Grace and peace to each of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s hard to believe, but as of today (November 29), our family has officially been in Japan for one full year. Before we get into our monthly news, we’d like to share with you a reflection on this past year.
We had originally intended to return to Japan in the spring of 2020, but the onset of the pandemic shut that down. Japan completely shut its borders, not only to new entries but even to foreign residents of Japan. Only Japanese citizens were allowed to enter for a time. As the months crept on, we became unsure if we would be able to return. We continued in prayer, as did many of you and certainly many of those here in Japan as well. On the cusp of thinking the door was certainly closed, God opened it in November 2020. We got our papers in order, packed up, and by God’s grace, we were able to make the journey (that’s absurdly oversimplified but accurate).
At the time we didn’t really understand why God had chosen that path, but as is often the case, in retrospect we have seen at least a glimpse of his guiding hand.
Let’s back up to the spring again. Some of you may remember, but we had actually put down a deposit on an apartment near the church building. It seemed perfect to us – a good size, amazing location, and a healthy price range. Our sister Sanpei had helped us enormously with what little free time she has to secure that unit for us. When the borders shut, although we were grateful the company willingly returned our deposit, we were disappointed to have lost what seemed to be a perfect living arrangement. On top of that, we likely would have been able to make the journey in time had it not been for a minor but significant paperwork mistake for our visas that everyone had missed. Confusion and some anxiety weighed on our hearts.
All of that frustration and confusion led ultimately to where we are today. As most of you probably know, we were able to secure not just an apartment, but a house. This house has been absolutely perfect for our family, but most importantly it has opened doors we could never have imagined. Our children have made numerous friends, as have Sara and I (Leslie). There have been so many connections made and seeds planted, and this is not our doing but the Lord’s. We’ve gotten to know: the Kobayashi family, the Fujita family, the Saeki family, Mr. Gotou, the Sugiyama family, the Ebata family, the Hamano family, the Kimura family, and the Shirouzu family. This is all just within our small neighborhood and does not include other relationships that we have continued to build with people like the Kawakami family or the Kameda family. Our prayer from before we left to this day has been that if God is sending us, he will make us fruitful. We firmly believe the timing and location are part of his answer to that prayer. We truly believe some of these people will end up following Jesus. Please pray for each of these individually, that this is the case.
Amidst the many blessings, there are of course challenges as well. While most churches we see in the States have returned to normal, we continue to wear masks throughout worship, have not had a fellowship meal the entire time we’ve been here, and have repeatedly had people turn down invitations of various kinds because of the pandemic. If we are honest, it is frustrating and discouraging at times. But we have seen God work too much to believe the pandemic or even individual decisions will prevent his work from being accomplished. Indeed, it may well be by these same challenges that the fruit is produced. If his name is glorified and many come to know him, then we rejoice no matter the path.
Flying out from Florida on our first flight towards Japan last year. What a journey and God has walked with us in each step.
We are so thankful to each and every one of you reading this. Your financial support, words of encouragement, and prayers of intercession are incredible blessings for which we are constantly grateful. Thank you for your support in this past year. We pray this next year will see growth and blessings here in Japan and wherever you are.
Thinking specifically about the month of November, things have certainly gotten busier and we are so excited to see things moving forward.
One of our first Kids’ English Bible Class events. The kids and parents seem to really enjoy and appreciate it. Praise the Lord!
Perhaps the biggest addition to our schedule this month was that we began the children’s English Bible class on Sunday mornings. This has been largely Sara’s project, along with the help of several ladies from church. We are so excited about how well it has been attended! There have been at least a handful of small children from non-Christian homes attending each week, most from within our neighborhood. Not only have the children been attending, but their parents have come with them. What a blessing it is to see this seed growing and we ask for your prayers that this continues to be an effective tool for the Matsudo church.
We would also request prayers for our upcoming Christmas event. We’re not totally sure what shape it will take this year, but it’s a rare opportunity to invite people to worship for something that connects with their lives, so we’re excited to see how God may use it. The topic this year will be on how, in his birth, Jesus entered into our suffering and gives us joy through that. We believe this will be a useful topic especially given the challenges of the last couple of years. Please pray that this will open doors to meaningful discussions with our friends that culminate in Jesus discipleship.
Speaking of which, our discovery Bible study (DBS) time continues to go well. In fact, we have one older couple, who had left Matsudo and attended another church in Matsudo after we left, who have returned and seem committed to coming regularly and participating, and the DBS time after worship is largely to thank for that. This couple specifically said this has been a big blessing to them. We pray it will continue to bless them and that this will grow into a blessing to many others as they seek Jesus, even if they don’t yet know for whom they are seeking.
Meeting with people from around Japan via Zoom. We certainly pray next year we’ll be able to meet in person!
Also in November, we took part in the Japan-wide worship, which was held online via Zoom. We have seen almost no other Christians outside of Matsudo since we came to Japan, so it was a blessing to see so many even if it was only through a computer. The event consisted of a lesson given by brother Tomura, followed by a breakout group discussion and prayer time, which Leslie unexpectedly ended up leading. There was going to be an English group, but due to almost no foreigners aside from us attending, the plan changed. We were grateful to be able to participate and help in some small way!
Somewhat connected to this, Leslie was invited to be a teacher with the Japan School of Evangelism, which is an organization held through the Churches of Christ in Japan. He has participated in this before and is excited to serve here again. There usually aren’t many students, but any fruit that can be produced is welcomed with joy. In fact, Leslie will be speaking at the teachers’ gathering in January. We request your prayers for his talk then and for his forthcoming classes over the coming year.
From our Thanksgiving meal this month. Sara worked hard all day and made an incredible meal. And don’t worry – the bottle on the table is sparkling juice! 😅
Of course, we also celebrated Thanksgiving this month. It is was our first Thanksgiving away from home, so of course, there is some sadness being away from family, but we were thrilled with how blessed this Thanksgiving was. Although it took a bit of an adventure, Sara was able to find a turkey at Costco, and we had several neighborhood friends over to enjoy the meal with us. For everyone, it was their first Thanksgiving meal, and we think everyone really enjoyed it. In fact, we felt it was probably the best Thanksgiving we have had in Japan. What a blessing and joy!
What better way to end this newsletter than with gratitude? We have so much to be thankful for: for making it through our first year, for all the blessings God has provided throughout this year, for the many connections we have made, and for how we are starting to see seeds being planted and (we hope in prayer) germinated. And of course, we are thankful for all of you. For each prayer, for each encouraging word, for every financial sacrifice made to make this work possible – we are so grateful.
As you remember our work in prayer, here are some things we would love for you to remember:
- Prayers of thanks for all that God has given us in this last year
- Prayers for continued success and fruitfulness with the Kids’ English Bible Class
- Our planning and preparation for Christmas events
- That God will connect us with those seeking and open hearts of those around us already
- That God will grant us the wisdom of when to say things and what to say
- That God will help Covid numbers remain low so things can remain open
- That our DBS (Discovery Bible Study) sessions will continue to go smoothly and be fruitful for the church, and ultimately reach to non-Christians
- That God will help Japan to open its borders soon
- Some specific names you can pray for: Kawakami family, Kobayashi family, Mr. Gotou, Fujita family, Saeki family, tennis coaches/staff/new friends
Left: children dressed up for our neighborhood Trick or Treat event
Right: Sara’s friend Tomoko and her son. The daughter, who is Cambria’s friend from kindergarten, was also present but not pictured