An update on our children

An update on our children

We’ve spent the last couple posts sharing about our burden and vision for ministry in Japan.  Going forward, we plan to focus primarily (though not exclusively) on what’s happening in our family, starting with an update on our children.

Calvin.  Our little guy is quickly becoming not little–he’s already well over 14 pounds.  He loves to eat, smile and baby talk.  He’s probably our toughest baby yet, having survived the loving onslaught of his older brother and sister for over two months now.

“I’ll go; send me.”
A boy and his Momma…yet sinners.

Violet.  Her middle name is Joy, and that is fitting.  She is a happy soon-to-be two year old who loves babies and always wants to “go to Caribou (Coffee) tomorrow.”  She can normally be found talking on your cell phone with her Grandpa and Grandma or putting your chapstick on her babies.

Violet went on a rare date with Momma to a beautiful garden by the lake.
A near-perfect glimpse into Violet’s personality.
Two of Violet’s favorite babies.

Ezra.  When Ezra grows up, he still wants to be a worker guy, and we think he will be a good one.  He has greatly enjoyed living in the Land of 10,000 Cousins (Papa and Nana’s house), where legos abound and naps are few.  He is learning to swim and can hold his breath underwater for 14 seconds.  Ezra understands well that we’re moving to Japan soon, though he wants to know if it’s a short or long drive from Grandpa and Grandma’s house.

Fun at the beach.
Ezra meeting a cow for the first time.  The cow was afraid.
Ezra brings every night to a close with 1) family worship, 2) reading two books while eating apple slices and 3) story/snuggle time.
When the front yard turned into a puddle, Ezra knew what to do.  Violet learned quickly from her big brother.
When streams of water flow from your boots…

Unreached and how we reach them

Unreached and how we reach them

In our last post, we shared why we feel burdened for unreached people groups.  More specifically, we feel a burden for Japan, the largest unreached nation in the world.  People are surprised to hear of the gospel needs in Japan.  In some circles, the work of missions has become synonymous with humanitarian work.  The popular picture of a missionary is someone who runs an orphanage, does community health, digs wells or comes into a country after a disaster strikes.  Japan is a well developed country, so why would they need missionaries?  That question is why we wrote our last post, and why we’ll continue writing this one.

We are not against humanitarian work.  I (Jamison) am of the belief that–in a shrinking world–wisely and generously caring for the global poor is one way to fulfill the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I simply want to point out that many of the good humanitarian activities that Christian missionaries take part in are not the distinguishing activities of Christian missions.  Non-Christians can do them and are doing them just as well, in some cases better.

The thing that makes Christian missions unique is Jesus Christ.  The work of Christian missions is making him known in places and among people where he is not yet known; worshipped where he isn’t yet worshipped; obeyed where he isn’t yet obeyed; loved where he isn’t yet loved.  In other words, missions is the work of “mak[ing] disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And, behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is nothing new.  The people of God have affirmed it since the Great Commission was issued some 2,000 years ago.  But, from time to time, history shows that we’re prone to forget, to lose sight of the work Jesus Christ has left to his people until the end of the age.

Let me be clear–we are not writing to lament the current state of missions.  We have total confidence in God that he will accomplish his work in this world, among all the peoples of the earth, as I recently shared in a sermon. We have a secure promise that the Lord himself will gather worshippers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  He will build his Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  The Lord has burdened himself with the work of rescuing sinners from the far corners of the earth.  He will do it; he is doing it even now.

God himself is the One who reaches the unreached, making the logic of passages like Romans 10:13-15a striking, “‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

In his wisdom, the Lord has chosen to carry out the work of reaching the unreached and discipling the nations, through those who go to preach and those who send them to do so.  The logic is inescapable.  The Lord has commissioned the work, promised to complete the work himself and then said he will do it as the gospel is proclaimed from by weak and frail people like us, who are sent by people like you.  That is how God has said he will reach the unreached.

He has also said much more.  To quote from PT O’Brien’s Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul, “Proclaiming the gospel meant…not simply an initial preaching or with it the reaping of converts; it also included a whole range of nurturing and strengthening activities, which led to the firm establishment of congregations” (pg. 43).  The activities of distinctly Christian missions are aimed toward the establishment of local congregations, not simply making converts.  Coming to Christ means being incorporated into his Body and its local expressions.

