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.