Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
2014 is ending and a new year is beginning! We pray that you have been blessed this past year and have something to be thankful for! We are definitely thankful for all the love and support we always receive from you and many others and hope this letter finds you doing well!
As we look back on 2014, we really feel like the year went by so quickly. There was no big event that happened in our lives, but many small ones that seemed to come right after another, and before we knew it, it’s the 12th month of the year! This might have something to do with us growing a year older, but none the less it means we’ve been blessed with more time in ministry and to meet new people!
You might be thinking what kind of little events! We had a couple of freak snow storms in the winter that closed trains, highways and caused plenty of trouble. Then we saw off our pastor of 2 years and welcomed a new one at the end of March. As usual a new class of participants arrived at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) and began their training in April. In June we had the first mission team from the Florida conference visit and minister with us! Thanks CCW! Then Jonathan’s mother and niece came to Japan for a few weeks! We went on a whirlwind with them around Japan, introducing our niece to many first time experiences! There would good ones, and uhhh things that were maybe too different for her at this age! We continued with programs for the gospel choir throughout the summer, the opening of our new chapel on campus in September, Oikos Chapel. Of course our Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration, a couple of trips to Western Japan and now the participants have graduated and we are ready for Christmas!!!
It seemed that there was always something to do, someone to meet or somewhere to go and once one deadline had been met, a new one was ready for us. We do not know if that is true for everyone, but it was the way we felt this past year. It was very easy to just become busy, and be caught up in going through the motions.
But in the middle of the year there were things that would happen which would wake us up from this slumber. We had three participants from Liberia this year in the training program. Ebola hit their communities and they sat here helplessly as friends, relatives and community members passed away. Although Ebola was on the news and everyone knew about it, it was happening within the lives of our friends and felt very very close. We were challenged to think of how to help people cope with loss and helplessness.
Yet in the middle of it all we were encouraged. One of these participants is a pastor and continued to say that what we needed was more prayer. He led revival services at several churches where we would pray and anytime there was good news, he was the first one to be thankful for the hand of God. In the midst of incomprehensible suffering and a feeling of helplessness, this man taught us to seek the face of God and be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for us through Christ Jesus.
This has helped us as we continue to recover from the disaster and nuclear meltdown of 2011. 2014 marked 3 years since the disaster. Our campus has almost completely been rebuilt and radiation levels have continued to drop. In fact the only two things we would not eat from campus were Bamboo shoots (used a lot in Asian food) and local mushrooms. Although we can not say that there are no longer any effects, things are becoming better. But it is an ongoing struggle and thankfulness has been important.
And we are thankful for the continued learning and ministry opportunities that we have had both at ARI and in the local community. The Gospel Choir, MINNGOS, continues to grow and reach into the local community. We became much closer with other gospel choirs from our prefecture this year, doing more and more singing with local people. This has helped us to think more of how this choir can both share the hope of Jesus Christ with both those singing with us and local people who are searching for salvation. From nursing homes to schools, local festivals and churches, God has allowed us to meet many new people. He has also opened up the hearts of more of our members. They are seeing Jesus, not as a religious figure, but as a friend, as a savior, some even as their own Lord and Savior. This has encouraged us time and again. This year we have been told by many people that while they liked singing before, singing Gospel music is different for them. They feel something. We tell them that when you are praising the Lord Jesus, something different happens, freedom, peace and the power of the Holy Spirit comes over us, calms us, clears our vision.
As we realize that this group is a great place of ministry we are also praying and seeking for how God would use it into the future. As a missionary friend told Jonathan, the missionaries Job is not to do ministry as much as empower others to do ministry. We have known this and sought to do that, but were challenged again to continue seeking for a local person who can lead this ministry into the future.
Our role as missionaries has also been on our minds as we continue serving Nasushiobara church. The church called a new pastor in April and it has been a pleasure to work aside him this year. He has really took the lead, showing us what it means to build a church with people, to help the church build herself. We have watched not only the church continue to grow, but also the people take ownership and become more active. We are very excited for the future, as this pastor has also brought a new vision and things that we have been praying for are now becoming a reality. Praise God!
Now you might be wondering what we personally have done this year. Well Satomi has joined hands with some local ladies to begin a children’s foster home. This has taken much time and energy, but she is learning many things about children and their need for love. Although God has not given us children yet, we are sure this type of work is preparation for our future. Satomi also began her own garden. Although it took a few years to start since coming here, she went full speed ahead with a bountiful harvest that was able to be shared with many! Even now, she has planted some onion and garlic to harvest in the spring!
Jonathan on the other hand tried his hand at some cooking this year. One comment always raised by ARI participants is the desire to practice food processing more. Well, guess who provided that opportunity??? Yes, Jonathan! He made jam, pickles, baked cakes, bread, you name it! Nothing burnt down and the food was edible! Jonathan also made a concerted effort to ride his bike more this year. After returning from the US in March of 2013, his pants have definitely felt tighter, and this was one effort to loosen them up a bit. Only time will tell if it was successful!
Together we tried to take some more time to be together and make an effort to see more local sights. We realized that there are several famous Christians from our area and plenty of beautiful creation that we had not yet seen. Both of us being from tropical climates and rather flat landscapes, we are learning each year to not just dread winter but to learn how to enjoy the changing of the seasons and the mountains and rivers that are so close by! God’s creation is beautiful!
As we close, we thank you again for your own going support. Through your financial gifts we continue in ministry and believe the Kingdom of God is advancing. We continue to look for covenant partners in ministry and if you are interested please to let us know and we will tell you more about the process. We also thank you for your love, letters and emails. They are a blessing, giving us joy to continue
We thank you very much for your continued prayers and ask that you continue this year! We have written prayer points on the back of our Christmas card this year! Please put this somewhere you will remember and pray for us, our ministry and Japan when you are able!
Finally, we hope you are following our ministry throughout the year on our blog. If not, go on it today! Proversb169.wordpress.com We try to keep it up to date and knowing you will be reading it keeps us accountable to do so!!!
As we head into 2015, we pray that God will bless and keep you. That the Kingdom will continue to advance and that Jesus will reign in the hearts of more people! Maranatha!
Merry Christmas from our Community Life team at ARI