To go back to what we’ve already asserted, the thing that makes Christian missions unique is Jesus Christ.  And, Jesus Christ manifests himself to the world through his people.  Therefore, we aim to reach the unreached by establishing local, visible expressions of Jesus Christ.

In this age, the Church is imperfect, to say the least.  We are not blind to her shortcomings.  Yet, we dare not downplay her beauty either.  The Church is, after all, the Bride of Christ.  Wisdom would tell us to think twice before insulting a man’s wife.  The Lord did not consider himself above dying for the Church; he does not now count himself above dwelling in her midst and working through her.  If you care about people knowing and experiencing Jesus Christ, you should care about the work of establishing churches among the nations.

And, if you care about the poor, needy and destitute of the world, you should care about church planting.  Where else can people go to find Jesus Christ–the one who is full of mercy, who healed the sick, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind, drove out demons and defeated death?  No one loves the poor like Jesus loves the poor; no one has the power to help them like Jesus does.  He is the One both the rich and poor alike need more than anything else.  And, Jesus Christ has chosen to dwell in the midst of his people in a unique way and to carry on his work for this world through them.  Church planting, then, is a work of compassion–the ultimate humanitarian work–through which people come to be loved and cared for by their Savior.

We desire to see the country of Japan filled with healthy, outward-facing, Christ-exalting churches–manifestations of Jesus Christ, where the millions of Japanese people with depression can take refuge; where the one million young men who have locked themselves in their rooms can find freedom from shame; where the 30,000 who would commit suicide every year can instead find hope.

If you have the same desires, you can learn more about the ministries we will be supporting at Christ Bible Institute here.  And, you can learn more about partnering with us in the work here.

Unreached and why we care

Unreached and why we care

When people are really passionate about something, they don’t generally keep it to themselves.  Sports fans wear jerseys.  People put bumper stickers on their cars.  Others bring up politics wherever they go–birthday parties, weddings, funerals, etc.  Social media exists, and the masses use it.  Clearly, human beings are wired to express our love for the things we love.  Some more so than others.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out, our praise completes our joy–we haven’t fully enjoyed something until we’ve told others about it and have invited them into it.  There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of the time we want others to care about the things we care about.  And, though we’re reluctant to admit it, we’re saddened (or outraged) when they don’t.

How much more is this true when the thing we care about is not only a passing interest, but an essential reality to our very existence–something that if it were taken away from us, we would cease to be who we truly are.  So it is with Christians and Jesus Christ.  We exist “in Christ.”  If you were to somehow remove him, all that we are would go with him.  He is our Life.  Apart from him we can do nothing, and we are nothing.  When a person comes to know Jesus Christ in all of his beauty, love, compassion, wisdom, power and glory, it should come as no surprise that he or she would desire others to know him and to be burdened when others don’t.  We want others to have Life in Christ, forever.

An illustration.  This is an old, sad and true story from my previous work.

There were two children living in a secluded village in Sub-Saharan Africa, a boy who was about five years old and a girl who was two years old, if I’m remembering correctly.  Like many children in their area, they did not know their father and depended solely upon their mother, who was sick with HIV/AIDS.  When she died, they were left without anyone to care for them.  The five year old boy, now the caretaker, led his sister from house to house, looking for food.  After several weeks, the children–who were already malnourished while their mother was alive–looked as though they wouldn’t live much longer.  A woman from the village told them that they needed to go to an orphanage in a nearby town–it would be the only place where they could find food.

The pastor who ran the orphanage already had too many children to house and feed.  So, when the two newly orphaned children arrived, he regrettably turned them away.  An older orphan saw the little boy and girl turning back and begged the pastor to let him share his own food.  The boy set out to find them, but they were already gone.  The pastor, feeling guilty for having turned them away, went out to search.  He, too, was unsuccessful and for several days was weighed down by grief.  Two weeks later, he saw something lying in a ditch.  He bent down, picked up a lifeless body and saw the face of the two year old girl he had turned away.  She tragically, but not surprisingly, starved to death.  The pastor never found her older brother.

Now, I like to think every single one of us, if given the opportunity, would do whatever we could to give those two kids food.  The thought that there are children in the world who are starving to death is emotionally unbearable for anyone who is willing to actually consider it.  But, it is a reality.  On average, somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 children under the age of five die every day from hunger-related causes.

