Death is not the end

Yesterday was a day where the Lord wanted to help me work through some ideas on death.

After dinner, Matt and I had to run some errands. In Japan, all errands consist of train rides and tons of walking. We were waiting at a crosswalk at a busier area of town when I noticed an older man walking through the crosswalk and dodging cars on the other side of the road. I pointed him out to Matt just in time for us to watch him get hit by a car going at full speed. The scene was a traumatic one and it’s doubtful that older gentleman survived. I quickly turned around out of instinct and my eyes met with another Japanese woman whose eyes were filled with tears. I then realized mine were as well. Instinctively, we each know that life is valuable. When life is taken away, each of us knows that we weren’t meant for that. It’s written on each of our hearts. My heart aches for that man, for his family, and for anyone who saw what happened.  

Matt and I talked through it some as we made our way home. Both of us were finding it difficult to not completely lose it in public. Before bed, I usually read a chapter or two of Scripture. I just pick up where I left off the night before. Last night, I “just happened” to read John 19 which talks about Jesus’ death. Being led to read about His death after witnessing that tragic event was no accident. Jesus can empathize with us in everything, even death! Jesus Himself had to die to take on the consequences of our decision to follow ourselves instead of Him. We would still live with the full consequences of our rebellion against God’s authority if it weren’t for Christ taking those consequences upon Himself. And because of Him, His followers no longer have to fear death! He alone restores our relationship to our Father and He alone is the reason for the hope we have! Without Christ, we should rightly fear death. But for His followers, He has defeated death and removed its sting. He demonstrated His power over death by rising from the grave! 

It has been an extremely sobering experience for Matt and me. Sharing the Gospel is literally a matter of eternal life and eternal death. We may not have been able to do anything to save that gentlemen last night, but we do have something to offer everyone else; the saving work of Christ. As followers of Christ, we all have a mission to proclaim who He is and that He calls each of us to trust in Him. We don’t have the luxury of being hesitant or complacent. The message we carry is life itself! 


Hebrews 2:1, 9, 14-18

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it… But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone… Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”.

Hebrews 5:7-9

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.

1 Peter 2:21-24

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”.

John 3:16-18

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”.

Two and a half months in Japan!

We have just crossed the 2.5 month marker since arriving in our new home. While there are still so many things that we are having to adjust to, we’re also beginning to get into a bit more of a rhythm in our every day lives. We’ve been without routine for over a year as we traveled around the country raising the support we needed to get here. It’s so refreshing how quickly we’ve been able to slip into a routine in Japan. We have our favorite grocery stores, know how to get to Costco (thank you Lord for wonderful new friends who take us there!), have a few favorite restaurants, know our train line well, and know where to find the most delicious cinnamon roll. Yes, that makes the list :) While there are a handful of tasks that are much harder to do in Japan, like paying rent or any bill for that matter, we’re learning how to live here!! Sometimes I look at Matt as we do normal life and am just so thankful to be here and “actually doing this”. The Lord has prepared the way and we’re now living here and taking the steps we need to flourish.

Language school has been quite the undertaking. We’re both getting A’s in the class, but at this point, language learning is requiring a minimum of 10 hours a day. Some days are up to 14 hours of studying... We’re trying to figure out how to balance studying and rest. We cherish your continual prayers for brains that can absorb the info and for the energy required. We plan to put a minimum of 2 years of full-time effort into learning the language, so we’ll need to learn how to pace ourselves and find rest. We also would love your prayers for relationships with our classmates and teachers. There’s 16 of us in the class and we’re getting to know each other better and better. We hope each of them can see the love of Christ through us.

We’ll be heading to Thailand in a few weeks to go to a conference for Encompass workers in Asia. We’re looking forward to having a week with like-minded people and for the encouragement and refreshment I’m sure will come through those interactions. We’ve added a few extra days to the trip so that we can lounge around the beach and find some much needed rest. We are really looking forward to that! 

I hope each of you know how significant you are to the work we’re doing here in Japan. Even the monotonous daily grind of language learning works towards the purpose of one day being able to communicate the Good News of what Jesus has done! We hope you and your families have a wonderful Christmas and get to experience His great love for you in new ways. 

Jen

 Language class trip to Kyoto

Language class trip to Kyoto

 This is how our teacher taught us the kanji for "7". I'll definitely remember this one. 

