Friday, July 1, 2011

Fuji Redux

I don't actually know what Redux means, but I know it has something to do with doing things a second time. (EDIT: according to the "" it means "brought back or revived". So I guess really this title makes little sense unless our team was headed up there to revive the volcano) Anyway our team with the help of about a dozen Japanese students will be leaving Shizuoka on a trip to once again ascend Fuji-san, the highest point in Japan. A lot of memories are created on this trip for the students, times we've often reminisced about together since my return to Japan. The climb up Mt. Fuji is almost purely a bucket list type activity, something people in Japan should do at some point in their lives just to cross it off. The view from the top is incredible, but the 6 hour hike to get there is absolutely barren. Also it's a volcano so the ground is really loose; like trekking up the world's largest improperly built sand castle. All that to say, basically our entertainment for the 11 hours we're on the mountain is each other. Which for this group of students is very promising entertainment. They are so much fun to spend time with. My two roomates G an M are going, neither has climbed it before so they're pretty excited. Please pray for safety, and that over the 11 hours some walls would continue to fall and relationships deepened.

I'm actually really encouraged about the walls God has been slowly shrinking. We had sports fest last weekend and one of my roomates, G, ended up on my team, "Kaba" (The Hippopotamuses), as my translator. Sports fest is a
huge relational building time, your team is together all day, eats together, talks together and gets to know each other really well. So G and I got to hang out most of the weekend, and since we got back to Shizuoka he's actually been really talkative and open. A huge answer to prayer. Hopefully it will lead continued deeper conversations.

God has also encouraged me through a discussion during a Wednesday night hang out time. Our activity for the night was to get in 5 groups of 4 people and come up with discussion questions for another group, at which point we'd swap questions and discuss. Some of the questions were pretty surface-y "what do you usually drink with dinner", or "what is the slogan for your life". Some of the questions however were really tough like "what do thing about people who believe in God?", or "What happens to you when you die?" One of the students "T" who I had gotten lunch with and spent some time talking to at past hang out nights was in my group. He was actually really interested in why Bryan and I were Christians, and why of all the religions in the world, we felt like Christianity was different. So we explained that we're Christians because we see in the world evidence of God, in creation, and in our sin. We chose Christianity because there is a ring of truth about it, and as a religion it's different because the power of salvation or improvement comes from outside the world. From God the creator of the world, not from man a creation. It's unique in that way. "T" seemed thoughtful about our talk, which is absolutely a huge step. For him to be asking those questions and continuing that conversation at all is big. And he will continue that conversation, one of the nice things about this trip is after I leave Japan, the work doesn't stop. The Bri(y)ans keep meeting with guys pursuing a knowledge of God for the guys just like they were doing long before our team got here. I think probably the one who was most impacted by the conversation was me. It was so encouraging after spending 3 months in Japan cumulatively, to see a Japanese student who had no interest before, express some interest in God. It was something I actually didn't think I would see during any of my short visits. Thankfully I serve a grace filled God.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Past and Present

I'm bad with names. Like historically bad. I remember the first time I came to Japan I had a little notebook with a list of every student's name that I had met thus far and a small but memorable characteristic to help me attach faces to scribbles. (I never really had that problem at SDSU because I'd always called or texted the guy 5-12 times before I could actually get a meeting. To the point where I saw their name in my phone so often that I still remember some of them to this day. Every once in a while I would see one of those guys who hadn't ultimately plugged in with Navs on campus later in the year and think "That guy totally does not remember giving me his phone number." Which was usually followed by a "why haven't I deleted it from my phone yet?" I guess I always figured that maybe in a panic they would call me later in the year desperate to get into a bible study and realizing that they needed on campus fellowship. And when that call came, I wanted to be able to act like I remembered them like the semester started yesterday. I'm not totally sure the rules on parenthetical statements, but I'm pretty sure this is stretching them.) Anyway remembering names this time around has been a lot easier, the biggest reason being that some of the students I hung out three years ago were still around and going to school. Freshman who are now Seniors. There's 3 students specifically who have been incredibly encouraging to see the contrast between their young, curious, so-so english speaking selves and these new fantastic english speaking leaders. It's been a lot of fun to just pick up where I left off with them, and having them feel free to joke, share opinions, and talk to me about their lives almost immediately upon seeing me again has been really encouraging.