Though most people do not have the same emotional response, it is equally true and eternally more tragic that there are–according to conservative estimates–two billion people who will never have the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  The context of John 6 makes it clear–Jesus does for the human soul what food does for the human body.  As surely as food is needed for life, so Jesus is needed for eternal life.  People will eat and eat and eventually die.  But, if people eat the Bread of Life, they will live forever.  It is good to share food with the hungry; how much greater is it to share Jesus Christ.

The above story about the two children in Africa is an illustration of a spiritual reality for over two billion people in the world today.  They could go door-to-door looking for Bread that gives life and is Life, and they will not find it.  They will starve, unless someone goes to offer them Food.  We have the opportunity to do just that.  We have what they need, whether they know they need him or not.  His name is Jesus Christ.  We love him.  He is everything to us.  It is only natural that we want others to forever share in everything that we have in him.  That’s why we care deeply about unreached people groups, and that’s why we will, Lord willing, go.

Click Here to learn more about how you could help send us.  And, Click Here to read more about our burden for the unreached in Japan.


Calvin’s Early Days

Calvin’s Early Days

On May 21st, Calvin Boaz Pals came forth into the world.  He bears the name of a Reformer (John Calvin) and a Kinsman Redeemer (Boaz, from the book of Ruth).  We thank God for this little boy and the early days we’ve had with him!  May the Lord give many more days, and may they be joyful in Christ, fruitful for His Kingdom and eternal in duration.


With a birth weight of 9 lbs, 8 oz, Calvin has no lack of chubby wrinkles, to the joy of his father.


His biceps are a distinguishing feature.
Ezra meeting Calvin for the first time.
The first of many snuggles.
A new part of our morning routine.
“I wish he would wake up.”
In honor of Calvin’s birth, I’ve picked up reading The Institutes of the Christian Religion again.  Here is the boy’s introduction to his name’s sake.
Please pray with us for Calvin!

Father in Heaven,

You are our Maker and Sustainer.  There is none like you, no one who can do the works that you do.  We are in awe of how you create and sustain every life, from the tiniest embryo to the mightiest man.  There is no one who can draw breath without your willful action, no one who can keep his own heart beating, unless you do it for him.  So, it is fitting that we entrust Calvin to you.  It is our joy to do so, because we know you!  You are a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  You will not deal wrongly with our boy.

Work within Calvin that which is pleasing in your sight.  May he grow strong in body and mind, only to be exceeded by the strength of his heart–You, Lord–be the strength of his heart and his portion forever!  As he increases in years, may he increase in meekness and experience the fullness of its blessedness in Christ.  As he tastes the sweet joys of life in this world, may he see them as gifts from your hand and receive them with humility.  When he drinks of the bitter cup of pain that all must taste, may he learn to quickly cry to you for help and seek to right any wrongs.

May he be a man who knows well his own sin but does not despair, because he has a great Savior.  O Lord, may the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, be sweet to our boy from a young age.  May he find redemption  in Jesus’ passion, forgiveness in His cross, purification in His blood, newness of life in His resurrection, a rich inheritance in His Kingdom, fellowship in His Body, security in the sealing of His Spirit and great hope in the promise of eternal life.  May he draw a fully supply from the treasure of blessings that are found in Jesus Christ, always.  Do this and more for our son, that the glory of your Son might shine brightly through him in Japan.

We ask this with great confidence in Jesus’ name, Amen.

We are still in need of financial and prayer partners.  If you are interested in partnering with us and helping send Calvin to Japan, please visit the Partner with Us page to read an update on our current needs.



Connor and Preston’s Treat Stand

Connor and Preston’s Treat Stand

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” -Philippians 1:3-5.

We’re in a season of what most people call “support raising.”  We prefer to call it “partner development,” because it more accurately captures the reality that our ministry in Japan requires the participation of friends and family around the world.  You are our partners in the Gospel.  When you give, pray and support in practical ways, you’re entering into the work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in Japan.  Our role in the work is going; your role in the same work is sending.  For this reason, we–like the Apostle Paul–thank God for you, every time we remember you in prayer.

We were recently blessed by the creative sending efforts of two of our nephews, Connor and Preston.  On Saturday, they put together an excellent treat stand, donating 50% of their revenue to the work in Japan.  After taking a two-dollar order, Preston said, “One dollar for me; one dollar for Jamison and Kathryne.”  Praise God–that’s a beautiful picture of what many of you are doing for us…and for the joy of the Japanese people in Jesus Christ.

