By Dwight K. Nelson
To view a brief summary of my day of rest before the long return trip home, please click on to the photo gallery for snapshots of a rejuvinating day with two vans full of college students. Somewhere Jesus invited us, "Come apart" before you fall apart. Today was the perfect day for that. Enjoy the snapshots. And be a bit envious of how the day ended--I'm still basking in that relaxation.
Kondo sensei, the campus pastor, handed me a sheet of names when we met this morning with this written report: "At least 24 non-Christian students put a mark on Question 2 [I would like to bury my past and rise up to new life in Jesus through being baptized as He was] in the Thursday morning decision card." So that clarifies his phonecall last evening that I reported in the journal entry below. He also notes this morning that at our Friday evening meeting 3 more students indicated they would like to be baptized some day--and the Sabbath morning decision cards have yet to be tallied. Plus his written report indicates five more non-Christian students indicated on the decision card they would like to talk with someone about this decision re baptism. So God has abundantly answered our many prayers in guiding these students to their decisions.
But we must now pray just as intentionally for God to fulfill the Philippians 1:6 promise: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus." The preaching of the gospel (the sowing of the seed) is but the first step in Kingdom expansion. Hence the necessity of our personal intercessions for Japan, these students at Saniku Gakuin College, and all the efforts across the nation here to lead lost people to their Savior. What God starts, He finishes. Which means the best is yet to come--as it always is--when you're talking about Jesus. God bless you all. See you soon, if you live in the same village I do. And again, thank you from the bottom of my heart, as the Japanese would say.
PS--a reminder that if you click on any picture in the gallery (from my Instagram page), you will be able to read my comments regarding that partiular photo.
Sabbath, May 19, 6PM JT
As the Sabbath draws to a close here in my guest room apartment on the Sankiku Gakuin campus, it's a joy for me to put "pen to paper" and log a journal entry on the last day of this short but intensive evangelistic series. What an experience this has been for me--and what a blessing to have a small army of prayer partners who have unselfishly devoted extra intercession time to pray for Japan and this college and the advance of the everlasting gospel to this great unreached people group. My reciprocal prayer of gratitude this Sabbath is that God would pour back into your life--in the currency of His Kingdom--a super bundle of blessings for your unselfish ministry! Thank you.
The good news is the day started out dry, and the better news is it stayed dry all day long despite forecasts yesterday that had predicted foul weather. Cars and busses from all over Chiba prefecture (prefectures are small state-like governing administrative units throughout the country) arrived on campus for the ten o'clock worship celebration in the gymnasium (see photo gallery) and the outdoor baptism and lunch and afternoon concert that followed. My friend, Masumi Shimada, the Japan Union Conference president (we grew up together--forgive me if I've already stated this somewhere in one of these journal entries--I'm too lazy right now to go back and read them all over again!), told me this afternoon that they counted 775 Adventists, guests and students in the morning event in the gym and Granger Hall, an overflow livestreaming site for elderly worshipers. (May I insert here that it continues to bless me as I am reminded again and again how solicitous this society is toward its elderly. The Japanese aged remain until their dying day--generally--very much in the warp and woof of societal and familial life. Public transportation designates seating for them. And the high regard displayed [as in this case the setting aside of overflow space easily accessible to the aged] in Japan are an admonishment to us in the West who revere youthfulness and celebrate independence--honor your grandpas and grandmas "that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.")
It was my joy to preach on the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the eleventh and final piece in this campus series. Before the sermon the joint choir (Saniku middle school and Saniku college students) sang a beautiful arrangement of "Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let It Begin with Me)." My translator, one of the pastors in this prefecture, did a masterful job (as did the other four translators who stood up and preached with me through the week). It is my opinion that translators are the Spirit-guided preachers who deserve to be remembered long after the visiting foreigner preachers have left the country. Because no matter how well or how poorly the guest preacher does, the communication event is what transpires between the translator and the listeners. So I say, God bless them every one.
One of the reasons it is such a joy to preach the soon coming of Christ is the tonic it provides for my own soul. As Peter expressed it, We have not followed "cunningly devised fables" (as the KJV renders it) but we have "the prophetic message completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:16, 19 NIV). It stirs my soul to recall with the listeners the indicators Jesus gave as harbingers of His return--political, ecological, economic, moral, psychological, societal markers that indicate the unraveling of humanity's hold on this planet and the approach of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And for our natural tendency to dismiss these indicators with the aside--"everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4)--there is the provocative Chris Martenson illustration of geometric progression/compounding we humans tend nearly always to forget (https://www.adventistreview.org/voices-dwight-k.-nelson). The last five minutes are what catch you by surprise.
Once again through the decision card we made an invitation to guests and students alike to carefully weigh God's call to follow Christ through baptism. And with the final Amen, the entire convocation stood and moved out of the gym, up the winding road to the campus proper high on that hillside, where the Granger Hall (campus church) outdoor baptistry was already surrounded by family and friends awaiting the baptisms (they announced 16 baptisms from the area churches--none of which were the students who chose this past week to be baptized---whose baptisms will naturally follow in pace with the individual's personal preparation [spoiler alert--the pastor just called me and mentioned that the 38 decisions for baptism included students who were already baptized and probably, he said, simply wanted to reaffirm the decision they had already made--moral of the story--don't count count chickens that have already hatched!]). Again, please view the photo gallery.
