On Treasuring Precious Fruit

Note: While I don’t use real names, this story is about real people, who I care deeply about and happen to be friends with on Facebook. So if you happen to desire to share this story, please shoot an email to torijansson@teamjapan.org before doing so.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully wrap my mind around the barriers to the gospel in Japan. We’ve only been here 6 months, but so often we discover a new ‘thing’ to add to the ever growing list of reasons why it seems (to human eyes only) that seeing Japan reached with the gospel is a losing battle. But I already wrote a blog about that. And that’s not what this post is about.

I’ve heard from a several seasoned missionaries that, when doing ministry in an area with hard soil – where most of the work is plowing through compacted dirt, removing rocks, digging out deeply rooted weeds, and relentlessly scattering seed – in these environments you must learn to treasure the precious fruit that God miraculously grows in the midst of it. And tonight was one of these moments, which I will cherish as happening upon priceless treasure.

This evening, I had the privilege of sitting around a table in the food court of Ito Yokada with three extraordinary high school students (and two exceptional missionaries) to study the Bible. Tomo decided to follow Jesus last October after being involved with the Let’s Talk club at ICU High. Yuki decided to follow Jesus this spring. It was one of the first times I met Yuki, and I had an opportunity to be a part of a great spiritual conversation that happened to be one of the last spiritual conversations (which occurred regularly over the course of the previous year and a half) before she trusted Jesus. That same day, on the bus on the way home from school, Tomo shared with her more about his relationship with God, and the next day we received an email from Yuki saying she had decided to follow Jesus. The last student at the table, Megumi, is a not-yet believer. She is an exceptional young lady, who happens to be experiencing an exceptional amount of pain and brokenness from a disintegrating family life. Too much for any person, let alone a 16 year-old.

We were reading what many believers see as a familiar passage in John (but is really quite confusing, especially encountering it for the first time), the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. It was a good discussion, beginning to break down Jesus’ cryptic metaphor, acknowledging the fact that, as humans, we are all thirsty for what Jesus has to offer, and what it means to have a spring of life-giving water inside of you. Our last question of the Bible study was “How we can take what we learned from and about Jesus and allow it to change how we live?”

Yuki paused with a concentrated look on her face, and then, with an air of realization, said, “I have have a spring in me too. I can share it with others.” Trying to hold back the lump in my throat that threatened to turn into tears, we talked about how Tomo had a spring of living water within him, and he shared it with Yuki. And now that Yuki had trusted Jesus, she could share the life-giving water in her with the people around her.

But then Megumi chimed in. “The first time I met real Christians was when I came to this high school. I noticed that they do things that don’t benefit themselves. I didn’t understand, because I thought if you give away what you have in your pool, you will have none left for yourself. But now I see how they can do it, because they have a spring.”

Tonight, at a table in the food court of Ito Yokada, I got to sit with two (soon to be three, may the Lord break through quickly) generations of young Japanese believers, Tomo playing a major role in Yuki’s salvation, and both playing major roles in Megumi being drawn closer to Jesus.

This fruit is precious to me.

(Exeunt)

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When Reality is Exactly what you Expected; but it Still Sucks

reality “Ministry in Japan is hard.” “Missionaries have been in Japan for over a century and it’s still vastly unreached.” “Japan is known as a missionary graveyard.”

These are all things I knew before coming to Japan. And yet, it still hurts to run into a wall. Knowing the wall will be there doesn’t actually soften the blow when God calls you to invest your heart and soul in running into it head-on.

This is how it goes. As it stands, churches in Japan are really quite, almost completely unsuccessful at attracting new people. So let’s plant a non-traditional church. How about a cafe? It’s the perfect space for ministry and community involvement! Oh wait, how much coffee and food do you have to sell to sustain a cafe in Tokyo? Wow, that’s unrealistic for our equipment and labor supply. Insert financial turmoil. How about we teach English? That generates both income and relationships! Except Japanese Christians can’t replicate teaching English as evangelism. This compounds a major problem with lack of evangelism in the Japanese church, and enables Japanese Christians to rely on a few foreign ‘professionals.’ How, then, will we sustain our non-traditional church? For the time being, we will survive on teaching English, effectively preventing the business from sustaining itself without missionary support. If the missionaries leave, the cafe closes, the church has nowhere to meet. In the mean time, continue in financial instability and wonder if there are any other options.