Saturday morning was cold, so Connor and Preston served coffee and hot chocolate.
We’re grateful for the support and for spreading the word to neighbors.


A good spread and art-work.
The salesman.
Great customer service.
The treat stand was a creative way to meet and serve neighbors, while also being a part of the work we’ll be doing in Japan.  

Thank you, Connor and Preston (and parents + Gavin).  And, thank you to everyone else who is partnering with us.  We know that you’re also working diligently and creatively to help send us to Japan, and we pray that “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”-Philippians 4:19.

Please click here if you are interested in joining with us in ministry.

Living in Transition

Living in Transition

Last week, we said “good-bye” to the house we’ve lived in for the past four years.  It’s a small, perfectly rectangular duplex that has always reminded me of a specific vehicle from Star Wars.  The first floor that we called “home” was much less than the advertised 900 square feet and was originally designed to house a printing press about 100 years ago.  The windows were so old that you couldn’t open them without showering yourself in paint chips, and it cost hundreds of dollars to keep the place from becoming unbearably cold in the winter.  The floors often squeaked loud enough to wake sleeping babies.  There was no bathtub, but there were lots of ladybugs.  The garage door could only be lifted by someone capable of squatting and pressing a couple hundred pounds, but the garage was too small to fit anything larger than a bicycle anyways, so it didn’t really matter.

But, it was our home, and, somehow, we will really miss this place.  It is, after all, the place where we brought home both of our children–the only earthly home they’ve ever known.  We will miss being three blocks from the Mississippi River and all of its trails.  We will miss mowing Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s lawn in the summer and shoveling their sidewalks in the winter.  We will miss playing in the sandbox and sink-hole with our neighbors.  Mostly, we will miss our neighbors.

We’ve come to learn that the life that we’ve chosen to live is one of constant transition.  As soon as you settle in one place and begin to associate it with “home,” you uproot and move onto the next place.  While this comes with obvious challenges (Violet cried and clung to the couch when we gave it to Uncle Chris, “My couch, Daddy!”), it also comes with a clear, sweet reminder.  It’s an object lesson to us and our children that this world is not our home.  You can and, to some extent, must settle in certain places for certain seasons, but we will not permanently settle in until Jesus Christ comes back.

Here is what Jesus says in John 14:1-3, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Our hearts are not troubled, because our Father has a house with room for us.  Jesus Christ is there now, preparing a place.  He is coming again.  When he does, he will take us with him, to be with him forever.  Then, we will put our roots down deeply and not take them up again. This is a home we can starting sinking our roots into now–we have a home that comes with us wherever we go, and we never have to leave.  His name is Jesus Christ.

Our house for the past four years.
Good-bye, furniture!
Eating without a kitchen table.
Napping without our couch.

We had lots of help with the move.  Thank you to all those who pitched in–Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, Ben, Malia, Joel, Lev, Lizzie, Moriah, Trevor, Scott, Brad, Eliot, the Foursome Fine Men’s Apparel truck.

Lots of friends helped us load the truck.
They worked quickly and joyfully.
We fit pretty much everything we own into the truck from Papa’s store.  
Our next transition–becoming a family of five.

Thank you for reading.  You can partner with us in ministry and help send us to Japan by Clicking Here.


A second proposal

A second proposal

In our last post, Kathryne shared a bit of her story, explaining how God led her to embrace the idea of moving to Japan.  We’ve received more comments and questions on her post than anything else we’ve written, so it seemed fitting to elaborate.  Over the past five years, there have been a handful of specific moments when it seemed clear that God might actually be pleased to send our family to Japan.  One of those took place on June 15, 2013.  I (Jamison) wrote a letter to Kathryne.  She calls it my second proposal, and she asked me to share pieces of it with you:

“You’ll remember the struggle that I had when we were dating before getting engaged.  I desired to have you as my wife, but I felt called to missions in a way that you apparently did not.  After months of prayer and deliberation, I felt that the strength of the Lord’s call toward marriage exceeded the call to missions.  I was more convinced that I should marry you than I was convinced that God would send me to bring good news to the nations.  Now as we near three years of marriage, I am increasingly certain that the Lord guided me to the correct decision–I could not be happier to have you as my wife!

