Happy Mothers’ Day

Happy Mothers’ Day

Dear Kathryne,

Here is what Ezra and Violet wanted to say to you for Mothers’ Day.


Me: Ezra, did you know that tomorrow is a special day, when we get to thank God for Mommy.  Can you say, “Happy Mothers’ Day”?

Ezra: (starts to sing) Happy birthday to you.   Happy birthday to you. (trails off…)

Me: It’s not Mommy’s birthday.  It’s Mothers’ Day!  Is there anything you want to tell Mommy?

Ezra: I don’t know.

Me: Maybe you could tell her thank you for something.

Ezra: Thank you for the lawn mower and the grass and the brrrrrm.  Haha.  That’s funny.

Me: Are there any stories that you’d like to tell Mommy?

Ezra: One time, I mowed the lawn.  And, ‘of a sudden, the lawn mower broke.  Mechanic! Mechanic!  And the screwdriver went around and around and around.

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Me: Violet, is there anything you’d like to say to Mommy?

Violet: (claps hands)

Me: Are you clapping your hands for Mommy?

Violet: (Laughs at Ezra who is making funny faces at her)

Me: Violet, God gave you a good Mommy.

Violet: Duh duh duh duh duh

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Thank you for being Ezra and Violet’s Mommy.  I am amazed by your perseverance, humbled by your daily sacrifices and challenged by your consistent gentleness.  Much of what you do for these two little ones goes unnoticed.  But, “in due season, you will reap, if you do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  You are most deserving of a Happy Mothers’ Day.

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Updates are good, even when time is short

Updates are good, even when time is short

The day we decided to start a blog, I envisioned that we would post something once/week.  Nope.  Hasn’t happened that way.  While we have a lot that we’d like to share, the capacity to do so has steadily disappeared.  Sometimes doing things that are worth writing about requires that you stop writing, in order to do them.  That being said, we desire to be good stewards of your support and interest in our lives, for the sake of Christ.  Here are some randomly–providentially–ordered things related to the Pals’ family and/or Japan.  If you’re here solely to see pictures of our children, you can scroll to the bottom.

Progress update: We officially started the partner development stage of ministry in March.  Since then, we’ve shared our story with about 50 people.  The Lord has opened the door for many to join in sending us to Japan.  By God’s grace, we’re at roughly 35% of the monthly support needed to pack the bags.  We’ve also been plugging away at learning Japanese (15 minutes/day keeps monolingualism away) and the training assigned by WorldVenture (9 of 11 book reports done and submitted).

Prayer request: We realize most people feel life is too busy.  In fact, you’re likely so busy that reading this far has been a sacrifice for you.  We hope that means you can sympathize with us in our weakness.  The burden of work, ministry and family feels uniquely heavy right now.  It’s less about a lack of time than it is about a divided heart–an inability to be fully engaged in any one thing because other things are always waiting to be done.  Here’s how we’d ask you pray for us during the next couple weeks: that we would not “eat the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2) but instead would find deep, satisfying rest in God alone (Psalm 62:5).  The Lord works for those who wait for him!

Up next: In addition to continuing with partner development, we’ll be in Colorado during the first two weeks of July for training (and a wedding).  Ezra is already looking forward to the airplane ride.

The Unseen Face of Japan:  I recently read a book by this title, written by anthropologist David C Lewis.  As we go to Japan, we want to take your hearts with us.  Not literally, of course.  I mean that we want you to desire Japan’s joy in Christ, just like we do.  To that end, here are a couple quick thoughts from The Unseen Face of Japan: 

-Only 18% of men believe that there is life after death; yet, the majority of men reported making religious offerings to or on behalf of the deceased.  Why?  Remembrance of the dead, tradition, social pressure, fear–50% of people surveyed feared that divine punishment would befall them if they did something bad.  The conscience betrays the doctrine.

-64% of Japanese adults and 83% of teenagers wonder why they exist.  We know why and want the opportunity to tell them.

