When I Love Lucy Makes You Cry

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We’ve made it to Ohio! We drove across 10 state lines and have arrived at the next place we plan to make home for several months. We’re staying in the finished basement of a sweet, young couple from Grace Fellowship. Our plan is to make this a bit of a home base as we travel around to the many Grace Brethren churches in the Ohio and Pennsylvania area. There are tons of Grace Brethren churches here and we’re praying for the Lord to help us create new friendships and partnerships to bring the Gospel to Japan. If you're interested, here’s a map of how many churches are a part of our association in this area: http://www.fgbc.org/churches/index. Tons, right! Please join us in prayer as we invest in this community for the next several months. Our major prayer is to raise the remaining 50% of support from these churches (and would love if this could be accomplished by January). There is so much excitement for us in making it to Ohio. This is a major answer to prayer and we’ve reached a great milestone with having crossed the 50% mark on our recurring support. We trust that the Lord has great plans to use this region to reach the Japanese. And so we praise Jesus for going before us and preparing the way! With all this said, this step also comes with a mix of emotions. Leaving for Ohio makes our more permanent move to Japan so much more substantial. We’ve always said things like “we know we’ll have to sacrifice to live in Japan. We’ll sacrifice relationships with our families and friends, but it’s so worth it so that the Japanese people can hear how much Jesus cares for them”. And we fully stand behind that statement. However, the sacrifice is becoming that much more real.

I was watching I Love Lucy last night and am pretty sure it’s the only time this show has made me cry :) It was an episode where Lucy moves to the country and she misses the Mertzes. I didn’t even notice until 10 minutes into the show that I had tears running down my cheeks. Oh Lucy, I get you.

We’ve had to say so many goodbyes to people we deeply love. Goodbyes to our families and goodbyes to our friends and church family. Every one of you that’s reading this is someone we’ve interacted with and care about. This move just feels so much more real and makes the goodbyes just that much harder. I was speaking with a friend of mine, Laura, who spent a good chunk of her life in Brazil as missionaries with her family. She teared up as she said “goodbyes just never get any easier”.  And she knows exactly what it is to pick up and leave people behind for the sake of the Gospel. We see our family and friends settling in, becoming established in the States. We see their young children growing up and know that those very kids we love will only know us through video chat. We feel the sting of leaving as we see people we care for preparing to welcome a new baby into the family. We feel it when we watch our newlywed friends taking their vows and starting their lives together. Knowing that our future relationships will be through the use of technology is tough. We think of how our future children won’t be able to interact with all these amazing people we know and love. Jesus tells us in Luke 14 to count the cost. There’s a reason He brings it up. There is a cost to following Him and that cost is our lives. They’re now His and He gets to determine how He uses them.

The Lord is so good in walking us through this next season. I’m feeling all these emotions as each state takes us a little further from our special people. We decided to listen to an audio book from David Platt called “Follow Me”. Here’s a little excerpt from it:

“Jesus wanted followers from every nation on earth, so he commanded his disciples to reach them and train them. And that’s exactly what they did—but this work is still not finished. He expects us to follow in their footsteps and structure our lives so that our actions revolve around completing this mission… Yes, there is a cost that accompanies stepping out of casual, comfortable, cultural Christianity, but it is worth it. More aptly put, he is worth it. Jesus is worthy of far more than intellectual belief, and there is so much more to following him than monotonous spirituality. There is indescribable joy to be found, deep satisfaction to be felt, and an eternal purpose to be fulfilled in dying to ourselves and living for him.”

I couldn’t have put it any better! Obedience to Jesus’ call to make Himself known is worth the cost. He is worthy.

For each of your reading this update now, we are thankful for you. You’ve had an impact on our lives and we feel honored to take part of your ministry to reaching the nations. Jesus calls each of us to follow Him. Of course, the call may express itself differently in each of our lives as we seek Him. For Matt and I, the call is to go. We are thankful for so many of you in joining us in this call to make disciples of all nations.

Trusting Jesus in the details, Jen

Big Things on the Horizon

Where to begin. It's been a pretty incredible week. I think if I were to recount every obvious movement of the Lord, I'd need so many more pages. Things have been slowing for us in the last month or so with support raising. We were fighting some discouragement this season. We knew this week was coming up with conferences and retreats that Encompass was putting together. We hoped there'd be opportunity for connecting and possibly new direction with how we should raise the remaining support. We've been consistently praying for the Lord to bring us our partners and help us reach Japan quickly. I think there were a few pieces missing however.