In the photo gallery you will meet Jairong Lee, the former president of the NSD (North Asia Pacific Division), headquartered in Seoul, Korea. (The NSD consists of Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan--and as Pastor Lee has reminded me over the years it is the largest populace of all church divisions now with 1.6 billion of the human race in these four countries!) Pastor Lee himself conducted one of the Maranatha 18 Japan evangelistic events not far from the college, and so he and his wife were part of this day of celebration.
The afternoon concluded (at least for me) with a concert of student choirs and ensembles from the three Saniku campuses. Japanese are music lovers, as we all are, I suppose--and they artully combine western (eurocentric) music with traditional ancient melodies and lyrics (in both concerts and hymn singing).
I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to God as I made the long walk down back the hillside to my apartment. Whenever you begin one of these evangelistic series, you simply have no idea how the series will proceed and eventually end--such is the adventure of preaching. But when it ends, as they always do, there is a quiet sense of gratitude that steals over you, along with an surrender of it all back to God. For, as Jesus reminded us, the mystery of soul-winning is truly divine: "'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how'" (Mark 4:26-27). Or as Paul put it, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
And that's the way it should always be. "But only God." Which is why I thank Him for you, for drawing from your heart the very prayers He needed, in order to do the very work He promised to do and will yet do for His glory alone. Amen.
Friday, May 18, 9PM JT
It's hard to believe this Bible Week is just about over. Each day the sun has risen at 4:30AM (the room gets light at 4:00--and please don't ask me how I know that's the case!), and each evening the sun has set at around 6:30PM. And as a typical campus, life is what's crammed in between. But I was surprised to discover on this Friday afternoon that the campus had multiple work teams (students and faculty) scurrying over the grounds, the flower beds, the building hallways and class rooms fulfilling their weekly pact with the college--namely that they will invest Friday afternoons beautifying the campus in anticipation of another Sabbath. Check out the photo gallery for a few snapshots of some of the teams at work. I try to imagine what it would be like at Andrews University if every Friday afternoon faculty and students joined together to dress the campus up for another Sabbath--that wouldn't be so bad, would it?
Thank you for your extra prayers this morning (Thursday evening for you), as we plunged into the Bible teaching death. The church was packed--the Saniku academy down in Hiroshima sent its senior class to campus last night and they were seated in the back rows of the sanctuary today and this evening. Japan actually boasts a culture of death, thanks to the Shinto religion's animistic (spirit) emphasis. The deceased's spirits are honored in each home with a makeshift shrine high in the living room's upper corner. Gifts of food (I remember as a boy seeing little Japanese oranges--miikan--arranged before the small shrine) are offered there for the ancestors. Shinto priests are pivotal to Japanese businesses, coming into the business and performing litrugical acts that connect with the kami (spirits). It is a culture of death. And as I've noted before, the enemy of us all has clutched this society and land in his irongrip of deception for centuries.
So the prayer cover this morning was essential. And praise God, your prayers were answered. I awakened early (again), sensing my own need for God's intervening wisdom in dealing with this sensitve subject in a way that would no demean the ancient heritage of this people but yet reflect the uncompromising frontal challenge Scripture thrusts at Satan and his deceptive modus operandi. I finally in prayer told the Holy Spirit it would be best for Him to simply take immediate charge and fulfill His promise (Exodus 4:12; Luke 12:11, 12) to give direction "on the spot" (NLT) as I began to speak. And praise Him, that is precisely what happened. We opened with a powerful documentary I came across several years ago featuring a beloved teacher and his class of 10-year olds. The teacher equips his young students with the skill of journal keeping. And each day or week he selects three students to read from their journals. While the cameras were rolling, one boy (who had been absent for four days) got up to read about his grandmother's death. The documentary is subtitled in English so all the students and faculty could clearly follow the teacher and students dialogue. What happens while you watch is a wave of sympathy and mutual sorrow over death sweeps over the class. Children begin to cry and stand up to speak of their own losses in death. It's one of those stunning moments when the reality of death in the Japanese culture reveals its inability to comfort the mourners. The loving teacher tries his best, but all he can offer are sincere but hope-less expressions to the children who are now crying all around the classroom. You could have heard a pin drop in the church sanctuary this morning. In fact, a young woman near the fron began to cry, and you could hear her. I had debated whether or not show that video as an opener, and was leaning to NOT, when the Spirit countermanded that decision and enabled the sound team to put that video in place in a matter of half minutes. I realized immediately that it was the right call.
So when you pray long distance, you may not always have any sense of how your prayers are intersecting with reality half a world away--but trust me, your prayers made a signal difference this morning. And because we began with that 8 min video, I had to on the spot ad lib where in my notes to go next--and I couldn't be jumping around back and forth with my powerpoint--and so I called out the next verse, the next slide to a sharp young theology major sitting by the laptop, and he found that particular slide and switched to it without any slides being jumped over back and forth on the big screen. Another answer to prayer. And the Holy Spirit wove that talk back and forth in my manuscript, with me never looking at the manuscript at all, but instead holding the eye contact of that crowded sanctuary. Praise Him! I was able to challenge Shinto's spiritism and Buddhism's reincarnation teachings in the context of the biblical evidence in a way that was direct but non-offensive. All the while the Spirit the back and forth, melding content and supportive biblical corroboration seamlessly (in my humble opinion). You were praying--He was answering--and the translator and I were speaking. And God blessed! So bless you once again--and thank you.