Even more encouraging however has been sitting in on Tuesday night staff led Bible discussions that these 3 students and a few others (including my roomates M and G) have been attending. The staff does an incredible job of presenting a bare gospel in the talks, free from all the usual complications and christian jargon that sometimes weighs it down. We've been going through the last couple chapters in the book of Mark, the questions they ask, and the observations they make about Jesus absolutely blow me away. Listening to the small pieces of the conversation that occasionally get translated for us (usually by M or Brian) I'm amazed by the wisdom and thought put into their observations. They see Jesus as powerful, forgiving, standing for truth, and yet they can't seem to see Jesus as someone they could actually have a relationship with....yet.

Here's a picture of most of those students from a trip to the Zoo they arranged for us.

Along with former Freshmen now Seniors, I've also ran into an older student who dropped by
Shizuoka while on leave from his job. 3 years ago he and I had talked quite a bit and been on the same team for a weekend sports tournament. He seemed to be doing really well, had a job, had friends, unfortunately still not really into talking about deeper things with me. But still, it was great to see a student who I thought I would never see again, and have some time to compare notes on our lives. Also it was a great reminder to me to be praying for all the Japanese students I knew while I'm here, not just the ones still around and that I see everyday.

As really short term visitors in Japan prayer is usually the most effective thing we can be doing. That can be pretty frustrating, and it's something I often forget. I was reading Luke chapter 9 last week where Jesus is speaking to a large group of people late into the day. As dinner time approaches the disciples ask Jesus to send the people away to go find food and Jesus tells the disciples "You give them something to eat." The disciple think that's asking too much. How could they feed so many people with what was basically 3 foot long tuna subs? And besides, feeding people is so much work, slow, and really unglamorous. Especially when you're serving tuna subs. As usual Jesus steps in and shows them how to serve His people by feeding the 5,000. Later in that same chapter Jesus is walking towards a village and sends some disciples ahead to make arrangements. The village decides they would prefer that Jesus and Co. aren't welcome in their city and choose not to receive them. At which point the disciples turn to Jesus and ask him (without any provocation) "Lord, would you like us to command fire to come down from heaven to consume them?" FIRE, FROM HEAVEN. That would be incredible, powerful, people would talk about that as a true work of a servant of God. This wasn't an idea that particularly excited Jesus so he rebuked the disciples and kept walking to the next village.

Reading that was like looking in a mirror. I want ministry to look the way I want, to be impressive, powerful, to send a message. And as far as I can tell, that's not what God has in mind over here for now. Instead He'd rather we feed his people, meet them, and serve them. So that's what I'm working on.

Prayer for that would be seriously appreciated, serving is not somewhere I often shine :)
Also please keep praying for my roomates M, G, and S. I've had deeper and deeper conversations with them about what matters in life, plans for their lives and things that they see in society that they don't agree with. Pray that God would give me a clear opportunity to feature Him in a conversation soon.

Also here's a video my roomate G showed me to explain some of the finer points of going out for Sushi:

G's help at times has been questionable ;)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A lesson in Economics

I got off the bus to Shizuoka just over 2 weeks ago , and by bus I mean Brians's minivan. As of today we've got less than 4 weeks left out here. 4 weeks to make some kind of impact. 4 weeks always sounded like a long time when I was growing up; 4weeks 'til Christmas or 4 weeks left in school, it was like an eternity. At some point however a switch flips in your life and it's ONLY 4 weeks left until Christmas or ONLY 4 weeks left until finals which sends a bit of panic down your spine. It's the difference between believing in Santa Clause and being Santa Clause. All that to say, with 4 weeks left and realizing there's a great possibility I'll never be able to make it back to Japan, God has given me a very healthy sense of urgency.

