Our friend, Tommy Wong, has recently posted some of his incredible photos online to sell. We’ve known him since Boston, but he also came to Japan for two years with the Navy. During his time here, he captured some beautiful shots. (There are also photos from other places). Given his heart to support what we do (along with two other charities close to heart), this site is dedicated to sell prints, posters, cards, and canvases of his photos with all the proceeds (minus the costs to print) going to charity. You can have the money split between the three groups or indicate if you would like for your purchase to benefit our Tokyo church plant. Please consider supporting us while benefiting from some beautiful art for your home.
While the pastoral couple have been on sabbatical these past couple months, Miho and I have been privileged to lead communion each month. We could list the myriad of ways that we love being a team serving together in ministry. Today was another reminder why we love being a team. Together we explain the Lord’s Supper and invite everyone to joyfully come and take the elements. Along with the various stations, we stand to the side to pray for those not ready to take communion, especially little kids. As the kids come, I pray for the English speaking kids, while Miho prays for the Japanese speaking kids. Such a simple act, but has had a profound affect on us. It is hard not to have joy as you kneel down and place your hand on a young kid and pray over them that they understand what Christ has done for them and that they come to love and follow Jesus.
Last month, Allie decided she wanted to stay in the service instead of going to the nursery. As we led communion, she stayed seated with another lady. To our surprise, she come up on stage smiling. What a precious moment. She seemed so happy to see us leading up front. While we often pray for her, that moment was special for us.
From where we are now, we could not imagine serving any other way. God brought us together with similar passions, complementary gifts, and a love to work together.
On Friday, November 5th, Grant’s maternal grandma passed away at the age of 87. For the past few years, she had suffered a stroke and had limited mobility. Over the past few weeks, her health was declining and was placed in hospice care. Fortunately, the doctors called my family to spend Friday with her. My sisters were able to hold her hand until the last moment.
While many of you may not know my grandma, I wanted to share some memories from her life. For starters, I would not have my name without her, as she married my grandma, Ray Grant, and my mom passed her maiden name to me. My 1/4 Norwegian heritage also comes from her, which I am proud of. She grew up in NE Iowa, in a largely Norwegian community of Decorah. What I remember from her childhood was how her duty was to bake a cake EVERY afternoon for her large family. Maybe it was a different time and place, but it also made me laugh to think of having cake every dinner.
I also remember laughing with her about various things. She used to have a Chrysler New Yorker that said, “The door is ajar,” when you opened the door. As a kid, I didn’t know the word “ajar.” So, I always thought it was calling the door a “jar,” which didn’t make any sense to me. Being silly, she would also pronounce foreign words, like French, as they looked. One example is her calling hors d’oevres “horse dervies.” She knew the correct French for appetizers, but it made us smile as kids. The greatest joke that comes to mind was at a birthday party when I was likely in Elementary school. She brought in this huge box wrapped in paper. As I tore into it, I noticed the label and the smile melted off my face. Trying to be respectful, I thanked her for her gift, though I didn’t know why she would have thought I would like it. It was a ceiling fan (box)! Just like you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, you can’t know the gift just by looking at the box. Inside, it turned out to be a giant “Fievel” stuffed mouse (from the movie, “American Tail”). I loved it, but felt so embarrassed by being so gullible in thinking she would give a kid a ceiling fan as a gift.
Another memory stays with me due to my scar. During the floods in 1993 in Des Moines, her basement flooded and she broke her leg by slipping on the water as she was cleaning up the mess. My job as a 12-year old, was to take turns staying with her and helping out around the house. We played a lot of cards and Scrabble (which was her favorite game with my mom). One day I was cutting watermelon and sliced my finger. As it bled and bled, I begin to feel faint and my face turned white. Next thing I know, I wake up in a pool of blood on the floor after passing out and hitting my head on the counter. I ended up getting stitches around my eyebrow, which was a first for me. We had a great time that summer, despite my injury.