This evening was one of my favorite teachings--"A New Way to Pray"--and the students and adults there seemed to connect with it right away. Have any of them reported on God answering their "prayer" challenge to Him to "show up" in their lives? Unfortunately I neglected to invite students to talk with me afterwards about their experience this AM, I was so preoccupied with the lesson at hand. I need to find a way to weave that into my final sermon tomorrow morning--an area-wide church gathering with 800 expected in the gymnasium (10AM JT Sabbath/9AM Friday ET). So please include that appeal in your intercessions over the next 12 hours.
The text that spoke to me this morning in worship was from David Bentley Hart's New Testament rendition of 1 Peter 5:8-9--"Your adversary the Slanderer prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom to devour--whom you must oppose . . ." It was that line "whom you must oppose" that was tonic to my soul, reminding me (and all of us) that Christ does not call us to a life of wimpy non-resistence to Satan. We "must oppose" him without equivocation. We, of course, are no match for his wit and brute deception--but we are allied with the Supreme Master of the universe who in a split second can reduce the enemy and his minions to writhing, helpless, inoperatives. We have nothing to fear--as Ellen White once commented: "Tell [Satan] of the blood of Jesus, that cleanses from all sin. You cannot save yourself from the tempter's power, but he trembles and flees when the merits of that precious blood are urged" (5T 317 emphasis supplied). This morning, in answer to your prayers, that is precisely what we witnessed. And all the powers of hell were unable to mute the clarion testimony of Scripture regarding humanity's most baleful enemy, the devil and death. So take courage--no matter what life is turning out to be right now--your Angel Companion and the Holy Spirit are more than a match for any thrusting attack the enemy may launch today, or tomorrow, or ever. And keep praying. We will meet once again at the Throne of Grace. Amen.
Thursday, May 17, 9PM JT
Two major Bible truths in one very full Thursday--that's the summation of today on this campus. Baptism in the morning, the Sabbath in the evening. And in between putting together powerpoint presentations for tomorrow's two subjects. And in between all of that the arrival of the General Conference president, Ted Wilson, and his wife Nancy this afternoon. As I mentioned previously, the Wilsons are conducting an evangelistic series next door to the Tokyo Adventist Hospital and are wrapping it up this Sunday evening. This was his first visit to Saniku Gakuin College, and the campus was pleased to host our church leader. The tour of the campus and the subsequent supper in the cafeteria gave us a chance to visit (click on to photo gallery)--and I appreciated even more the peripatetic ministry the president of our world church has in keeping in touch with the far flung outposts of Adventism globally. People naturally are drawn to the president, and I watched his and Nancy's disarming and humble way of interacting with those who very definitely wanted to converse with him. It would get wearying, one imagines, this life of constant travel--but it is essential, I suppose, to keep in communication with the world church's very diverse expressions and needs. The Wilsons certainly need our prayers.
The challenge of communicating with this predominantly non-Christian audience at Saniku hasn't lessened over the week! This morning's teaching on baptism was a vital one, but challenging given the "unfamiliarity" of the subject to many of the listeners. But I am grateful for the faithful prayer partnership so many of you are providing mainichi (daily) and often times several times during the day. Bless you and thank you. While I wasn't sensing it though praying for it while I talked to them, the Holy Spirit moved on the hearts of these students. The pastor, Koken Kondo, gave me the decision cards after lunch. And we both came to the same tally, and are praising God for the 38 decisions that were made this morning to follow Jesus and be baptized as He was. In a culture like this one, such a decision is not an insignificant or inconsequential decision (not that it ever is)--but here in Japan it represents a huge counter-cultural sort of conviction and commitment. So please join me and the others on the evangelistic team here in calling upon God to stand by these lives that have made the first step to a full-orbed life with Jesus. They have responded to the Spirit's appeal--now we must pray them through to His life of active discipleship with Christ. But it is fitting we take time to rejoice before the Lord for these vital intial decidings.
"I have many people in that [college]" we hear Jesus assure us (Acts 18:10). Thus may many more yet respond to the abiding truth, The Maker of all things loves and wants me.
Yesterday l somehow connected with Jesus' Thursday night promise in a way and on a level I had never done before--"'The Father Himself loves you'" (John 16:27). If the entire planet could get hold of this profound pronouncement that the Supreme Ruler of our sprawling universe personally loves us--and if it truly sank deep into our human consciousness--how could anyone possibly be the same again? I am convicted more and more that our primary focus with this fractured and unmoored generation needs to be from the locus of the relentless love of God for us. "The Father Himself loves you." The Maker of all things loves and wants me. No matter how we choose to phrase it, there is redeeming and transforming power unleashed through that reality. And while Billy Graham did wonder aloud at times if the preaching of the judgement yielded higher numbers of decisions, I am still convicted that the love of God remains, as Paul so eloquently expressed (Romans 8:37-39), the prima facie grounds for all evangelistic appeals. "The Father Himself loves you." How could it possibly get any better than that?
Thank you once again for your unceasing prayers. This Japan mission is truly your own. May you be blessed even as you are a blessing.
