to go out and exchange some Korean won for Japanese yen. Pastor Steve called while I was in the bank and asked if I needed him to help with the exchange and then he said, "See you in, Myeongdong," and hung up. I took this as a sign from God to forget about resting and to go to the discipleship class. More faith. I boarded the subway and journeyed south. I think I even tried to eat something. I can't remember. I know I made it to class and home again where I thought about packing for the trip. I needed to be out the door by 7:45 AM and I was tired and afraid I'd forget something important. Again, "Help, Lord!" was my prayer. I looked at the team socks from the previous weekend's retreat and thought, "Here we go again. From faith to faith. Crazy."
Friday morning, Pastor Sejun drove Pastor Steve, Pastor Sam from Chennai, India, Thomas, and me to the airport limousine bus stop. Pastor Sam had a flight home that morning. so we left early to be with him. At the airport, we ate breakfast together and saw him off and then awaited the arrival of Helen and her soon-to-be high school freshman daughter Bella, tennis pro John, and our Polish-Korean soul winner, Jadzia. Our husband and wife team of Petros and Sujin would join us the next day. Both Helen and Sujin can speak Japanese. After checking our bags and getting our seat assignments, we cleared security and went to the gate. I stopped to take some pictures for the benefit of my niece, Kayla, my sister, Beth, and Tom's legions of fans, which he says is just his mother.
For Beth, much LOVE
For Kayla, a big HELLO!
For Tom's mom, "Behold, your son."
From the restaurant, we drove to a place to walk around and take in some Japanese scenery. Our first stop was a temple that had lovely gardens.
Further down the road, we came to a shrine or a temple (I am unable to distinguish between them) where I took this picture of a Japanese girl wearing ceremonial clothes.
The temples and shrines are beautiful and peaceful, but these places are dedicated to the worship of false gods, so they are deceptive illusions, clever imitations of the true peace and beauty that are found in the One True God.
After our walk, we went to the Isogais' home where we would all be staying for the next week. We sat on the floor where we would eat many meals that week, and we had green tea and fruit.
Helen with Mrs. and Mr. Isogai.
Pastor Steve, John, Jadzia, Bella, and Helen
In the background of the last photo, you can see the room that Pastor Steve and I shared as a bedroom. We slept on the floor. The house had no central heating, so nights were cold, and we wore layers to bed and slept on and under layers of blankets.
On Saturday, we went with Thomas to visit a school. He is interested in studying the graphic art of manga, a type of Japanese cartooning which is a very popular story telling medium in Asia and, increasingly, other parts of the world. Throughout the week, Tom went to visit several schools to check out their programs and find out what he would need to do to be able to study in Japan. After visiting this school, we met up with the Isogais' son and his children and went to lunch before he took Tom to visit a second school.
We ate at Go! Go! Curry (it's symbol is a gorilla's head) where you pick out what you want from a ticket vending machine and pay before you sit and eat. The machine informs the kitchen of your order and the servers find you by ticket number when your food is ready. My deep fried pork cutlet was served atop a bed of rice and curry sauce with a mound of shredded cabbage on the side. You can add red pickled radish for color and flavor. I read that curry and rice is the macaroni and cheese of Japan, not the healthiest, but one of the tastiest, most filling dishes that Japanese moms make for their hungry children. I also read that Go Go is Japanese for 55, the number of Japanese baseball player Hideki Matsui who now plays in America. The founder of the Go Go Curry chain loves baseball and portions don't come in small, medium, large, or extra large sizes, but single, double, triple, and home run sizes.
I think I ate double.
After lunch, Tom went to do a college visit, Petros and Sujin arrived at the mall where we had eaten curry, and we did a little shopping and evangelism. Evangelism in Japan was interesting in that less than 1% of the population of Japan professes to be Christian, and Japanese people have a mindset that views Christianity as "not for Japanese people," and religion as a whole as customs and traditions that are part of Japanese culture, but merely tools, means to an end. The Japanese Christians we met did not think confrontational evangelism was an effective tool to win Japanese unbelievers to Christ and mostly practiced friendship evangelism, inviting unbelieving friends and acquaintances to their homes for meals where believers would share personal testimonies and share from the Bible.
A man who became a pastor at 70 shares his testimony at a home fellowship dinner.
John waits for lunch to be served at a home fellowship meeting at the Isogais' home.
Pastor Steve explains how much higher God's righteousness is than man's righteousness.
Explaining the Gospel to an unbeliever.
We experienced this at the Isogais' home during lunch one day. However, Japanese tracts and copies of Just Let God Love You translated into Japanese in hand, we spoke with people on college campuses, in train stations, in Buddhist places of worship, and in coffee shops about Christ.
John, Petros, Sujin, and Bella on campus evangelism
Pastor Steve encourages a pastor who runs the Lighthouse Christian coffee shop which doubles as a church on Sundays. It's right next to a college campus.
Petros was the master of tract evangelism, telling people not to read it now, making them all the more curious to read it sooner.
Seeking warmth in the sunlight while waiting for a train.
