Light traffic greeted us as we headed north on Interstate 5 out of Salem, Oregon. On this chilly Sunday morning in January, our destination was Butteville Community Church. Nestled between the Willamette River and the fertile farmlands south of Portland, in the 1840s Butteville was one of the first settlements in the Oregon Territory. We were scheduled to talk about our mission trip to Mongolia during the adult Sunday School hour and then share about our ministry in Japan during the morning message.
Departing Chinggis City, Mongolia
We were especially excited to talk about Mongolia—Pastor Ken had mentioned that a Mongolian woman had become a Christian and been baptized in the church in recent years. She and her American husband had moved to a ranch in Arizona, but the congregation still had fond memories of their time with them.
When we arrived at the church, Pastor Ken came up and said “Guess what! Tseggy (not her real name) is back for a visit—with her children and her parents from Mongolia. They’re coming to the morning service!”
We shared with an unusually knowledgeable Sunday School class, and not long after we had finished, in walked Tseggy with her non-English-speaking parents. Pastor Ken had already told us Tseggy’s father was “a tough nut to crack,” but when Gary greeted him with a friendly “Sain bain uu!” (Mongolian for “Hello!”) his eyes lit up.
Mongolian teen praying for his country at a national youth conference
Meanwhile, my greatest joy was talking with Tseggy about Mongolia. She wanted to know how receptive the Mongolian people were to receiving the gospel of Jesus. When she left Mongolia more than 14 years before, she was not a believer and knew little or nothing about Christianity. When I shared about our experiences with the Mongolian church, her eyes glistened as she asked, “Are there really Christians in Mongolia?” She and her husband had sold their ranch recently, and were planning to move to Mongolia later this year. She asked me (a missionary from Japan!) to connect her to a church in Ulaanbaatar where they can fellowship when they get there.
What are the chances? To meet a Mongolian Christian at a church in the historic, but sparsely populated Oregon countryside, and then being able to help her find a church in her home country! It was as if God was again reconfirming the value of our ministry trip there last August. Oh … and another astounding “coincidence.” In addition to English, Tseggy is fluent in Japanese: She studied for a Master’s degree in Japan! What an amazing God we serve!
Thanks to the faithful prayers and financial partnership of individuals and churches across the USA, we have served in Japan with Asian Access since 1988. Without your prayers and support, we would not be able to continue our ministries.
In 2012 Asian Access entered into a strategic partnership with SIM. SIM USA provides missionaries sent from the USA with pre-field training and ongoing administrative support, while Asian Access provides deployment and on-field support for those from SIM’s global network of missionaries who sense God’s call to Japan.
Currently missionaries from SIM USA and SIM Canada with us in Japan and we are anticipating missionaries from SIM Southeast Asia soon. Through these partnerships, the potential for Japan outreach has been significantly expanded.
We are privileged to serve alongside committed Japanese pastors and local church leaders in this land with a Christian population of less than 1%. You can support our ministry in Japan with either a one-time gift or a regular commitment through SIM’s online giving link.
Thank you for your prayers for the people of Japan!
When we planned our August 2015 trip to Mongolia, our four primary goals were to:
- Follow up on the 2012 Mongolian translation of Discovering the Joy of Parenting and to support the ministry in Mongolia
Observe and hear firsthand about the current state of churches through Pastor Chinzorig, our Asian Access Mongolia Director of Leadership Training and founding pastor of Immanuel Assembly,
- Connect with SIM staff in Mongolia, and
- Enjoy some rest and renewal away from the heat and humidity of Tokyo.
During our first first four days with Pastor Chinzorig and the Immanuel Church family, God began working out the details of the month in amazing ways with a multitude of ministry opportunities and new relationships!
During the following 24 days, we fit in a bit of sightseeing, but Barbara did 20+ hours of parenting training in multiple contexts, both in the capital city and 6 hours out into the countryside.
