Posted by: grantmiho | November 10, 2017

NYC Marathon

IMG_5665 Done! 26.2. After months of training and anticipation, I have now completed the NYC Marathon. It is funny how some time can make us forgot the struggle and grueling experience. It should not have surprised me how tough it was. This was my 7th marathon. Yet, this race was both brutal but brilliant.

The slight chance of rain ended up being constant rain the entire race. From the start in Staten Island, it was one mile of slight incline going over the bridge to Brooklyn. I knew right away that this was going to be rough. My training had little trails or hills. So, the bridges and 5th Avenue were killer. Even with performance socks, the rain (and puddles of Gatorade) led to 7 blisters on my toes. This slowed me down from my ideal time to finish at 5 hours 5 minutes.

After painting anguish, it may not seem like I loved the experience. But, it was incredible.  Over 50,000 runners. The worlds largest race. Raising millions of dollars for great causes. Over a million spectators cheering us on. I loved it. Like every race, being on foot gives you a fresh view of the city and its makeup. Almost half the race was through Brooklyn, where I would see Jewish temples next to Hispanic Pentecostal churches. You experienced the diversity and beauty of NYC.

We are currently at a church planting training in Minnesota. But, we’ve met some friends from the city. Cedric pointed out how I ran through his section of Brooklyn. Kim’s youth group kids handed out water in Harlem to me around 1st and 100th. Michael wondered why I didn’t stop by his church in the Bronx 🙂 And Stuart and Jody are preparing to launch in the Upper East Side, near the final leg of the race.

You see the diversity in the live music throughout the race. Bands played Bryan Adams “Summer of 69,” Incubus, Weezer, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, DJs, hip hop MCs, Gospel Choirs, taiko drummers, school bands, drum lines, etc. One cool scene was a teacher being high-fived by all the kids in his Brooklyn class who came out to cheer him on.

I am grateful for this wonderful experience. And I am thankful that my running is able to provide aid for women in desperate need of hope and restoration, as they are caught in sex trafficking. Thank you to all who have given to support the work of Restore NYC. So far, we have raised over $2,000!! If you still want to make a final donation, please visit https://donate.restorenyc.org/fundraiser/1002976.

In the final miles, your body keeps asking why in the world you would do this. Your mind makes you question if you would ever do this again. At that moment, you may feel it is crazy. But, there will be more races 🙂

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Posted by: grantmiho | September 24, 2017

Running to Restore Women to Life and Hope

Give Life. Bring Hope. This is not only the slogan for Tokyo Life Church, but our life’s passion. When I got connected to Restore NYC, I discovered an organization with a similar passion, albeit in a very different context and type of work. They work with women caught in sex trafficking and walk with them to find freedom and a pathway to a new life, full of hope.

Several years ago I was able to visit Thailand and see the work of fellow Covenant missionaries striving to bring freedom to women caught in sex trafficking. Some women are truly trapped in this lifestyle, with no hope of escape. Some may feel desperate for work. Given that the minimum wage is around 50 cents, I can understand the allure of working in a massage parlor that charges around $10. If you are willing to do more, you might triple this amount. It is heartbreaking to see young girls forced to live like this. I can’t imagine the abuse, the feelings of being used by men, and being reduced to a sexual object.

Many of the women that Restore NYC works with in NYC came with dreams of opportunity. Many are moms who are trying to provide for their families back in other countries. The promise of a job deceived them, as they realized what the work really entailed. Being unwilling to go along with this kind of work could get them deported, out of a job, or worse. They may feel powerless. Vulnerable. Alone. Stuck in a nightmare. Restore NYC lovingly comes alongside these women and walks with them on a path towards freedom and renewal. They help train them to pursue other careers that restore their dignity and allow them to provide for their families. It’s one thing to pull them out of this life, but they still need to replace work options with something.

What can we do?

  1. Ultimately, this is about supply and demand. Women (or men) would not fall into this trap if nobody desired and paid for it. The blame cannot fully rest on one side. It is a complex problem. We live in a broken society with broken lives; with broken sexual longings. Obviously, there wouldn’t be millions of pages of pornography if people didn’t view and consume it. One of the first steps we, as Christians, must take is to live out our belief that all people are made in God’s image and worthy of respect and dignity, which is expressed by not fueling and contributing to the exploitation of women.
  2. Be part of communities full of grace. We need others to come alongside us to help us break free from our sexual brokenness. Similarly, we should be churches that would welcome those trapped in desperate need of grace and renewal. At our church in Tokyo, we see the brokenness around us, as neighbor businesses offer girls to bath you, love hotels, and DVD shops (though I doubt they are selling the latest Marvel or Disney films). What would it look like to be an oasis for these girls? A place of healing? As well as an oasis where God can be true source of longing for all people?
  3. Support the work of those fighting to free those caught in sex slavery and trafficking. I love the work of our fellow Covenant missionaries around the world, the work of International Justice Mission, as well as Restore NYC. On November 5th, I will be running the NYC Marathon to raise awareness and support for their work with women in New York City. My goal is to raise $3,000. I’m already over 1/3 of the way there. Would you consider partnering with their great work to give life and bring hope to these women (and their families)? Would you be able to give $1 per mile ($26), $4 per mile ($104), or more?

