Monthly Archives: July 2012

Just Set the Church Cookies in Front of the Heineken Sign

Standard

I’m extra excited to share with you today’s blog, because it covers the best day of the week, Sunday! Remember that Saturday night was the evening all the hotels in the city were booked due to the ever so popular fireworks show, so Matt and I stayed at the Greer’s and Mark and Mike stayed at the Philip’s. We slept in the living room on a Japanese futon, which is the traditional bed of choice here. It differs from an American futon because it does not have a frame and the dense mat lies directly on the floor. I don’t know whether we were just exhausted or if it is actually a comfortable way to sleep, but we were down for the count in a matter of minutes and slept like babies. Maybe this country of millions is on to something with their bedroom furniture, or lack thereof rather.

When we woke up, it was time to get moving for church. Although the service didn’t started until 11:00, the set up process begins at 8:00 every Sunday. Being the man of good hygiene that he is, Matt prepared to take a shower. I shared with him the instructions that were given to me by Caitlin – to stand in the middle of the room for his shower, holding the shower head over him, rather than standing in the bathtub. Matt looked at me like I was trying to trick him into doing something ridiculous in the name of fitting into the culture. Ha ha, he swore I was hoping he’d do something embarrassingly stupid. How could he doubt me? I’m shocked to my very core. Finally, Jay confirmed my instructions to Matt, and the new approach to showering was implemented.

At 8:00 all of the church staff and our team met at the Mustard Seed office, for the purpose of loading an entire van full of gear for service set up. The 8 of us formed an efficient assembly line, passing speakers, instruments, chairs and snacks from storage to the back of the van. Oh, but right before this we spent time in prayer, specifically praying for the impact of the message, the hearts of those in attendance, and that God would bring some of the people we’ve spoken to throughout the week.

During load-in, we met a staff member that is new to the Osaka team. His name is Ryan, and he will be in charge of ministry finances, as well as helping with the language exchanges and outreach. Ryan has been in Japan for the past 18 months, attending language school full time. Can you imagine how difficult and wearing that would be to learn a new language day after day for a year and a half? But they’ve all done it in the name of ministry and furthering the Kingdom of God. Ryan is the only single guy on staff, and he’s a hoot. So ladies, if you’re interested in becoming a church planter in Japan, send me your digits to forward to him.

Ryan is on the left, Seth on the right

Anyway, once we loaded the van, we were on our way to the service location. Because the city is so overpopulated, most facilities are used for multiple businesses. For example, the building in which church service is held every week is also a dance studio and a bar nightclub.

Week after week after week, the Mustard Seed staff have to load all of the equipment needed for church, drive it to the service location, set it all up, tear it all down once service is complete, and take it back to the office until the following week. I hope you’re understanding that this is a lot of work, and demands dedication and awesome attitudes. We are so spoiled at Knott Avenue Christian Church because we are able to leave all equipment in place, just tweaking the setup of chairs and microphones for each event. But Mustard Seed has gotten the movement down to a science, and their smiles indicate that they know it’s all part of the deal of church planting in Japan.

Cassidy Leads the Childrens’ Ministry

Once the dance studio/bar was fully transformed into an inviting service venue, band rehearsal commenced. I gotta tell you, it was pretty funny to see Matt leading worship in his socks. How inappropriate would that be back home, yet here it’s not even up for discussion, you MUST lead in socks or bare feet.

Check out this video from rehearsal, and be sure to catch a glimpse of the very unique guitar – unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!

I thought it was a little ridiculous that we had to meet three hours prior to the service start time, but it turns out the staff knew exactly what they were doing, because once everything was set up and ready to go it was 10 minutes to 11:00. Everyone mingled and grabbed snacks and coffee as they made their way to their seats. There was a palpable energy and buzz in the room, one that made my stomach jump up and down. I wasn’t sure exactly what made me feel this way, but I think it was the fact that I was now apart of something special, participating in something that most will never have the chance to.

Jay, being the Senior Pastor, began his sermon once the worship set was complete. The worship rocked by the way. It is so beautiful and moving to hear a mix of Japanese and English, knowing that the two different languages are both understood by God in the same way, and both accepted as music to His ears. Everyone sang along in the language they were comfortable in, sometimes going back and forth between the two, because remember, church is an opportunity for them to practice their English.

So back to the sermon. Jay preached on Matthew 13:44-46, which is about the man who found an amazing treasure on a plot of land, so he sold everything he had to buy the plot so he would then own the unimaginably valuable treasure.

The sermon focused on just these two verses so that Jay would be able to teach on one concept and really drive it home. Remember, the average Japanese person has never heard a lick of the Bible, and therefore groundwork needs to me laid, and laid directly and carefully. Using visual aids, Jay went on to say that these verses teach us what it is like to become a Christian. There are several things you might or must give up, but they all pale in comparison to the unimaginably valuable treasure you will get in return.