Oh yeah, by the way, the average age of the missionaries in our mission is 58. Within the next 10 years, the vast majority of them will be retired, and even many pre-retirement missionaries will leave as well. In order to recruit young missionaries to take their place, we should facilitate short and mid-term missionaries who will catch a vision for Japan and stay long-term. Oh wait, we’re short on ministries that can fulfill that role?

What about the church plants? Gratefully, we discover there are many incredible, faith-filled, and solid believers who are a daily reminder of why we want to see Japan reached with the gospel. We thank God for them every day. But we also discover that church in Japan does not come without a series of brain-racking complications. Japan is an educated culture. If you are a pastor, you must, no exceptions, be seminary trained. Japanese-led congregations are essential to gospel multiplication; but lay leaders are not an option. PS, One of the biggest seminaries in Japan graduates about 10 people a year. Also, the ratio of missionaries to Japanese in your church congregation is 2:1 – on a good Sunday. Any evangelism or church activity that takes place does not require their participation because you have a whole team of ‘professionals,’ who, if you recall, spend a lot of time evangelizing in ways that can’t be replicated anyways. Even those Japanese Christians who would like to participate have to work about a billion hours a week, because, you know, we’re in Japan. Let’s not even get started on how complicated successful communication is between assertive Westerners and ultra-polite, indirect Japanese.

Some days, I look around at endless seas of strangers on the trains, and see the people I pass by on the street, and I just want to cry. Successful ministry seems distinctly impossible.

But God has not left me hanging in discouragement.

I was reminded this week of Peter in Acts 10, who is sent for by Cornelius, the Gentile centurion. Peter is just starting to be convinced that Cornelius and his Gentile family can even be saved in the first place, when God pours out his Spirit on all of them and they are miraculously born again. Let’s be honest, if Peter hadn’t had a crazy vision, if God didn’t vocally tell him to get his butt over there, and if God hadn’t prompted Cornelius to call for him – Peter never would have stepped foot in the house at all. God masterfully orchestrated all of it. The only thing Peter had to do was obey and share the gospel (even while recovering from a poor attitude regarding the whole ‘but… but, they’re not even Jewish‘ ordeal). God is the one who poured out his Spirit, and the whole family was saved. It was all God.

Matt and I talk incessantly about methodology, bounce around solutions to problems, and try to dream up scenarios where we magnificently combat all the barriers that exist when sharing the gospel in Japan. Every time, we run into a big, fat wall. However, stress and discouragement only result when I pretend that breakthrough is up to me. The fact of the matter is, God can save a person at any moment. God can save a whole family at any moment. God can save the whole nation of Japan anytime he wants. I on the other hand, can’t save anything. What I can do, the only thing I can do, is obey and share the gospel in the power of the Spirit to the best of my ability.

Will you pray with us that God will pour out his Spirit on Japan? The problems seem insurmountable. Successful ministry here is impossible.

“Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But he said, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.'” Exeunt

We Made It! Our first update from Tokyo…

It’s hard to believe we’re actually writing an update from Japan! We’ve officially been here two days, but it feels like at least a week. They warned us that, during our first few weeks, normal activities would become exhausting endeavors; but we didn’t quite understand until now – after every element in our schedule, we feel the need to lay down and recoup for an hour! Our jet-lagged bodies however, have loved every minute of our time here, getting glimpses of our new life and our new TEAM family.

I could talk about it – but who wants talk when there are pictures?

Here is a video of our first tour through our apartment, which is on the third floor of the TEAM center in Mitaka-shi, Tokyo. You could say we were pleasantly surprised, and only *mildly* excited.

Here we are curry tasting. Grocery shopping was interesting to say the least, you know, since we can’t identify 85% of the items in the store. We thought we’d taste test the different curries to see which ones are our favorites. No clear winner on this one, both brands were delicious!