Visit this site to donate now: https://donate.restorenyc.org/fundraiser/1002976

 

Posted by: grantmiho | May 29, 2017

Heading Home? (Where’s Home?)

Switchfoot, “This Is Home” lyrics:

I’ve got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can’t go back
Back to how it was

This is home
Now I’m finally back to where I belong

I remember this song being used as our home church sent off a new church plant. It was so powerful and emotional. God was calling them to leave “home” and step out to create a new home.

In just two weeks, our family will be returning “home” for a six-month Home Assignment (furlough). But, even going back “home” is not really home, as we will be based in Boston, not in Des Moines with my family. Moving around so much, people might ask us where is home, or where we are from. I can talk about where we recently lived, or where we grew up, which are different answers.

But, the idea of “home” is tricky for missionaries. Our girls have only studied at Japanese schools, so the idea of going to an American school in English is completely foreign and frightening. Though we are heading back for “Home Assignment,” we are leaving “home.” This past Sunday, we celebrated my birthday with around twenty people from our church. This is my family and friends. It is sad to leave them for a short period. Tokyo is our city. Tokyo Life Church feels like home. It is bittersweet to be away from our community.

At the same time, we truly do cherish the time we get to be with family, friends, and dear supporters. I’ve had to correct myself years ago when we talked about “having” to go back to America or travel. While it has various challenges, we “get” to travel and be around people we deeply love. One of our members asked us recently what we are looking forward to during these six months. Though Tokyo is our home, we love so many things about being back in America. Family and friends being at the top. Somebody else asked if this is a Sabbatical. Six-month vacation sounds nice. Only, not so much. There will be moments of rest, play, and study. Yet, we don’t anticipate unplugging and recharging too much. Nearly every week will be visiting a different supporting church. Traveling across a dozen states and three countries. Adjusting our girls to their first American school experience.

The journey is about to begin! June 16th. We are excited about this next season of life. Reconnecting with people. Speaking at supporting churches. Making memories. But, it is not exactly going “home.”

Posted by: grantmiho | December 31, 2016

Time for a New Year

I love this time of year. Not only Christmas, but also the natural end and beginning of the year. We see posts about everybody we lost this past year, the “best of” lists in culture/film/TV/music, market winners/losers, and predictions for the new year.

It’s December 31st. Tomorrow is January 1st. There’s nothing inherently different between the two days. Same weather. Same season. Same sunset time. Yet, we feel something is different. A New Day. A New Season. A New Opportunity.

Without time and markers, life just blends together. Days and weeks merge. It is like being in solitary confinement where any awareness of time and date is lost. Without these markers, life could feel dull and mundane. Repetitious. We need rhythms, markers, and reminders of the various aspects of life.

Every religion and culture celebrates festivals and holidays because they understand the significance of time. Recently, Christians celebrated the season of Advent, which focuses on waiting and hope. Soon it will be Lent, reminding us our weakness, sin, and mortality. All throughout the year there are days that stand out for various reasons. Valentine’s Day is about love. It is not that this is the only time we should or could express love. It is just a special moment to focus. The same with a birthday or anniversary. We should regularly show our appreciation, attention, and love to our family or friends.

In the past, farmers had natural reminders for work, rest, and harvest. Workers knew when to finish their day, as it grew dark. Now we have electricity, internet, and smartphones. We can be productive at any moment, any hour, from anywhere. We are forced to be deliberate in designating our rhythms for our days, months, or year.

New Year’s Day holds no magic. Just another day. But, it can be a spiritual or communal fresh start. Calling us to forget the past and look ahead. Pick yourself up from failed goals, empty pursuits, and rise to become your best self. It’s a New Day. A New Chance to start again. For your health. For your spirit. For your finances. For your career. For your relationships.

In Japan, it is common to have a “big cleaning” (大掃除) right before the New Year. Though this practice may have deeper Shinto meaning, I love the idea of clearing out the mess and beginning fresh.