The staff has done a great job making sure that we understand what is expected from our time here in Japan. That we would be able to grow as believers first off, secondly that we would see and share more of God's love for the nations, and finally that we would be able to spend time with students developing personal relationships. It's a realistic vision for a relatively short time in a foreign country.

Building Relationships
Time with the students this trip has been a lot easier to get. There's such a desire with this groups of students to learn English and to try out their very impressive conversational skills that at times it's almost overwhelming. Last time I was here, I was 1 of 6 English speaking guys trying to find a Japanese student to hang out with, this time I'm 1 of 3 (including the Bri(y)ans). It's a simple case of supply and demand. Since arriving we've:
  • Had a small Basketball tournament
  • Gone to a Sushi Restaurant
  • Had 2 game nights/english times (They love Monopoly Deal)
  • Gone to a Spa
  • Had 2 Bible Discussions (led by Brian)
  • Cooked dinners together; which sometimes turned out OK
  • Gone downtown for shopping
  • Ate lunch in the cafeteria on campus 4 times
  • Spent an afternoon playing "Bigger and Better" (Warashibe Choja)
  • And today we're going to the zoo
And I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some stuff. Praise God for allowing us to meet students who have been initiators in creating activities for us to develop relationships.

Love for the Nations
Speaking of influential students. My quiet times lately have been in Luke, which led me to the beginning of Luke chapter 6. It's the story of the "Faith of the Centurion". The story goes that a Centurion sends for Jesus to come and heal one of his most valued servants. Before Jesus arrives at the Centurions house friends sent by the Centurion come out to meet with Jesus and explain that the Centurion doesn't feel worthy enough to have Jesus under his roof or even meet with Jesus face to face. Nevertheless he believes that Jesus can command his servant to be healed from right where He is! Jesus does heal the servant and proclaims the Centurions faith as the greatest He has yet seen in the country.

Normally I'm drawn to this story and the implications it has on my prayer life. That I should be praying knowing that God can do things I can't imagine, that I should be like the Centurion and have such a deep and unquestioning faith. This last time I read it however I was more struck by how badly I wanted one of my roomates "M" to be like the Centurion. To be from a largely unbelieving people yet have more love for God and faith in His Son than those who come from countries where Christianity is embroiled in the culture. To be in a position of influence so that his faith can be witnessed by those that work for him and the people he will bless in everyday life. That one day Jesus will marvel at the Faith of M. That's what I'm praying for.

I'll update again on Friday (Your Thursday) with some stuff. Hope you guys are all doing well.

Biking is the desired method of travel for just about everyone in Shizuoka.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dramatis Personae

Here we go. I realized that any story I've ever really, really enjoyed had this grandiloquently named list of characters at the beginning. Not wanting to create a story I wouldn't read, I figured I'd follow the model.

Gabe: Me. I'm sure you know that unless you stumbled onto this blog by accident or possibly my Mom directed you to it even though you and I have never met. Either way, I'm glad to meet you.

Brian and Bryan: These two guys are long term staff in Shizuoka. They both have families with 3 kids apiece, speak fluent Japanese, and are guiding our team through the next 5 weeks.

Nagai-San: Describes himself as The Last Samurai...Which is probably an understatement. If Dos Equis ever needed a Japanese "most interesting" spokesman Nagai-San would probably be overqualified. Also he began the Shizuoka ministry over 30 years ago.

Laura: Our Shizuoka team leader. She's full time Navigator Staff at Kansas University, unbelievably organized, came to Shizuoka back in 2007 (the year before me), and a great strong believing woman.

Rachel and Kathryn: KU students and the rest of the Shizuoka team. It's their first time to Japan, but they're handling it much, much better than I did so far. Together with Laura have a kind of "Three Amigos" thing happening with Rachel, Kathryn, and Laura as Ned Nederlander, Dusty Bottoms and Lucky Day respectively.

Martina: A mid term Navigator staff (down for about 2 years) woman from Germany. Helps the Br(y)ians on the female student side of things. That's about all I know about here so far.