Tulip Festival:  Here are the promised pictures.  We spent May 15-17 in Orange City, Iowa celebrating all things Dutch.  Needless to say, John Calvin would have felt right at home.

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Mom and Vi–Tulip Festival First-Timers


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Dad and Ezra–Excavator First-Timers


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Ezra and his cousins getting ready for the street cleaning.


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Violet really likes her cousins!


Reviving the soul

Reviving the soul

The Pals family has gone through some rough weeks recently.  I hesitate to use the word “trials,” because doing so might make you think we’ve gone through especially difficult circumstances.  Though we have been busy, sick and often sleep deprived, the main difficulties we’ve faced have been internal.

Sometimes circumstances alone are enough to qualify as trials; other times we only experience circumstances as trials because we walk through them as sinful people.  In these cases, our hearts are our trials.  We have corrupted, often self-centered desires or expectations that are not being met.  And so, we throw adult versions of hissy fits, usually placing blame on people or things other than ourselves.  Picture a toddler who screams at his mom, because she won’t let him play with a sharp knife.  That’s the kind of trial I’m referring to.

I share this, because I want you to know how to pray for us, especially me (Jamison).  I don’t want to fall in the trap of using busyness as an excuse for wickedness.  We are choosing to be busy during this season for the sake of Christ.  What I desire is not more rest (we’ve had opportunities to rest every week), but a particular kind of rest.  I want the kind of rest that reorients my heart toward loving God and loving others.

When we experience trials of various kinds, a natural reaction is to pursue some kind of complex solution.  A common temptation in the Christian life is to look for something new, something novel that you haven’t tried before.  I have found the exact opposite approach to be the most powerful.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.”  -Psalm 19:7a.

Praise God for his Word!  The Bible is an awesome book.  This is not a new revelation; it is an old, time-tested one.  Returning to it has revived my soul.  God’s Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, righteous altogether, more desirable than Gold and sweeter than honey.  It revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes and endures forever.  In short, God’s word is exactly what we need.  In the midst of a busy season of support raising, we ask that you pray for God to breathe life into us through the Bible.  You could even use Psalm 19 as a prayer guide for us.

Going back to the first sentence of this post, we’ve had some rough weeks.  Lately, we’ve also had some very sweet days.  God’s Word, applied by the power of the Holy Spirit, really does do what it says it does.  It revives the soul.  Happy are those who hear it and keep it (Luke 11:28).  Pray especially for our children, that–as they grow–they would “set their hearts to study the law of the Lord and to do it and to teach it” (Ezra 7:10) among those who do not yet know Him.

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Something my two year old taught me about missions

Something my two year old taught me about missions

Ezra loves to mow the lawn.  He has loved it for as long as he’s been able to walk.  It started off with a toy lawn-mower.  Now, he’s moved up to the real thing.  When the grass grows tall, the boy grows excited.

He looks at me with confidence, “Daddy, the grass is reawwy long.  I think I’m gonna mow now.  Do you wanna mow with me?”  He helps me open the garage door.  He helps me clear rocks and sticks out of the way.  He helps me pour gas in the mower.  He primes it–one, two, three times.  Then, he stands back and waits while I pull the cord (at least five or six times).  Finally, it starts.  I look up and wave him over.  My favorite moment.  He smiles with anticipation and takes hold of the lawn mower with his Daddy.        IMG_8983

When I mow by myself, it usually takes about 20-25 minutes to finish ours and our neighbor’s lawns.  When Ezra and I mow together, it takes around 45 minutes.  There is no doubt in my mind that every single extra minute is worth it.  I would not have it any other way.

The other day I was humbled by the realization that God does not need me to complete his work any more than I need Ezra to mow the lawn.  God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.  He is sufficient in his own being to accomplish all of his purposes.  His work could go on without you and I.  Yet, the Lord chooses to use human instruments.

Look at the logic of Romans 10.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 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? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

A principle to take from Romans 10: Missionaries and those who send them are God’s ordained means for saving people who have not yet heard of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a beautiful thing, even if the world does not receive it as such.