Here’s to the New Year. A New Start. May your rhythms awaken you to the new possibilities for what God may do in and through your life.

 

Posted by: grantmiho | November 22, 2016

So Proud of Our Church Community

This post could have come from any given two-week period, as our team is incredibly faithful in serving. But, I was struck by how blessed we are with our young church after a rough week of sickness among our entire family. Even as I write this, Miho and I are still not fully recovered, and Zoe has been home for two days from school with a cold.

After caring for a sick Allie all week, Miho finally succumbed to the cold and fever on Saturday. I had to write an email to our Ministry Leaders about canceling our planned meeting after the service. One of our leaders, hearing how Miho might stay home sick and I would be preaching with a fever, offered to come over at 7am to help load our van and drive us to the church service. We were touched by the thought and care, rather than having to ask for help. Somehow, God gave me enough strength to preach on the final message of our 1 Corinthians series, which was a heavy subject to begin with, let alone being sick; women in ministry (listen here). With Miho absent, one leader stepped up for Miho to preside. Everybody worked together and pulled off an incredible service. It is reassuring to know that the church is not completely dependent on us, but we are a team serving together.

The previous week was very moving to us. In relation to a Japanese custom, we had a Children’s Blessing Ceremony, where we prayed over our children, prayed for the parents, and prayed for our congregation to care for our children (it takes a village, right?). One leader, Julie, prepared and lead them to perform a song for everyone. Two other leaders baked 6 dozen cupcakes (and transported them on a train) for everyone, as a special treat. One person took photos. New volunteers practiced with our worship team. A Japanese man read Scripture for the first time at our service. It was beautiful seeing over two dozen people serving in various ways for our service. Setting up, tearing down, hospitality, sound, slides, praise team, interpretation, children’s ministry, ….. We feel so blessed at this team and family.

Moments like this when I am sick and forced to slow down that allow me to step back and reflect at all the many ways we should be thankful. Thank you Tokyo Life Church for truly being our partners, family, and dear friends, serving together in God’s mission for Tokyo.

Posted by: grantmiho | January 20, 2016

Most Meaningful Service

This past Sunday was our 1st Anniversary as Tokyo Life Church. Though our grand opening a year ago was a definite ministry highlight, this past Sunday felt even more special. Even though it was our largest attendance so far for a Sunday service (50), I’ve had the privilege to serve at two megachurches. So, I have spoken to far larger crowds. It was not just the crowded room. There were other factors.

  1. Vision Becoming a Reality- our grand opening was announcing the dream. It was the beginning of our community. Now, we are seeing glimpses of that dream taking shape. People are finding life and hope. New people are experiencing the Gospel. Lives are being transformed. It is just not a desire or wish. https://www.youtube.com/embed/subhZzWDXGo” target=”_blank”>One of our members created a slideshow that captured our first year. We see our story unfold beautifully. _DSC9016.jpg
  2. The owner of our meeting space came with his family. We were nomads meeting in various locations, before he took the chance to welcome us to his restaurant. He likely did this as a favor to his friend, Steve, who is on our launch team. But, time after time, he has accommodated our requests to serve food, stay longer for meetings, host an Alpha Course, etc. Miho gave a special tribute to him. We see him as our “Man of Peace” (cf. Luke 10:6). When the disciples were sent out, they were to find a man of peace who welcomed them in the new town. The church is not a building, but the space does play an important part. After the service he joked that with our growth, he may need to open a larger restaurant! We’d be fine with that. Our prayer is that our relationship will only strengthen with him and his staff. _DSC8976.jpg
  3. We held our first baptisms. Two young Japanese took the step to be baptized. They shared their testimonies in the service. Incredibly moving. After the service, we went to another church that allowed us to use their baptismal font and fellowship hall for our potluck lunch. Around ten people joined the celebration from our partner church, KBF. Miho and I were able to each baptize one of them. At year one, we are so thrilled to see people growing in their faith. Here in Japan, around 2/3rds of churches don’t baptize a single person in a given year. Especially for church plants, it may take years to see any fruit. Just season after season of sowing seeds and patiently watering. We don’t take any credit for this though. We recognize the various people God brought into their life over the years to plant seeds and bring them closer to Christ. _DSC9057

 

Posted by: grantmiho | July 10, 2015

Blessings from Our Website Launch (in an unexpected way)

After various setbacks, translation delays, and last minute technical tweaks, we finally launched our Tokyo Life Church website last week. Thanks to Squarespace, we received a $100 Google Adwords credit to promote our site. This has allowed us to connect with new people and be found by those searching for churches in Tokyo.