What you will/might have to give up to become a Christian

What you will gain becoming a Christian

As Jay preached, a Japanese interpreter stood by his side, relaying every word he said in Japanese as well. Matt jokingly whispered to me, “Can you imagine if we had our messages interpreted back home? We’d be in church all day!” Ha ha, yet another reason why the concept must be simple. Simple it was, but easy it was not. Jay was showing them right up front what they can expect to give up to become a Christian. He didn’t want there to be any surprises as to what they were getting into, but he also wanted to visually show them that no matter what is required of them to give up, what God gives them in return is so much more and lasts far beyond this lifetime. Although I don’t believe it was intentional, the sermon also paralleled the life of a cross-cultural church planter, like all the staff at Mustard Seed. There is definitely a list of things they had to give up to serve here in Japan, but that list pales in comparison to the list of what is gained in this life and the next because of what they’re doing here.

To give perspective, about 80% of the Japanese people in attendance were non-Christian. What a crazy opportunity! We never see anything like that at our churches back home. And guess what! BIG NEWS! The lady we told you about in our video blog a few days ago, the one we met at the language exchange…SHE CAME! She came to church! Praise the Lord! We all grew enormous smiles on our faces when we saw her walk through the door.

After a powerful sermon, you know what happened next? If our home church is anything like your church, you would probably guess we rushed out of that building as fast as we possibly could, eager to get to the next activity or errand or nap. But that’s not what we did. Instead, every single person who attended church stayed and hung out for about an hour, talking and eating and enjoying one another’s company. It was an amazing time of fellowship with a bunch of non-Christians.

The guys had the opportunity to pray with the woman from the language exchange. When they were done praying over her, she said she was still not a Christian, but she felt the power of God come through them during prayer. I mean, come on people, that’s amazing! Here is a pic of Mark and her:

After church and mingling time, the bulk of us headed to an Indian Curry restaurant, and continued the party there. Matt and I got to sit with Seth and Megan, and their 6-week-old baby, Asher. They are a very young couple, doing very mature things for the Lord. They speak Japanese and seem to be involved in nearly every aspect of Mustard Seed. It was amazing to hear them talk about their transition into the culture and how even though their commitment here is only 3 years, they can’t see leaving this country anytime soon.

So we started preparing for church at 8:00am, and by the time we finished lunch and unloaded the gear, it was 5:00pm. Now that is a day of church, I tell you what. Needless to say we were all blissfully exhausted, and turned in for the night quite early compared to other evenings.

Now I’m off to breakfast. I can’t wait to share with you our experiences from today. Thank you so much for reading and giving me feedback so this blog can be more of a conversation. Until tomorrow!

Love, Jessica

Advertisements

The Olympics Shrink Our World

Standard

Good morning good morning! If you’ve been paying close attention to my blog, I’ve been posting in the morning California time, which is around midnight here in Osaka. It’s been getting more and more difficult to keep my eyes open long enough to make sense of a blog post, and last night “difficult” transitioned into “impossible.” Unless I was going to give you a delirious dissertation rambling on about why sushi restaurants are hard to come by in Japan, I needed to wait and blog this morning. You don’t mind, do you? I’ll take your silence as a yes.

So let’s dive into the day we call Saturday here in Japan. There was a firework spectacular happening near Osaka yesterday called the Yodogawa Firework Festival. It is the biggest and highest attended firework show in Japan, which for us meant all the hotels in the city were booked months and months in advance, making it impossible for us to find a room for Saturday night. But it worked out well as Jay and Caitlin offered to house Matt and me for the night, and Seth and Megan took in Mark and Mike. I asked around and researched a little on the internet, trying to find out the meaning behind the firework festival, but based on my gathered data, it seems like it’s just for fun. And that’s fine by me! I was really hoping we’d be able to see the firework show ourselves, as I’m obsessed with lights of any kind, but it turns out it was outside of Osaka, a long train ride away, and the crowds and crowds of people made it sound less and less appealing. But I’d love to attend some time in the future!

Anyway, all that to say that we had to pack up our hotel room and make our way to Jay and Caitlin’s home. If you know me at all, you know that our hotel room was a complete disaster zone. I joke that the maids cast lots every morning, and the loser has to clean our room. So we threw all our stuff back in our bags and hopped into Jay’s car.