This is how our teacher taught us the kanji for "7". I'll definitely remember this one. 

One month in!

  1. We moved into an awesome apartment.
  2. We're making friends.
  3. We're going to language school 5 days a week.
  4. We're being taught more about relying on God.


1: We moved into an awesome apartment.
Ralph and Joan Justiniano (missionaries with in Encompass in Tokyo) found us a really great apartment. It's the perfect location. Near the main train line, only a few minutes from school, and very quiet. They were also kind enough to spend the first few days with us, setting things up here in Osaka (cell phones, bank accounts, major appliances etc). They were invaluable and we are still trying to figure out a way to repay their kindness. 

2: We're making friends!
Because we're the only Encompass missionaries in Osaka, we were a little worried that finding friends would be difficult. But we've already made some great connections with other believers here. We are attending two services each weekend. A Japanese church called B1 on Saturday night and an American church plant called Mustard Seed on Sunday morning. We've received warm welcomes from both groups and everyone has been excited to hang out and help out (we need a lot of help!). Also, Jen has connected with Mai, a new believer who was saved during her time in the US with the Long Beach ministry.

3: We're going to language school 5 days a week. 
This is our life now :) Once you add in homework and self guided study, It's about an 11hr a day commitment. It's been 100% in Japanese since day 1 and it's fast paced. We are completely mentally (and most days, physically) exhausted. After a little more than a week, we can already tell that we're going to learn a lot as long as we can stay on top of it. It's fun in a masochistic way.

4: We're being taught more about relying on God. 
Since we are drained at the end of every day, it's tempting to default to escaping instead of resting. Any time we've tried that, it just doesn't work. And we are thankful for that. God is giving us an opportunity to really understand that true comfort and true rest come from Him. We are thankful that we've been forced into a position that requires resting in Him to avoid burn out. 

Here's a couple things you can be praying about with us:

  • That we would rest well. That we would run to God for comfort and rejuvenation.
  • That we'd be able to make friends in class and that we would be a light in our school.
  • That we would build some deep relationships among our new contacts. 

And thank you everyone for your prayers during our transition to Japan. It's made a huge difference!

Leaving for Japan!

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The day we've been working toward for years is finally here! It's surreal to even write that last sentence. Matt and I have had Japan on our heart for 7 years and felt like the Lord was calling us to live there and show the love of Christ to the Japanese. The start of our new lives in Japan begins tomorrow!!

It's obvious to us that the Lord has made this happen. When we first began the process, we had no idea how the Lord would help us raise nearly $137,000 per year. At times it felt like an insurmountable mountain of a task, but He always goes before us. God's hand has been so evident in this whole process and we know that since He's brought us to this point, He will sustain us!

We are also so humbled and encouraged by the many friends, family, and supporters we've gained in the last few years. Your faithfulness and love for the Gospel are allowing us to move forward tomorrow. "Thank you" doesn't even begin to express our gratitude. This isn't just our ministry to the Japanese; it's the Lord moving in His people to spread His Word, love, and relationship to those that haven't experienced Him. I want each of you to know how significant you are and what a vital role you play in His Kingdom. We are so so thankful! 

Our phones will be disconnected as of tomorrow, so email, Skype, and Facebook will be the best options for the near future.  Life will be hectic for the next few weeks, so please be patient as we respond to any communication. Again, we are just so thankful and excited. Tomorrow begins a brand new part of our story and the story of the people the Lord has called!

- Jen

Almost There!

Do you ever feel like you've been in the waiting process for a while? We felt that way about living in Japan since Matt first felt the call 9 years ago. It's been all about being faithful in the process and waiting on the Lord's timing. Well, it seems as if our waiting season for starting on this mission is ending! We're about to hit the ground running :)

 

We wanted to update you all and let you know that we are now 97% supported!! We are incredibly humbled by the support raising process. We have so many people with us in this that really share in the vision and desire to reach the Japanese with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Truly, it's amazing to be a part of this with you. We are literally 3% away from reaching our yearly support level. This equates to about $360 more per month that we're needing to raise. Seeing as the Lord has brought in the 97%, we're confident we'll get the remaining $360 monthly support as well. It is so encouraging for us to be this close!

