We hope that you had a Merry Christmas yesterday! It is hard to describe how 2016 has transpired without saying how it has been surprising and eventful. We spent the first 3 months of 2016 sharing with many of you in your homes, towns and churches about our ministry and learning much from you and what was going on around us back in the US. On returning to Japan in March, we were not quite sure how our ministry might unfold throughout this year and how the various events around the world might affect them but we rejoice at the faithfulness of God to our ministries as they unfolded this year. We remember that God, as we learned in Sunday School as children, has the whole world In His hands, and are so thankful for the Grace and Mercy we are receiving and sharing about through ministry and life.
So in this spirit of thanksgiving we want to share about the wonderful things we have experienced this year. First of all we are thankful for one more training program that has been completed. On Saturday, December 10th, 23 new graduates from 13 different countries finished our Rural Leaders Training Program. After almost 10 months of leadership training, learning practical sustainable agriculture skills, we have 23 rural leaders who have left Japan to return to their home countries in Asia and Africa. During the training, they traveled around Japan to see the reality of development, and then they developed and shared dreams for the future of their home communities, and now they are off to put hands and feet to their dreams. The work they are doing will probably have little in the way of material benefit, but we believe that their work is instrumental to the their community’s people and to the Kingdom of God. This is especially true for the half of the world that lives in rural communities. Many of them lack infrastructure and services that we take for granted in Japan or the US, and so through our training we give their churches, NGO’s and grass roots organizations the opportunity to let the people develop their own services and infrastructure. While difficult, it leads to self sustainability and self determination. This is at the root of having a servant’s heart and of the ARI training.
ARI has finished 43 years of faithful ministry and has seen over 1300 leaders graduate from the leadership training program. Throughout that time there have been many stories shared and we are so happy that a new book has recently been published by ARI to highlight those stories. We are thankful for this new resource which we believe God can use to share the story of what people receive at this institute and how God is using them to take His Kingdom around the world.
We are also thankful for the work God has allowed us to do in the church. Our gospel choir has continued to grow in both numbers and presence in the local community. Members are coming to believe and follow Jesus, being baptized and discipled
and our choir is taking the gospel to places that would normally not be open to Christian Evangelism. We also are creating a culture of belonging. As one of the members recently said, here at Minngos it doesn’t matter how good of a singer we are, we are accepted, loved and welcomed here. This is truly the atmosphere we hope will lead even more to accept the love of Christ in their own lives. One true joy is how there are many more children now joining with their parents to the choir. While a noisy challenge at times, it is also an opportunity for us to think of how to grow our ministry and reach out even more with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our children and youth ministry continues to expand as well. Recently through Satomi’s connection with one local NGO, we have begin ministering to children who are in very difficult family situations. It has been a joy to watch these kids learn about Jesus and see the hope that Christ can give. It is amazing how the love and a promise of a warm meal can open up hearts and fill children with so much hope and excitement.
Finally we are so excited for our youth ministry which is looking at taking its first mission trip next year. This is a new adventure for us all. Although both of us have been on mission trips and welcomed teams before, it will be our first time leading one. Yet, it is wonderful that as these young people grow in the knowledge of Christ and His Grace, they are also ready to see how God will now use them to touch others.
On another note, at this time we remember that scripture also tells us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. This has also been part of our reality this year. The reality of the children in our local area who do not have a loving family or hot meal waiting for them, the struggles that our graduates must go through as they go back to places where resources seem to be hidden or lacking. For the many natural disasters, political events and the ongoing threats and reality of violence, we know there are many others who mourn and are seeking hope.
It is at Christmas that Jesus came into this world to bring us hope. He did not come in a way that what we think a king should come. He had no royal clothes or banquet at his birth. He did not grow up with “only the best” and tables overflowing with food. Instead he was born in a rural village, among impoverished people, to parents who had plenty of problems to deal with. He came to people who mourned, but he came so that one day they might rejoice.
Thankfulness did not come for all the material blessings that God bestowed upon His People. Although most of Jesus’ people were waiting for God to pour our His blessings and bring a savior to defeat the grip of not only Satan, but Rome and those who were oppressing them, Jesus did not become the savior in the way that many expected of Him. Instead Jesus served, healed and loved, died and rose again. He came to those who were suffering and gave them the true deliverance that they needed. It was not material, but it was real and just what they needed. Christmas is the beginning of that story.
Remembering the struggle and fear of so many in the world right now, we know that physical safety and comfort along with spiritual healing are both so important. So as we celebrate Christmas again this year, we do it with our eyes fixed on the one who gives hope and our hands willing to help those who are in need of support. We pray that you also our strengthened and can be thankful this Christmas season and we look forward to continuing working together through your ongoing support on into the future.
( As always you are able to give online at this page. Our advance number is 3021131.)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Jonathan & Satomi!!!
“In [Christ] was life, and that life was the light of men.” -John 1:5 (NIV)