Japan Trip March 2015

Aven and I were privileged  to go to Japan for 11 days over the Easter holiday. We enjoyed delicious food like ramen, sushi, squid and rice dishes; to name a few.Experienced a culture so very different to our own, and got to see and participate in many unique activities and we thank God for all of this. We started our trip in Tokyo which is just a gigantic metropolis with millions of people wearing business suits and face masks, hurrying along with their daily routine. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this city; 36 million residents! That’s 50% bigger than the world’s second biggest metropolis. The population size is not the only impressive thing. There is an energy and buzz around this place. From the massive glowing billboards in Shibuya, to the 7 story arcades and electronic stores in Akihabara. Tokyo also hosts the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection, imagine THOUSANDS of people crossing the street from all directions at the same time, well we saw it with our own eyes, crazy! Tokyo is also home to the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku station has a whopping 35 platforms, 200 exits and transports around 3 million people A DAY! And it doesn’t end there. On the corner of every pavement is a set of stairs going down to a train station. Go down these stairs and you walk into massive underground malls with restaurants, department stores and underground streets. There is literally a city under the city. This friends is a big place. Yet surprisingly everything is super efficient, incredibly clean and extremely safe. People park on the side of the road and leave their cars idling while they go do their shopping. On top of that people are courteous, polite and always end off their conversations with a smile and a bow.

DSCN3268DSCN3165 DSCN3114 DSCN3255DSCN3138Yea, I’m a fan of Japanese anime 🙂

I said so much about Tokyo but we did see other parts of Japan too. Hiroshima as we know is where the Nuclear bomb fell, ending World War 2. We got to go to the memorial park and the atomic bomb museum. It was a deeply emotional experience and we learnt so much about the cost of war. There is a story of one girl who suffered from radiation poisoning and died 10 years after the bomb. She believed that if she made 1000 paper cranes she would have a wish granted. She made the cranes, wished for health, but died shortly after that. Because of that story, the crane has become the symbol for hope and peace in Hiroshima, I also believe God used it to stir in us a passion for Japan. 1 Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe”.

DSCN3293 DSCN3311 DSCN3313 DSCN3321

After Hiroshima we went to Kyoto, the previous capital and centre for traditional Japanese culture. It is a beautiful city, especially during cherry blossom season. The city is also full of Buddhist and Shinto shrines. You cannot walk 100 meters without seeing a temple or shrine of some sort, they are literally everywhere. Shinto worships the forces of nature, polytheism and animism, whereas Buddhism is all about following an ethical code of conduct in one’s life, practicing meditation and renunciation. For Japanese people, its more than a religion, it is a way of life. It is a complete worldview, intertwined with their arts, culture, literature, lifestyle, history and heritage.

DSCN3443 DSCN3483 DSCN3228 DSCN3493DSCN3429

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14

After Kyoto we hiked the Nakasendo trail giving us a little taste of Japan’s natural beauty. On our way we saw multiple signs warning hikers against bears…yikes! We stayed in a old postal town called Magome, very pretty and so far removed from the jolly madness of Tokyo.

DSCN3530 DSCN3518DSCN3546

Our last 2 days was in a town called Nikko, another fascinating place filled with shrines and temples. It is here that I looked like a complete idiot attempting ninja training and Japanese sword fighting. It’s a lot more difficult than in the Kung Fu movies 🙂

All in all we had a great experience but this article is not simply meant to be a travel guide. Looking at a country like Japan where Christianity is less than 1% I cannot help feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow. The thousands of people we passed by…where will they spend eternity? Those 36 Million residents in Tokyo? Those 127 Million citizens across the country? After thinking about it for some time there are three ways in which people can respond:

  1. God must not be good…yes you heard correctly! Some would argue: How could a loving God send millions of people to hell? They don’t know any better! God must either not be real or the Bible must be wrong.
  2. All religions lead to salvation. Just look at the devotion, discipline and morality of religious people. How can you say this is wrong? Christians are nothing more than bigots, claiming they have the only truth.
  3. In the words of Isaiah the prophet: “Here I am, send me”. I am aware that not everyone is called to be a missionary in Japan yet I trust that along with me you believe that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, and that no-one comes to the Father but through Him. There is no other name by which men, women and children can be saved but the name of Jesus. So many are trapped by deceptive lies and us Christians have the truth that can set them free.

Could I ask that you pray for the country of Japan? Maybe even try to connect with a missionary who is serving there. Maybe even go there yourself! They will not believe, unless they hear, and they will not hear unless someone goes. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to Japan.

Am I called?

direction

Often we hear Christians talking about being called. Pastors being called to ministry; missionaries called to serve in a foreign country, such big decisions that demand absolute certainty of God’s leading and direction. I have personally experienced this when I felt called to ministry and again when my wife and I have felt called to serve as missionaries in the east. But how does anyone know if they are called? How can we be sure this is God’s leading? Let’s consider how God called some of the leaders in Scripture.