Does that mean the call to missions has ceased or that my desire to go has waned?  Not at all!  I have come to believe that the Lord is indeed still calling me to missions–us to missions–to the unreached.  In fact, I am becoming more convinced as the months go by.  He continually opens doors, puts desires in my heart and thoughts in my mind to go to the nations.  At times when I am ready to give up on the idea (and there have been many over the past years), he stirs up a new passion to go.

I do not know how things will turn out for us.  As a husband, I feel obligated to lead our family toward obedience, whatever the end may be–whether it is life or death or discomfort or disappointment.  It is clear that the Lord Jesus calls us not to an easy life, however he calls us.  He bids us to take up our cross–just as he did–to suffer and die.  Perhaps we will toil for years to raise support and never make it overseas.  Perhaps we will go and utterly “fail” as missionaries from all worldly perspectives.  Perhaps we will labor for decades without any visible fruit.  Or perhaps through willing obedience, many will pass from death to eternal life.

I feel like the prophet Isaiah–a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips.  We’re not worthy to speak on behalf of God.  But, our God purifies the unclean and equips the unworthy.  Then, he sends them out.  The greatest hindrance to effective ministry is not a lack of knowledge or skill; rather, it is a lack of total dependence on the Lord Jesus for all things.  I would rather go to Japan with a wife who says, “Jesus, I need you,” than one who thinks she is sufficient for these things.  Beloved, our sufficiency comes from Christ who makes us competent.  This is why I believe God is calling us to missions together.

God has given you the knowledge, the experience, the skills, gifts and heart to make a great name for him among the unreached; yet, you feel entirely unworthy.  I take this as a good sign.  You are aware of your weakness–Praise God!  It is time to cast yourself upon the Lord for strength.  I thank God for your hesitancies, because they have checked my over-confidence and caused me to reexamine my own weaknesses.  I also am unworthy, and I do not think I would have seen this if I had not seen it first in you.

Kathryne, I am asking you to go with me.  Let’s go…or at least let us do everything in our power to go.  The Lord may see fit to keep us here, but if he does not, let’s go.  It may cost us much, but would you have it any other way?  Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ.  I believe the Lord is sending us.  I am asking you to trust me.  More importantly, I am asking you to trust God’s sovereign guidance and care.  He will be with us, and he will go before us.  Surely, his goodness and mercy will follow us all of the days of our lives.  We will dwell with him forever, wherever we dwell for this life.  You will never be without your God and your Savior.

‘How soon will some few years pass away, and then when the day is ended, and this life’s lease expired, what have men of the world’s glory, but dreams and thoughts? O happy soul forevermore, who can rightly compare this life with that long-lasting life to come, and can balance the weighty glory of the one with the light golden vanity of the other.’ -Samuel Rutherford.”

Kathryne’s story

Kathryne’s story

In the Spring of 2011, I (Kathryne) was working as a pre-school teacher, and Jamison was finishing up his second year of seminary.  One memorable day, he was at home studying, while I was at school working.  Out of nowhere, I got a text message that said something like, “What do you think about moving to Japan?”  I don’t think I even responded.  But, five years later, we’re now getting ready to move our family to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Although I grew up in a faithful Christian home, I never dreamed about being a missionary.  I have always wanted to be a mom.  Other kids dreamed of being astronauts, police officers or professional basketball players.  Not me–I’ve always dreamed of being a mom.  Jamison likes to remind me that I’m now living the dream, especially on days when it feels less than dreamy.

Are they snuggling or trying to hurt each other?  Yes to both, of course.  I’ve found motherhood to be full of snuggles, screams and snuggles that quickly turn into screams.

My call to missions began when God called me to Jamison.  We met in college, dated off and on for five years, became best friends and then realized marrying your best friend is a good thing.  We probably would have married sooner, if God had called me to missions sooner.  But, he didn’t.  The call to motherhood remained strong and clear throughout our college years, while Jamison’s call to missions grew stronger and clearer.  He was set on going to the nations; I was set on staying and establishing a home.

A picture from the dating years.

In some ways, nothing has changed.  Jamison still feels called to missions; I still feel called to motherhood.  Yet, the picture of motherhood that is taking shape is not the one I envisioned when I was playing with baby dolls.  And maybe the picture of missions that is taking shape is different than the one Jamison envisioned when he was living in homeless shelters and ministering to the men there.  God is sending us–not as individuals–but as a family, to live and minister as a family, in Japan.