Wednesday, May 16, 9PM JT
Today was a major day--preached on the great controversy narrtive this AM and then this PM shared my story ("The Story of My Two Births"). Woke up a little later than the previous mornings--but still earlier than my alarm--and ended up in a time of earnest intercessions. The burden for this country and these kids was heavy on my heart--and knowing Who carries the same concerns exponentially heavier on His heart, it may sound kind of weird but for that reason I find prayer seasons like this morning especially vivid and meaningful. Be that as it may, I felt I needed to alert (by email) our Pioneer team of intercessors (House of Prayer and GROW Group members) to be praying for the morning session. And I'm grateful they/you were.
I personally found the presentation more difficult to communicate than the previous ones have been. In fact, I remarked to the translator after the service, it felt to me like I wasn't connecting with the students--Japanese students are not necessarily the most facily expressive listeners--but it seemed this morning that I was connecting with them even less. It was hot, the sun shining into the chapel, etc. But I was surprised when the translator remarked that he had sensed the very opposite. He said something to the effect of, "Couldn't you tell they were totally engaged in the lecture? They were leaning forward and concentrating." No, I couldn't tell. But I did breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude to God. Over the years I have come to generally expect the public treatment/exposure of the Enemy and his modus operandi to be met with distractions either with the listeners or with the speaker or both. So I praise God for the professor's evaluation.
What matters, of course, in public evangelism is the measured/empirical response of the listeners, in this case through decision cards handed to everyone entering the chapel. Yesterday morning, in our Calvary and salvation presentation, the decision was to receive Christ as personal Savior. The campus pastor, Kondo sensei, gave me a tally later that afternoon that 24 students had indicated their decision to receive Jesus as Savior--praise God! He did note that while all 24 are not members of our faith community, not all 24 were necessarily non-Christian, since they do have some Roman Catholic and Protestant students here as well. But we rejoice in their response nonetheless.
PRAYER ALERT: Tomorrow moring (Thursday 8:50AM JT/Wednesday 7:50AM ET) is the presentation on baptism. Please be praying that God will impress the students that are ready to make a decision to follow Christ in baptism. Pray that they will understand the appeal and the implications of the decision--and pray that Satan, who would keep them from so radical a decision, will be held at bay during the Holy Spirit's convicting work in our midst. The Bible begins with an altar call--"Adam, where are you?"--and ends with an altar call--"The Spirit says Come!" So we can be assured God is very much up to the appeal that will be made on His behalf tomorrow.
They announced today that Ted Wilson (and Nancy) and Masumi Shimada, the union president, will be dropping in on the campus tomorrow afternoon--and so I hope I'll have chance to visit with him/them while they're here. The Wilsons are at the hospital church conducting their own evangelistic series (Friday through Monday evenings). All of us gaijiin (foreigner) evangelists are ending our various series this weekend.
Let me end with this potent promise that was part of my prayer time this morning: "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city'" (Acts 18:9-10). I like the "dont' be afraid" part of the promise for sure. But it's that "I have many people [on this campus]" part that spurs me on. As I was sharing the story this evening of nearly losing my life twice in the waters of the same mountain lake Nojirii (once by a near-drowning at the age 3 and again by skiing head first into a cement post at 10), I reminded us all that in fact were the Enemy to have his way, none of us would be alive right now. He has been a murderer from the beginning--and killing all of us would be his great delight. But there is a God in this universe who has kept every single one of us alive to this moment. That reality alone gives profound meaning to our existence right now--we are alive because God loves us and chooses us to live. That fact is certainly true for the 70% of the 200 students here who are non-Christians. So for Jesus to declare, "I have many people on this campus" is hardly stretching the truth. Which simply means that our shared mission in Japan--you through your praying and me through my preaching--is securely founded upon the deep and abiding love God has for "My people" (Revelation 18:4). Then let's not give up on a single soul God has marked for His salvation--over here or back at home--for we may be the most effective avenue God has available right now to lead that life to the Savior. Amen. And Good Night.
Tuesday, May 15, 9PM JT
Today was a full court press for God--but again, thanks to your prayers, we made some significant advances. Learned today that the regulars on campus were surprised with the turnout last evening, saying they had not seen that many students show up for an evening meeting before--for which I and we can be grateful. If the number of cards turned in (the greeters at the doors hand out both the decision card and a smaller memo card [see photo gallery] on which students can write comments and ask questions) are any indication, there is strong interest in what we are sharing morning and evening. The pastor and I went over the memo cards and decision cards after lunch today--and you can get a feel for the responses by checking out some of the memos in English that were handed in. Note the messages in the photo gallery that refer to the 6-day challenge to God asking Him to reveal Himself to them. "I will try the 6 days challenge," one student writes. "I'll ask God for six days," another writes. I rejoice with those responses in English, since I can't read the stack of cards in Japanese. Pastor translated and printed off a full page of their questions, which we went through this evening before the lecture began. Bottom line--from the student responses it seems that God is getting through to them. And I praise Him for that!