M, S, G, and U: My Japanese roomates. (They're pretty careful about privacy over here so we're going to go with initials for these guys, I mean I could give them placeholder names like "Frank", "Jerry" etc. but the possibility of that confusing me is pretty high) M is a senior at the university, solid leader in the Club I'm working with and speaks great english. G is a freshman speaks incredible english for his age, talented artist and always quick to laugh. S is the head of the house and Nagai-San's 2nd in command. U is a pretty big mystery to me. He's not a student and doesn't seem to speak much english. There's a good chance you won't hear too much about U this summer and a lot about M and G. So really just remember M and G.

Best Club: The circle of people from the local university we plug into. The club is an acronym for Bible, english, sports and travel these are the things the club is about, and these are the things we do together. The students in Best are very close, there is an almost family type atmosphere the pervades get togethers.

I believe that's about it as far as main players go. I'll post soon about how this first week in Shizuoka went and some prayer requests going forward.

The team:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"We have to go back!!" -Jack from Lost

We just finished 3 days of orientation in Japan. Orientation is probably being a bit generous, in actuality we collapse in Tokyo for a couple days after flying around the world while the staff here in Japan encourages us, gently instructs, and slowly gets us rolling on the Island. I forgot how overwhelming it is to be here. Crippled by illiteracy, poor language skills, and bad manners it's hard to think we can make any type of impact over here. The staff describes the situation using a football field analogy. If the goal line was salvation, most Americans would be around the 50 yard line or so, familiar with the Bible, the idea of one God, living near a church etc. The Japanese are probably at about the 2 yard line...with 98 yards to go, churches are hard to find, there is no general familiarity with the Bible, and even the idea of one God hasn't been a serious consideration. I mean, to me, it doesn't really sound like they're on the 2 yard line; It sounds more like they don't know we're playing football. There's a lot of work to be done, and patience to be had.

And it starts tonight with a welcome to Shizuoka dinner with the students. Be praying!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Return to Shizuoka!!

3 Years ago God let me take part in 8 weeks in Japan that changed my life. It opened my eyes to the beauty of Christianity in other nations, and had a large part in my choice to spend two years as full time staff.

Today I'm headed back. Right now I'm about 15 hours away from touching down in Tokyo, Japan. God could do anything with this next 6 weeks, I'm unbelievably excited, and as you can probably tell, running on about 45 minutes of sleep over the last 48 hours :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Last Semester Fall of '11

Time for a bit of reflection.

I'm not really an introspective type of person, especially when I don't force myself to talk to someone about myself or write on this or the other blog, but it seems healthy to look back at the last 6 months and see what change God has forced me through.

Starting the year off I was definitely excited to get back to work. My time as a slinging sausages in the local grocery stores had grown in me a fantastic appreciation for the opportunity God has given me to spend a couple years working in ministry as a profession. Not that sales is somehow less valuable, in fact quite the opposite. Joining EDGE corps one of the things I really wanted to grow in was my ability to evangelize. As one of my friends had pointed out the nitty gritty steps of evangelism, especially the type of cold calling evangelism I find myself doing on campus, are basically the same steps one uses to sell sausages. Especially these sausages because I legitimately believed people would be better off laying down 5 bucks for them.
So even though at the time I felt like I was wasting time standing around in the bright refrigerated sections of markets all over town. In reality God was giving me a chance to grow, very specifically in an area I had asked Him to grow me in. And as a bonus He was letting me store up a bit of cash for the coming school year.

Once back on campus one of the things I knew I had to do this year was give another shot to discipling guys. The Navigators are huge on discipleship, which makes sense because Christ was all about it and wanted the all the nations to be involved. All of them. I had tried meeting with some guys my first year but the nature and mechanics of discipling just never hit me. I described it as trying to figure out how to waterski in an earlier post. But you know what, if you watch enough people ski, read enough books about it, talk to people about it, and keep getting out there and trying it, sometimes things start to click.

This is getting pretty long, and my laptop battery is about to go out so tomorrow I'll explain more about the mercy God has shown to me in the discipleship arena.