As we opened the door to the Greer’s, the smell of American breakfast hit us like a ton of bricks you’d happily smack yourself with every day. And guess what, Miss Wonderful Caitlin made me vegan waffles! How awesome is that?!? I’ve been eating the oatmeal I brought from home every single day since we’ve been here and suddenly I was able to eat a delicious waffle…okay two delicious waffles – one covered in mixed berries and syrup, and one smothered in crunchy peanut butter, bananas and honey. Oh yeahhhhhhh. When Mike learned that Caitlin made vegan waffles for me, but regular waffles for everyone else, he finally wiped the disgusted look off his face. It’s so funny how people automatically assume that vegan = gross, I mean my waffles were made with yummy coconut milk for goodness sake.

While eating our enormous breakfast, we watched the Olympic opening ceremonies. It was quite a trip watching the Olympics in another country. Of course we couldn’t understand anything that was being said, except for the songs in English, but it didn’t seem to matter because the Olympics were designed with the world in mind. Everything was structured to be communicated to people of various languages. Sitting in a living room in Japan, surrounded by 17.4 million Japanese people, watching a program that 2 out of every 3 people in the world are watching, suddenly made this earth feel very small and comprehendible. I felt united with the world, a feeling I’ve never had, and I felt that sharing the Gospel with every person in the world suddenly wasn’t impossible. God can do anything and He certainly is in the business of doing things that bring Him glory. If we would all make ourselves available to share His love and grace throughout the world, He would do the hard part of making decisions for Christ happen. I became emotional as the opening ceremonies came to an end because for the first time in my life I felt proud to be an “earthling” and not just proud to be an American.

Once our tummies were full and the Duchess Kate TV sighting was accomplished, Matt, Caitlin and I started practicing for the “Street Live” we were doing later that evening. A street live is basically just a casual mini-concert on the street, a time to play music for passersby in a highly traveled area. Surprisingly, for the most part, Japanese people love American people, so we decided to play to our strengths and sing our American rear-ends off using all American songs, mostly in English. We practiced some popular worship songs as well as pop tunes, as Japanese people love American pop, like Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift. The majority of people who would be walking by can’t understand us, so it was most important that we created a “buzz” with familiar sounding tunes that make sense for a bunch of young Caucasians to sing.

After the song list for the street live was nailed down, we headed to lunch. I was told we were getting pancakes. Boy was I lied to. My “pancake” was covered in noodles and soy sauce, but after one bite I knew I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over lunch Caitlin talked to us about her adventures as a missionary in Japan, and how God has faithfully provided for her and her family over the years. She has a very different life than the one she could have created back in the states, but she feels blessed to be where God has her. It is so impressive to observe a seemingly normal woman do such abnormal things for the sake of being in God’s Will and bringing Him glory. I mean, she gave birth and is raising two young boys in a non-English speaking foreign country. Wow oh wow.

Once lunch was finished, we hopped on a train that goes in a big circle around the entire city. We didn’t have a final destination in mind, as we just wanted the opportunity to ride through every part of town, for the purpose of praying over the people in that particular area. Usually this type of thing is called a “prayer walk,” which just means Christians walk around a neighborhood praying for the people of that neighborhood. The thought is that as you physically walk through a place, you see specific needs that are prevalent and are able to pray for them on the spot. Perhaps you see a toy truck in the front yard, so you pray for the children that live there, or you hear a couple arguing, so you pray for their safety and kindness. Here in Osaka we decided to do a prayer ride instead of a prayer walk because not only was the train air-conditioned and full of places to sit, but it also gave us the ability to cover more territory.

So for about an hour we sat on the train, staring out the window at the millions of apartment, restaurant and business buildings, praying over the specific prayer requests Jay gave to us, as well as anything that came to our hearts as we observed our surroundings. Prayer is a powerful thing. God has done many crazy things in the Bible because of the prayers of His people. I am not a prayer warrior, but I do know the value of prayer, and want to get better about praying for others and the salvation of the world. In a place like Japan, where there is a language barrier and the number of non-Christians is so large, prayer goes from being nice, to being essential. The ONLY way all of these people can be saved is through the miracles and movement of God. May we all be praying for God to move and do miracles here in Japan.

Our train ride around the city passed surprisingly quickly, and then it was off to the street live. We grabbed our instruments and our church flyers and hopped on the subway. Our performing destination was the center of a bridge at Osaka train and subway station. We must have passed 5 other bands on our way, but they were all selling CDs, so I knew the fact that we had nothing to sell people would set us apart. The band consisted of Matt on guitar, Mike on tambourine, Seth on guitar, Caitlin on every instrument ever created (guitar, violin, accordion), and me on…voice, I have no musical instrument talent.

While we belted out our worship and pop songs, the rest of the team handed out flyers inviting people to attend Sunday service the following day. Mike, Haze and Cassidy handed out over 500 flyers in the 75 minutes we were singing! Isn’t that a crazy number! And each one of them had a few meaningful conversations with complete strangers. A little after 9:00pm a Japanese reggae band (I didn’t know they existed either), started playing right near us with their drums and sound system, so that was our cue to wrap it up. It was hilarious to see people take our picture and record video like we were actually somebody special, and it was moving to see the flyer team get in there and do the difficult work for the sake of sharing the love of Christ with those who don’t know Him.