Today's two lectures were both on the cross (salvation and forgiveness). Tomorrow morning we move into the great controversy motif and introduce the Author of evil and suffering as an explanation for a world created by "the Maker of all things who loves and wants me." Several of the student memos asked that I share my own story, so I'll be preparing a more testimony driven talk for tomorrow evening--and link it with my quest for prayer, so I can share with them how they, too, can connect with Kamisama through journaling/emailing God, et al. One of the questions this evening asked, "If I hear the voice, where to start talking with God?" (as it was translated for me). I.e., what do I do if God shows up and what do I say to Him? Which is a wonderful question to be asking. Tomorrow evening's personal testimony and how to pray talk addresses the vital next step for pagan/non-believing students who accept the challenge, reach out to God, and now begin a running conversation walk/talk with Him. It's a whole new paradigm of thinking and lecturing for me--but I find myself rejoicing in the middle of the day for the privilege God is giving me to be here at this time in the nation's history with the phenomenal challenge/opportunity of helping Heaven raise up a new young army of spiritual warriors for Christ! My young pastor translator this evening--Joseph Duarte, whose father also pastors here in Japan--told me that the new first year students in nursing and theology have surprised the college in the level of spiritual engagement they demonstrate, whether believers or not. So it is a privilege for me to be able to be here as this new chapter unfolds for the college.
After the morning chapel, I was invited to speak to the theology majors in their weekly Tuesday morning chapel as well. Preached a YES CAN DO message about attitude in the context of evangelism--used the story we shared the other Sabbath at Pioneer, 1 Samuel 14's narrative of Jonathan and his armor bearer against the enemy fortress--and God's signal victory in response to their YES CAN DO determination. What triggered that theme for my time with the theology majors was a line I read this morning in Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest: "May God not find the whine in us any more, but may He find us full of spiritual pluck and athleticism, ready to face anything He brings. . . . We are not here to dictate to God; we here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. . . . broken bread and poured out wine to feed and nourish others" (136). I love the YES CAN DO spirit of those words. Knock off the "whine" to God--and become "wine" for God. It's His mission, afterall. And what a privilege for you and me both to be joined with Him in His undertakings. Amen. And good night.
Monday, May 14, 9PM JT
As the Japanese say--o kagesama desu--which essentially means, "thanks to your kindness and graciousness"--which is an appropriate way for plunging into this first day of evangelism report from the campus of Saniku Gakuin College. Thanks to your many and faithful prayers, God got off to a good strong start today--for which I am grateful. Church (which probably seats 250-300--see photo gallery) seemed full this AM as we launched our "Hope Trending (Japan)" series. My opening two messages today were not from the Hope Trending series we had at the HPAC in 10/16, but instead focused on setting up two realities: (1) the relational paradigm for knowing God (one you're familiar with if you hang around Pioneer much), and (2) the 6-day challenge to those who do not believe in a supreme Being (Kamisama) to ask Him--if He exists--to reveal Himself supernaturally to them sometime during these 6 days of "Bible Week." I made the invitation both in the AM and in the PM meetings and noted that the listeners were very attentive to this challenge. As it turns out I was eating in the cafeteria with two of the nursing students and Pastor Kondo (see photo gallery)--Nana is a one-year old Christian (baptized last year) and first year nursing student and lights up the place with her cheer and enthusiasm--her roommate Kaya in the pix is a 3rd year nursing student and calls herself a seeker. In fact she brought up the "challenge" from the AM meeting and shared her testimony that as she has followed the way of life this college represents she has found herself sensing the presence of God. I quickly assured her that in fact that is one of the ways God reveals Himself to us--as you go about seeking to live life as He invites you to you will sense His partnership and presence with you in that life.
Andrew McChesney, former Adventist Review assistant editor and now editor for Global Mission (GC), was here this evening. He's been covering Ted and Nancy Wilson's meetings in Amanuma (the Tokyo SDA Hospital church) and brought greetings from them--he's also been with Bob and Audrey Folkenberg down in Osaka--and with Ron Clouzet down in Okinawa, He was particularly intrigued with the "challenge" that I repeated this evening and wants to know what kind of response we will have from that appeal. Naturally, you and I are just eager to know how God will respond to honest hearted seeking and calling after Him. I invited the people to share their experiences with me along the way. So I hope you will join me in making this a matter of earnest prayer, asking God to do as He did with the pagans in the book of Acts--reveal Himself through "signs and wonders."
I lectured some of the theology majors after the morning session today in their evangelism class (as per the professor's request). And I'll speak to all the theology majors tomorrow after the Bible Week morning session at their usual Tuesday chapel assembly. I learned today that in fact Saniku only offers two majors--nursing and theology. So the entire student body falls into one of those two vocational pursuits. That certainly makes it simpler for trying to connect with the students--they are either future nurses or future pastors--both of which are admirable callings.
Thank you for your intercessions. I believe God has gotten off to a good strong start--and I'm eager to see what He will do in the unfolding hours of this very full week. Whatever you do, please don't cut back on your prayer time for Japan and Saniku Gakuin. We need a divine full court press across this country and certainly throughout this campus. After all, God's promise is just as true for pagans as it is for us believers: "Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3).
Then forward on our knees.
