Saturday, August 6, 2016

Friday, August 5th - Some More Thoughts So

Dear Loved Ones - It's Friday, August 5th, 11:45PM.  We've been home just two days now yet Japan seems so far away.  I've begun driving on the correct side of the road and haven't made any blunders.  If you saw the photos from the mission, you probably saw the one with the women in kimonos.  Hisako, from the Sendai church, helped each of the gals get ready, one by one.  She did their hair and got them fitted in their outfits.  They looked great.  The guys were just wearing shorts and t-shirts - we were able to get ourselves ready.  We just had to remember to button our pants and pull up our zippers.  We then went to the site of the festival, expecting maybe 150-200 people.  But there were over 500 people, I believe, when we got there.  A stage was set up for people to perform from and we were the third group to perform.   The first group was about a dozen boys, about 10 years old who danced and sang like pop performers you would see.  I'm glad we didn't have to follow them.  Next up was a group of about 12-15 seniors.  They sang a few songs and then it was our turn to perform.  We sang two songs, and with my fading memory, I can't remember the first one we sang.  Tsuguru accompanied us on the guitar for the first song and then we sang "Amazing Grace" a cappella.  Even without Hiroko to help us out with her wonderful singing, I think we sounded good.  The man who is in charge of the community center near the church also seemed to be in charge of the festival.  I think that's how we got the invitation to sing.  You just never know what God will use to touch the hearts of people, so maybe even our singing can be used by Him to reach out to people.
     Some people have asked me whether I would prefer to go back to Chino or Sendai if given the opportunity to return.  Of course, I haven't been asked yet.  Before going to Sendai I said I'd like to go back to Chino. Now, having gone to Sendai, I don't know.  I shared that with the people of Sendai - that they were just as wonderful as the people of Chino.  And then, just to make things even more unsettled, Hajime and Sanae Yumoto from the Chino church came to the Haneda airport to share dinner with us and then see us off to return home.  Seeing them brought back many wonderful memories of the people from Chino.  Going back to Japan - Chino or Sendai....I don't think that is a decision for me to make.  It is up to God and will be made by church leadership whether I ever go again.  It has been such a great blessing to go to Japan six times and be part of a mission team.  But we really do need new people to be part of these teams, younger people than me and Koby.  We need different people to have this experience so our church body will grow and mature in the area of outreach and missions.  I say this every time I return - please give serious thought to joining a mission team in the future.  The work we do is critical in a land that is less than 1% Christian - but you will also be transformed by the experience.  Thank you very, very much for taking the time to read this blog.  I hope that it has given you a sense of what the mission has been like and will encourage you to consider missions, also.  Thank you for your good wishes, financial support, and especially your prayer support.  God bless you and be with you always.  Love, Don  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Back Home Safely

Thursday, August 4th, 11:30PM.  We arrived home safely yesterday and received a warm welcome from about ten people from Crossway and the South Bay churches.  Although it was sad to say goodbye to the team members, it was good to be reunited with loved ones and to spend the night in my own bed.  I've been battling a cough for the past 5 days or so and won't be writing a long entry tonight.  I'll give you a few more photos from mission - I hope you enjoy them.  Love, Don

The ladies on the team dressed for our singing at the Sendai
community event.  

Students and families from EEC enjoying the Taco Party.

Sharing testimonies with the Onogawa survivors of the 2011

Shizuka trying her hand at archery 

A team picture at Matsushima Bay - considered 1of the top
3 scenic spots in Japan.

Singing at the Sendai festival.

Picture taken from the pulpit - the lest side of the morning
worship service.

The right side of the congregation at the worship service.

