A Long Overdue Update!
Season’s greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s been quite a while since my last update, but I have a lot to share! First I want to say thank you for your support and prayers over our ministry in Japan, especially with the way the world has been the past couple of years as we’ve been reminded how important prayer really is and what a blessing it is to lift up others in prayer and see how God answers and works through the body of Christ.
It goes without saying that the pandemic has affected us in a major way, as it has all of you. It seemed like things were gaining momentum in 2019, and then suddenly we were limited in what we could do. So much of how we were serving centered around physically being with people, so ministry as I knew it was no longer safely possible. We could no longer host travelers in our home (and no one has been traveling), we could no longer pack our house with people and share meals and fellowship, other ministries we were helping with moved online, and even singing together in the same room was suddenly a risk. By all accounts it should have been a very discouraging situation, and I’ll admit that it has been frustrating and trying at times, but we have both learned so much through this situation and I have been challenged to think about what ministry really is and reminded not to see the limitations of a situation as something that can limit what God can do and how He can use you. It’s not a matter of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, but rather praying for, trusting in and relying on God’s guidance.
The state of missions in Japan and how we’ve been lead
When I arrived here in 2017 I had hopes of doing so many things, which I considered ‘my ministry’ and the reasons why I was here. I think it’s a temptation for people who are serving in another country to want to define ministry as great big things that can be seen by others, stuff that you can post about on facebook and write about in newsletters. There’s a bit of pressure to feel like you have to be doing these outstanding things in order to attract new donors and keep existing ones. Then a pandemic happens and you’re forced to put those things on the backburner. It may sound like a discouraging thing, but I really think it’s a great opportunity not only to see things from a different perspective, but also (as stated earlier) to trust God. Japan has always been a bit of a difficult mission field because the large scale efforts and programs that work in other places don’t really take off here like you’d think they would. Otherwise we’d have a lot more than the 1% of Christ followers than are in the country. The agencies that exist here have learned how to do things in baby steps, and a lot of what happens as far as evangelism is concerned is behind the scenes and relationship focused (usually on the individual level). As one who is here as more of a waterer (to build up and encourage believers and do what I can to strengthen the church alongside those who are ‘planting’), I’ve come to understand that the same principle applies. That means that many times the most important ministry is not in workshops or conferences or worship seminars or any other thing that looks good on a newsletter or facebook or a blog, but the most important service is to the individual, sometimes even to other missionaries (who have all had a rough time during the pandemic in some way or another). So, that’s how it’s been the past couple of years. God has allowed us to focus on individuals and smaller groups, and it’s been such a blessing.
As the coronavirus situation moved many things online, it actually opened up new possibilities for more one on one connections, even with people who would have been too far away to meet in person. Doing Sunday gatherings online has brought people each week from as far as Hiroshima, Kyoto and Kyushu. The same has happened in other congregations, as well. Interestingly, it’s not only believers who join, but unbelievers. I’ve heard reports of people being interested in church or Christianity but never having the courage to step into a church building start joining online services and eventually coming to faith in Christ. Such was the case with our friend from Kyushu, who just a couple of months ago confessed Christ as Lord and has been joining an online bible study and our prayer meetings on Wednesday. Bible studies have also become more rich and focused. Each month, we are involved in 3 studies, one of which we are leading out of Romans that has been a very encouraging, in depth look at the gospel itself.
A specific need and a project we’ve been working on to help
This all has highlighted a need in the church that I believe deserves more attention: the hunger and desire to truly know God’s word. Whether it’s a lack of teachers and pastors (a serious issue in Japan), cultural norms that put a wall between “sensei” and believers (the Japanese version of the clergy/layperson divide) or teaching that isn’t in line with the truth of scripture, this is a issue that has come up often as people are joining online studies and congregations outside of their regular gatherings and realizing the value of knowing scripture and knowing how to study it in order to discern that what is being taught is sound doctrine (as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, to “prove everything”). English speakers have a wealth of resources (in the form of physical books, but also freely available online) for doing this, but it’s not so for Japanese speaking believers. Therefore, we’ve been working on a rather large project over the course of the past two years in hopes that it will help Japanese speakers who have a desire to dig deeper into scripture. You might be surprised to find out that there are only about 5 translations into Japanese, and the majority of those are quite old. As Japanese is a much more limited language than English (both in vocabulary and in grammar), much of the original language is difficult to translate into Japanese without sounding unnatural. This leads to some important details being interpreted rather than translated (a problem even in some English bibles, unfortunately). On top of that, the most used translation today is sourced from an English translation and NOT the original languages. Is the core message of the Gospel there in the Japanese translations? Sure, but what about when people really want to study? Two of the most indispensable, freely available tools I’ve used have been Blue Letter Bible and Biblehub. Some time back before the pandemic, we were dreaming about a Japanese equivalent and floating the idea around in our congregation. One brother who happens to be great at coding got the ball rolling last year. Now several of the brothers and sisters in our congregation are each doing our part to make it a reality and hope to make it available in due time. It’s called そのまま新訳, which roughly translates to “Just-as-it-is Translation” since it’s a word-for-word, literal, interlinear translation meant to highlight the meanings and nuances of the original texts as much as possible. It involves a LOT of detail and data input, but it’s been a lot of fun doing web design and coding and learning how to build and use a database. Please pray for this project that it can be a useful tool for Japanese believers who want to learn and study and that it would be an encouragement to many in Japan. Here's a little sneak peek!
Even though the pandemic hasn’t been friendly to live music, I’ve still been able to help brothers and sisters with their recordings. Below are some of the records I’ve been blessed to be involved in and serve together to bless and encourage the church in Japan.
Of course, I’m still working bit by bit on another album of original songs, but some of it will require traveling, so I hope to make headway on that as the virus situation gets better.
Now for the Big Announcement...
In a final bit of news, and possibly the biggest and most exciting announcement in all of my updates….We’re expecting!! We should be meeting baby in June of next year (right around our 5th anniversary!) so we would greatly appreciate your prayers in this matter, especially that the pregnancy would go well and baby will be healthy, but also for God’s guidance and provision for the next season of our lives. I wanted to share this news with all of you first and of course we will be sharing updates in the future. :D For now, here's a preview of baby, just about the size of a plum.
We pray that all of you have a safe, joyful Christmas and a wonderful new year.
Much love in Christ,
Kyle and Ai