Sunday, May 13, 7PM JT
Today was a day of preparations and prayers for the 8:50AM launch tomorrow. Ran a 5K through the rice paddies and nearby village this morning, in hopes my battle with jet lag might yet be won. 70 degrees and sunshine--perfect for the run. But the afternoon turned gray and rainy. Met with the campus pastor, Koken Kondo, here in the guestroom, going over the powerpoint translations he has produced for the morning and evening tomorrow. Shared with him the profound Japanesque promise in Jeremiah 16:19-21. His face lighted up with wonder and a smile--it was as if he were reading it for the first time! ""This is a promise for Japan," he exclaimed. "We consider ourselves the people who live at 'the ends of the earth'!" And is there a nation more focused and preoccupied with its ancestors, whose spirits are placated in every village and hamlet? "To you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good'" (Jer 16:19). A divine promise of the day yet to come when this nation will renounce the false gods of it ancestors! Moreover, God Himself will step into this history: "'Therefore I will teach them--this time I will teach them my power and my might.Then they will know that my name is the LORD'" (Jer 16:21). What a profound promise for Japan!
We are gathering at 9:00 this evening in the church (they call it Granger Hall--after one of the first missionaries to Japan) for a time of last minute preparations and prayers. "Seirei no Kamisama, kitekudasai!" (Holy Spirit, come please!) Please pray that prayer with me and us. This is now His hour.
PS--we now have pix related to these journal entries--click the photo gallery icon above--then click the Instagram photo for photo description.
Saturday, May 12, 8:30PM JT
It was a beautiful Sabbath here in central Japan--blues skies, sunshine, all that makes this land so picturesque in the springtime. Got up at 4AM so we could make a 2.5 hour journey by car (a small Honda, if you're curious what Japanese drive!) north to the Saniku campus of the Saniku Seventh-day Adventist middle school (grades 7-9) in Ibaragi prefecture. I learned today about our Adventist church school system here in Japan: we have multiple elementary schools (grades 1-6) up and down the nation that feed three Saniku boarding middle schools (grades 7-9) that are feeders for a single Saniku academy (grades 10-12) down in Hiroshima that in turn is a feeder for Saniku Gakuin College where I'm staying and preaching this coming week. Judging from the two campuses I've seen on this trip, these schools are exemplary educational institutions that are popular with families of no religion or any religion and are able to offer tuition rates that are lower than other private schools in the country. Students attending the pre-college campuses are dressed (as they were this morning in church) in white shirt/blouse uniforms with navy blue skirts and blazers and matching red and blue striped ties. You had no trouble spotting where the students were seated this morning in worship!
The church (identified on campus as the Green Church given the color of its roof) is a modern western style worship place, with padded pews and a pipe organ neatly arranged in the sanctuary--with this added unique Japanese feature--all worshipers remove their shoes in the foyer (genkan) of the church. Greeters were cheerfully on hand to welcome us for Sabbath School, handing out printed worship bulletins, and assisting us with worship slippers that are provided for all. Our shoes removed and placed in a large wall rack of shoe compartments, we entered the sanctuary to a Sabbath School program and worship service you'd feel quite at home in attending, except of course for the language that sounds so foreign to foreigners!
If you're wondering how much of my homeland's language I still recognize/comprehend, the answer is less and less. As with all languages, knowing key words enables you to follow the drift of the speaker's thoughts. So I'm able to pick up the gist, but unable to fill in the blanks. So I've been praying this time, as I did back in January when I met with all the pastors of the Japan Union, for God to "reverse the curse." (Jacques Doukhan in his commentary on Genesis, in expanding the Genesis 11 narrative of the Tower of Babel, notes that at Pentecost God reversed the Babel curse of language proliferation and confusion.) And little by little familiar words are becoming recognizable.
God blessed with the worship service sermon this AM, and I was grateful for the students' attentive and engaged expressions. Preached on one of my favorite themes for the young--how to find a forever friendship with God. My translator, Yuto san, is a theology major here at the college--and told me that Japanese youth are not used to responding to appeals at the end of the sermon. So I ended the sermon this morning with a "raise your hand if you want to grow a friendship with Kamisama (formal name for God)" invitation, and was grateful for the young hands that went up as soon as the translator rendered the appeal in Japanese.
So thank you for your prayer partnership. The mission goes intensive Monday morning at 8:50 JT--and will remain in high gear morning and evening (7PM) through the week ahead, culminating in an area-wide joint service on Sabbath morning. Your pre-event praying is vital not only for the preacher but for those who will be sitting through each service. Remember--the morning chapels are required of all college students and faculty (non-Christian and Christian/Adventist), but the evening lectures are voluntary (which is the same at Andrews University during weeks of prayer). So please pray that non-Christian students and faculty will attend both daily sessions.
Pastor Rodlie has organized prayer sessions via telephone to coincide with the morning and evening meetings here at Saniku--he may say something this morning in his sermon about those "phone meetings"--but in case you miss his announcement, I have an email from him with the call-in phone number: (646) 558-8656--meeting ID 760 997 0615. The times are 8PM ET (beginning Sunday and continuing each evening) and 6AM ET (beginning Monday and continuing each morning). Whether you pray on line with others or pray alone, thank you for your prayer partnership in this mission. My psalm for the day this morning included this promise for Japan: "What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples" (Psalm 77:13-14). To which we all can declare, AMEN.