The Christian subculture challenge
Recently I met with a Japanese Christian leader to discuss the challenges of the spread of the gospel in this nation and to dream a bit about how to build upon the many partnerships that have been developing between Christian groups in Japan since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. During our conversation, he surprised me with an unexpected comment: “The leaders of the church community in Japan need to come from outside the church community!”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Church leaders need to be out in the community,” he answered. Then he explained that the Christian church subculture is so different from the realities of everyday Japanese life that for most Japanese, the church has no connection to the community. “We can’t keep doing things the way we always have,” he emphasized.
For any leader to truly know how their church can reach the local community, rather than focusing solely on the “maintenance” of the existing church family, they need to be out in the community. Then, from the community they can come into the local church to provide leadership for reaching back out to the community.
Statements like the above from Japanese leaders give me great hope for the evangelization of Japan—a country that has been known as a “missionary graveyard” for decades. Another encouragement was that just a couple of weeks earlier I had attended an Asian Access Japan sponsored “Vision Festival” that drew together over 60 Japanese pastors from all across Japan to discuss church multiplication.
One model presented was the “convenience store” concept. There are currently about 45,000 convenience stores in Japan, with 50,000 being considered the saturation point. On the other hand, currently there are only about 8,000 evangelical churches. So the formation of 42,000 more churches—whether “traditional,” “house,” “cell,” “satellite,” or some other model seems to be a logical goal.
Another pastor talked about how his group of churches is achieving church multiplication by using a “strawberry evangelism” paradigm. Just as a strawberry plant sends out multiple runners to start new plants, so mother churches send out church members as “runners” to plant daughter churches.
Yet another pastor has a vision for Japan’s population to be 10% Christian by 2024! (from the current 1/2 percent!) As missionaries, how do we respond to these mind-boggling dreams from our Japanese partners?
First, we praise God that visionary pastors are being moved by God to dream big dreams.
Second, we are reminded that our task is not only to make disciples, but to equip them to “make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples”!
Third, to achieve these “impossible dreams,” we must go even deeper in our partnerships across the entire evangelical church community, encouraging each other in multiplication—knowing that if we truly are willing to follow God where he may lead, we won’t be able to continue “doing church” in the same ways we have for decades.
JEMA Leadership Team meeting at Tokyo Multicultural Church
One of my privileges as a missionary is to serve the members of over 40 mission agencies that are members of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA).
This particular “missionary hat” (out of many others I wear) involves serving JEMA as executive editor of Japan Harvest magazine. Published quarterly, the publication seeks to encourage, inspire, and equip English-speakers who want to see Japanese people find new life in Christ. Recently we initiated a limited online version of the magazine to supplement the print version.
You can browse the magazine Web site at www.japanharvest.org.
1. Pray for healthy balance in the use of time
The cross-cultural missionary finds it takes longer to do everything. There’s never the sense that, “It’s 6 p.m., and my work day is done.” Unfinished tasks constantly loom. Too often, the urgent crowds out the important.
2. Pray for wisdom in witness
Sometimes we’re excited about a new contact and feel that they are surprisingly responsive. Then later, no matter what we do, they gradually drift away from contact. We need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to know when to pursue a relationship, and when to draw back.
3. Pray for insight with difficult cultural issues
Any Japanese person who has a serious interest in Christianity soon starts asking about funerals.
“Can Christians go to Buddhist funerals?”
“What about burning incense?”
“My husband is the oldest son. He will be responsible for his parent’s Buddhist altar. Is that a problem?”
On the surface, the answers may seem simple. But if you’ve never lived in a group culture, you may not realize how “not simple” the answers can be.
What is “honoring your father and mother” in an Asian context?
Where is the line between what is “cultural” and what is “religious”?
4. Pray against the human inclination to compare ourselves with others
When things don’t seem to be going as well as we’d like, it’s easy to look at what other missionaries are doing and begin feeling jealous or like a failure.
“That ministry seems to be a lot more successful than what I’m doing. Am I really useful here?”