When she moved into her retirement community in Ankeny, anytime I visited, she would always want to introduce me to her neighbors. You could tell that she was proud of her grandkids. She greatly loved us and we greatly loved her too. She will be missed. But, we have hope that we will see her again in heaven. My sister talked with her last week and heard her share her faith in Jesus. This is a great comfort. She had been to church as a child, but never expressed much interest in my lifetime. Though her short-term memory was fading these past few months, a nurse mentioned how she would sing hymns that were lodged in her long-term memory. Just like Miho’s dad taking 20 years of prayer and finally a heart attack before he came to faith, we hope this will be a hope for any of you who have family that you have been praying for over many years.
We are privileged to lead a bi-lingual small group composed of a dozen people; half being Japanese. We are taking the group through the book, “The Good and Beautiful God,” by James Bryan Smith. It combines a fresh look at God’s attributes with weekly corresponding spiritual disciplines. Recently we covered a chapter on God being trustworthy. Smith gave a new perspective on this aspect of God by delving into the Lord’s Prayer.
He broke it down to show how God is: Present (“art in Heaven”), Pure (“Hallowed by thy name”), Powerful “your kingdom come”), Provides (“give us this day our daily bread”), Pardons (“forgive us our trespasses”), and Protects (“Deliver us from the evil one”).
As we led the discussion, we asked each person to reflect on which word they most or least resonate with when they think about their relationship with God. It was interesting to hear somebody share how God as a provider is difficult for them.
For us, this was the word that jumped out to us. We have again and again experienced God’s provision. We laugh about not having a place to live when we returned to Boston last summer, only to have God give us a brand new resort-like apartment with a swimming pool at a 40% discount. Though our giving dipped a little in the summer, several churches caught up on their giving in September. We received double our normal amount, which helped balance everything out. Again, we see how grateful we are to regularly experience God’s provision in our lives. While our salary is nothing to envy, we have never gone without having food for our family or had anxiety about over drafting our bank account. God’s provision has not always been on our timing or at the amount that we desire, but He has shown Himself to be completely trustworthy in our lives.
Thank you to so many of you who display such generosity and love towards us. We are able to thank God because of your partnership in our ministry. We hope your generosity will also lead to stories of God providing for you and showing Himself to be trustworthy, not just with your finances but all aspects of your life.
Two weeks have passed since we arrived in Tokyo. We have now overcome our jet lag; not that this means we are fully rested. Allie has already begun preschool (and loves it, though she is the only non fully-Japanese student). Though we have been primarily focused on getting settled into our home and unpacking, things are already moving. Today we started our bi-lingual small group at church and started as a group of ten; four being Japanese.
Yesterday we participated in an all-day church council retreat (read: overseers/elders/leaders) where we had time to more fully present our vision for the church plant and how it may come together this year. We felt fully supported by the group. We sensed some energy and excitement for this new direction of the church and new venture. We also dreamed, discussed, and prayed about all that we hope to see God do at KBF (Kurume Bible Fellowship) this year; which was great.
At the end of the day, one of the Japanese council members approached us to tell us that he’s on board. We didn’t even give the leaders an invitation to join our launch team. Yet, he proactively offered to join this new movement of what God will be doing. So, we have our first official Launch Team member!!! If only gathering several dozen more people came this easily
Another family with similar aged kids at the church have expressed an interest to help be a part of the church plant, though we are not sure yet what this means. We also had lunch with one of Miho’s longtime Christian friends who lives in Tokyo and asked her to pray about joining us (along with her recently converted fiancé). Although this is a season of settling into our new church, getting to know people, we are excited about how God is already at work in building up a team.
Please keep us in prayer as we settle into the new church, for unity with the staff and leaders, and for our Launch team formation.
Last Sunday, Highrock Church hosted a special Japan Night where we served a Japanese meal and shared about our vision to plant a church in Tokyo. Incredibly, nearly 90 people came out to join us! We were blessed by many volunteers and leaders to make it happen, whether on the planning side, setting up, or watching the kids.
Collaborating with a few friends (Lyh, Joy, Phil, and James) who also love food, we came up with the menu of salad with carrot ginger dressing, spring rolls, Soba noodle salad with tofu and edamame, and Mochi cupcakes. Everybody seemed to enjoy the food.