Friday, May 11, 2018 8:30PM JT
For those of you who are used to reading my weekly Fourth Watch blog entries (at this website), please note this humble caveat. The entries here in the Japan Journal won't be crafted like a blog, but rather will reflect a diary/journal sort of entry--namely a brief recitation of the day's events, some musings and reflections, and/or perhaps a word from Scripture to anchor this day's experience. Many of you have committed to a daily (some even twice daily) intercession on behalf of what they are calling "Bible Week" here at Saniku Gakuin, a Seventh-day institution of higher learning. And trust me--I am grateful for everyone of you who are prayer partners in this evangelistic/Kingdom venture. I trust these journal entries will help inform and focus your praying on behalf of the students at this college, for Japan, and for me.
I was visiting with the college president, Dr. Higashide, this evening after vespers, and he reaffirmed the figure I'd been given--70% of the college students are non-Christian students from the wider Tokyo metropolitan area (population 35 million) as well as from Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island. In both Tokyo and Okinawa the two Adventist hospitals, called S A Bioin--literally "S A [SDA] hospital"--enjoy strong and positive reputations. (I can attest to that reputation, since I was born in the Tokyo hospital!) It's because of these two medical centers that many of the college students on campus are nursing majors.
I met this morning with some of the theology majors I'd gotten to know back in January when I was here. They are an enthusiastic band of campus leaders and seem very much committed to the "Bible Week" that begins on Monday. In fact one of them spoke this evening at vespers, and did a bang-up job preaching on the theme of Jesus' offer of salvation in the light of His soon return. It was a faith rewarding moment for me when he chose to include (though he didn't know it) my opening theme text next Monday morning, Jeremiah 29:11. Further, he invited students who aren't sure there is a God to reach out to Him over the next week--again (though he didn't know it) I will be making that very invitation to open my series of lectures, appealing to the students who do not believe in God to open up their minds to the possibility He exists, by asking Him to reveal Himself to them sometime during the week.The synchronicity of the Holy Spirit (His behind the scenes coordination of events, thoughts, public appeals--unbeknown even to us in the midst of them) is such a reassuring reality, isn't it?
Speaking of synchronicity, I was delighted to discover that my Bible reading plan for the year (a new plan my friend Derek Morris introduced me to several years ago--the Robert McCheyne plan [you can google his name for a year's calendar of Bible reading]) directed me to read Isaiah 9 this morning. And there it was--verse 2: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned" (NIV). You may recall Matthew records this verse near the beginning of his gospel to introduce the ministry of Jesus (4:16). For years these words have struck me as an apt spiritual diagnosis of the people of this land. Because truly "a deep darkness" has pervaded this island nation for centuries. The Japanese novelist and Roman Catholic, Shusaku Endo, wrote his highly acclaimed book Silence to recount Christianity's martyred entrance into Japan in the sixteenth century. "Deep darkness" has ever prevailed across this country. But here is the ancient divine prediction (certainly appropos to Galilee in the time of Christ) that promises a dawning light one day even in places of such utter darkness. For me it is God's promise for Japan. "I am the Light of the world," Jesus still declares (John 8:12). And Desire of Ages responds: "The whole world is brighter for His presence" (p 47). Then shall we not together place our fingers upon this promise in Isaiah 9:2 and call upon the God of the universe to unveil the light of our Lord Jesus and shine upon these islands of the sea such penetrating glory and truth that by the thousands the Japanese people will turn to the Savior of the world. What a profound promise for this opening day in Japan!
And so I say, wherever in the world you are right now, let's together claim His promise. After all, we know that "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). And we know the need in this land could not be greater. So let's move--forward on our knees--together. Amen!
Tomorrow morning I'll be rising at 4:00 so we can make the 2.5 hour drive to the Saniku (the word means "three fold"--as in mens, corpus, spiritus the Latin motto for Andrews University describing the three-fold union of body, mind and spirit the Bible describes) middle school campus (an academy for 12-16 year old students). Their choir will join us for the final Sabbath here on this campus, and so they wanted me to preach to those young (again dominantly non-Christian) students this Sabbath. So thank you in advance for your prayer cover for this assignment. The good news is the Gospel is very good news no matter how young or how old you are--and I'm honored to appeal to these students to choose Jesus as Lord and Savior and Forever Friend.
Thursday, May 10, 2018 7:45PM JT
Eureka--it works! This is the first time I've set out to keep a daily (hopefully) journal that is immediately uploaded to our Pioneer website. Richard Parke, our media ministries director, gave me a tutorial on Tuesday on how to pull this off from a foreign shore--and behold, it works--thank you, Richard.
I'm sitting on the side of the bed here in my guest room on the campus of Saniku Gakuin--my bags are unpacked--and I'm looking forward to crawling into this bed shortly. It's Thursday morning at home at Pioneer (13 hrs behind JT) around 6:45--which has made this a 24+ hour day. A day that began with a bulletin from United Airlines indicating Chicago traffic was being delayed because of severe weather (thunderstorms). But God be praised, the weather lifted and my SBN flight to ORD was only a few minutes delayed. It was a short connection in Chicago, but the good news is my suitcase made the transfer with me. The 12 hour flight was just that--long, but the sun was shining in all its glory over the afternoon landscape of the Land of the Rising Sun when we landed. A young man, an employee of the college, met me outside of immigration a few hours ago and drove us both to the campus.