I'm going to close for now.  My cough is acting up and it's time to go to bed.   I'll write more about the mission next time.  God be with you.  Love, Don

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Wednesday, August 3rd - Our Last Day in Japan

Dear Friends and Loved Ones - It's Wednesday, August 3rd, 8:30AM.  Yesterday, after a day of sightseeing, we returned to the Sendai church to eat the bento we bought at the train station, went to the onsen for the last time, and went to sleep for the last time in Japan.  Today was a luxury as we don't have to be ready for breakfast until 9AM.  After breakfast we will take the Shinkansen into Tokyo for a final day of sightseeing and shopping.  Our flight leaves Haneda at about 12:05AM, Thursday morning.  As I've shared in the past, we'll arrive at LAX on Wednesday.  I should cross the International Date Line more often to gain time on my life.  The trouble is, I'd have to cross it a few thousand times for it to make a real difference.  There are only 5 of us left at the church from the mission team now, and I dearly miss the presence of the other team members.  We were blessed by God in the people He chose to come to Sendai this year.  So much has happened since we selected the team in March, conducted planning meetings, and finally made our way here in July.  As I've said before, we come here with all of you standing beside us.  You have given us your spiritual, emotional, financial, and especially your prayer support.  We could not be here without you.  I will have more to say after we get back to the states, and I will post photos to let you see some of the people we've met and interacted with, events we have participated, and places we have gone.  Until that time, may God be with you, protect you, and bless you as He has done for us.  Love, Don

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tuesday, August 2 - In Aizuwakamatsu

Dear Loved Ones - It is Tuesday morning, August 2nd 5AM, and the remnants of the mission team are in a hotel in the city of Aizuwakamatsu.   There are five of us traveling together and sightseeing.  Yumiko and Charlie Chen, from the Crossway Church, joined us Sunday morning in time to worship with the team.  Danny gave his testimony and the team shared a song we sang at EEC.  Two children who attended EEC were there to help present the song with its dance movements.  I then gave the morning message.  You know these people have great trust in God when they allow me to stand before them and speak for 20-30 minutes.  But it is always a great blessing when I'm allowed to share with my brothers and sisters - whether it is 20 minutes or 20 seconds.  Because I don't have the Bible knowledge of Shizuka, who gave the sermon last week, my message was more of an extended testimony.  After the service, the church members gave us a going away luncheon.  Just like the welcoming luncheon last week, we sat at four clusters of tables - with church members and mission team members sharing lunch and spending time in conversation together.  At the end, we went around and everyone shared some thoughts about EEC, the mission team, and other personal thoughts.  It is always wonderful to hear from the church members, and it is always an emotional time for the team members to say thank you and goodbye to our hosts.  After the luncheon, Kumi, Tsuguru, Rhemus & Mielee were taken to the train station to take the Shinkansen (bullet train)  to Tokyo.  Tsuguru has lived in Japan this past year to attend college and has been interning at a church there.  He is already back at work assisting Aiichiro-sensei there.  Sensei was the one who drove the seminary students to Sendai to work together with us for EEC.  Mielee and Rhemus have reunited with their mother, Hiroko, and relatives.  Hiroko left the team after EEC ended to join her family in mourning the passing of her sister and to attend the funeral service.  She received news of the passing last Wednesday, during EEC.  In a letter, Hiroko gave me permission to share this information with you.  It is still heartbreaking to think about HIroko, Mielee & Rhemus and the loss of their loved one.  Please keep them in your prayers as they grieve and go through the healing process.  When the team left Sendai yesterday, Lauren stayed behind to join Yumiko to travel in Japan to connect with missionaries our church supports and to visit with pastors/churches that might be possible mission opportunities for the future.  Lauren and Yumiko represent our church's Missions Committee and serve as wonderful ambassadors for us.  It feels so strange to be in a group of only five people now.  But we are very blessed to have this opportunity for rest and relaxation - to sightsee and do some shopping to take gifts back home.  After sleeping on a futon for eleven nights, the mattress provided welcome support for these old bones last night.  After sightseeing today, we will go back to stay at the Sendai church for the night and then take the Shinkansen to Tokyo to do our last sightseeing until we leave from Haneday Airport just after midnight.  I don't know if I'll be able to write you again from Japan - if not, the next post will be from my Northridge, California home.  I'm going to take a short nap before joining my teammates for breakfast in the hotel lobby.  Danny, Koby & I shared one room last night, with Monica & Shizuka sharing the other one.  Thank you for covering us with your prayers and love for the past two weeks.  It will take time to process and reflect upon all that has happened - and I will not attempt to do it now.  God be with you forever and ever.  Love, Don
P.S. - I will send more photos later.        