Why does God do it this way?  Wouldn’t it be cleaner and more efficient to use other means?  Couldn’t he, in an instant, send angels to preach the Gospel to every single person alive today?  Wouldn’t people take the message a bit more seriously from their mouths, instead of ours?  Or, couldn’t God speak with an unmediated voice from heaven, as he has done before: “Jesus is my Beloved Son; listen to Him!”?

I’m sure there are many true and good ways to answer those questions.  Even as I write this, my mind is swirling with them.  This is what hit me the other day: I want Ezra to mow the lawn, not because it’s clean and efficient, but precisely because it’s not.  I want to be with him, as he works hard and grows stronger.  One day, he will be a man.  He will have to work hard for his family and his neighbors.  Mowing the lawn is one avenue for nurturing those characteristics.  On the flip side, Ezra loves to mow, because he wants to be like his Daddy.  It gives him joy to do what his Daddy does, even as his Daddy does it with him.

The work of missions is a bit like that.  God seeks and saves the lost.  He sent his Son to bring the nations to the obedience of faith, at great cost.  Missions, then, is one aspect of imitating God–both going and sending.  At least one of the reasons God chooses to use us is that he is conforming us into his image, because our God is a missionary God.  He was not content to let the world go without the knowledge of his Son.  Neither should we be content when billions go without Christ.

There’s more.  After Ezra and I finish the lawn, we reflect together. We love to talk about mowing almost as much as we love mowing itself, “Ezra, God gave you strength, and you worked really hard.  You did a great job!”  I want to give him the opportunity to experience Daddy’s good pleasure.  He gets to hear, “Well done, Ezra.”  I say this to him, even though I know he didn’t mow the lawn in his own strength.  He could have never mowed without me there with him.  But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he actually mowed the lawn.  I really am pleased with him, even though his presence actually makes my job more difficult.

Could it be that my presence actually makes the work of missions messier and less efficient for God?  Could it be that God still wants us to go, that he even takes pleasure in our going?  Is he happy to see those aspects of his character that both goers and senders reflect?  This is a source of humble confidence.  Certainly, we could not do the work of missions alone, but there is no doubt that God could do it alone.  And, he has promised to be with us in it, “Surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Ezra takes joy in mowing the lawn with his Daddy.  That same joy is ours as we pursue the glory of Jesus Christ among the nations with our Father.

Eight Stories from APO

Eight Stories from APO

From July 4-18, we attended a training called APO (Appointee Orientation) at the WorldVenture headquarters in Littleton, CO.  It was a sweet time, greatly exceeding our expectations.  Here are some stories that capture a picture of what happened.

1.  The first week of training focused quite a bit on public speaking.  We were required to create a three minute presentation and practice it several times in front of our fellow “appointees”–aka missionaries in training.  After the first practice session, Kathryne was discouraged.  A combination of sleep deprivation, being separated from children (repeatedly) and the stress of speaking in front of people weighed heavily on her.  About half way through our training, Kathryne (along with the rest of us) shared in front of over 100 people.  She did awesome.  The Lord did a visible work in her life through it.  After two weeks at WorldVenture, I (Jamison) think Kathryne is coming home a stronger, more confident woman in Christ.  That alone was worth the whole trip.

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2.  Before we all went on stage to share our three-minute stories, the leadership at WorldVenture gathered us in a room to pray.  Then, in remembrance of Jesus and his disciples, they got out water basins, pitchers and towels and used them to wash our feet.  The ceremony illustrated something we saw throughout our two weeks–humility.  The leaders at WorldVenture demonstrated it over and over again.  There were countless moments where Kathryne and I commented to each other, “I’m so glad that we’re going to Japan with WorldVenture.”  We feel like we’re in really good hands.

