Constantly learning and sharing in Japan

Happy Autumn to every one in the Northern Hemisphere. This morning we could see the air we were breathing, meaning that Autumn has come. In fact today is the Autumnal equinox. Wow, how time flies! We have been serving here at Asian Rural Institute (ARI) for two years this coming October. Below are some of the reflections and experiences we have had over the past few weeks. They might not all run together, but please try to enjoy each one, and we hope it leads you to think and see a little more of our lives and ministry here in Japan.
We looked at each other recently and could not believe that September 11th was here. 10 years since the horrible events in New York, coincidentally 10 years since Jonathan first experienced life in Japan; six months since the earthquake that so much changed our idea of missions and our daily lives. The year 2011 has come and very soon will be gone, in fact a quarter of the year is all that remains.

The first activity of the day. We meet to gaze at one another and exercise our bodies every morning at 6:30am. This ends in a prayer and our day begins. It’s nice to begin the day with exercise for the body and soul.

In our English bible study that we have been leading for the past year and a half, we had a very challenging question come to us this past Saturday. We had decided to have a barbeque after the bible study in order for people to invite their friends, and to enjoy some fellowship together. We picked a good day, because from that afternoon on the rain came as another typhoon came our way, so the morning was nice. The man, who is not a Christian and has now been studying with us for close to a year, asked about the two commands of Jesus. To love God and to love our neighbor. When one other member of the bible study has not been able to find a job for a few months, what does it mean for us (Christians) to love her at this time. We were challenged to put our money where our mouths were.
This week one of the participants led morning gathering and challenged us with words from the prophet Amos. God is not pleased with us only having words of praise and prayers and rituals, God wants justice and wants us to be an active part of justice happening. His sermon this Sunday at the local church will ask whether we are sheeps or goats according to Matthew 25. How would you respond to this? Are you a sheep or a goat?
At ARI the struggle forward continues. We learned this past week the pork and chicken that we recently butchered has shown traces of radiation. While the level of contamination is far, far, far below the government standards, it is still contaminated. As a school, we have decided to eat the meat. This incident is another reminder that our decision to continue ministry in this area is not something to be taken lightly, but in fact is a difficult one that we must constantly ponder. It also reminds us that much of our ministry right now is simply about being here and continuing life here in this place at this time. Although troubles are coming and plenty of reasons to run come to us, we continue to be here. I think I’m slowly beginning to understand incarnational ministry through this experience. As we have joined with local people to work on ways to clean up the radiation and take back our community from the fear of the unknown, we must believe that people not only here but around Japan are being blessed, that a physical manifestation of God’s presence, of the good news, is being witnessed. These are the channels through which the gospel of Jesus Christ can then flow, giving the full good news of salvation through God’s grace in His time.
At the same time we are being encouraged to go forward. We just heard that several churches have given us large grants for our reconstruction efforts. A month ago we were wondering how we would be able to raise enough money for the rebuilding that needs to take place on this campus. One of our fellow missionaries reminded us that if God wills our school to be rebuilt and the ministry to continue, God will provide, so let us pray and listen to what God tells us to do. Join us in saying God is good! All the time!

Cleaning up at ARI.

Last night Jonathan led a session of interfaith discussion which we try to have at least monthly here at the Asian Rural Institute. This has become a rich time of learning and thinking for me. Our practice here is based off a method Jonathan learned during Seminary. He attended a discussion led by Rabbi Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia in which the idea of scriptural reasoning was put forth. Scriptural reasoning is a very honest and engaging way of having discussions among people of various religions to where they learn their similarities and differences. It provides opportunities for people to witness to their own faith and also learn about the beliefs of others. For us, our aim is to develop and deepen relationships among those who participate. What happens beyond that is by the grace of God and often through the will of people. Pray that our witness at these discussions will be opportunities for people to hear and think deeper about the Grace and love of God through Jesus Christ. Pray that we can learn from the deeply held beliefs of these friends.

As we wrap up, we want to share that we are getting ready for the annual Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration at the ARI. We thought that it would not be possible this year. It is truly a miracle of God that we can celebrate this year. The strength and determination that the Holy Spirit has given the community at ARI has helped them to work hard to come to this point to where we are now in the middle of preparation for HTC. It is a time when we thank God for the Harvest that we can eat, and thank each other for the hard work of this year. It is a time when we witness to many in the community who do not know Jesus Christ. It is also a time to where we share in song, dance, and food with the wider community showing the various cultures at ARI. Jonathan has been asked to give the sermon at the Sunday morning worship service. Please pray that he will be an instrument of Jesus’s message of love and salvation and lead people to thank God for His abundant blessings.
Finally we continue to requests your prayers and support. Our continued presence here is by the grace of God and through the giving hands of the church. If you believe that you would like to support our work financially, please consider giving through the advance. If you are thinking more long term, you might be interested in a covenant relationship. Your support for us through letters, emails and kind words are always a blessing and most of all your prayers are always desired.
Please pray for the ARI community. The participants have another two months of training before they head home, pray for a good training and the dreams they begin to form can be realized back in their homes. Please pray for the school’s future, that God would provide the resources needed for rebuilding, and a new vision for it’s training as we move forward. Pray that the staff’s hearts and minds are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Also, please pray for us as we continue to minister in many places and think about the future. Pray that God will give us strength and wisdom. Finally continue to pray for the recovery efforts up in Tohoku. Things are getting more stable but there continues to be a lack of work for many and recovery is slow. Pray that the churches will reach out in the name of Christ to be the salt and light of Tohoku, so that the gospel they are sharing will bear fruit for the kingdom of God.
Thank you and God Bless us all!

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