Here is a video of our last song. It’s filmed VERY close, so you could get the sound. Thanks Mike for the up-the-nose-shots! Ha ha!

Clearly it was yet another wonderful day. I can’t wait to share with you on tomorrow’s blog about Sunday church service. Thank you again for taking the time to read about what’s going on here. It feels so good to be connected to an awesome group of people back home, cheering us on.

Love, Jessica

I’ve Officially Mastered English, Where’s My Medal

Standard

It’s after midnight here in Japan, though it feels like 3:00am. Blogging at the end of the day is starting to wear on me, but we’re so busy that it’s hard to find any other time. I want so desperately to keep you all informed on our adventures because I’m so excited to share what we’re up to, and I want to give you all the opportunity to pray alongside us if you desire to do so.

I wish there were 5 more hours in the day, and a little more coffee in my body and then I would be able to go on and on about every amazing detail. But before I roll into bed tonight, I just must take the time to share a few pictures and video with you.

We spent the morning and some of the afternoon at Osaka Castle, just down the road from our hotel. The castle is located on spacious and beautiful grounds right in the middle of the city.

One of the buildings on the lot is a temple, a place for people to come seeking to rid themselves of evil spirits and receive blessings from the gods.

It was interesting to observe people as they approached the temple, threw coins into the metal container, clapped their hands loudly, and bowed to pray before the altar. Yes, it was interesting, but also very sad because these people honestly believe that by tossing some money before the shrine, they can ward off evil and invite blessing. We saw parents bring their young children up to the altar with them, teaching them how the tradition was done. It broke our hearts a little to know that this incorrect thinking is being passed on to another generation right before our eyes. While the tradition might not do any harm for some, at the very least it distracts from worshipping the one true God and it encourages the worshipping of idols. It saddens me to know that the people we saw approach the altar have no idea that there is a real and living God that can easily ward off evil and give blessings. He is eager to engage in a relationship with each of them, and I pray that progress will soon be made in their spiritual journey that will lead them toward Jesus.

On a much lighter note, we enjoyed our tour around Osaka Castle, and the boys even got to dress up as samurais! Their action film trailer is below.

In the evening, we participated in the language exchange we handed flyers out for the day before. Remember the video on yesterday’s blog? The flyers we gave to strangers on the street were advertising the language exchange the church hosted this evening. It was definitely the highlight of our trip so far!

I cannot say enough good things about it, as you can tell in the following video. This video was taken right when we got back from the event, and we shot it just so we could tell you all about it first hand!

Well that’s pretty much it for me this blog! Thank you thank you thank you for your prayers! I know it’s difficult to continue praying several days into our trip, so I appreciate you prayer warriors that are forging on!

Tomorrow I will be blogging about our prayer “walk” around the city of Osaka, as well as our experience doing a “street live,” which is basically a music concert in the middle of a busy train station.

Oh, and please leave comments below or on my Facebook so I know this thing is “on.” Ha ha!

Love, Jessica

If You Can’t Sing in Japanese, Hum

Standard

Today has been another long and glorious day…that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it, this is the day, this is the day, that the Lord hath made. Sorry I couldn’t help but sing a little since we just came from worship team rehearsal, but we’ll get to that in due time.

This post will be filled with more pictures and video and less of me blah blah blahing, since between me and you and anyone who has the internet, I am exhausted and in much need of zzzzz. Don’t worry, I didn’t just fall asleep on you.

In the past few days, after going west when we needed to go east, and exiting gate 6 when we actually wanted gate 1, we’ve nearly mastered the subway system, our main mode of transportation. And by “we” I mean the guys all discuss the map on the subway wall in front of them, and I admire the creative fashion of passersby.

Our trusty subway took us to Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street where we spent most of our day. We walked through street after street filled with shops and small restaurants. The outdoor shopping center had everything from gift shops to stores with traditional Japanese garb, to a 6-story H&M. The center was enormous and was already starting to bustle at 10:00am. One area was called America Street and it was quite entertaining to see what Japan thinks is American. For example, many shops advertised American hot dog ice cream, which is exactly what it sounds like – a hot dog with scoops of ice cream across the top. Something definitely got lost in translation. Jay thinks perhaps the ice cream sandwich was taken too literally. Ha ha!

Eventually we made our way to lunch, and what a lunch it was! I haven’t felt deprived as a vegan in Japan, but I also haven’t felt indulged either…until this meal. Vegetables, brown rice, miso and salad – all with amazing sauces and flavor! I wish this place had a location by my house for goodness sake.