Sunday, July 31st - Photos

Dear Friends and Loved Ones - Sunday, July 31st, 9:40AM.  I'll try to get some photos out to you while we have a break until the worship service.
The Sendai Community Center - about 4 houses down from
the church.  Bible Lessons, Crafts & Games were held here.
It was also the sleeping quarters for the men.

The Sendai Church with flags up for EEC.  The English class
and Music were held here.

The back of the sanctuary - the posters of the various events
were made by Tara Chiu of the Crossway church.

Another view of the sanctuary.

This was our caldron for the Olympic Flame.
We had a great lighting ceremony - with
cellophane  flames rising up from the caldron.

Kumi & Hiroko presenting a lesson in Bible Class.  They're
sharing the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho.

Monica & Danny presenting an English lesson.

Tsuguru & Shizuka leading the singing in the Music class.

Koby, Danny & Mutsumi on "Crazy Hair Day".

Masa on "Crazy Hair Day".

Four of the ladies from the Sendai Church.  

Koby & Don with Kawasaki-sensei from the
Chino church.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Saturday, July 30th - Taco Party

Dear Loved Ones – It’s Saturday, July 30th, 5:30AM.  The time has flown by and now we’re down to the last two full days of serving in Sendai.  There is great joy for all we’ve experienced and how God has been able to use us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ – but there is a sadness growing in me that our mission is almost done.  Today we will have a “Taco Party” for the children who attended EEC and for their families.  This will start at noon, so after breakfast we will be busy getting ready for that.  In the evening there is a community festival and we will participate by singing two songs.  Our time for sharing is brief, but pray that God can touch hearts even through the singing of these songs.
  Yesterday we traveled to Onagawa, a community hit by the massive earthquake and devastating tsunami of 2011.  We met with seven people at a community center there.  Most of them were elderly women as the younger people were at work.  A young women with her 10-month old son also attended.  Koby and Lauren shared their testimonies of how they came to know Jesus Christ.  We pray that they will help in the eventual salvation of these dear women.  As we were driving into Onagawa, Nakada-sensei was describing and explaining the extent of damage and destruction to the area.  It is still hard to believe and imagine this seaside community is a place like those I saw in news videos five years ago.  Many new homes and businesses have been restored and replaced and there is a newness to many areas.  It is always nice to have new buildings, but they lack the warmth and sense of history that makes a place unique.  These women were neighbors before the tragedy and continue to be neighbors in their new homes.  I would imagine that their camaraderie has been very important in the slow and painful healing process for them.  It was a wonderful blessing to spend time in conversation with these women.  One of them brought a couple of plates of Hoya clams for us to eat – very tasty.  They have a different taste from clams I’m familiar with in chowder.  They are salty since they are washed with seawater to cleanse them.  The leader of the community center came by as we were leaving and he had a sack with some of these clams.  They have a single shell, shaped like a lemon with no apparent opening.  There soft shell is similar in color to a lobster.  I may have hesitated eating the clams if I had seen them earlier.  I later learned that the plates of clams would have probably cost over $50 – a very generous gift from these women.  During the conversation time we were able to share treats of shaved ice and cotton candy with them – having brought the machines to make them from the Sendai church.  After finishing with them, we went to nearby Matsushima to do a little sightseeing.  The bay there has a hundred small islands and is considered on of the top three scenic areas of Japan.  It is too bad we didn’t have time to take a boat excursion to view these islands.  We walked through the grounds of a nearby temple where a lot of work was being done.  I learned that the tsunami had left a lot of salt behind and steps were being taken to repair and restore the soil.  When planning the activities for this mission, Friday was set aside for relaxing and possibly sightseeing.  Visiting Onagawa was a great way to spend the day.  I’m going to be wrapping up this entry.  We have to clean up the room we stay in at the community center – putting away our futons and bedding and taking our luggage up to the church.  The center is being used by a group to prepare for the festival today.  Thank you again for your continued prayer support.  All is going well as the people from the Sendai, South Bay and Crossway churches have grown closer with each passing day.  May God watch over you and bless you.  Love, Don