I have to admit here, that when it comes to confrontational street evangelism, I am a big fraidy cat. Throughout the week, I prayed many prayers of the, "O, God" variety, asking Him to lead people to me to speak with rather than asking Him to lead me to people, which is how it ought to be done. It didn't help that when I did finally get up the nerve to speak to someone, they usually said they couldn't speak English. I was good at finding people for others to witness to, and I was good at praying for God to touch the hearts of those being evangelized, but I was pretty much a failure when it came to confronting people with the Gospel. Some great missionary I am, huh?
I managed to team up with Tom and speak to a college girl on campus and express God's great love for her. We gave her a copy of Just Let God Love You, because she seemed interested in knowing about that. I found "the woman at the well," a Japanese woman at a Buddhist temple that Jadzia and Helen led to Christ. But it wasn't until I gave up trying to find someone to give a tract to that God put someone in the chair beside me in a Starbucks coffee shop.
I never go to Starbucks. I don't drink coffee and everything there seems too expensive to me, but Jadzia was sitting at a Starbucks inside a big mall drinking tea, not feeling well, so I ordered an overpriced caramel steamer and sat beside her. After a minute or two, someone sat in the chair beside me, a twenty-something Japanese guy with a coffee. I glanced over to see if my jacket was covering his seat, and it was, so I moved my sleeve out of his space. I don't know what made me open my mouth, but I just started conversing with him. He has a little, round table in front of him was a sign on it that said RESERVED in English and, I assume, Japanese. I asked him if his seat had been reserved for him and when he said yes (I think he misunderstood my question), I said that he must be a VIP. He frowned not understanding what VIP stood for, so I said he must be a very important person, and he smiled and vigorously shook his head no in modesty. Our conversation continued. It turned out that he had recently quit his job, because he had a bad boss, that he wanted to be a rock and roll singer, and that he had learned most of his English from listening to American music. I spoke to him about the singing I had done in Japan in church, about quitting my job as the boss of a school and moving from America to Korea to be a jobless Bible college student, about the former Japanese rock and roller pastor I had met at Crossroad Gospel Church, and about other things that we had somewhat in common. I gave him a tract with my name on it and he gave me his name, Soichiro Katsumi, and I have been praying for him ever since, hoping that he took the time to read it. Pray for him. I think he is like many Japanese people who are sincere and perhaps morally good, but lost.
Here is the church I mentioned to Soichiro. We attended Sunday and mid-week services there. I was asked to sing a song before Helen gave a testimony in the morning service, so I sang Forgiven, Forgotten, and Gone Forever. Helen cried, but managed to give a beautiful testimony. At lunch, we translated the words of the song into Japanese for everyone who hadn't understood the English version, and then I sang the song again. I ended up singing the song three more times that week for various people, and the pastor recorded me singing the song so that he could work out the chords and play it on his guitar. Since coming back to Korea, he has informed me that he now has translated the song into Japanese so that his congregation can sing it in worship. I think Pastor Stevens would be amazed and pleased that his song blessed people in Japan.
After lunch, there was a second afternoon service. I shared a short testimony about my call to Korea, and Pastor Steve gave a message from the Word.
Pastor Steve shares at the afternoon service
At the mid-week service, Jadzia shared a testimony of her experiences in Japan. This was her third visit, I believe.
Jadzia speaks and Helen translates
One day, the Isogais drove us to a prayer house beside the ocean.
I looked down the steep hill and saw the rocks and the water and headed down as the others went inside. It reminded me of Maine, and I wanted to walk on the rocks and smell the saltiness of the sea and listen to the waves rolling in. It was a sunny day and I took some pictures for souvenirs.
Jadzia smiles beside the sea
Helen ponders deep things beside the sea
The red shell fragment I found among the rocks
We went to the hot spring two evenings during our stay, since it was the easiest way for us all to get clean and it was incredibly relaxing after a long day. There was one shower in the house, and only the early risers got the use of it, and the weather was damp, windy, and cold, so a long soak in warm water, a sauna, a salt scrub, and a hot shower with lots of soap helped get the cold out of our bones and made us all pinky-skinned and sweet smelling. Each time we went, I emerged from the building jelly-legged and ready to fall into bed. There are no pictures of our time at the hot spring for obvious reasons, since this is a G-rated blog.
I will finish this entry with some photos of things I saw in Fukuoka that may interest some of you. Before I go, I want to testify to how faithful God was to answer all the prayers that went up to cover us with health and traveling mercies. My appetite returned as did my strength, so I was physically able to do everything I wanted to do on this trip. God was faithful to minister through and to us on the trip. I enjoyed spending time with my traveling companions, watching them minister with their unique gifts to all sorts of people we met. Pastor Steve was a great leader and an example of true missionary zeal for lost souls and hungry hearts. He ministered to each of us who went with him, and I hope we did the same for him. Pray. It would be awesome to have Greater Grace missionaries living and ministering in Japan. Who knows? Perhaps Thomas will be a student missionary there. God knows. I thank Him for leading me by the hand each step of the way and leading me to a place of rest where I could speak to Soichiro in a way that was comfortable for me. My prayer is, "O God. More faith. Turn my fear into faith by Your grace. Amen."
This man is an 82-year-old pastor with a great sense of humor and knowledge of the history of Christianity in Japan.