After lunch we met up with Cassidy, a young woman who also works at Mustard Seed, overseeing the children’s ministry. Why oh why don’t I have a picture of her? I’ll get one for you tomorrow for sure. Anyway, once we were quickly acquainted, we divided into groups of two and spread out among the shopping center. Our mission was to hand out flyers for the weekly language exchange hosted by the church. What is that you may ask? Well check out this video of Matt and me explaining it and your questions will be answered!

Though we were exhausted by the hours and hours in the scorching heat and drained by the energy it took to exchange complete strangers in conversation, often enduring rejection, Matt and I were energized by the fact that we were on our way to worship team rehearsal.

Remember Caitlin? Of course you do, I talk about her every blog entry. Well she is the worship leader for Mustard Seed Osaka and every week she meets with the volunteer band to rehearse the songs for service that Sunday. Matt will be singing and playing with them this week, which will be a highlight for both of us. Caitlin was sweet enough to work with Matt prior to the “real” rehearsal, as he needed to brush up on his Japanese. Every week the songs are sung in about 75% Japanese and 25% English. Matt was awesome at the English. Ha ha, I’m just kidding, everyone was quite impressed with how quickly Matt picked up the Japanese words, and they were excited to have another instrument and voice for the week.

Check out this video of Caitlin leading an awesome group of guys, including Matt, in worship rehearsal. It was beautiful to get a front row seat of people worshipping the same God as I do, with songs I sing regularly, but in a totally different language.

After a spectacular rehearsal, the intensity of the day started to hit us, as it was 10:30pm before we were headed back to the hotel. We dragged our rear ends to bed, smiles on our faces, thankful for the days we’ve had and have yet to come.

By the way, we have two twin beds in our room. I feel like Lucy and Ricky! Ha ha! I guess it’s appropriate for a mission trip, but come on, it’s our first mission trip as a married couple!

For those of you who are still reading my blog, thank you so much! I stay up late writing just for you…and a little for me I’ll admit. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing about our visit to Osaka Castle and how the language exchange turned out. It’s going to be a goodie!

Love, Jessica

I Love You A Latte

Standard

Wednesday was our first full day in Osaka, and when I say full, I mean full! We left our hotel about 9:00am and didn’t return until nearly 10:00pm, giving us loads of time to get acquainted with our surrounding area and connect with missionaries and Japanese people alike.

We started the day with breakfast at this rare and exotic gem of a restaurant…McDonald’s. The guys indulged in breakfast sandwiches that would make a die-hard-vegan parade around protest signs, but this push-over-vegan just laughed at the vast difference between their sausage, bacon, ham, egg, and sausage meal and my oatmeal with almonds and apple meal that I brought with me from home and “cooked up” in my hotel room before we left. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll post a picture of my spread of food that traveled with me over 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been able to find some great vegan options here, but I wasn’t sure how it would all play out, so my backup plan has taken over our hotel dresser space.

After breakfast we met up with Jay. Remember from yesterday, he is the Senior Pastor of Mustard Seed Christian Church here in Osaka. He helped us navigate the train and subway system, leading us to a popular shopping center downtown. Although it was only about 11:00am by this time, the temperature was 95 degrees and super duper humid. Needless to say, we’ve been consistently sweating for the last two days. It is quite common for people to carry around a sweat rag to wipe their face when needed. Actually, I’ve only seen men do this, as the ladies here don’t seem to sweat at all. They have a beautiful glow as this American pig drips from head to toe. Lovely Jess, just lovely. People are definitely going to want to talk to a salty human sprinkler.

Anyway, we arrived at the shopping center, and the first place we stop is the restroom. Long story not-short-enough, I’m in the bathroom for 10 minutes…9.75 of those minutes are me trying to figure out how to flush the darn toilet. Check out the pictures and YOU try to figure it out. Only after Jay went in the guys’ restroom and took mental notes on flushing instructions to pass along to me, was I able to successfully flush the toilet. It’s the small victories people.

Now on to the goodd stuff. If you haven’t already picked up on this yet, this mission trip is not the kind of trip where we get our hands dirty building houses or digging ditches. This trip is about making connections, developing relationships, supporting Christian movements that are already taking place here, and hopefully creating new movements based on our unique giftings. So on that note, once the bathroom stuff was worked out, we sat down with Jay and he shared some specific prayer requests with us. I want to pass them along to you, in hopes that you might incorporate them in your prayers today, tomorrow, indefinitely.