If you look at many of the stories of healing in Scripture, there's a couple of key components. Those being healed had faith. Sometimes, it's made obvious that this faith was given to them by Jesus. James 4:2-3 says "You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures". Matt was studying Scripture when he felt like the Lord lead him to these concepts of asking more boldly and with faith. None of this is new to us, so why then does it feel so new? This leads to some conviction for us. As we're praying, do we have great faith that Jesus will respond? If we're lacking in this type of risk-taking faith, do we ask Jesus to increase it in us? Do we really believe Jesus will do what He says He will do? We know we're not praying selfishly. We've been asking the Lord to make Himself known to the Japanese. We've been asking that we can play a part in bringing God's Kingdom to Earth. We want Jesus to be known and to be glorified. Why then are we not praying with desperation--with boldness in the request?

Matt started to wrestle with these questions. His prayers changed and he started to pray big. He asked Jesus to increase his faith. He asked boldly for Jesus to move mightily for us. More specifically, Matt asked that the Holy Spirit would move on our behalf this week and that we'd see that He's making this happen. We asked that this week would be a turning point and that we'd know that Jesus is moving to get us to Japan. Well… He listened! Immediately after he prayed this, Matt gets an email. One of our supporting churches was praying about whether to hire a youth pastor for their congregation. As they're praying, they feel led instead to double their monthly support for us. This does not come without sacrifice on their part! We are blown away at the immediate response to that prayer. Literally, each day of the week, something new and amazing like this happened. I can't even think of a way to sum up each of the ways the Lord listened to our prayers, and then moved on our behalf. We have so many new connections with pastors, believers and churches. This was the very thing we were lacking. We had the director of our entire missions org advocate for us throughout the week. His faithfulness has already brought us new monthly supporters as well as connected us with some impassioned networks of churches that want to see many more people to come to faith in Christ.

We used to quickly say "Reaching Japan will be tough. The only way we will be able to do this is if God makes it happen". We say that and believe it, but now our hearts are beyond convinced. It makes me so excited to see what the Lord will do in Japan if He's already putting in this much effort here and now. There are so many lessons we can learn from this week. So many things to meditate on and really let sink in. I just want to scream from the rooftops about how great our God is!

Some highlights of what we're learning:

  1. Pray with desperation, real desperation.
  2. Pray believing that God is able.
  3. Pray with boldness and for big requests.
  4. Jesus cares so much more about bringing His kingdom. If we pray asking Him to accomplish this, it's a good prayer and we can ask for it with confidence.
  5. Pray expecting Jesus' intervention on your behalf.
  6. We can't accomplish this on our own strength or merit. The Lord is the only one that can. We need to be desperate and have bold prayers asking Him to move.

 

Jesus hears us! He responds and moves mightily! I still need to really sit and ponder over all this, make sure I'm grasping all the lessons He's trying to show us this week but a big one is to have great faith in Him, and ask boldly believing He will do something about it. We're both just so humbled and encouraged right now. Nothing that's happened this week has been from our efforts, it's literally God's Grace being poured out on us. We just have to be faithful and show up ready.

As I was thinking through this week, I kept thinking that my brothers and sisters in Christ might be encouraged by these truths. I hope you sit and turn your heart to the Lord asking Him boldly for many hearts to know Him. Be willing to be used for His purposes…and just wait and see how He responds!

With hearts filled with hope,

Jen and Matt

If you're looking for more study resources this week, you may enjoy some of these:

An Abundance of Doctors

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Check out Matthew 9:12 and Luke 5:31. In both places Jesus is quoted as saying “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. I’ve read these verses many times on my way though the Gospels and there’s a pretty straight forward lesson to be learned here. The Pharisees are none too happy that Jesus is mixing with the wrong crowd. Jesus then tells them that the “sick” are exactly the people he needs to spend His time on. This week, as I was reading Luke, it struck me that this passage also has missional implications. Have you ever thought of this verse as pertaining to the “sick” outside of your town? How about outside of your country? One of the questions we get asked a lot is “Why Japan?”. I love it when people ask that question, but I’ve noticed that different people mean different things when they ask it. Some just want to know if Japan even needs missionaries. That’s easy. I have a bunch of facts and a powerpoint presentation to show you. But sometimes people mean “Why spend the money to send missionaries to Japan when there are unsaved people across the street?”. I think I’m going to start using the verses above as an answer.