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3.  Ezra made friends quickly.  Baby Luke (5 months old) and Baby Cora (10 months) were two of his favorites.  One morning, he crawled into bed with me at 5am and immediately said, “Daddy, Baby Luku is my friend.  I really like him a lot.”  Another time he commented, “Baby Cora is so precious, Daddy.  She has little teeth.”  That pretty much summarizes Ezra’s two weeks.  He was the unofficial shepherd of the Tinies.

4.  Oh man.  There are so many people I want to share about.  I wish that all of you could know the people we’ve had the honor of knowing since July 4th.  Michael and Christie, who are headed to Bangkok with their two beautiful girls, sat with us every day and quickly became some of our new best friends.  We love them.  We stayed up late talking to three other couples nearly every night–one couple who will also be going to Japan, another who will hopefully be coming to Japan and a third who won’t be near Japan but will be near our hearts.  All three families are the types that we’d joyfully partner with for years or decades to come.  Pray for them.  Pray for their families and supporters.  Ask us about them and the many others at APO, so that we can share more.

5.  On Saturday, July 11th, we drove out to Winter Park, CO for a wedding.  (Thank you, Chris and Natalie, for planning your wedding around our training schedule).  We rode a ski lift to the top of a mountain, where the ceremony/reception took place with the sun setting in the background.  I can’t imagine a better setting to celebrate the covenant of marriage.  I’m reminded of our own wedding text, “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” Isaiah 54:10.  A special thank you to my parents who flew out for second half of the training and watched our children, so that we could attend the wedding and have a hiking date earlier in the day.

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6.  Speaking of my parents, I think the training was good for them.  And, it was good for us to have them there.  Not only were they a tremendous help with the children, but their presence helped me begin the mourning process inherent to the missions life.  When we were getting ready to go up on stage to share our story, I told myself, “Don’t look at Mom, or you’ll start to cry.”  Mom and Dad, we’re going to miss you.  We’re going for the sake of the Name of Jesus Christ, and I think we will all agree that the sacrifice of distance will be worth it, even though it will be hard at times.

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7.  On one of the last days, all of the TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) received matching T-Shirts (“Life is a Pair of Ducks”).  Seeing them all together, made us realize that our children are now members of a new community.  They will be growing up in a place where they won’t completely fit in and going “home” to a different culture where they don’t completely fit in. The TCK community is one where they can be understood.  They will have friends around the world, living the pair-of-ducksical life together.  It was a blessing to see Ezra walking up to the older kids and saying, “Look, I have a duck shirt, too.”

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8. When we pulled away from WorldVenture on our way to the airport, Ezra said, “I’m not ready to leave Colorado yet.  I like being here.”  He was audibly distraught.  I silently felt the same way.  Yes, it’s nice to be home after two weeks away.  At the same time, leaving WorldVenture felt like leaving home.  The people we spent APO with feel like family.  We won’t see many of them for years, if we ever see them again in this life.  We will miss our dear Brothers and Sisters.  Yet, I’m incredibly encouraged to think about them spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ literally around the world.  I hope that thought encourages you, too.

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The Nations and Hobbits

The Nations and Hobbits

When people find out that we’re–Lord willing–moving to Japan, they usually ask, “Why Japan?” or “How did you decide to do that?” or something else along the same lines.  There are about 100 different answers that we could give, all of them 100% honest.  Normally, we give the answer I think most people are looking for,”Here are the things that happened in our lives recently that have brought us to where we are today.”  You might call this an experiential answer.

Occasionally, we also answer in other ways.  Biblically, we are commanded to make disciples of all nations.  Missiologically, the Japanese are the largest unreached people group in the world.  Preferentially, we like sushi and fast trains.  Compassionately, Japan is home to some of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the world.  Theologically, Jesus is Lord of all and worthy of the worship of all.  Vocationally, our gifts, experiences and desires make us well suited for missions in Japan.  And, of course, there are more.

