Taylor Report – December 28, 2021

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

We are so thankful for each of you – for your support, your prayers, and your interest in the work here in Japan. 2021 has been a better year for us because of you, and we are grateful.

A family Christmas image was taken while enjoying some illuminations in a neighboring town here in Chiba Prefecture.

We were able to enjoy a wonderful Christmas season as a family this year. Japan does celebrate Christmas, but it is quite different from celebrations in the United States. Christmas in Japan is celebrated similarly to how we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the U.S. Many people do enjoy it, but no one gets off work – it’s a normal day for the most part, with a few simple traditions scattered about. One interesting tradition is eating KFC, of all things (yes, there is KFC in Japan!). We actually tried that this year, which was fun! It can be a bit of a challenge to enjoy Christmas here as we do at home. We miss seeing friends and family who are all in the spirit of the season, among other things. But we’re grateful to be able to celebrate it here as we do.

Although there is some magic missing from the Christmas season, the fact that the day is known here provides wonderful opportunities to reach out to our community in the name of Jesus, and we want to take those opportunities as much as possible.

The Christmas party for the Kids’ English Bible Class. Everyone had a blast!

This year, we held several events to hopefully plant seeds through the season. We’ve mentioned before the Kids’ English Bible Class that Sara and other ladies at Matsudo have been holding each Sunday. That continues to go well, and the Christmas event was very well attended. The kids and their parents got to hear the story of Jesus’ birth, and for some, it may have well been the first time ever hearing that story. What a joy to be the first to share it!

In addition to the kids’ Christmas event, we also had our church Christmas worship this year, along with a small party afterward. While we didn’t have a lot of visitors, the visitors we had were special.

The first was our friend Tomoko, who also brought her two teenage children with her. Tomoko is part of a fairly zealous Buddhist sect here, and so we were unsure if she would be willing to come. What a joy that she did! Leslie preached on how Jesus’ birth shows that God is willing to experience our suffering with us, and we think it was probably a good lesson for her to hear. This was Tomoko’s first time ever attending a Christian worship service. We pray (and ask for your prayers) that it won’t be her last.

Another visitor was completely unexpected. In the middle of worship the week prior, we got a phone call from someone wanting to visit. Our sister Nao thankfully answered the phone and told him we were in the middle of services, but he said he wanted to come even if he was late. We weren’t sure if he would really show up, but sure enough, after services, someone came to the door. Leslie greeted him, honestly expecting someone just looking for money or something of that nature. Instead, he met Matthieu, who asked if Leslie spoke English and then proceeded to switch himself to completely natural English. What a surprise!

It turns out Matthieu has one American parent and one Japanese. He was raised in Japan, attended a Catholic international school, and had lived in the U.S. for 7 years until the pandemic started when he returned to Japan to be with his family. Recently, he has been feeling the need to be connected with God more, and a friend recommended he find a Church of Christ, which is what led him to Matsudo. He stayed for the kids’ Christmas party, and since that time he has been coming to worship every Sunday. We are hoping to start talking to Matthieu about some deeper spiritual topics in the new year, so we would request your prayers for us and for him as we engage moving forward. It has been encouraging to have his presence, and we think the church can clearly see God at work.

From our church Christmas party after our Christmas worship. We had some small snacks and a fun Christmas gift bingo game.

We also held our annual Christmas Eve worship at Matsudo, and we had one more visitor that evening, who had been unable to make it for our main Christmas worship. Leslie taught briefly on Jesus as the “Word become flesh” and what that means for us. The visitor who attended has visited many times over the years but has not yet decided to follow Christ. We pray that this will be the year when they decide to finally do so.

While we were very excited about these new connections, we were disappointed with a response from a friendly family here in our neighborhood. We invited them to the Christmas worship, but they declined, saying they were not interested in religion of any kind. They were very polite and gentle, and we still remain friends, but it was sad to have that outright rejection. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard something like this. Our sister Nao, as we have mentioned in the past, originally said she had no interest in religion either, but now is a faithful sister in Christ! Our relationships are never predicated on people following Jesus. We invite people to Jesus because we love him and love our friends. We will continue to love them no matter what the future holds. But we don’t consider this the end of the story, because we know the power of the gospel, both personally and in the lives of others.

It’s worth pointing out that our neighborhood friends and our friend Tomoko represent the challenging spectrum of evangelism here in Japan. On one hand, you have Buddhism and Shinto, which form the religious landscape of Japan. The traditions and religious background can present an enormous barrier to the gospel. On the other hand, you have modern secularism which causes people to lump all religion into one basket and cast aside any need for the supernatural or divine. Modern Japan is not quite the West, nor purely the East. There are elements of both. But we know that the God who casts our sin as far as the east is from the west loves all in between. His gospel speaks powerfully to every culture and age and breaks down every barrier. We will continue to preach that gospel and do our best to live it out and trust his power to reach the hearts of those we love.

Our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. We purchased this tree last year after we got out of our immigration quarantine from IKEA. It has served us well for another year!

As we head into the New Year, many Japanese will be celebrating their most important holiday time. While we gather together with family and friends at Christmas in the U.S., most Japanese people return to their hometowns and visit family at the New Year. It’s one of the few times people actually have off from work. For many, this time will include New Year’s visits to the local shrine and temple. It can present a difficulty, especially for Japanese Christians, as there can be great pressure to participate in literal idolatry. We are all the more thankful for the Christmas season right before, which allows us to shine the light of Jesus in a way that is not as easily available during the rest of the year. Please be praying for the Christians here to be strong and faithful to Jesus, and for the New Year to draw people closer to the true dawning light of Christ.

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14)

That is our call at this time of year and for the rest of the year. We call people to join us in the light of Christ.
May your new year be filled with the light of Christ as well. May that light fill your heart and soul and mind and shine through you into the lives of those around you.

As you remember our work in prayer in the coming year, here are some things we would love for you to remember:

  • Prayers of thanks for all that God has given us in 2021
  • Prayers for continued success and fruitfulness with the Kids’ English Bible Class
  • Prayers for Tomoko, as she reflects on the gospel message
  • Prayers of gratitude for sending Matthieu our way, and prayers that we will be able to help him as he seeks to know the Lord
  • That God will help the COVID situation stabilize and for more things to become possible in the new year
  • That our return to our Sermon On The Mount series will be fruitful in the new year, and the DBS studies will return smoothly and also be fruitful
  • That God will help Japan to open its borders soon
  • Some specific names you can pray for: Matthieu, Tomoko, Kawakami family, Kobayashi family, Mr. Gotou, Fujita family, Saeki family, tennis coaches/staff/new friends