After the famous text message of 2011, we began praying about the possibility of going to Japan.  God consistently answered our prayers and opened doors.  Every time we stepped through a door toward Japan, the Lord opened another.  Every time he opened another, I found myself depending more and more on him for strength and faith to take the next step.  I’ve never felt particularly equipped to be a missionary.  I don’t fit the stereotypical picture of an evangelist or disciple-maker.  I’m an introvert.  I often feel intimated or overwhelmed by the idea of leading others to Jesus Christ.  I’m a weak person.

The Lord reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I’ve had to come to a place of trusting that my weakness for the task will make God’s power shine more brightly.  Over the past five years, I’ve learned to embrace the idea that I’m not qualified to be a missionary.  I’m not qualified to be a mom either.  Knowing that is the only thing that qualifies me to do both.  I can’t do this.  Only God can–he has a history of using weak people like me.

Embracing weakness has allowed me to embrace the call to missions.  You can be a mom anywhere in the world.  Why not be a mom living among other moms who don’t yet know Jesus?  Why not raise children who make friends with other children who’ve never heard the gospel before?  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Moms can be laborers, too, especially in places like Japan, where fathers often work long days at the office and mothers work even longer days in the home and neighborhood.

Ironically, we’ve been told a few times that I’ll have more ministry opportunities in Japan than Jamison.  It may just be that God’s aim is to reach the nations through weak mothers relying daily on his strength, so that in everything he might be glorified.


Learning to fight

Learning to fight

A wise man once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Oh wait, that came from Mike Tyson, didn’t it?  So, maybe not a wise man, but at least a man who knows about fighting.

Last week, we officially reached the one year mark of partner development.  And, for the first eight or nine months, things were going so smoothly, all according to the plan we drew up.  Then, we got punched in the mouth.

We knew that this was going to be difficult; we didn’t know that we were going to end up in a dog fight.  Maybe I subconsciously envisioned this stage of ministry as something like climbing a mountain–it takes a lot of work, but at least it’s a stationary object.  If you’re in good shape and exert enough effort, you should be able to conquer, right?  We’ve come to find that we’re not up against a stationary object.  The mountain fights back.  Lately, it’s been more like a boxing match, and it’s definitely not a clean one.  It’s one of those matches where someone gets an ear bit off.  And, we probably shouldn’t be as surprised as we are.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  Ephesians 6:10-13.

I don’t want to give the Evil One and his servants more credit than they deserve.  They’ve already lost the war, and it’s only a matter of time before the battles cease altogether.  Today, however, they still fight.  And, their inevitable destruction enrages them, as they oppose the already victorious Savior.  They hate the Lord Jesus, oppose his work and would seek to bring down any who belong to him.  Yet, I am still surprised every time we face opposition, when our climb turns into a fight.

The Apostle Paul’s famous passage in Ephesians 6 fittingly begins with the command to “stand.”  This command is a change in posture from the rest of the letter.  It’s a switch from offensive to defensive.  Previously, we’re told numerous times to “walk.”  Before we were rescued by God’s grace in Christ, we walked along, following the course of the world and following the one we now know as our enemy (2:2).  Our course and gait changed when God brought us from death to life, and we’re no longer to walk in futility of mind (4:17); instead, we are to walk in good works (2:10), a manner worthy of our calling (4:1), Christ-like love (5:2) and as children of light (5:8).  We are to pay careful attention to our walk, not as unwise but as wise (5:15).

The Christian life is spent pursuing a certain manner of walking, of living in light of the great salvation ordained by God the Father, purchased by God the Son and guaranteed by God the Holy Spirit.  Paul warns us that this manner of life faces active opposition.  It is a military march, not a stroll around Lake of the Isles.  You must stay soldiered up, so you can stand firm when flaming arrows fly your way.

The arrows caught us a bit by surprise.  In recent months, we’ve faced unusual health problems (consistently getting sick every time we have a meeting to share about Japan, in addition to a bit of cancer), uncharacteristically slow progress and strong temptations to discouragement.  For the first time, it feels as though something or someone is actively setting itself against us going to Japan.  Strangely enough, I find that incredibly encouraging.  I take it as a sign that we’re headed in the right direction.