Curry tasting. Grocery shopping was interesting to say the least, you know, since we can't identify 85% of the items in the store. We thought we'd taste test the different curries to see which ones are our favorites. No clear winner on this one, both brands were delicious!

Below is a video of our favorite appliance – ever. We still don’t really have any clue how to use it, but we pressed the ‘bread’ button and were blown away. Guys, Japan is the coolest.

Lunch of champions! Picked all this up from the convenie around the corner from our apartment. Here we have onigiri (rice ball with tuna wrapped in seaweed), yakisoba, and shrimp chips!

Lunch of champions! Picked all this up from the convenie around the corner from our apartment. We have onigiri (rice ball with tuna wrapped in seaweed), yakisoba, and shrimp chips!

Below is the infamous Japanese trash sorting system. That poster hanging above the two part trash can is the schedule of trash pick ups – combustibles one day, plastics the next, PET bottles on another, something different every day. I’ll keep you posted on if we ever figure it out.

The infamous Japanese trash sorting system. That poster hanging above the two part trash can is the schedule of trash pick ups - combustibles one day, plastics the next, PET bottles on another. I'll keep you posted on if we ever figure it out.

And there you have it! Our next few weeks are packed very full of orientation, so keep us in mind as you’re praying this week, we have a lot to learn!

Thank you for all that you do, team. We’re thankful for you.

Tori and Matt

(Exeunt)

To our dearest ministry partners from last summer…

*If you were not on our ministry team last summer, this will probably not be a very interesting blog for you to read! But feel free to anyways:)

Hello!

It has been just about a year since we found out that the Lord was closing the door for us to intern with Cru for the 2013-2014 school year. Here’s a quick update on where he has brought us in just a year’s time.

There’s a unique happiness that comes when someone joins your support team. Obviously, it’s nice to be one step closer to being able to go do the ministry God has given you a vision for. However, it’s accompanied by a sweet feeling of excitement and confidence – knowing that this person or family is fighting on your team, straining alongside for the same goal. That is most certainly how we felt about your support last summer, and we would be honored if the Lord would have you continue.

We also know that a lot can change in a year, so, if you’re not in a place to pick up where we left off, that is absolutely ok! Please feel free to respond via email or phone and let us know. We look forward to getting in touch.

Sincerely,

The Janssons

What are you lookin’ at?

Join me on a journey through a Sunday school, felt board classic.

Pan across to Jesus, who is worn out from ministry and grieving the loss of his friend and cousin John the Baptist. In desperate need of some R&R, he escapes to a ‘desolate place’ to be by himself, but to no avail. Even as he attempts to retreat, he’s mobbed by literally thousands of sick and broken people searching for healing – searching for a Savior. Physically exhausted, emotionally worn out, experiencing all the limitation that comes with being human – Jesus looks at all the hoards of needy people, and his heart is stirred with compassion for them. He begins serving them, meeting their needs as only Jesus can.

Eventually, the ever practical disciples come to Jesus and say, “Hey, don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of people here. Like A LOT of people. It’s almost nighttime, we’re exhausted too, you know. Can you please dismiss the mobs and tell them to go away and get some food?”

 

Jesus looks at them and says, “You get them some food.”

 

I can only imagine thinking, “You’re joking, right? No, seriously, like, I really think you’re joking but I’m concerned that you’re not laughing. Five THOUSAND people? LOL Jesus, you want to know what we have? Five loaves of bread and two fish. I could eat all of that right now. No really, I’m starving. Please tell them to get lost.”

As the story goes, Jesus takes the small meal, prays for it, and then breaks it up and gives it to the disciples to pass out. And they do. And they keep on doing it. Until everyone, we’re talking thousands of people, have eaten till they’re full. And just to show how lavishly generous God is, how much he loves to bless people, there’s a ton of left overs. HOLLA! Fade to black. Roll the credits.

