2015 and Beyond!

(Pictures below)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Genesis 12:1-3

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16

He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

– John 21:6

We think it’s time to cast our nets on the other side. Instead of trying to pull people into the church, the church needs to get into the community. It’s difficult to disciple folks you don’t respect. It’s difficult to love those you don’t know (and sometimes difficult to love those you do). So how do you get to know them? You get into the community. How do you get to love them? You spend time with them. How do you learn to respect them? You listen to them. As you read the following report, we hope you will see how these ideas characterize our ministry.

2015 and Beyond!

It has been another full and rich year here in Ishinomaki, Japan. Many thanks to those of you who supported us financially, in prayer, or with a visit in 2015! Here is a look back followed by a look ahead:

Looking Back:

Our asset-based community development work was featured on national TV, and is being picked up by the broader Japanese Christian community. Nakamadatcha (the group we formed) put the local community back on the map–literally–and is working toward building a roadside station (think trading post, farmer’s market, upscale truck stop). I served as president of the kindergarten PTA. (This year was our kindergarten’s turn to lead the regional conference, so I was sort of the president of presidents and got to rub shoulders with a bunch of kindergarten principals and some politicians.)

I began work on a Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Formation and Missional Theology at Lipscomb University (distance program). And I collaborated musically here in Ishinomaki with a local big band and a traveling folk musician, and led a small gospel singing group (the self-styled “Merry Heart Singers”) for a total of around 50 performances. I also fit in a few stints as a baseball broadcaster for the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles.

We hosted an international team of interns for about 6 weeks. Three were from ACU’s World Wide Witness program (Japanese, Nigerian, and United States), and one was from Bolivia. (Ikumi, Ivan, Josh, and Violeta, you did a great job!!)

Michiko renewed her teacher’s license, was a member of the planning committee for the local Gospel (Music) Festival, was invited to participate in the Come Before Winter leaders’ training to prepare for hosting the conference in 2019 or 2020, acted as my agent/manager, and served as vice-chair for the local neighborhood children’s club. She also helped connect a local group of craftswomen with churches in Sapporo, the United States, and Canada, worked closely with the Nakamadatcha Map Committee, was instrumental in the cultural presentations featuring our interns, and took care of a host of official paperwork that comes our way on the Japanese side.

Michiko was closely involved with a family that have a blind son due to premature birth, and had a second premature child this year. She helped with their daily needs, medical communication (including translation for interaction with doctors in the States), taught computer skills and even did some graphic design for their business. She is a core member of the moms’ communities at both the kindergarten and the elementary schools. She kept our family healthy, fed, and educated, and even got in a few games of badminton.

We spent the first half of the year doing house church, then the second half partnering with a conservative, non-denominational church plant in the area. We were blessed to see our good friends Tani-san and Yamaguchi-san make the decision to put on Christ in baptism. And we enjoyed the presence of Tsubasa, a young Christian lady who has boarded with us since April. Tsubasa works in our neighborhood at a day service for handicapped adults and the elderly, and she is preparing to enroll in a distance program for advanced Bible study.

Our kids are now 10, 7, and 5. Hijiri, our oldest son, enjoys Lego and Meccano, drawing, soccer, and playing with friends. He loves learning, but is not so hot on school (I sympathize). Minori, our daughter, started grade 1. She enjoys piano, drawing, and school–both the studying and the social life. Shiori, our youngest son, enjoys snuggling, playing with cars, trains, planes, and has a kind of on-off relationship with kindergarten. All three kids are bilingual, although Shiori prefers not to speak in English. Please keep our kids in your prayers as we make our upcoming transition (see below). English itself won’t be so much of a challenge, but literacy will–especially for our oldest as he makes the transition in grade 5.

Looking Ahead:

We would like to announce, with great excitement, and many mixed emotions (including a large share of sadness and some trepidation) that I have accepted a ministry position at the Calgary Church of Christ in Alberta, Canada. We first learned of the opportunity in May of last year, which led to a long and bumpy process of discernment. We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our many loved ones here in Ishinomaki. And we are a little scared about making another huge transition. But we are also very excited for the opportunity to work with a great church in a great place. I will be helping the church particularly with worship preparation and leading, and with community engagement in an inter-cultural environment. I’m looking forward to being able to give back to the church in Canada. And we believe this is an opportunity God has provided for our family’s health and spiritual welfare. I will begin work in late February, then return to Ishinomaki for final farewells, the 5th anniversary of the disaster, and to help move the family over at the end of the Japanese school year in March. We plan to fly out around March 28th.

We’re not done with Ishinomaki, though. Our priority is first to exit well–to be good stewards of the many relationships God has granted us. And we look forward to follow-up trips to continue to make inroads in the community here, to connect and heal the Christian and non-Christian communities, and to share our faith. Our family will return in June so I can perform a friend’s wedding. It will be a weekend trip for me. Michiko and the kids may stay longer. Michiko is planning to return again in the fall to take part in two conferences–presenting about asset-based community development at the 6th Japan Congress on Evangelism, and taking part in the second leaders’ training for Come Before Winter. Nothing is set in stone, yet, but we are considering a first follow-up trip in 2017. Please stay tuned for details.

We will still be on missionary support for January and February. After that, if you are interested in continuing to support our work in Japan, funds will be pooled in a working account for follow up trips and related expenses. Again, thank you so much for your faithful support for the past five (or in some cases up to fourteen) years. May God bless you at least as richly as you have blessed us. You have been our food, clothing, and shelter, and have made it possible for us to walk alongside an entire grieving community for these past years–from clean up and goods distribution through to community development. You have made it possible for us to make God’s love known to our neighbors here. Thank you.

Come visit us in Calgary in 2016!

Strakers

Jonathan, Michiko, Hijiri, Minori, and Shiori

Strakerhouse on facebook (Tons more info and pictures here thanks to Michiko!)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 – From Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke 4:18-19

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