Thursday, January 22, 2009

Broken branches and fruit.

I guess I've been in an overly reflective state lately. Very likely due to the fact that I will be saying goodbye to this program in less than three months.

Today I was thinking, how awesome God really is. I mean, look at all He does for me. I mean, if you take a good look at me, what will you find? Maybe at the first look, I might look like a healthy tree (plant analogy, bear with me. haha yeah, pun intended.) But looking closer you can see that I'm covered in broken branches. I'm a mess. Literally. (seriously, I create messes wherever I go. It just kinda explodes everywhere.) But God hasn't started ripping off my branches, or pulling me out of the ground. Instead, he helps me bear fruit, on the broken branches.

I think it's really cool. Like showing off the work of a master. Just think, if someone gave you a sick, broken little bonsai tree, most people would give up and just let it die. But God, like a true bonsai master, can take that tree, examine it, and create something beautiful from that broken tree. Of course it might take years upon years, But it can happen. The transformation. It's like a miracle.

I kinda wrote some about this before, but I wanted to write more in detail again about the fruit that God has blessed me with.

So, I think most everyone knows how I am a fan of a local street band here. They play every weekend on the street and sometimes in live houses. I'm there as often as I can be. It's one place where I can just be me. I've learned so much and grown so much there.

But the whole time, I've always kinda wondered. "is this OK? Isn't this weird?" I've always doubted that it was a valid place for me to be and to spend my time and energy on. But I've never been able to leave it.

That was three years ago. Somewhere in the second year, this strange man showed up, listening to the music. It was in the summer, and it was lightly raining that day. At first he just listened from the back of the crowd. Then, after a few songs, he pulled out some maracas from his bag and started to play along with the music. Eventually, he talked some with the members and such.

The next day he was waiting for us at the "usual" spot. He began playing with the band up next to them. From that point on, the members just kinda accepted him. In the beginning, the fans kinda wondered about this strange man. He was at least 10 years older than the rest of the members, and he seemed a little... off.

I found out later that he was a teacher of Japanese at a Jr. High, but he had recently been suspended because of an anger problem. So soon everyone was calling him "sensei."

Eventually we began to get to know him, and we found out, he was a nice guy. He became an official member of the band. But he was still having problems at home in his marriage etc. Eventually he was allowed to return to work.

I didn't get to talk to him much, because of my bad Japanese, but I discovered that I liked this strange man who had just shown up out of the blue. He gave me some nun-chucks and even taught me a bit how to use them (he studies martial arts too!). Sometimes we would walk home after band together because we live in the same general area. We would be able to have good discussions then.

But while I really like Sensei, I never developed a deep connection with him. Then the next summer, something unexpected happened. I was helping a church member with an English camp she puts on every year. She of course knew about my insane love of the band. On the last day, we were talking a lot about it, and she decided she would like to visit the band. So she came with me one day. She fell in love with it as well. And she made friends with Sensei.

While she is far busier than I am, she still kept in contact with Sensei. They exchanged books (both having published one book each) and talked deeply on many subjects. She started giving him advice for his marriage.

Many things happened, and Sensei decided to leave the band. We did a lot of praying for him, and he decided that he would still keep in touch with the people he met there.

Recently things seem to be looking up for Sensei. His marriage is improving. etc. He seems a completely different person than when I first met him.

But the amazing thing was this Christmas. The church member also loves music. She decided to translate some English songs into Japanese and sing them in church. She asked Sensei to help her with the arrangement and playing. So they spent a lot of time with these songs. I also ended up asking him to play all the Christmas carols for my English School party. So this meant he attended 3 church services and my Christmas party. I had given a message in Japanese at the Christmas party, and he listened to it, and the next day told it to his students at school! (in much better Japanese, I'm sure.) He also started studding on his own so he would be able to understand the messages at church.

Two weeks ago, I just randomly found him in church. That day was a baptism. The next Friday I get an excited phone call from the church member telling me that he is thinking about being baptized! It all happened so fast!

There are a few things that have to be sorted out (he is the oldest son of his family, and has obligations to his mother that need to be worked out etc.) but he told me that he has already decided in his heart. So now it's just a matter of time. (I'll ask again for prayers for him during this time!)

But it's just amazing the whole process of events. Because really, I didn't do anything at all. I just did something I loved. I went to a street band. I loved them. I told other people I loved them. Everything else, was out of my control and influence. But it's clear that this would have never happened if I hadn't been at the band. So God was able to use my mere presence, to work change in a man's life. How's that for fruit? And the best thing is, it's so perfect, so beyond me, that I can't claim to have any hand in it at all. It's clearly God's working.

I'm so thankful that God used my presence here. It makes these past 4 years of my life meaningful. I mean I have loved my time here, but it's so wonderful to see what you worked for. I am content with knowing that God used me here.

God took a broken tree, and on one of those broken branches, you can now miraculously find fruit.


Friday, January 16, 2009


I remember being back in America, visiting, and someone would ask me, "so what is it you do exactly?" Even after working, and working hard, for two or three years I would have trouble answering that question. I would just kinda stand there and gape. "um, teach English mainly." was always the lame reply. But that's not what I came to Japan to do. I came for the church. I came to share Jesus with people who don't know Him. Well, that's what I thought.

Yesterday, we started an exciting new event. We are "borrowing" another missionary who has free time on Thursdays. She's going to come and teach an outreach focused class. It's free and half of it is a Bible study on the topic of the day. Yesterday we talked about "Future."

It was exciting turn out for me. Two of the moms came. They had both lived in America, and wanted a chance to use their English. It's amazing the difference you can see in people. I see both these women every week. Both have two elementary age children. And every Friday they both look like "moms," - tired, a little stressed, just trying to make it through the last day of the week. Yesterday I got to see them kid-free for the first time. What a difference. They were both so beautiful and happy being able to do something for themselves for once. I was glad to be able to see that.

But that's just a side note. The exciting stuff happened during the Bible study. After hearing one of the questions, one woman told us her story.

When she lived in America (Maryland) it was of course difficult. But her family was invited to a church there. The congregation helped them out, helped teach her how to drive in America, and were generally very kind. They never pressured this family to join the church, or accept their faith. The congregation merely loved this family.

Now the family has returned to Japan, but the kids still attend Sunday school, and the oldest girl is very interested in going to a mission school. Both kids seem to "love Jesus" as the little girl told me one day.

I was listening to this, and thinking how wonderful that church in Maryland is. THAT is the way mission should be. I've noticed that many of my students who are open to Christianity have been exposed to it before. So, I thought I was here planting seeds. Turns out, I'm just helping care for already planted seeds. (I'm back to watering again!) So this church, the members just loved their neighbors. Literally. This love spoke more than anything else could have, and now that mother is sitting in my classroom learning more about this God who loves her and her family.

This my friends is true mission. I'm not the "missionary" in this situation. The true missionaries are the people who reached out and gave love to this family. Look around you. How can you love someone today? Those are the seeds that people like me can tend later.

It's encouragement for me, especially at a time when I'm doing a lot of looking backwards, trying to figure out what I've done here for four years of my life. It's a bright ray of light, that my time, my effort, my watering, wasn't all in vain.

In other words please pray for "Showa." He's a former member of the band who has made a connection with one of my church members. I think he might be interested in learning more seriously. I really appreciate your prayers for him. He's a wonderful man. Pray for protection from any spiritual attack during this time and opening of his heart and mind.

God is good. I'm so blessed to see the evidence of that.