Konnichiwa from far away Fullerton! Okay, so this might be in bad blogging form, as I’m already back home, but I still need to share with you the events of our last two days in Japan. I had good intentions of blogging during our 13-hour plane ride, or our 4-hour layover in Hawaii, but you know what they say, “The road to laziness is paved with good blogging intentions.” Or something along those lines. So yes, it’s true, I arrived home late Monday night and have been experiencing the nightmare that is jet lag ever since. So please forgive me if I don’t make sense, or start to ramble, though we all know I have that tendency on my best day too.
Sunday was one of the most exciting days we had during our Japan visit, so I’m eager to share it with you! Our Sunday at the Nagoya church was similar to our Sunday at the Osaka church, except with a lot of differences, ha ha! Matt, Mark and I walked from our hotel to the church office, arriving at 8:00am, yet somehow already sweating. Oh Japan in the summertime, why do you hate us so? But luckily the church office is well air-conditioned, so we spent some time there, cooling down and praying with the Mustard Seed staff and volunteers. We prayed for the people we came in contact with throughout the week, that they would be moved by the Spirit to come to church; we prayed for Andy’s message that it would be from God and would greatly impact all who heard it; we prayed that the music would go smoothly and would be a blessing to the congregation; and we prayed that a specific young man, who had been attending the church in the past but had unexpectedly stopped coming for the past month, would miraculously show up that day. It was a great time of connecting with God and fellow believers, who I somehow felt very close to even though we had only met a few days prior.
Next on our agenda was moving all the instruments, chairs, toys and equipment needed for church service. Just like Mustard Seed Osaka, the Nagoya church rents a building to hold their Sunday service in, which requires setting up and tearing down every single week. Similar to the week before, feelings of gratefulness and humility arose in me since at Knott Avenue we have the ability to leave all of our stuff in our permanent location. Nagoya has it extra hard because their office is on the 3rd floor, and stairwells are the opposite of air-conditioned. Needless to say, we were hot and sweaty servants of the Lord, ha ha, carrying large tubs and instruments down the seemingly endless flights of stairs. Mark was the standout of the group, and I’m pretty sure Mustard Seed wants to hire him as their official mover, flying him out from California every Saturday and returning him Sunday evening. Go Mark!
Much like the Osaka church, the Nagoya church uses a dance studio for their service. But the way they transform it, you would never even know what it was, aside from the walls of mirrors of course. The staff and volunteers did a great job setting up; it was obvious they had already solved any previous problems and now have a perfectly executed setup plan.
I helped Jenny lay out the foam mats in the children’s room, as she got everything prepped for her Biblical lesson for the kids this week. Then I proceeded to unintentionally break the instant water boiler used for coffee. Yes, that’s right, all I was asked to do was fill it with water, and somehow I ended up breaking the top to the point at which it couldn’t even open. After secretly asking Matt to help resolve the issue, to no avail, I sheepishly confessed to Jenny what I had done. The sweetheart that she is, she told me it was no problem and that it was on its last leg anyway. Way to go Jess. Luckily, eventually, some unknown hero, I think Will, was able to pretty much fix it. Needless to say, I will no longer be in charge of water filling of any kind.
At about 11:00, friendly faces, both known and unknown began to wander through the doors. The room was abuzz with peppy talk and laughing babies, and before we knew it, Jared and the worship band starting playing.
It was so uplifting to look around and visibly see that everyone who was there, truly wanted to be there. They were excited to be in the house of God among believers, though many of them not yet believers themselves. Everyone, including us, felt like we were part of something special and wonderful.
Jared, the worship leader, was kind enough to ask Matt and me to sing a duet for the congregation. Although nervous, I felt blessed to be asked, as it was such a unique opportunity…singing for a church plant in Japan! Believe it or not, Matt and I rarely get the opportunity to sing duets even back home, maybe just a few times over the past 7 years, so I was excited for multiple reasons. Lyndsey was kind enough to capture the song on video to keep as a memory for us and to share with all of you.
The worship was full of powerful, beautiful songs, and the congregation really seemed to connect with the music. I will say though, the Japanese are not so much into the clapping, so I had to clam down my normal tendencies to “raise the roof” a bit, ha ha! Here is a clip of Jared and Viviane singing, as the amazing worship band plays along. I could really get use to hearing praises to the Lord in multiple languages, so darn cool!
Looking around the room, I soon realized that God answered prayer and performed two specific miracles. One, he brought a young man that had heard us singing at a street live earlier this week to church! That’s crazy! A guy who knew nothing about Jesus or Christianity, sees us on the busy streets of Nagoya, singing songs in a foreign language, talks to some of the team, gets info on the church service, and COMES! He was able to hear the Word of God, preached by Andy, that day! He could very well become a Christian, share the Good News with other Japanese people, and spend eternity with our Heavenly Father! What a miracle!
