He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father…
Happy 2019! We give thanks at this time of the year for the many blessings that we have experienced in 2018. We are thankful for God’s continued guidance and blessing in our ministries and for the ongoing support of you and so many others. Jonathan has just completed his third term and Satomi is in the middle of her first term serving the people of Northern Tochigi and people around the world through the Asian Rural Institute. We are truly blessed to be the hands and feet of the Gospel in Japan on behalf of the United Methodist Church. We want to give a recap of some of the events of this past year in our ministries and in our family life.
In March, we welcomed 30 students from 15 countries into the Rural Leaders Training Program at ARI. We were especially excited to welcome two students from the East African country of Eritrea. A country that is often in the news because of the numerous refugees fleeing towards Europe, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the lives of people from two rural leaders within that country. A major event that has changed much since our two friends Adiam and Berhane came to Japan in March was that a peace treaty and normalization of relations happened between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We also were interested to learn about the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, one of the most historic churches in Christianity, linking back to the Ethiopian Eunuch that Phillip encounters in the book of Acts.
The Training program continued through December and while there were many accomplishments, the sad reality that not everyone can complete our program was also apparent. For personal reasons we had two students, including a United Methodist Woman from Tanzania withdraw from the program midway. This sad reality reminds us of how difficult it is for these leaders to leave their communities and families for nine months to come to what they and their sending bodies find to be important training. We are grateful for the rest that were able to finish the program and return home at the beginning of last month.
Mainly through Nasushiobara Church, we also saw more people reached for Christ this year. We saw more people join our young adult group and witnessed the beginning of a new Bible study and discipleship happening among it’s members. We are very thankful to the Global Mission Fellow that has come to us from Brazil for the past year and how he continued the work of the young Filipino who came through the same program last year. We were able to go on our second youth camp and were glad to see the camp led totally by the young adult leaders of the group.
We also celebrated the baptism of our brother, Mr Ishizuka just last Christmas. At the age of 78, Mr Ishizuka came to our church, his first visit to a Christian church in his entire life, just this past May. He met us in front of the church in a meeting that should have never happened. Having arrived early that morning and having forgotten the keys to the church, we were cleaning up in front of the church when Mr Ishizuka pulled up in his car and began talking to us. It later turned out that he had wanted to visit our church many times before but never had the courage as he usually did not see people just standing around in front of the church. Forgetting our keys became a moment for God to transform the life of someone else for His Glory.
This was the testimony also of the honorary president of the Asian Rural Institute, Rev. Dr “Tom” Toshihiro Takami who passed away at the age of 91 this past September. A man who knew much about God working in the midst of mistakes and unplanned encounters, he spent the latter half of his life working to found and raise support for the work of the Asian Rural Institute and the rural people of Africa and Asia. Believing that in the midst of our scarcity, weakness and failures that God has given us something valuable to share, The Rev Dr Takami lived a life that exemplified this attitude of sharing that was a personification of the motto of ARI, that we may live together. He often said that we believe the Love of Jesus Christ is for all people, and the gospel of Jesus Christ must be shared with all creation.
We celebrated his life on December 13th of last year and we were blessed to see hundreds of people come out to remember and honor the life and legacy that he left in his ministry for our Lord Jesus. His eldest son shared that it wasn’t until university that he began to understand his father’s love for Christ and the people of this world. Growing up as a child, his father was a strict and serious man at home and was so often working hard to achieve the dreams God put in his heart, not having much time to spend with his family. In university though, he saw is father’s love for people and the desire to see a change happen in the world and could finally understand and later accept his father and said that this was truly Amazing Grace for him to experience.
We are thankful to continue to minister in the greater community in various ways as well. Jonathan began a children’s Gospel outreach to both disciple young Christians in the adult gospel choir and to share the love and salvation of Christ with children in the area. We were just requested to continue this ministry into the new year with a greater reach to more children. Our adult gospel choir, MINNGOS, will be celebrating 10 years in 2020 and we are happy to see new people come and decide to follow Christ. We also had our first couple get engaged after meeting in the choir. We ask you to pray for their salvation along with blessings on their future.
Satomi got involved with a new community group that is addressing children’s poverty in the local area. Working through a children’s home and the church until now, she is excited that there has been a willingness by local leaders to address child poverty in our area in a more collaborative way through both church, Nonprofits and government cooperation. Although the group is still feeling it’s way forward, it is both encouraging and sobering to see the difficulties hidden under the surface of polite Japanese society and the work and vulnerability that people are engaging. Prayers are appreciated for this work as well, especially that Satomi would have a chance to share the gospel with the various children and others that she meets in this work.
We also ask that you pray for the burgeoning work of young adult evangelism in the UCCJ, our sister denomination in Japan. Jonathan is on the denominational education committee and one of our goals has been giving training opportunities to conference leaders on young adult evangelism and engagement. Our vision is to ultimately set up a national coordinator of Young Adult Ministries that can help urban and rural areas connect as well as provide discipleship opportunities and connect conferences to resources and education available. This is a major over hall of mission to young adults for this denomination and prayers and support are appreciated.
We have also had busy lives personally this past year. Jonathan has been busy preparing and applying for full connection in the Florida Conference this past year. He will have his full connection interview on January 14, 2019 and prayers are much appreciated. Satomi had a quieter year, continuing to adjust to her busier schedule and continuing to learn about more holistic and food centered health habits. We have both been blessed to spend another year with Yuka and now are planning and preparing for her to enter 1st grade in the Spring. As 1st grade is the beginning of elementary school in Japan, lot of news things are awaiting us for sure. Yuka has enjoyed learning the piano and continuing her gymnastics class. She is especially happy to announce that she has mastered riding her bike without training wheels.
We have now returned to the US for itineration and look forward to meeting many of you and sharing more about our ministries first hand. We thank you for your ongoing generous support, prayers, letters and visits and ask that you continue to minister with us this year. As Mary was approached with the news of her pregnancy and the hopeful future of her child in an unexpected way, we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you with this same unexpected hope into the new year to the Glory of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You can find some photos of ministry from this year below. Enjoy!