Here is the super secret answer that I never give but really want to:  Growing up, I spent too much time reading (and then watching) the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It’s somewhat embarrassing, but  there are several paragraphs that I have accidentally memorized.  Other than the Bible, no other book or series of books has been more influential in drawing me toward cross-cultural ministry.  Does that surprise you?  If so, you need to stop reading this blog and start reading more Lord of the Rings.

Since marrying Kathryne I’ve had to restrict my Lord of the Rings intake considerably.  Marriage necessitates sacrifice.  So, each year I alternate between reading the books and watching the movies around Christmas time.  I have come to realize that when I’m about half way through Return of the King, I need to begin preparing myself for a post-Hobbit depression.  Without exception, I am always sad when it’s over.  Other Lord of the Rings fans tell me this is normal.  There’s something about the story that feels more real, more significant than normal daily life.  When I leave Middle Earth, it almost feels like I’m leaving home.

This is what I mean: We were made by God to live in a way that more closely resembles the epic storyline of Lord of the Rings than the storyline of the American Dream.  You do not exist to seek comfort and security for yourself or your family.  Tolkien’s trilogy captures the idea that we live and fight for something massive.

The Lord of the Rings has helped shape my heart, so that I have always longed for adventure.  But it’s a particular type of adventure–one that really matters and one that is pursued alongside people you would die for.  I would rather live like Frodo Baggins and never be the same than enjoy the beauty and comforts of the Shire without ever fighting for something greater.  That desire aligned with providential circumstances over the course of roughly a decade to lead us to missions and eventually to Japan.  So that’s why we’re going.

I share this for a very specific reason.  Actually, two very specific reasons.  First, I hope you read Lord of the Rings and other epics stories…and read them to your children.  Consider it training for missions, either local or global.  I started Ezra on the Hobbit at one month; it’s a little more “age appropriate” for infants than the trilogy.

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Second, I’ve recently been marveling at how God uses so many things to shape us, guide us and send us.  I don’t think my Dad knew that he was shaping my heart for missions when he played Lord of the Rings on tape during those road trips to Ida Grove, IA.  That certainly wasn’t Peter Jackson’s aim in directing the films.  Yet, that was the effect nonetheless.  There are 10,000 other things happening in our lives that we have no idea how God is using.  He often works through ordinary means to shape us into particular types of people or direct us toward particular ends, good ones for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  I love that about God.  He is the type of God who can bring the nations to the obedience of faith through Hobbits.

A lesson in history

A lesson in history

Think about potential objections to Jesus Christ.  Why do people reject him?

In the few intentional conversations I’ve had with Japanese people about Jesus, I have only heard one objection.  Something like, “I can’t believe; I’m Japanese.”

Now I’m sure there are other reasons people in Japan reject Jesus.  There are certainly deeper issues beneath the surface of this objection.  To date, it is the only one I have heard verbally expressed from the lips of a Japanese person.  It is almost as if being a Christian and being Japanese are popularly viewed as mutually exclusive.  Not only that, but the two are so obviously incompatible that if a person mentions his or her Japanese identity, the hearer should then respond: “Oh, I see.  Now that you mention it, being Japanese does make it impossible for you to believe in Jesus and be saved.”  Game over.  Case closed.  You cannot pass. The door is shut.

Except it’s not.  That a Japanese nationality or ethnicity is a hindrance to faith in Christ is a misconception based on misunderstandings about both the Christian faith and Japanese history.  I think people use it as an excuse to not engage further with Jesus Christ.  That’s nothing new.  People of all cultures look for easy-outs when it comes to dealing with Jesus.  But, national and/or ethnic identity is an invalid excuse.  Here is a demonstrable fact: In the history of the world, there has never been a religion more globally encompassing and culturally adaptable than Christianity.  It’s not even close.  There is no ethnic, national or cultural identity that precludes someone from faith in Christ.

The Christian faith entered Japan over 200 hundred years before the United States of America even existed.  It is true that Christianity’s influence has been comparatively greater and more visible in the U.S., but it’s presence dates back longer in Japan–to the mid 1500’s.  I once heard a secular historian state that the church in Japan was larger in 1590 than it was in 1950.  Then, there were an estimated 300,000 Japanese Christians.  That means there were more Christians in Japan than there were Europeans in the “New World” at that time.  Obviously, something changed.  Here’s a little background info.