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Friday, July 29th - Onagawa

Dear Friends and Family – It is Friday morning, 4:45AM.  As I look back at the entries for this blog, I must apologize for not giving more details about the activities nor giving you a heads up on the things you can pray for.  I got up early to try and make up a little bit for that.  Today we will be traveling to Onagawa (?) to visit people who were impacted by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.  This is a site of temporary housing – but apparently all the people have moved out of the temporary homes and are now in permanent ones.  This place is 2 hours away from the Sendai church and we will go to meet with some of these people to share time with them.  Koby and Lauren, I believe will be giving their testimonies to them.  We will also spend time talking with them and making shaved ice treats for them.  Nakada-sensei has shared with us that Christians are the only groups to respond and serve them from the time of disasters.  Other religious groups did not initially respond with aid and support, and the non-profit groups have departed after a couple of years.  But it is the Christian organizations that have been there from the beginning and are still there now.  Because of that, people see something different in us and have been more willing to look into Christianity to see what makes us different.  Unfortunately, as time has passed, the biases and pressures against us are returning as people go back to the religions and beliefs of their families and countrymen and are less willing to be different.  So we go out today hoping to share the love of Jesus Christ with those still open and wanting more than what they have trusted and believed in the past.  Pray for our visit today, that we may express the hope, confidence and joy that the salvation of Jesus Christ brings us.  But more importantly, pray for the churches that have sprung up and the missionaries who have moved into this region, that they will develop the long-term relationships that will bring lasting changes to lives of these people.  After our time there, we will spend the rest of our time doing a little bit of sightseeing.  Tomorrow, Nakada-sensei will be conducting his English conversation class with children again, and we will support him by having conversations with the students.  After that we will get ready for the “Taco Party” we are having for the children who attended EEC along with their parents and families.  We are buying the fixings from local markets and Costco.  I am very interested to see how authentic we are.  But of course the food is secondary to spending time with these people – but it never hurts to have tasty food to share with them.  In the evening we will go to a local festival which we will actually participate in.  Various groups will sing – and so will we.  We will only have about 10 minutes, but pray that God is able to use even that short time  to touch the hearts of people.  Sunday will be our last full day here in Sendai.  We will participate in the worship service – Danny will share his testimony and I will give the message.  Pray that our sharing with them will encourage them to continue strongly in their faith and good works.  The women members who have served alongside of us during EEC and have been preparing our meals are such marvelous people.  After serving at the church in Chino for five years, I was afraid that the mission this year would not be the same as previous years.  I was wrong.  Please thank God for Nakada-sensei, his wife and daughter and for all the members of the Sendai church – they have served us with  great hospitality and generosity.  There were only about 15 people attending their worship service last Sunday, but it seems like most of them have had a hand in taking care of us and volunteering for the EEC program.  I hope we can continue to come to Sendai for many years to come.  It’s 5:30AM now and I’m getting a little tired.  I’m going to take a quick nap before our 7AM prayer meeting.  I hope to get photos for you to see in the next blog entry.  Thank you for your prayer support during this mission trip.  I hope you can sense the impact they have had on our activities and relationships with people; how they have kept us safe and healthy; and how they have given us great encouragement and kept us focused on our Lord and Savior.  God bless you as we have been blessed in Sendai.  Love, Don