On Tuesday, I received an email to the church account (which I have yet to use much). Given the amount of random and seemingly suspicious emails in the past, I read it with skeptical eyes. I held off from telling anyone, even Miho, about it until I checked it out.

The email was from an American guy who came to Japan over the 4th of July weekend and hiked Mt. Fuji. On the way to the airport, he forgot his backpack on the train. Turns out they found it (which is quite common) and had it waiting at Tokyo Station to be picked up. Only he was now back in Colorado. I imagine he was quite stressed about this loss when he got to the airport without his bag of valuables. As a Christian, he decided to find a local church and offer the contents to them. This was a chance to turn this tragic experience into a blessing for someone. Somehow, he found us.

My doubts about the validity of the email faded with the amount of specific details he gave including claim number, scanned driver’s license, etc. Turns out his bag contained some hiking clothes and snacks. But, the main thing he wanted to give to the church was a nice Nikon DSLR camera with a 55-300mm lens (together worth over $1,000).

Since I had to go to Ikebukuro this morning, I swung (a bit out of the way) by Tokyo Station. At the Lost and Found, I filled out some forms and this old man handed me a bag. I was caught off guard at first, since it was a feminine looking Rip Curl bag (not quite the hiking pack). He handed it over, so I took it. As I walked away, I check inside and found makeup pouches and books; no camera. I found a flight itinerary for a woman named Natalya. I went right back to the guy. “Ummm…I don’t think this the bag.” Sure enough, he gave me the wrong one. Poor lady 😦 After giving the claim number again, he found it. What an unexpected blessing!

These are those moments when we stand amazed at how incredible God is. Without the launch of our website last week, he probably wouldn’t have found us. Without the Google promotion, we may have been buried in several pages deep of other sites. Yet, God connected us. Just another reminder how God is mysteriously working around us and connecting us with people. Our prayer is that this resource will capture memories in our community, take beautiful photos that display our worship and fellowship, and be used to further impact lives here in Tokyo. Sorry Daniel for your unfortunate ending to your Japan trip. But, thank you for reaching out and offering this gift to our church.

Posted by: grantmiho | May 1, 2015

Tensions to Manage Not Solve

I’ve recently been thinking about an idea I heard from Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta. He talked about the difference between problems to solve and tensions to manage. For instance, in his church, there is always the tension of excellence and financial stewardship. Move too far either way and you can either go broke or lose the quality you seek to have in your services and programs. There is no simple solution to solve this tension. It needs to be managed.

For us, we face several tensions that do not have easy solutions. One is that Tokyo Life Church is a bilingual, international church with a heart for the Japanese. We have been steadily increasing our well of Japanese lyrics in our song database. We strive to translate most everything we do. Yet, our community is roughly half internationals and half Japanese. Those who serve in our kids ministry may not be fluent in Japanese. During our young adult gatherings, some only speak English, some only Japanese, and several who are fine with both. As we prepare for small groups, we will constantly face the tension of keeping things simple and separate, or have a blended community with the language complexities. Since our passion is to welcome Japanese, create a community for them, and speak messages that connect to their lives, we will always live in a tension of having everybody in mind as we communicate.

Another tension we are experiencing is the reality of the busy Japanese life. Some people work six days a week, with only Sunday to spend time with family, rest, or do other things. Some people even work on Sundays. As we think about small groups, no time is necessarily ideal for most people. We live in the tension of being too legalistic by pressuring people to attend services regularly or being very lenient and letting people come whenever it is convenient for them. Neither option sits well with us. We want our community to be full of grace and life. If showing up feels like a duty, this destroys the community we are trying to create. For our volunteers, we are learning to become flexible as things come up or people get sick. Last minute changes are quite commonplace. Again, a tension to manage. Too much pressure and people may feel burned out.

A final tension is ministry and family life. We try to complete our sermons by Friday, along with slides and other last minute details. However, we often find ourselves writing emails, doing final edits, and finishing projects on Saturday. We strive to keep Saturday as our family day, since this is one of Allie’s only days off each week. Doing ministry out of our home makes it tough to have a clear divide from work and home. With technology, we are constantly able to talk to people, check email, and work on things. One of our major commitments is to care for our family, so our girls grow up loving God and the Church, rather than feeling like they were always a distant priority to God’s work. We are fortunate to have people who love our girls in our church. They play with them as we set up on Sunday mornings at 8:30am. When we have people over for meals, our girls feel included. There are no clear guidelines for how to balance both well. No easy solutions. But, we seek to manage the tension of fully pouring our lives into others and our church, while not neglecting our family in the process.