Japan in the 1400-1500’s was led by local warlords or “daimyo” who owned much of the land and set up their own laws and local armies.  Cities and villages were responsible for defending themselves–one of the roles of the samurai.  At the time, Japan was sort of like a petri dish for civil conflict, piracy and strife.  Eventually, these things made the journey across the Sea of Japan, straining relationships with China and Korea.    

This is when Francis Xavier and the Jesuits arrived on the scene, introducing the Christian faith to Japan.  Some may take issue with the form of Christianity they introduced, Christianity began sinking its roots into Japanese soil nonetheless.  And, it really seemed to flourish for a season.  Many were drawn by the honor and practical application of Christianity.

Then, in the late 1500’s a daimyo named Hideyoshi began rising to power, conquering and/or uniting warring clans.  At first, he enacted policies to stop the spread of Christianity.  But, his stance softened, and policies were only loosely enforced.  Many of the early Christians were daimyo or samurai with significant influence; some became Hideyoshi’s generals.

Hideyoshi ordered an invasion of Korea with the aim of eventually taking down the Ming dynasty in China and establishing Japan as the greatest power in East Asia.  The Japanese army quickly defeated the Koreans until the Chinese army intervened, bringing the attempted invasion to a standstill.  Instead of retreating back to Japan, Hideyoshi ordered a second offensive.  However, it soon became clear that they could not defeat China and Korea.  So, Hideyoshi began turning on the Christians again.  He crucified 26 Christians (20 of whom were Japanese), including three children.

Hideyoshi died in 1598, and there was a great civil battle in 1600.   Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged victorious, kicking off what would become known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, lasting until 1868.  Still fresh off a defeat in Korea/China, Japan largely soured on everything international.  Thus, the Tokugawa period is famously marked by isolation.  With a few exceptions, Japan largely cut off interaction with other nations.

Internally, the Tokugawa clan viewed Christianity as a threat to their own power.  It was not expelled because of its foreignness; rather,  Tokugawa did not want other clans in Japan uniting against his.   They rightly saw that Christianity had the potential to bring enemy clans together with a strength and unity that would rival their own.  They did not want competing allegiances.  So, Tokugawa immediately enacted laws against Christianity.  In the 1630’s, his successor followed suit and enacted stricter laws.  The Shimabara Rebellion in 1637-1638 was a last attempt to push back against these laws and others, but it failed.  Over 125,000 troops came in, defeated the rebels and executed those involved.

Christianity was officially outlawed.  Those who refused to recant were tortured and killed.  Japan withdrew further into isolation, ensuring that foreign Christians would not enter the country again for over 200 years.  Although a small underground church remained, the rapid spread of Christianity in Japan came to an end.

Here is why I think this matters: Christianity can and even has flourished in Japan.  It was uprooted, primarily because it was viewed as a threat, not because it was culturally incompatible.  But, Christianity is a threat (and asset) to every culture.  Japan isn’t unique in that way.

I have heard some lament how hard it is for a Japanese person to come to faith in Christ.  Some missiologists call it the difficult mission field in the world in terms of seeing people turn to Jesus.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible.  The Japanese don’t have genetic immunities to Christ.  That can be proven from both history and the Scriptures.

I don’t know why God has directed the history of Japan the way that he has.  I don’t know why so many Christians were martyred on Japanese soil, nor do I understand why so few believe today.  But, I trust that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  I have great hope that Lord who guides history could again do what He did almost 500 years ago.  He could do far more.

We desire to see Japanese people come to faith in Christ, because we think that will bring them joy like they’ve never experienced before.  “In his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasure forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  We want to see a gospel movement spread throughout the country–and beyond.  We pray for a day when it’s clear someone can be Japanese and a follower of Jesus Christ.