He is a gracious man in his late twenties, I'm guessing, and he knows less English than I know Japanese. And so it was a hoot trying to communicate together through the two hour drive--my childhood Japanese kicking in for key words, but both of us resorting to gestures, synonyms we know in the other's language, until finally the right word was mutually agreed upon and celebrated by us both! He was a good sport through it all.
The tambo (rice paddies) are flooded with water, as they have been through the centuries, at this time of year. We drove through miles of them. Remind me to show you a picture I took from the plane window before we landed--the afternoon sun glinting on square patches of water as far as the eye could see. (The skinny green shoots that are the rice plant are individually planted by hand by farm workers who with rubber boots wade through the already flooded fields, bending over the waters, and plunging the green shoots into the mud beneath the water surface--rows and rows forming thin green grids that will ripen by summer time into waving grainfields of rice, the staple of the Orient.)
Tomorrow I'll figure out how to upload pix to these journal entries--and then you'll be an eyewitness as well--an eyewitness of what we have all been praying will be a mighty revelation of God to this campus that is 70% non-Christian. As I reflected on this mission at 39,000 feet a few hours ago, I thought about Daniel and his prayer and fasting in Daniel 10. You remember the story well. Three full weeks (thus on a Sabbath) into his prayer offensive, the 2nd Person of the Godhead appeared to Daniel in a spectacular theophany--you can read the details there. But what came to me as I brooded on that divine revelation was the remark Gabriel subsequently made to Daniel after the pre-incarnate Christ appeared to him. "I would have been here sooner, beloved Daniel, but the Prince of Persian 'resisted me twenty-one days,' until Michael joined in the battle and I was freed to come in answer to your prayer" (see Daniel 10:12-14).
Could it be that Japan, like ancient Persia, has suffered under the dark dominion of the same prince who leads "the powers of this dark world . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12)? Is there a being heaven knows as the unlawful Prince of Japan? Then what Japan needs today is what Persia desperately needed long ago--the appearance of Michael, the apocalyptic King of Angels, Himself on the battlefield of contested souls. And that is why we have been earnestly praying--you and I. "Deliver this Land, mighty Michael--deliver this ancient people (one of the most homogenous people groups on earth today), O mighty Christ!"
That you are still praying--and will continue to relentlessly pray with me over these next few days--blesses my soul. The forces are arrayed across these islands and even this campus--but praise God--"greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). With hope, courage and faith--let's press close to Him over the hours before us--you there and me here--and He with us both, with us all--AMEN.
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Here are a couple of trending headlines to share with you before flying to Tokyo. In Japan right now trending up is the pollen count, but trending down are the children.
Japan's renowned cherry blossoms have been in glorious bloom now since April. But while the world revels in their stunning pink and white splendor, the economic impact on Japan is no trifling matter—$1.8 billion "because of pollen-induced allergies" (www.money.cnn.com/2018/05/04/news/economy/japan-hay-fever-economy/index....). According to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist with the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, "The damage comes in several forms. . . . Fewer people want to go out, which hits consumption, and workers suffering from hay fever take more sick days. Or if they do show up to work, they're less productive. And 2018 is looking like one of the worst years on record for hay-fever sufferers in Japan. The pollen count in some parts of the country has more than doubled compared with last year" (ibid).
But trending down for the Land of the Rising Sun is the child count. According to The Japan Times: "The number of children in Japan fell for the 37th consecutive year to yet another record low, signaling that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to combat the low birthrate are still wanting" (www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/05/04/national/number-children-japan-fall...). In fact comparing 32 countries with a population of 40 million or more, Japan is ranked the lowest in terms of the ratio of children (a child is defined as a person aged 14 or under) to overall population (12.3%). Lower birth rates are the harbinger of a dwindling work force and sagging economy. This past year Japan's child count dropped another 170,000.
In all candor the church in Japan faces a similar challenge. The number of "second birth" or "born again" members is dropping. And the outlook is glum. But "glum" is a human attitude, not a divine perspective. In fact I believe God's stunning YES CAN DO perspective for reaching and winning new children for His Kingdom in Japan (and throughout the world) is over the top! How else shall we explain John's vision of all the saved in heaven one day (we pray soon): "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9).
Did you catch that? The number of the redeemed from earth is so high no one can count it!
I say we take courage from this stunning portrayal of God's saving love for His lost earth children—He is going to save us by the tens of thousands of millions. And those numbers will include Japan!
So on the eve of my flying to Tokyo for the upcoming full-court press evangelistic series on the campus of Saniku Gakuin Adventist College (where 70% of the 201 students are non-Christian pagans, to put it bluntly)—I earnestly solicit your prayer partnership on behalf of all the evangelistic series and preachers across the islands of Japan this month. Put your finger on God's promise: "Therefore in the east [Land of the Rising Sun] give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea [Japan]" (Isaiah 24:15). "Sing to the LORD a new song . . . you islands, and all who live in them" (Isaiah 42:10). How the Savior longs for the day when Japanese voices will join that innumerable throng in singing the praises of our Redeemer and God!
Look—if the "pollen count" in Japan can go up, why can't the "pollen count" of the Holy Spirit and His contagious "everlasting gospel" go up as well! Of course it can—it must. So we must pray—pray as we have never prayed before for God's supernatural release of (1) the dark lord's iron grip upon that land and (2) Christ Jesus' penetration throughout that society. Let the ether be filled with His life-giving "pollen." And our prayers.