Lets continue with Jesus’ metaphor. Just for clarity; doctor = Christ-follower, sick = unsaved person. Japan is like a nation with very, very few doctors. We (America) have an abundance of doctors. There’s practically a hospital on every corner. A sick person in Japan may go their whole life and never meet a doctor. That doesn’t seem fair. Doesn’t it seem like we should be sending doctors over there? They could train Japanese doctors to start Japanese hospitals. Many lives would be saved in the process.

Jesus was explicit about our responsibility to reach the nations with his good news when he gave us his Great Commission. That’s motivating on it’s own, but seeing it through the metaphor of the sick needing access to doctors may be helpful in understanding the heart behind Jesus’ command.

Kiseki's Baptism

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We just came back from a trip to Long Beach CA. When we happen to be in Simi Valley (we often are) we try to visit a few Encompass friends who live and minister in Long Beach. Cecil O'Dell, who spent 17 years as a missionary in Japan, oversees a ministry that reaches out to Japanese exchange students. He works with Nao, a Japanese Christian (also with Encompass) who runs a surf ministry to those same students. Lately they have seen a few Japanese students come to Christ in quick succession, which is an amazing thing if you are familiar with the history of Japanese responsiveness to the Gospel. Two trips ago, while we were meeting with the students in Cecil's home, we prayed for a Japanese guy named Kiseki. Another student (Shutaru), who was a brand new believer himself, would be sharing the Gospel with Kiseki that night. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would speak through Shutaru and that Kiseki would hear and accept the good news of what Christ had done for him.

The title of the blog post is a bit of a spoiler. Kiseki did respond. And we had the privilege to attend his baptism during our most recent visit and to witness firsthand the fruit of our prayers that night. It was an extremely impactful experience for Jen and myself as it was the first time we had seen a Japanese baptism. Not only that, but a Japanese student who had been evangelized and baptized by another Japanese Christian. It was amazing to see and gave us hope and urgency for our own mission to Japan, especially since we hope to create a compliment to this ministry by receiving these students once they return to Japan. To survive and flourish as Christians in their home country they will need discipleship and Christian community. This is what we hope to offer one day soon.

Please pray for Kiseki as he develops as Christian. Also pray for Cecil and Nao's ministry, that God would continue to move among the students and bring more and more of them into a saving relationship with Him through Christ.

Cornerstone Simi Missionary Assessment

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We had the pleasure of attending the Cornerstone Missionary Assessment recently. In their words "The goal of the assessment is to evaluate your emotional, spiritual, and marital health." While this sounds like spending three days under a microscope, it wasn't at all. We really didn't know what to expect going into it, but we are very glad that we attended. In preparation, we took a couple strength/personality tests and filled out a 20-something page questionnaire which asked us to explain our theological position on a variety of topics. This took a while. But admittedly, I probably spent too long researching and answering each question. Each question turned into a mini, hour long Bible study. It was a lot of work, but it was actually a lot of fun. I look forward to the day I can devote less time to graphic design and more time to formal study of the Bible.

The actual assessment was an extremely encouraging experience. They took great care to get to know each couple being assessed. They spoke into our lives, our ministry plans and into our marriage. It was a great opportunity to have mature brothers and sisters in Christ (some who had been missionaries) give us their valuable input and to help us determine next steps.

As a bonus we met some amazing people and made some great friends; a couple who will also be serving with Encompass (in Argentina) and a couple who just came off the missions field. It was worth the trip just for that.

If you are curious of the outcome of the assessment, Cornerstone fully affirmed our calling into full-time vocational missions work.