Prayer Requests from Jay for Japan:

  1. The church would connect with seekers – With 17.4 million people in Osaka alone, there are no doubt people who are seeking God and His Truth, but without God’s help it’s seemingly impossible for those few and far between to miraculously locate Mustard Seed Christian Church.
  2. Negative perceptions of Christianity would be done away with –Very little is known about Christianity in Japan, and what is known is often incorrect. Many Japanese people are leery of Christianity because they’ve been told it’s a cult that practices scary and terrible things.
  3. People would be convicted, even if their sin is only known by God – Sometimes in Japanese culture, conviction or shame is only felt if the person’s wrong doing is found out by someone else. Therefore, if the sin is kept secret, conviction is not experienced, and repentance or turning from the sin is not a natural response.

It was beautiful to hear Jay speak with such great love and care for a people group he has only been among for less than 5 years of his life. The passion he has to see Japanese people come to know the Lord as he knows the Lord is inspiring and contagious.

After good conversation, I grabbed a soy hazelnut latte (mission trips are so hard, I know), and we headed to a city landmark called the Floating Garden Observatory. But on our way, I “made eyes” at this beyond adorable Japanese baby. She stole my heart in about 0.72 seconds and her mom was sweet enough to let me snap her picture. Though her mom didn’t speak English, and I haven’t become fluent in Japanese in the last 48 hours, we were able to connect over our mutual opinion on her daughter’s beauty. Big smiles all around!

Following a very long and sweaty walk, we made it to the top of the Floating Garden Observatory. Check out the video below of me telling you about it…

Here you can see that at the top of the observatory there is a unique place where it is tradition for “lovers” to place a lock with their names on it, to symbolize their love is forever and cannot be broken. My ever-so-sweet and thoughtful husband bought this lock when he was here last year and had it engraved with our wedding anniversary. Rather than attaching it by himself, he waited until I could return to Osaka with him and we could add it to the lovers lock area together. What a guy, what a guy.

 

 

 

By this time our stomachs were asking for a kick back, so Jay took us to one of his favorite restaurants in the area for lunch. We met up with Seth, another Pastor at Mustard Seed. Side note, Seth’s wife Megan just had their first baby, Asher, only 6 weeks ago! Isn’t that amazing news?!?! Anyway, it was great to meet another key player in the movement for Christ in Japan. Over lunch, Jay and Seth shared the awesome journey Mustard Seed has taken over the past five years, from a few young couples picking up and moving from the US with nothing but good hearts and great passion, to now having two successful church plants and hosting events that have had attendance over 300 people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once our bellies and spirits were full, we traveled to the Greer household, where we were greeted by Caitlin and her two cuter-by-the-minute boys. Check out Frankie’s “don’t I make your heart melt” look.

The main reason we’re staying at a hotel instead of at people’s houses, like on most mission trips, is because the homes here are so small there is not room for guests. Often family and friends will gather at restaurants, bars, or karaoke lounges because their living room can’t possibly fit everyone.

 

 

I had to share this picture with you because it continues to demonstrate what a strong and sacrificial woman Caitlin is. Here is her master bedroom closet. I desperately wished at that moment that I could share one of the four closets in my house with her. Ha ha!

After amazing guacamole, swapped stories and fellowship, Matt headed to a men’s small group Bible study, while the rest of us headed back to the hotel. Most church events don’t even start until 8:00pm because everyone works such long hours. People here have to really really want to go to church because it takes up the very little free time they have in life. It makes it that much more touching when you see 60-hour-work-week-people participating in church.

Well that’s the end of this day. And a great day it was. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about interactions with the locals as we handed out language exchange flyers and our experience at worship team rehearsal.

Before I sign off, I must say I am so thankful for all of you. It makes my heart smile to read all of your overly kind comments and words of encouragement. I feel so connected to a large group of God-fearing people and it has really motivated me to pass along your love and care to those I come in contact with on this trip. I can’t thank you enough, but I will try.

Love, Jessica

Celebrity Sighting in Japan

Standard

Good Morning from Osaka, Japan! As I write this, it is 7:00am on Wednesday here is Japan, and 3:00pm on Tuesday back home. So I write to you from the future! But don’t worry, I won’t tell you what happens in the future, because I’m sure you want to be surprised. Ha ha! Yet another FRIENDS reference, because pretty much everything in life somehow relates back to that show.

Anyway, I’m wide awake right now, which for those of you who know me well, is very unusual for this time of day. But after traveling for 23 hours straight, we went to bed about 10:00pm Japan time last night, giving us a full 9 hours of sleep! What a great way to reset our body clocks!

Though yesterday was basically just a day of travel, I’ll still give you a run down of our experience. After meeting at the church at 5:00am, our team traveled together by van to LAX. As the only female on the trip, I fulfilled my womanly duties and brought everyone a delicious breakfast…well, what I consider delicious – a fresh homemade juice consisting of carrot, green apple, orange and pineapple. Yum yum!