Second miracle was that God brought to the service the guy we have specifically prayed for earlier that morning – the one that had not been to church in over a month. He just walked through the door, like Jesus himself had escorted him there. Awesome, just awesome.
Andy, with the help of his amazing translator Naoya, preached a great message that day. He focused on the story of when Jesus healed a woman who had had a crooked back for 18 years.
The religious officials reprimanded Jesus because he did “work” on the Sabbath. Andy explained that while it is important to obey rules and guidelines given to us by God, we must be careful not to expect people to follow rules created by men, even Christian men. We must constantly check ourselves to ensure that what we condemn others for are truly God’s rules, and not just our own opinions or traditions. This is an important thing to remember, especially as we are engaging with people from another culture. Are we expecting them to be American Christians, Protestant Christians, or just followers of Christ?
Just as at the Osaka church, the congregation hung out for about an hour or so after service. Unlike most American churches I’ve attended, no one was in a hurry to rush off to somewhere else, not because they weren’t busy, but because they saw the community that church brings as one of its main draws.
As mentioned before, many of the people who attend are not believers, but they continue coming back because they enjoy the people and are interested in understanding what makes these Christians so joyous and kind. It was wonderful to meet lots of new people and be able to chat with many of them as, lucky for us, the majority spoke English.
Although Japanese people seem even busier than Americans, for this 90 minutes, everyone was eager to relax, eat, laugh and enjoy community with one another. It was beautiful.
After church about 25 of us, yes 25, meandered down to a local Indian Curry House. Our group took up an entire room, and we all feasted on curry and unlimited naan. Mark even ordered a dessert naan filled with chocolate and covered in melted white cheese. I think I thought it was good, but it was such a foreign taste combination to me that I couldn’t be sure.
Later, Mark, Matt and I wandered around downtown Nagoya and stumbled upon something completely random, Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. No, we weren’t imagining things, right there in the middle of downtown is a small park, called Central Park, and it has its very own replica of our Walk of Fame back home.
Apparently, back in the late 80s, the LA Mayor and some important Nagoya guy decided that Los Angeles and Nagoya would be known as “sister cities” from that day forth. So random! Now we’ve got to go looking for the Nagoya dedication site somewhere in the streets of LA!
Oh, and one of the greatest parts about Sunday was that Jay from the Osaka church told us that Sadako had attended church again this week! Remember Sadako was the lady we met at the language exchange who miraculously came to church after we invited her and the guys got to pray with her after service. Well she came again this week and spent more time after service talking to the Mustard Seed staff! Such exciting news!
Monday was pretty much a day of packing, window shopping and traveling home. The highlight was the unexpected time we got to spend with the Henke family. Even though it was their day off, they graciously guided us around the shopping district and accompanied us to a very Japanese authentic lunch…pizza, ha ha!
It was a wonderful time of winding down and continuing to get to know one another. Gosh, and that baby Micaiah is such a sight for sore eyes. I miss him already.
In the afternoon we met up with Hideki, one of the members of the Nagoya church. He so generously offered to escort us to the airport. Now that sounds nice, but it was much more than nice when you realize escorting us entailed a 45-minute train ride each way, costing $20, waiting in the check-in line for an hour, eating dinner in the airport for an hour, and watching us make our way through security. Oh, and all the while rolling around my pink-checkered bag for me. What a guy, what a guy.
It was wonderful to have him there, and so indicative of our trip experience and the heart of Mustard Seed. Hideki spent half a day with us, just because he wanted to! And did I mention he worked the night shift and got off just hours before? You all would LOVE Hideki, and hopefully we can convince him to come visit us one day so you can meet him!
Well the time came to say goodbye, and we were flying from Japan to Hawaii. As soon as the plane took off, Mark said goodnight to me, and I was out. Eight hours later we arrived in Hawaii, had some lunch, and boarded our flight to LA. Matt and I have been in Hawaii together 3 times now, but not one of those times have we left the airport, ha ha! Another 5 hours of sleeping and we were finally back home. Mark’s friend Ali so kindly picked us up from the zoo that was LAX. The rest of the evening was a blur but I know it involved french fries and the Olympics, which were finally in a language I could understand.
Needless to say, it was the trip of a lifetime. In the next week, once I’ve recovered from jet lag a little more, I’ll blog about my trip reflections.
You guys reading this are the best, and it means a whole-heck-of-a-lot that you’re taking the time to care and pray about what I care and pray about. Give yourself a big hug from me!