Southwest Focus Retreat

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 was lucky enough to be invited by our pastor to attend this year’s Southwest Focus Retreat. It’s a chance for many of the leaders from Grace Brethren churches along the west coast to get together once a year to fellowship, worship, and relax a little. This year the retreat had a special focus. It marked the beginning of conversations about defining/redefining what it means to be “Grace Brethren”. As someone who is very new to that association of churches, it was encouraging to see a push to define ourselves by the things we have in common with other denominations instead of focusing on what’s different. Unity among believers was obviously important to Jesus, but is unfortunately not emphasized in the American church. It was also nice to hear leaders talk about Grace Brethren as a global church. I don’t think many people (even from within the association) realize that the vast majority of GB churches are outside the US.

It was also a good opportunity for me to make connections with pastors in California and to share what God has called me to in Japan. I plan to follow up and visit with many of them. And who knows, maybe God will lead them to join our support team.

Extra points to whoever can find me in that picture…

Support Raising Bootcamp

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We just got back from “Support Raising Bootcamp” which is a two day seminar on raising financial support for missions. For Jen and I it marked another milestone on our journey to Japan. Doing full time ministry in a place like Tokyo requires a lot of support. And since neither of us have ever been missionaries, we had no idea how to go about the process. Not having a grasp on best practices made it seem all the more daunting.

Our presenter at the seminar did a great job helping us plan out our strategy and next steps. Having these things put down on paper made it actually seem doable. There was quite a bit of prerequisite Bible study homework that helped us understand what the Bible has to say about missions and missions funding. But for me, I think the biggest takeaway was a new perspective of the value of support raising in general. Being so anxious to get to Japan, it’s easy to see this step in the process as a logistical hurdle that needs to be jumped instead of an opportunity for God to bless you and teach you. We hadn’t really considered how great it will be to watch God teach us faith and display His provision. We hadn’t realized the awesome platform that support raising gives us to share the need in Japan and to encourage people to participate in The Great Commission.

Raising support for missions in Japan seemed impossible to me, but that’s a perfect opportunity to depend on God instead of my own power. We are confident in our calling and we can’t wait to see who’s hearts God has been preparing to join us as teammates in taking the Gospel to Japan.

Japan Short Term Trip 2013

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This past June we had the opportunity to go with a small team from our sending church (Auburn Grace Community Church) and joined with Ralph (a current missionary to Japan) in his efforts to make the Gospel known in a town called Hadenya. Hadenya is part of a larger area (Tohoku) which was devastated from the Tsunami 2 years ago. Ralph has been spending about 1 week every month in Hadenya for the past couple of years, looking for ways to serve the people and make Jesus’ name known. He invited our team to join him in relief work as well as looking for opportunities to build relationships with the villagers.We spent just over a week camping in tents and working the fields, trying to prepare the soil for planting. We would get glimpses of these people’s broken lives as we pulled out clothing, dishes, shoes, an incredible amount of shells, and children’s toys from the ground. It was heartbreaking to see how this tsunami impacted this small community, almost all of whom are still living in temporary housing today. As we’d spend long days tilling the soil and clearing out weeds and debris, the villagers would watch and often try and start up conversation. Our willingness to serve them presented many chances to speak with the villagers and support the work Ralph has already been doing in their lives. Throughout the week, I helped the ladies cook their meals (they even taught me how to make different types of Onigiri, which was quite tasty). Our team hosted a village BBQ where we could all enjoy each others company in a relaxed setting. This same night, some of the ladies that I had spent time with throughout the week wanted to share with me their experience during and after the tsunami. As they shared their heartbreak, we’d cry together. When they told me the details of being rescued, we celebrated together. Each lady had a relative or friend that they lost during the tsunami and I got to hear a piece of their story. I couldn’t help but notice a sense of hopelessness in their voices as each detail was given. One lady in particular, shared how she laughs to avoid crying all the time, how overwhelming the memories are for her. I told her that I know a God who cares for those broken areas in her, who wants to heal these wounds in her, to show her that she can have joy again. I told her that I would be praying that she would know God the way that I do, and that He would bring a peace into her life. She paused and asked “Jen, would you pray with me now?” I was able to pray with her and some of the other ladies that night. There aren’t any believers in this village yet but I have faith that the Lord is using our willingness as well as Ralph’s faithfulness to them to display Himself. It was such a blessing to be able to take part in the Lord’s pursuit of the people of Hadenya. We look forward to the day we live in Japan and get to follow up with these villagers and continue the work the Lord has begun.

Here are a few pictures from Matt’s Facebook page

 

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