Everything went smoothly checking in for our flight, and boarding was a breeze, but it was all too good to be true, as we were told we had to de-plane for security reasons. Annoyed at first, I was grateful in the end when we learned it was due to a bomb scare. Oh dear! But everything was safe and we were on our way to Hawaii. We were a bit nervous we would miss our connection flight from Hawaii to Japan since we ended up leaving LA over an hour late.

Image

Taking Off From Hawaii

But when we arrived in Hawaii we had an escort waiting just for us to take us to the other side of the airport. No time for Starbucks or a restroom, but we made it to our plane with a couple minutes to spare. And what a plane it was! We were in coach, but everything looked new and clean and spacious. I always tell Matt that I get sick of hearing from the flight attendants, “We have a very full flight today, so blah blah blah.” It seems like EVERY time we fly we hear this announcement. Well if there was ever a time to get a non-full flight, it was this time, and that’s exactly what we got! We had so much room that everyone could have their very own row.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that one of my biggest concerns for this trip was the 23 hours of travel it required. Well the Lord has blessed me with a rare and long lost spiritual gift – sleeping on planes. Although I thought I might just lose this gift when it mattered most, this time was no exception, and I slept 90% of both plane rides, waking only for a beverage or a bathroom.

 

 

When we arrived in Osaka, Jay Greer, the Senior Pastor of Mustard Seed Christian Church, was there to greet us. I’ve met Jay a few times via Skype, so it was wonderful to see a friendly face in this foreign land. Further down is a picture of Jay and his family, and as you can see, he is Caucasian, born and raised in Missouri. Him and his wife, Caitlin, just up and moved to Japan 4 ½ years ago. They felt a calling from the Lord to help plant churches among unreached people groups in urban areas, and Nagoya, Japan fit the bill perfectly. After having great success in planting a church in Nagoya, they moved to Osaka last year to plant a second church. Oh, and by the way, this couple is younger than I am. Pretty impressive, huh? And I haven’t even mentioned that they’re fluent in Japanese. It’s amazing to watch them converse with the locals. They are raising two handsome and fun-loving boys, Rowen and Frankie. You’ll hear more about this family soon, that’s for certain.

Image

Jay Greer & Our Team: Mike Carmen, Matt Whelchel, Mark Wald

But back to our travel. From the airport we hopped on a train and rode it for a good thirty minutes. This is when the celebrity sighting happened. On one of the stops a group of college-aged ladies boarded the train and started whispering to one another, not realizing Jay speaks Japanese. He responded to them and they proceeded to have a conversation, all the while the girls were giggling, smiling and staring our direction. Come to find out, they were asking Jay if Matt and I were movie stars or celebrities. I wasn’t even wearing my tiara or holding my scepter or anything. The ladies were quite smitten with Matt, but let’s be honest, his good looks translate into every culture. It was a very sweet way to be welcomed into Japan, as ridiculous as it was.

Image

When You’re A Celebrity, It’s Adios Reality

As the camera flashes and signed headshots died down, and Matt and I sat hand in hand watching the landscape of Japan breeze past our train window, I became unexpectedly emotional. There are not many moments in my life when I’ve been able to fully step off the escalator I’m on and think, “Maybe God has something else for me. Something totally different and seemingly crazy. Who says I’m going to live in California and have a 9-5 job for the rest of my life? Is it God? Cause if not, than that’s not what I want.” Just for a moment I thought, “Could this be a place I call home one day, for the purpose of serving the Lord and making a difference in people’s lives?” What a life that would be. So different. So crazy. So what?

Once we were off the train, we starting walking toward our hotel. Again, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am a list-maker, and therefore a task-oriented person. Especially since I’m on a mission trip, and on YOUR dime, I had to make sure I accomplished something meaningful, even on the first day. But what could I do knowing no Japanese and needing to be at dinner in 30 minutes? Hmm, I could…pray! I am by no means a prayer warrior, but when I feel God tugging on my heart to pray, I obey. I’m so glad only God hears my prayers, because I would be embarrassed for anyone else to know how elementary they are, greatly lacking diverse vocabulary. But nonetheless, as individuals passed, I began to pray for one of them specifically, until another caught my attention. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was a very interesting experience. Somehow, without any invitation from the person I was praying for, I instantly became involved in their life. Though they were complete strangers that I would never speak to or see again, just by praying for them, I became connected to them, involved in their spiritual journey, possibly having an effect on their future. Strange, and beautiful.

Image

Curry House

After checking into our hotel, we made our way to dinner, a curry house. It reeked of curry when we walked in, but not when we walked out, so we were sure the stench had attached itself to us as well. The best part of dinner was getting to meet Jay’s wife Caitlin, and their two sons, in person. Caitlin rode her bike with two baby seats on it to dinner. I asked her how long the bike ride was and she said, “Oh, not long at all…probably 40 minutes.” Ha ha, that is quite a long bike ride in my book, especially just to meet some chumps from California, but I guess you have to be extra patient and flexible like Caitlin to make it here.