Abraham heard the voice of God through direct revelation when he was called out of his own country. Moses had a personal experience with God as the LORD spoke to him through the burning bush. Samuel heard the LORD’s voice when he was called as a boy. The disciples were directly called by Jesus, Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. These are but some examples where God clearly and undeniably calls someone for service. None of these methods are normally used by God today, I have not yet spoken to any pastor or missionary who felt called because of a similar miraculous sign given by God; yet Christian workers still speak about feeling called, how can we be sure? How can we know that our tug to going east is not just curiosity or a selfish sense of adventure? Well let me give you a few guiding lights which has helped confirm things for us.

– God’s hand of providence

God guides His children through circumstances and events that happen throughout our lives. These events do not just happen randomly because God is sovereign, even over the seemingly mundane things in our lives. It is only when we look back that we begin to see how God has sustained us and led us; bringing certain people into our lives, orchestrating a move, a new job, even something painful like sickness or financial loss can be used by God to bring about His purposes in our lives. In our case God has given us opportunity to do some travelling. (Thailand, Turkey, Japan) What started out as a simple interest in travelling has providentially grown into a desire to work as missionaries. This is but one example of how God orders events in our lives that would shape us and propel us toward His will for us.

– Gifting

It is of course essential that pastors and missionaries have the necessary gifts and abilities. This does not mean that only certain Christians are called to full time service. All Christians are called to holiness, worship and mission. However the body of Christ is diverse and certain tasks requires certain gifts. This is also true in our desire to do missions in the east. If we are not gifted in the right areas, we should not go. Advice I was given as a seminary student was never to try and identify your gifts before you actually start using them. Over the years I have found myself doing many things; music, outreach, preaching, leading Bible studies, events planning, discipleship, youth ministry etc. I now have a pretty good idea of what I am good at and what I stink at. I feel my gifts are suitable for missions in a foreign land and the same goes for my wife who has a passion to teach children. Ultimately it is God who rescues sinners and builds His church and He uses us in many different ways. Identifying how God has gifted you gives good direction as to where He has called you.

– The Church

God has instituted the Church as the primary messenger for His gospel. The mandate to go and make disciples has been given to the church collectively and so the lone ranger approach towards mission is bound to fail. If we consider Acts 13 we see how the church at Antioch, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work God has called them to. The church then prayed, fasted and laid their hands on them as they were sent off. This shows us that God operates through His church in the calling and sending of missionaries. When one consider a call then the counsel of other men and women in the church must be taken seriously. A calling cannot be pursued if it is not recognised and affirmed by the church. This demands prayer from both the individual and the church and a joint humility and sensitivity towards the leading of the Spirit. My calling to pastoral ministry came mostly because it was suggested by men in the church wiser than me and later confirmed as the Lord began to use me in this specific role. Now as my wife and I prepare for missions we must continue to remain sensitive and submissive to Christ as well as the body of believers He has placed us in. We have been called into the family of God and without the family’s support and prayers we cannot take on the call to missions.

– Feeling the need

Sometimes God impresses a need upon the hearts of His servants. I think of Nehemiah’s calling. He did not receive a miraculous sign before giving up his lofty position as the king’s cupbearer to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It started with Nehemiah feeling the need. Weeping for the condition of his people. This led him to action and God continues to propel people into missions because they not only see the need, but feel it in their bones. For us it happened gradually as we saw the lack of gospel light in the east. In Thailand and Japan less than 1% of the population are believers. The dominant religions are Buddhism and Shinto. Many people in the east might never hear the good news as clearly as we hear it so often in our churches. Two situations during our visit to Japan has really stood out as defining moments in God calling us. One was when we visited the atomic bomb museum is Hiroshima. One of the displays included a story of a young girl who contracted radiation poisoning and would face the reality of death at a young age. There is a legend which says that if you folded 1000 origami cranes you would have one wish granted. This young girl folded those 1000 cranes, wished for health and life, but died shortly thereafter. To this day the crane has become a symbol of peace, hope and determination. If only someone gave this girl the hope of the gospel! That Jesus died for her sins and by believing on Him she would have eternal life!  The second incident happened as we were walking through the streets in Tokyo. We walked past a primary school as the bell rang for break time. We witnessed hundreds of children coming out to the playground and Aven asked me the haunting question…how many of these children will ever hear about what Jesus did for them? It is moments like these that are used by God in calling His children to service. I am sure God has given you feelings like this too, are you going to act?

This last point might be a bit hard to explain because it can be rather subjective. The term I would like to use is “unio mystica”. The mystery of an intimate relationship with God. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating that human beings can be gods, but simply what the Bible defines as a relationship with God through Christ. The wonder of the gospel is that God not only saves us from hell, but brings us into an intimate relationship with Himself. Consider Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”. Ponder these magnificent words: Christ lives in me! Because Christ lives in us there is that mystical but notable inner voice that directs us and calls us to service. Now this hardly happens outside the ordinary means of grace. Don’t think that God will speak to you when you are not reading, praying, worshipping and meeting with the saints. God quietly directs us as we are obedient to Him in the ordinary spiritual disciplines.

I hope this has been helpful in some way, even just perhaps clarifying our own sense of calling. If you wondering whether God has called you then ponder these points: Can I see God’s hand of providence? Am I gifted in the ways suitable for this calling? Is the church supportive? Do I feel the need? Can I sense the inner voice of God as it comes through my spiritual disciplines? May God bless you as you live out God’s calling upon your life and do pray for us as we prepare to minister in a different part of His vineyard.