 

Now, there are two reactions you could have to this story, and it really all comes down to what, in the scene, you are looking at. If, on one hand, you’re looking at the number of people that need to be fed, the amount of available food, or the competency of the disciples, then the end of this story utterly ridiculous, even impossible and totally fake.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at Jesus, the end of the story really isn’t that surprising at all.

I’d like to think, were I a disciple, that any number of Jesus’ previous miracles would inspire instantaneous, fabulous faith and eagerness to see what crazy thing he was going to do next. But, when I find myself scoffing and judging the disciples for being so freaking dense, I’m suddenly reminded of just how insanely and impeccably my attitudes and actions parallel theirs, in the most embarrassing of ways.

Let me give you the blaring example staring me in the face.

Preparing to go to Japan.

It’s real exciting to be called into the mission field. To pray and seek council and to come out on the other side feeling really confident that God is calling you into ministry, on an exciting journey to the other side of the world. You know what’s not quite as exciting? Realizing you are absolutely incapable of accomplishing any of it on your own. Everything, from the biggest outreaches, to everyday ministry, down to the rice you eat for dinner, is dependent on someone else. Soon after you catch a vision of how you can be a part of God’s work in the world, you get a dauntingly ginormous financial goal for fund-raising. They tell you, ‘For the next 7 months, tell everyone you know and their mom about the work God has called you to, and ask them to join in by sacrificing their time and money.’ And then they tell you how hard it’ll be when you get there. How long missionaries work in the field for little evident fruit. How lonely it gets. How long it takes to learn the language. You realize the things you’ll miss while you’re gone. Family, friends, weddings, first steps, Mexican food.

Suddenly, I start to see the reality of God’s call and you know what I think? “You’re joking, right?” LOL Jesus, you want to know what I have? A cell phone, a computer, and a few extra hours a night. I don’t know any millionaires, I’m an introvert (if this requires networking, I’m screwed), I’m awfully bad at phone conversation, I’m awkward, and I have no idea what I’m doing. Don’t even get me started how the heck I’m going to survive overseas.

 

Then it occurs to me who I’m not looking at.

 

In my weakness and fear, I look up into the face of the one with the power to take one measly meal and feed thousands of people. The one whose heart is stirred with compassion for those who are broken and helpless. I look up at Jesus and, suddenly, I can’t be worried about all of the impossible things that lie ahead; because I’m looking at the one who looks at my lack of faith, and, as he rolls up his sleeves to get working, he says, “You’re joking, right?”

 

Exeunt

Big News (and I’m not pregnant)

Admit it – you read ‘big news’ and you instantly assumed ‘she’s knocked up.’ Traitors. Just because I’m 23 and been married for 13 months, at the first sign of major life change you think I’m pregnant? Well, if you’re rooting for me to hop on the baby bandwagon, you better join my sister in praying for divine intervention (is there an internet equivalent of knocking on wood?).

But for reals, big news! Matthew and I have been officially accepted as TEAM Japan missionaries!! **If you just read the term ‘missionary’ and cringed or were confused or even had the desire flip me off, please –read this– and hear me out**

Translation: We will be going to Japan for 2 years with an organization called TEAM – aka The Evangelical Alliance Mission.

TEAM has a fancy logo, huh?

If you know Matt and I a little bit, you may know that we have been in the process of applying to go to Japan for a little over 6 months. If you know us more than a little bit, you probably know that we’ve been desiring and attempting to do full time ministry for about a year and a half. **uh oh, another ‘M’ word! If you’re shaking your head at me because I’m a religious nut case, again, –read this-!** Sometimes (a lot of times, actually) things don’t really go as you planned. I find this to be particularly true in those instances when you really feel that God has called you to do something (am I right?). And while this past year working the mediocre, entry level, beat your head on a keyboard, 9-5 office job that I dreaded so much has been worlds better than expected (I’ll have to tell you about it sometime), I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am that the Lord has opened this particular door for us at this particular time.