Image

Greer Family: Frankie, Caitlin, Rowen, Jay

If you’ve read to this point, I’m impressed! And guess what, you’re almost done!

Japan has already been such a moving experience, and I am chomping at the bit to get out there and meet people and do things to bless others and further God’s Kingdom.

Tomorrow I’ll blog about our adventures traveling around Osaka, and quality time we spent with Japan missionaries.

I feel so thankful for the opportunity to be here, and thankful to have an army of people back home praying for this beautiful country.

Love, Jessica

Sign Me Up for a Life Change

Standard

Among Christian circles, especially ones focused on missions, you often hear people say that the person going on the mission trip has a much more life changing experience than the people they’re going to visit. In other words, even though the “missionary” is going for the purpose of eternally impacting lives for Christ, it is believed that in actuality, the missionary is the only one whose life is greatly impacted. The thought behind this theory is that when you go on a mission trip, you’re leaving your home, job, family, friends and normal schedule and are thrown into a new, foreign and interesting place. Meeting new people and seeing how different their lives are from your own is impactful and stays in your memory for decades to come. For the people being visited though, in this case the people of Japan, they are staying in their home, job and normal schedule for the most part, and we will just barely interrupt their status quo.

While we will remember the people, places, events and conversations from our trip for years to come, the people we meet will quickly revert back to their routine and maybe one day they’ll say something like, “Remember those people from that country that did that thing? The guy was really handsome and the girl was always eating oatmeal? Remember them? Yeah, me neither.” Maybe this will happen. Hopefully not.

While I appreciate the humility in admitting the missionary is benefited more than those they’re attempting to minister to, this mindset has always rubbed me the wrong way. If this were totally true, then what the heck are we doing out there and why are we even bothering? Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked to visit Japan, but I would never take my only two weeks of vacation to go there if I didn’t believe that God can do great things through me during my stay — things that make a real difference in the everyday lives of people, things that change the eternal destiny of people. I believe God can do these great things through me not because of me, but because of Him. The only thing I bring to the table is my availability, and luckily that is often enough for God to work.

Image

Crews Family

Though I agree the missionary often has life changing experiences on mission trips, I can’t agree that they are the only ones whose lives are changed. When I think about my mission trip to Australia in 2008, I vividly remember how over-the-moon the Aussies were to see the Crews family. Various members of the Crews family have been going on mission trips to Australia annually for several years, and there’s no doubt they’ve made an impact. A big impact. People cry when they arrive, they cry when they leave, they exchange emails between trips. Why? Because the Crews family has changed their lives. Many Aussies became Christians because of the Crews family, changing their course not only in this life but in the next. There’s no arguing that leading people into a relationship with the God of love and grace is life changing.

Image

Pam & Mark Adams

 

Another person in our church that has changed lives through a mission trip is Pam Adams. When she was in Africa, her team pulled bad teeth out of people’s mouths. I have no doubt that made a forever impact on Pam, but I’m even more confident that it impacted the people she helped. You know those people aren’t ever going to forget the day they got an infected tooth or two pulled. Pam changed their lives for the better by being available for God to use her.

Image

Diane & Gavin Williams

 

Or how about another woman from our church, Diane Williams. She has traveled to Kenya several times, helping with Tumaini Ministries, an organization that provides a home environment for orphans who’ve lost one or more parents from AIDS. As if the hands-on work Diane has done while physically in Kenya wasn’t enough, Diane has been a major advocate for getting orphans financially sponsored by other members of our church. She has lead the way in getting money to pay for these orphans’ food, clothes and education. Can you really tell me that her actions haven’t changed these kids’ lives just as much as they’ve changed hers?

 

 

As I physically and spiritually prepare to leave for Japan in a couple days, I release the negativity that comes with believing the trip will be more life changing for me than for anyone I meet there. I pray God will begin to open the hearts and minds of the people I will come in contact with, that He will give me the timely words of truth to share with them, and that He will work miracles that dramatically change their lives. I pray that God will show His love and grace through me, that people would want what I’ve been so blessed to have, a relationship with Him.

I couldn’t care less if people remember our names or how cute my ballet flats are, as long as God moves in their lives and positive eternal decisions are made or at least planted and start to grow.

I know this trip will change my life. I pray that the generally accepted Christian theory about mission trips is wrong, and this trip also changes the lives of others. Again, not because I’m awesome, but because I’m available.

Thanks for reading! My next entry will probably be the evening we arrive in Japan! Your prayers are so needed and appreciated!

Love, Jessica

“…I will make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” -Isaiah 49:6