While everybody was together, we played a few games. During a trivia game, our guests got to learn more about Japanese culture and see some of the unique food options in Tokyo. It was interesting to see how many people still believed Japanese see the emperor as divine; which was true until the end of WWII. They also got to see the variety of toppings at Domino’s in Japan as well as a bizarre ice cream shop in the area we hope to plant our church. Next, with chopsticks, each table had to pass around a marshmallow, Cheerio, and an M & M. Finally, we gave them a completed hat origami with which they had to try to recreate with a new piece of origami paper. Surprisingly, many were skilled enough to do it!
During our talk about our vision, we invited one of our potential Launch Team members to share her testimony of how she felt led to consider coming to Japan with us. Despite knowing the language or having visited, her story of wanting to serve God in places where people have not heard the Gospel was very powerful. We hope her words would touch those who came and inspire them to be willing to sacrifice for Christ, whether that means moving somewhere or not.
We had the opportunity to share more deeply our vision for starting a church in Tokyo. Our vision is to: be a diverse community in the greater Tokyo area that will be a spring of life and a source of hope, so that Japan will experience the Gospel and be transformed.
Our values to guide us to this goal are: GRACE- Grace, Relevant, Authentic, Community, and Evangelism. More than just words, we dream of them having deep stories behind them that remind us of our identity. In a shame-based culture, we hope to be people of grace that allows others to be authentic and open up about all that is happening in their lives. We want to be relevant by speaking to where people really are and touching their needs and questions. As a community, we will be a family that cares for each other, welcomes others, and provides a place for people to truly experience God’s love and hope. Through living these values out, we feel people will meet Jesus and lives will be changed by the Gospel.
We felt incredibly encouraged at the end of the night. While it took a look of effort to make it happen, it was totally worth it to connect with people and share deeply about our dream. Several indicated an interest to take a Vision Trip next year, as well as many others getting our newsletter and praying for us. We feel blessed to have such a community to support, join, and send us.
When we first mentioned the idea that we were inviting others to move with us to Japan, we rightfully heard some skepticism about such a wild idea. True, moving your family halfway around the world, leaving friends and family behind, to be in a place you may have never visited before is pretty crazy. Yet, we felt called by God to start a church and that we could not do it on our own, especially with two little girls.
Recently, we hosted our first launch team meeting at our apartment. Three families joined us for a BBQ. Before that evening, several families had not known each other. However, by the end of the evening, we sensed God’s Spirit at work of bringing us together. Conversation flowed naturally, people opened up about their concerns, and shared why they are interested in coming to Japan. Each family is coming from a different place, yet there is an eagerness to follow God and help share the Gospel with the many who have never heard. Some already speak Japanese; others may not even know how to say hello. Some have visited before; others will be brand new to the city. Yet, we are excited about this small community that may grow into the new church plant in Tokyo!
Please pray about these families as they seek God’s leading for such a potential transition. Some have begun applying for jobs. One member is finishing up his Ph.D. at MIT and is seeking a post-doc. position in Tokyo. For all of us, please pray for opportunities to come over and that God would answer their concerns or fears. Pray also that our team would grow either from Boston or with our partner church in Tokyo.
Many of you know that I ran the Boston Marathon today. This was a dream race for me; something I had always hoped to complete in my life. Well, I got about 500 meters short of finishing today, less than five minutes from the finish line.
It started as a beautiful race, as I jogged alongside my fellow charity runner, Dave Cairns, who leads the Pilgrim Pines camp in NH. Compared to the heat of last year, it was sunny and in the 50s. I actually ended up with a sunburn on my face, neck, and legs. I really enjoyed seeing a few friends cheering me on along the way. The crowds were amazing, though I refrained from kissing any of the Wellesley College girls (though I saw a few guys take advantage of their offers). Yet, Newton’s hills were too much for me. I was at my pace in the first half but slowed significantly on the back half.