Here is what we know about what we’ll each be doing:

TEAM Japan has a really big need for people to work in their home office in Tokyo over the next few years, because, apparently, missionaries need breaks! Many of the administrators have furloughs coming up, and basically, the home office handles the administrative needs for everything the organization does in all of Japan. I can’t do justice to how excited the office nerds in Japan were to learn that Matt is a huge office nerd too. I say that with utmost gratitude in my heart, because without administrative nerds, nothing gets done – and if something does happen to get done, it usually sucks.

I, on the other hand, will be working at a church called SonRise Cafe. As it turns out, there’s not one right way to ‘do church,’ and it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Western style of worship that has developed in Europe and America doesn’t really mesh with the Japanese culture – and that’s not just okay, it’s great news! SonRise Cafe is a coffee house that hosts events and English hours and Bible studies during the week; and then on Sunday it is a place where believers meet to worship, and where people who are curious about Christianity can come ask questions. The church seeks to be a place where Japanese people can worship God in a Japanese way.

This week, we officially began our journey to Japan. The plane tickets are as good as purchased (still working out exact dates). The mountain we have to climb to get there is… support raising *duh duh duuuuuuh*. More on that to come, for sure.

Who the heck knows how long that will take? Who knows if we’ll make it? If we do make it, who knows what will happen after that? Wait a minute… those aren’t rhetorical questions, are they?

 

(Exeunt)

The “M” Word: because, sometimes, words are loaded

“Missionary”

To some, it is an over-idealistic, probably naïve, hyper-religious person who is willing to live in a third world country for the sake of their cause. To others, it is a culturally imperialistic bigot with a superiority complex and lack of respect for other cultures. Within the Christian community, it may be a super-Christian, a ‘special’ Christian, or the annoying Christian who is always asking for money.

If any of those definitions are in your brain (or your heart), then we are not on the same page. If I believed that missionaries were ANY of those things, then I would not have any desire to include myself among them, in fact, my desire would be quite the opposite.

However, these definitions come from somewhere. Definitely from here (important: I am not Mormon, but who doesn’t think of a white guy in a white button up when they think of a missionary?!). There is no denying that there have been Christian missionaries over the course of history have been as racist and disrespectful of indigenous peoples as their colonizing counterparts, justifying their actions with imperialistic ideology.

In the modern Christian community, missionaries can be placed on a pedestal as though they have transcended the ranks of ‘normal’ Christians and become more holy and more important than the rest. They can also be separated out from the ‘normal’ body of Christ as those brave few with a special calling to go above and beyond the call of duty of the ‘standard’ Christian. Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone say “Not all of us are called to go…”

 

The thing is – these are bad definitions.

 

Instead, here are some qualities I believe should be true of missionaries (according to the Bible, I wouldn’t make this up):

  • Educated, trained, skilled, and emotionally mature. Christianity is a matter of faith AND reason, the two are not mutually exclusive. Crossing cultures ought not to be handled lightly.
  • Humble and respectful, with a passionate love for all cultures – because God made and loves every person, every race, every ethnicity, and every culture. Missionaries go to invite (not force) people into relationship with God, who desires to relate uniquely to people from all nations! Because of this, missionaries defer to the culture they’re living in, abandoning comfort and routine to adapt to the ways of those around them.
  • A typical Christian. A redeemed sinner who can’t help but tell the people around them about the hope and joy they have found in Christ. Recognizing that this is the greatest, best, most important thing in the entire world, they do everything they can to make sure everyone in the world has a chance to hear about it. Every Christian is ‘called to go.’ We may not all called to go the same distance from our homes.

 

I believe that, while the bad definitions exist for a reason, they ought not to. I hope that the statement ‘Missionaries are bigots,’ might be restated as ‘Bad missionaries are bigots.’ That Christians would recognize that it is wrong both to idolize foreign missions/missionaries, and excuse themselves from the Great Commission altogether.

I guess now I should write a clarification blog for my clarification blog about how all missionaries are sinners and, therefore, will all be bad missionaries. But let’s hold off on expositing a doctrine of sin as it relates to missiology… yikes.

(Exeunt)

 

*If, per chance, someone would raise the objection that religion is a social construct and therefore religious evangelism is social imperialism – this, my friend, is an argument of the definition of truth, and I would love to discuss.*