Of course, intellectually we know we need to remember our call and be faithful to that call in the context of our unique gifting. But the disconnect between knowing our call and feeling that we should be experiencing results like those we see others experiencing can easily turn into discouragement.
5. Pray for wisdom to know which opportunities to accept and which to decline
Ministry requests abound, and we’re regularly asked to participate in yet another outreach. We can say “yes” far too often. Saying “no” is difficult, but it’s essential to firmly decline opportunities that sidetrack us from God’s best use of our call.
Thank you for your encouragement and prayers as we seek to make good choices!
When over 10 years ago I wrote and published Discovering the Joy of Parenting, I had no idea all the ways God would use this text to draw mothers into his Kingdom.
I sing in a neighborhood women’s chorus. Last year we briefly had a substitute conductor. She speaks English well, but because of the setting, we didn’t really get to know each other.
Recently she emailed me, asking if I would help her with the English pronunciation of some songs she would be teaching to her current chorus group. So we got together, and after we had gone through the songs, she said, “Actually, I would like to meet with you every month or two to talk about my ideas about Japanese education and parent’s relationship to their children.”
I looked at her in amazement. “You may not believe this,” I said, “but I wrote a book on parenting. I’m a Christian, so the text is based on principles from the Bible. I’d love to meet with you!” God is opening doors even before we knock on them!
Pray that the parenting principles of God’s Word will touch the life this chorus teacher in ways she’s not anticipating!
Just the other day I got a surprise Skype call from Moogie—my friend in Mongolia! (Moogie was the leader of the translation team for the Mongolian edition of Discovering the Joy of Parenting.) The door had suddenly opened for her to come to Japan with a ministry team from her church, but by the time she was able to contact me, she was almost out the door on her way to the airport to go back home.
It was great to get an update on how the parenting ministry is going in Mongolia. She shared that the first printing of the book sold out in just a few months. Now they are in their second printing, with about 350 copies already sold out of the printing of 1000.
Moogie and her husband have been teaching the course to a group in their church in the capital city, UlanBataar, and also are going once a month to a town about four hours away.
They have also had the opportunity to do a seminar at a church for the deaf. One of the young people they are training is currently learning sign language, so that she will be able to continue ministry there.
“In fact,” Moogie told me, “we have had more requests to do seminars than we can handle! So we are now thinking about how we can train more leaders!”
Pray for health and strength for Moogie and Bilgee as they continue the expansion of biblical parenting ministry in Mongolia.
Asian Access Japan leaders
On January 20, I participated in the first “JCGI New Project Coordinators Planning Meeting.” Leading pastors from all across Japan gathered in Tokyo to discuss next steps for the six working groups launched last November at the annual JCGI Network conference.
Two of us from the Asian Access missionary staff were at the table with these Japanese pastors, taking another step toward enhanced partnerships in our Asian Access ministries in Japan.
Pray for the development of a digital media strategy that helps Japanese pastors resource each other for a new season of accelerated ministry!
In a recent print prayer letter we wrote about an agonizing conflict we’ve been working through in a Japanese situation.
But did you know that one of the most frequent reasons missionaries leave the field prematurely, never to return, is conflict with other missionaries?
Too often, as ministry starts to blossom, minor disagreements or misunderstandings somehow explode into major disputes, and in time another missionary family decides the pressure is too much.
As I serve on the leadership teams of both Asian Access Japan and the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, recently God has placed me in the position of mediating or intervening in several challenging situations in the missionary community.
Serving as a go-between has been emotionally draining, at times worse for me than for those within the situation—who are either unable or unwilling to see what they have done to contribute to the difficulty.
When we experience stress, we are reminded again how important you are as our prayer partners. Situations like this require our attention, but the Enemy is delighted to see our energy deflected from our primary purpose.
Please pray that we will:
• Have wisdom to deal effectively with challenging situations and difficult decisions.
• Have insight when trying to mediate in the healing of damaged relationships.
• Act decisively when there is a need for intervention.