Just two turns from the finish line (about 500 meters), everybody stopped all of a sudden. Nobody seemed to know what was happening. We heard the race was finished. We then learned there had been a bomb at the finish line. Immediately, cops, SWAT, FBI, men in Hazmat suits, and others flooded in. Everybody but the runners were urged to leave the area. I was able to keep walking, though nobody had any answers. I was freezing in my running shirt for over an hour as people kept redirecting me to the Public Gardens, near Copley Square, etc. I finally got my bag with my phone and jacket. Up to that point, I tried over four phone from strangers, but nothing got through. They shut down cell service out of fear of more bombs being triggered by a phone. Every building was locked down, meaning most runners were freezing with just their thin silver blanket.
My friend, Dave, was 200 meters from the finish line when it happened. He heard what sounded like a cannon and then saw the smoke fill the whole street. Luckily, his family was a block away; though his boys are quite shaken up.
With cell phones not working and everything in chaos, most people were confused about what was happening and how to get hold of or meet their families/friends. I eventually got in touch with Miho, though one of the strangers who let me borrow their phone kept trying to call Miho for me and got through (which came as a surprise to Miho, hearing from a lady she doesn’t even know that I am ‘fine’). With the subways also closed, I ended up having to walk about a half hour to Charles River/MGH stop to get up to Alewife, for Miho to pick me up. We are so glad in hindsight that she didn’t come to the finish line, as traffic and public transportation would have been a nightmare with two little kids.
Most people I talked to were shocked by why somebody would do this at such an international festive event. What statement were they trying to make? I sense it is like the bombings at the Olympics, as it shows evil in such a global unifying event. Reports indicate over 100 were injured and two dead. I also heard that they found a couple more bombs that didn’t go off. Please pray for our police force, leaders, and those who are suffering from this tragic terrorism.
Thank you also for your concerns for me. I am so grateful to have friends around the world thinking of us in such a time like this. We are again touched by your care in our experiences of tragedies (we have had enough disasters to last a lifetime).
What started as something to check off my lifetime goals list as a senior in college has now become a passion of mine. Having never run more than 2 miles before the Chicago Marathon, I initially felt this crazy challenge would push me and then I could say I did it and never run again. Through the training, I came to find deep connections with running and other aspects of my life, such as my faith. Here are a few reasons why I have come to love marathons.
1. Pushes you to persevere. The very fact that it beyond any normal human activity pushes you to dig deep and go beyond your comfort. This parallels my life too as it trains me to have the fortitude to carry on despite emotions of wanting to quit. As Paul shares in 1 Cor. 9, physical training has some value but this training should help enhance my spiritual fortitude, as well, which has greater value.
2. Hours running gives me space to pray and think. There are reasons why some of our best ideas come in the shower, while driving, or doing other things besides sitting at a desk trying to write gold. I can’t count how many sermons and illustrations clicked while jogging, as it allowed my study to marinate and come together in my mind.
3. Reminds me how essential encouragement and fellowship is. Running, like most things in life, can be rather boring if done exclusively by yourself. It is also easy to give up without the encouragement of others. Having a partner to train with and crowds to cheer you on during the race make a profound impact.
4. Provides an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for various causes. While I love racquetball and bocce ball, I could not imagine asking people to give money for charities if I have an intense ultimate frisbee game. Marathons have allowed kids in Iraq to receive aid and Christian love, victims of the earthquake in Haiti to be able to rebuild after the rubble, tsunami victims in Japan to get care, and now to allow underprivileged kids to experience God at Pilgrim Pines Camp in New Hampshire.
If you want to partner with me for this race, visit http://www.razoo.com/story/Boston-Marathon-Camp-Scholarship to donate or send me a check made out to “Community Covenant Church.” I would love for you to join me in this effort to provide scholarships to kids and teens that may not be able to have this potentially life-changing experience at a Christian camp.
Only a few weeks left of training. Pray for me as I gear up for April 15th at the Boston Marathon!
I had an amazing conversation this afternoon with a new friend. We got connected to a guy who works with international students at UC-Santa Barbara. Turns out, there have been three students from Rikkyo University, which is the school in Ikebukuro where we plan to plant our church, who will be going back very soon. One girl recently made a confession of faith! They each have been a part of his Bible study in California and have allowed him to give us their emails to keep in touch.
We sense God already at work, putting things in place before we even get there. Our prayers are that God will continue to providentially connect us to people like these students.