Please pray for us as we manage these (and other) tensions. Despite these tensions, we truly feel privileged to pursue God’s vision for our life as we plant this church with our whole family.

Posted by: grantmiho | March 12, 2015

Influential Books

Recently I came across a post about the most influential books from some key Christian leaders. It got me thinking about those books that have deeply impacted me and what I would recommend for others to read. As with most thoughts, this is what came to mind right now, though I am sure at other seasons of life I would pick out other ones.

Just as a sample from the other leaders, here is what a few of them mentioned when asked about influential spiritual books, novels, and biographies:

1. Eugene Peterson- a. Karl Barth- Epistle to the Romans, b. Dostoyevski- The Brothers Karamazov & The Idiot, c. Herman Melville- Moby Dick, ….

2. Charles Swindoll- a. J.I. Packer- Knowing God, b. John Bunyan- The Pilgrim’s Progress, c. A.W. Tozer- The Pursuit of God, d. J. Oswald Sanders- Spiritual Leadership

3. Chuck Colson- a. C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity, b. St. Augustine- Confessions, c. Dostoyevski- The Brothers Karamazov, d. John Bunyan- The Pilgrims Progress

My list is more personal and subjective to how the books impacted me. I realize that a list should lean towards classics and monumental books, but I would rather point in honesty to those which shaped me, even if they are not the most critically acclaimed or stand the test of time.

Top Influential Books:

1. John Maxwell- Developing the Leader Inside You. After reading like crazy as a kid, I only read mandatory books from junior high. At 16 I discovered this book from my dad, which rekindled my love for reading. It sparked a desire to grow, learn, and become a person of integrity and influence.

2. C. S. Lewis- Mere Christianity. While not on most high school kid’s Christmas list, I asked for this my senior year of high school after seeing it mentioned by numerous people. One of Lewis’s finest books, in my opinion. This was one of the first books I read that helped me understand the Christian faith and defend it.

3. Kent Hughes- Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. As a young driven leader who had served at several megachurches, this book freed me from equating godly success with large numbers. While I remain driven and hope to reach as many people with the message of hope in Christ, I now weigh my life but other measurements, such as faithfulness, character, ….

4. Dale Carnegie- How to Win Friends and Influence People. I used to be a little embarrassed to tell people how much I loved this book. As a pastor, I am in the people business. While basic social etiquette, the stories and principles were memorable and insightful to really connect with others. One of the most quotable books ever.

5. Haddon Robinson- Biblical Preaching. My first and still favorite preaching book ever read (of at least 50). This book alone stirred my passion for preaching. It influenced my decision to go to Gordon-Conwell to study and even work with Haddon. My life and ministry would likely be very different had I moved elsewhere. A definite classic for preachers.

Top Novel: (Admit to not reading many novels. These are more ones I enjoy rather than ones that deeply impacted me)

1. Alexander Dumas- The Count of Monte Cristo. First book I read in French. 2. Shusako Endo- Silence. Historical fiction about Christian persecution in 17th century Japan. 3. Harry Potter series. Again, not list of classics but books I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Great story from start to finish.

Top Biographies

1. David Livingstone (author unknown)- One of my missionary heroes, as a Scottish man pioneering through central Africa.

2. Lyle Dorsett- A Passion for Souls (DL Moody). My other ministry hero. The life and impact of Moody was one of the biggest factors in my desire to study at the school named after him. A great preacher, a passion for people, and a desire to make an impact for God through his life.

Posted by: grantmiho | January 11, 2015

T-Minus 7 Days to Official Launch

IMG_2383 Through years of dreaming, winding roads leading us in new unexpected directions, months of building a team and hosting preview services, we are now on the verge of officially launching our church plant, Tokyo Life Church.

If this past month is any indication, we sense that God is truly up to something in our midst. We have had a Christmas event where most of our guests were invited by other new people to our church community. At one of our services, we met a guy from Boston who is interested in moving over here. First time to meet, but excited by his passion for Japan and joining with what we are doing here. Just today, we had three first-time visitors (and one toddler). One guy came through a Cali friend’s recommendation. One lady came through the recommendation of a lady in Osaka whom we have never met before some email exchanges this week. The final guest had been at Highrock before moving back to Japan.

We now have a regular place to meet. We are about to launch our website. We have a a wonderful team of leaders who pour into our children. We have a worship leader with a dedicated and gifted worship team. Despite a range of needs in our team, we feel so blessed to officially begin this new community with our team.

With a new year full of possibilities, may we continue to dream and pursue all that God has in store for us as we seek to welcome new people, grow deeper as a community, and find ways to be a blessing in our surrounding community. This is just the beginning…….:)

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