 

We do have a prayer request if you all could join us in praying. We are cleared to leave for Japan this September. We have everything lined up with one exception--our visa. The visa process can take 2-6 months. We're definitely praying it is closer to 2 months. If it takes the full 6 months, that pushes our departure date into winter. Would you join us in praying that the individuals looking over the visa application would push it through in a timely manner? This is something that is out of our control but not out of His control. 

 

We'll be leaving Ohio in 1 week. We've been so blessed by our time here and the many friendships and partnerships we share. Engage 5 (our 5 weeks of training in Atlanta) begins June 15th. We'll have an additional 2 weeks of training for language acquisition in NC after Engage 5. After training, we'll have a few weeks to say our goodbyes to people we love in NC, as well as Northern and Southern CA before heading to Japan. If you're in any of these areas, we would seriously love to see you! We're hoping to have some parties on what we're describing as our "farewell tour" :) We'll be sure to post about the parties if you'd like to join.

 

-Jen

Paint Night

We had our very first fundraiser this past weekend! Carol from Two Brushes and a Canvas offered to give us all the proceeds of her painting event for the night.  Twenty people were able to attend and we were gifted with $520 for the night! We have been so encouraged by many of the people that showed up for the event.  I love seeing creative ideas and people using their God-given talents to make His name known around the world. 

- Jen

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 Here's Matt's interpretation of Mt. Fuji :) 

Here's Matt's interpretation of Mt. Fuji :) 

Blessed by His little ones

We had the privilege of speaking to a classroom of 9-12 year old children yesterday morning. We didn't really know what to expect going in since this was our first presentation to school-aged children. Let me just say, we were pleasantly surprised! The teacher introduced us to the children and then let us know that they've been praying for us all semester long. This class has spent all semester learning about Japan and they came prepared with many facts and questions. It was so great to see their hearts and interest in Japan before we even began :) We prepared a short game, our story, and an origami project to finish.

As we were wrapping up, the children looked at us with giant smiles as their teacher handed us a card. We opened the card and see that the children worked hard to provide us with $20 each child. Their teacher told us that each child had to work and save for their $20 gift. Some did yard work, house cleaning, and took their savings out of their piggy banks. Each had a story of how they earned their $20 through hard work. We were floored. I remember how hard it was to earn $20 when I was a child, and I love the effort that each of these children put in to their gift. It was truly incredible! I couldn't help but choke back tears as I realized their sweet and generous hearts. These little ones are already growing hearts for making Jesus famous all around the world. There are defining moments for Matt and I during this support raising process. Sometimes it's with a couple or a family where we know the sacrifice they're making to help us bring the Gospel to the Japanese. Yesterday morning was one of those moments that I think I'll remember and be encouraged by for a very long time. What an honor it has been to see how the Lord stirs in His children to take part in His work! We're grateful to have this sweet reminder today.

Jen

 The children are getting ready to make origami cranes, rabbits, and butterflies.

The children are getting ready to make origami cranes, rabbits, and butterflies.

 Here's their incredible gift to us! 

Here's their incredible gift to us! 

Road Trip

Miles to drive: 2,411
Time in the car: 38hrs

Jen and I will be hitting the road starting the day after tomorrow. We start off in Maryland, meeting with 5 pastors in 2 days. Then we head up to Cleveland to speak with 4 small groups. Then it's down to Atlanta for some meetings with Encompass. Finally, over to Raleigh NC to visit with my sister and her husband who just had their first baby (yesterday!). We'll be traveling for about 3 weeks. 

Please pray for the meetings we'll have in Maryland and Cleveland as we will be asking the people we meet to consider joining our monthly support team. And the meetings in Atlanta could determine details about our future ministry in Japan. 

Thanks!

 

Update!

We wanted to give you all a quick update about what we've been up to and what's right around the corner for us.

WOMEN'S RETREAT

This past weekend was the women's retreat at Grace Fellowship here in Pickerington. They asked me to be a breakout speaker for a group of 100+ ladies. I had the privilege of speaking for 40 minutes on the importance of obedience to Christ. I knew that many of the ladies were newer in their faith and it was truly an honor to speak into what may be the foundations of their faith. We discussed how a strong relationship with Jesus motivates us to listen and obey Him. Relationship is the prerequisite. I got tons of great feedback from the ladies and really feel encouraged that the Lord moved in our groups. It was 3 months of preparation for this and I'm so glad it's behind me :) But more than that, I'm so thankful for how the Lord used my willingness to show these women how much He cares for them. Here's a pdf of the talking points if any of you would like an at home study you can do on obedience.