Our God is strong; therefore, we do not fear.  He has promised that his Church would prevail over the gates of hell, that the gospel would go forward to gather people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth.  He does not leave us to fight alone.  We’re learning to fight by depending on him to fight for us, to protect us, to strengthen us and to send us.  Would you pray that God would do these things for us and more?        

“Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words would be given to me in opening in my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,”  Ephesians 6:14-19. 


Surprising Growth

Surprising Growth

We recently returned from 11 days in Colorado.  We spent the first week preparing for departure at the WorldVenture headquarters (see our previous post); we spent week two at WorldVenture’s annual Renewal Conference, where we joined others from around the world who are at various points in their missionary careers–preparing to go, on home assignment, retiring, serving in the home office.  It was a sweet time of focused fellowship, prayer, worship and learning.  We feel both exhausted and refreshed.  After all, spending five nights in a hotel room with sick children is tiring.  But, there is much grace to be had when your hotel is filled with loving people who are eager to serve and encourage you in the Lord.

I (Jamison) remember a time when a friend was grilling in the rain.  Somehow, the hotdogs ended up both charred and wet–quite possibly the only way you can entirely ruin a good hotdog.  And, that’s exactly how I felt going into our trip.  Burned out and soggy.  Tired and a bit apathetic.  Yuck.  Yet, somehow the exhaustion and encouragement of the past two weeks wove themselves together to create a new sense of excitement and freshness around going to Japan.  I’ve been reminded that the Lord is at work, gathering people from all nations to himself.

The Summer before I started first grade, my family moved into the home where I spent the remainder of my childhood.  Though the house is now on the market, my parents still live there today.  They’ve made a lot of updates over the years, including new landscaping outside of the front door.  There used to be a concrete slab just below the front step that angled rain water away from the house and its foundation.  It’s been replaced by outdoor tile.

I can still picture the concrete slab clearly, because I studied it as a young boy, though never for more than a minute at a time.  While my parents worked their keys into front door, my eyes would wander and observe the details of our home.  Early on, I noticed a small brown spot beneath the spigot, where our iron-rich water would drip.  I looked at that brown spot thousands of times as a child.

Over the course of what must have been a decade, the brown spot on our slanted concrete slab grew.  Not only that, but the occasional dripping of water over many years was sufficient to wear away at the concrete.  A small crack grew and began forming into a mini pot-hole.  As a teenager, I came home from school on a memorable day and saw the concrete had cracked through.  The brown spot was divided in two.  Through the crack, I could see dirt.  Surprisingly, something green was already sprouting up.

At some point, the final drop fell and split the concrete.  More than a decade of dripping–perhaps millions of droplets–prepared the way.  As soon as the concrete was thrust aside, life began growing.

We’ve been told numerous times that Japan is a very difficult place for missionaries, not materially, but spiritually.  It’s an “open” country in the sense that we can go there as Christians on religious worker visas; it is a “closed” country in the sense that people do not respond to the message of the gospel.  It is highly unlikely that we will face open persecution or overt rejection; it is, however, very likely that our message will be received with unbelief or apathy.  Hardness of heart toward God, like concrete, shows itself in many forms.

Yet, last week’s conference left a growing sense that there would be a day when God, by the power of his Spirit, breaks through the hardness in Japan.  In some places of the world, God comes like a jack-hammer through the preaching of the gospel.  Concrete hearts are shattered quickly, revealing a fruitful field.  In places like Japan, it seems that God works like a slow, persistent drip.  I believe there will be a day when the final drop lands.  Concrete will crack open.  Laborers will be surprised to find a soil that yields growth, instead of the persistent hardness that has characterized Japan for decades.  God may do a new thing among the Japanese people.

That is my prayer for Japan.  Perhaps it’s already begun, and the early signs of life are already sprouting up.  Or, maybe we’ll be one of a million drops that must fall, leaving an imperceptible mark while preparing the way for others.  Would that be a waste?  Would we be better used somewhere else?  I don’t think so.  And, that’s why I left the conference encouraged.

During the past two weeks, we heard stories of men and women who faithfully poured themselves out, so that the gospel would go forward into difficult places around the world.  While some have seen more fruit than others, it is clear that none of their lives have been wasted.  They have been–and continue to be–well spent.  That is my prayer for my family, that we would be faithful to plough and plant, even if the yield appears small.  Yet, who knows, perhaps the Lord will do a surprising thing in our lifetime?  It will be worth the effort to find out.