NEW CHURCHES AND SMALL GROUPS

We've been meeting with as many churches and small groups as possible. We've had 5 new churches join our support team since we've moved to Ohio. Praise God! Matt and I have been incredibly encouraged by so many of these churches. We're now spending all our time in developing those relationships and meeting with their groups. Please pray for more open doors for further partnerships. Please pray for favor as we're introduced to so many new people. We know the Lord has our future partners already out there, it's just a matter of us uncovering who they might be.

UPCOMING STRATEGIC TRIP TO JAPAN

Matt will be taking a trip to Japan next month (Feb. 25 - Mar. 5) with a group of pastors and leaders. Please keep this trip in your prayers. These are leaders that have been hand picked by Encompass. They are strategists and have had success in reaching some of the harder to reach groups of people in the US. They have loads of wisdom and experience that we get to pull from. Many of Encompass' leaders will be joining the trip as well. We're hoping that this will form a sort of "think tank" so we can strategize about how we can have the most impact in Japan. We're very excited about this upcoming trip and would love your prayers for wisdom and discernment.

Prayers needed FOR JUNE TRAINING

Lastly, we are really needing your prayers on getting to 100% of our support by this June. Encompass does training two times a year: June and January. If we miss our deadline by this June, it'll be an additional 6 months before we'll be in Japan. We are consistently lifting this before the Lord and asking Him to help make this happen. We definitely know that timing is in His hands and that He is good regardless. However, this is a big date for us and a really strong desire of ours. Please join us in asking the Lord to help us gain all the support needed by this June. If we're able to make this deadline, it'll be 5 weeks of training in Atlanta...and then we can literally get on a plane to Japan! We're so thankful for all of you and your support. We truly couldn't take part in reaching the Japanese without people like you behind us. We love you guys and are so grateful you're all part of our team!

— Jen

Stepping in front of a bullet

I lost sleep last night as I thought about how the majority of our world completely misses the magnitude of what Jesus Christ did by giving up His life so that we might have the chance to be with Him. People I know and love came to mind as I considered how many people have rejected Jesus. I felt overwhelmed by the weight of the sum total of people who will live and die and reject Christ. I asked Jesus how He could make that sacrifice knowing only some would accept Him. How could he suffer and die in our place, and still have so many of us completely miss Him and the relationship He wants with us?

As I was praying, a metaphor came to mind that helped me understand Jesus’ heart a little better. In this scenario, I have adopted children. I imagine that someone points a gun at them and is about to pull the trigger. If I don't intervene, they're dead. So I manage to step in front of the gun and allow the bullet to pierce me instead. But what would happen if my adopted kids were to turn to me after this sacrifice and say “you’re not my mom”? After I’ve given my life so they can live, what if they rejected me and the relationship I desired to have with them? If I were to have foreknowledge of their rejection of me, would I still stand in front of the gun? The answer is an obvious yes! They’re my kids and I love them. I’d still sacrifice myself for them, even if they rejected me immediately after.  

And again, it all comes back to Jesus’ overwhelming love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. He sacrificed everything, taking on our sin and shame, and gave us His life and righteousness so we can stand clean and pure before His throne. All of this is motivated by His great love for us and His desire for us to walk with Him. Oh, how I hope we don’t completely miss this grace today. It’s so easy for us to become numb to the idea of Jesus’ love.  I hope meditating on His great love and His desire to be near us today would stir our affections for Him!

"You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:15-16

"He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." Ephesians 1:4-6

-- Jen

Grace Fellowship Missions Mixer

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Encompass (our missions org) and Grace Fellowship (our host church in Ohio) put on a "missions mixer" recently. It's basically a way to connect people who are interested in missions to people at Encompass. It's the second mixer that we've attended and we really enjoy them. It's been great to field some questions about our experience thus far and to encourage people towards reaching the nations. This mixer was especially exciting for two reasons. First, most of the attendees were college age and there is a possibility that Jen and I may have an opportunity to disciple some of them during our time in Ohio. The second is that I was able to play Spikeball! -- Matt